Scouting, as much as it appears to be about outdoor skills, is really about preparing young men to be citizens. Here is the mission statement of the Boy Scouts of America:
The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.
Here’s the Scout Oath:
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
Here’s the Scout Law:
A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind , Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.
It has always been so. Lord Baden-Powell founded Scouting in England on the same principles. Not every Scout, or every Scout leader, lives up to the high standards held in those words. But the opportunity to learn those words and strive to live up to them is what Scouting offers.
These ideals are learned and practiced in the crucible of Scouting. Because at the same time a young Scout is learning to build a fire, the older Scout is learning to be a leader. To help when needed, to encourage, to set the example, to tell the truth, to be dependable. The values of Scouting prepare a man for life. They give him the basis for living a life of meaning and contribution. A glance at a list of famous Eagle Scouts tells us a little something about the caliber of men Scouting helped influence.
The Troop is the small society that all the Scouts get to practice and make mistakes in. The patrols and assigned positions create a structure. Each year, new Scouts join, older Scouts finish or drop out, the positions fill by voting, and the cycle begins again. This repeated cycle of training is what some parents can’t understand. Letting the boys lead, really lead, decide their own campouts, plan the fundraisers and service projects, vote and hold their own council meetings is critical to Scouting.
So, if the food isn’t always great, or the planning for an event is lackluster, just like a failed attempt at fire building, learning is taking place. When you see a Star or Life Scout take charge for the first time, teach a class, lead a hike, intervene to help a new Scout, those are moments of real Scouting.
As an Adult Scouter, it was my privilege to work with some of the finest people in my community. It was also my privilege to work with the Scouts in my Troop. I saw them progress, in skills and confidence. Some of the young Scouts I remember are adults now, and in some cases I have heard back from them about how important the Scouting program was and is in their lives.
I am not an Eagle Scout. I was an adult Scouter far longer than I was a Boy Scout. I’d like to think I made a contribution, paid forward what my leaders did for me all those years ago. And, along with everything else, I got to go camping every month.
Every summer, I went and spent a week at summer camp with the Troop. Each morning, all the Troops in camp and the staff would gather in formation at the flagpole and raise the flags with as much ceremony and precision as they could muster. The sun would be filtering through the trees from the east, the bugler would sound out “To the Colors”, we would come to attention, and once the flag was raised, just like Scouts have for almost a century, we would salute and say, “I pledge allegance…”
See things from the boy’s point of view.
–Sir Robert Baden-Powell