A well laid out Troop campsite. Separate Patrol sites and an area for adults. Each Patrol camping, cooking, and tenting individually. Coming together for a Troop campfire in the evening. The adults sitting back, drinking coffee and offering sage advice to the Senior Patrol Leader and the Guide.
There’s pictures of this in the new handbook. There’s drawings of it in the older ones. I heard of a Troop like this once, a mythic tale of a mighty Scoutmaster and his trusted sidekick, the SPL. Or maybe I’m mixing that up with a Lone Ranger episode.
It’s more complicated. The Scouts are there to learn things, lots of things, from camping, cooking, and pioneering to leadership and citizenship. If they knew these things already, there would be no need for Scouting. But the Scouts are in charge, and they don’t know how to do it. So they are going to learn the same way Scouts learned last year, and boys on their first elk hunk learned ten thousand years ago, by making mistakes.
Set up a camp after dark after driving two hours on Friday night, with the gear the Scouts managed to pack up back at the hut and when the Scouts get up Saturday morning, and start dragging out the cooking gear, the campsite is not going to look real Scouty.
There is no point in even getting frustrated. Scan the memory banks and think about the way the campsites looked thirty years ago when you were 1st Class. Yup, nothing has changed. This is so important I’m going to repeat it. Nothing has changed. Because every year is just like the year before. Every Troop of a decent size is just like every other Troop. This, also, is a theme I will return to.
So you call over the Senior, and offer him a waffle. Cooked to a golden crunchy brown, with real maple syrup. As he sits there eating this gift from the heavens, the Patrols are struggling to keep runny pancakes from sticking and burning on overly hot griddles, the Scouts that aren’t cooking are running around in some sort chaotic game, and the gear trailer looks like a bomb went off in the Army/Navy store.
You tell him you think he did a great job getting camp set up last night, and that’s true. He’s 15, going be 16 in a couple of months. He got elected Senior Patrol Leader in June, stepping up from Quartermaster. He doesn’t know this job, he hasn’t fully figured out how much he’s going to learn this year, and it may be twenty years before he understands how profoundly it’s going influence the rest of his life.
As he finishes eating, ask him to look around and tell you what needs to be done before the scheduled hike. He’s probably going to surprise you. He’ll notice the trailer, and the way the tents look, maybe even the ongoing disaster in the cooking areas. So you take notes as he talks, make a list. It’s okay at this point to add a couple of things you think are important too, you’re collaborating on this. When you get the list made, give it to him. Tell him to come back when breakfast is cleaned up with the Patrol Leaders for a short PLC.
Then go sit down. Look at the lake, talk to the other adults, and wait. It is not your job to fix the camp. It’s your job to provide the opportunity for Scouting to occur. When the four of them show up an hour later, you may already know the hike is a fading dream, but remember, it’s the Senior’s PLC, so let him run it.
When he runs down the list, assigns Patrol tasks, and puts himself with the youngest Patrol, and asks the Guide and Quartermaster to help the other two, tells them they have an hour and dismisses them to get to work, it doesn’t matter that the hike will only happen that afternoon, and it will have to be shortened. It doesn’t matter that it will be time to break out lunch before they come back to report their progress and invite you to come take a look. It doesn’t even matter if the campsite never looks like the picture in the book. It matters that they are Scouts and they are learning by doing, not in spite of the mistakes, but because of them.
Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.
–George S. Patton