Jump to content

Do the Oath and Law "Actually" Stand for Something? "Aspirational Goals"

Recommended Posts

Whatever you might think about some of GAH's comments, I think he has posted something to discuss here. There is too much truth to much of his comment on this element, I fear. So, where are we in reality? Do we really have the willingness to hold our scouts to a higher threshold and real effort to "truly live" the fundamental intent of the Oath and Law?


I have to agree with GAH on much of this. Too often I see leaders unwilling to make the "hard" decision to hold a scout truly accountable. Too many are afraid of what others think, of parents coming down on them, or other such things. "A Scout is Brave", and Scouters should be too. Part of that is "standing up" to what is right, and facing dissatisfaction with your actions if you are secure in them; not shying away from holding ourselves and our scouts to the intent of the foundations of Scouting.


Lets be honest, if we are able. Society today, especially in the United States, has some very odd ideas as to what is acceptable in a truly "civil" society. The acceptance of foul language by too many, the role modeling of bad behavior as okay if it comes from a celebrity, too often excusing egocentric attitudes at the expense of others if they have money or notoriety, ignoring the need for simple courtesy in our everyday interactions, making fun of people who "do" stand up for simple manners, and so on.


Scouting still retains an element of a higher plain of civility than the general population. That is why the too often sneered remark, "you are such a Boy Scout", or "what are you, an Eagle Scout?" is so common. For some reason, it seems to me, that some on this board would like that element to go away; that somehow, actually playing up the basics is wrong, or should be modified to be almost unrecognizable compared to the original. And yes, God and Spirituality are a keystone to this foundation, and have been from the start. The other two "G's" likely eventually will find a compromise and way to work, given the willingness of both sides to be reasonable, rather than ego driven and strident.


I do not think the people at the highest levels, even in the local councils, necessarily totally grasp many of the realities of what is going on in the trenches. But I do not see most of them as purposely dishonest, just too often distracted, losing focus, and perhaps not accepting that Scouting "is not ever" going to be for "everyone". If it were somehow to become that, it would be destroyed.



Link to post
Share on other sites

With the younger kids I think they have to be aspirational goals, and probably always were, just to different degrees. At the time they join Scouts most kids haven't really sorted out the God thing for themselves. They are still learning about lying, or not, and the care for other people and things aspects of the law.


I like to see those tools used as reminders of what is expected. The kids know they have made a commitment to be something that many non-Scouts are not, but they need a bit of guidance on the details as they go along.


By the time they reach anything like Eagle standard though, this stuff needs to be pretty much cast in concrete.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the whole scouting movement RESTS on aspirational goals and ideals.


It's inspiring to motivate ones' self through ideals: consider the early scout handbooks which talked about George Washington and Valley Forge, knights and brave Indians, etc.


It may seem like a lot of foolish hoopla to adults, but kids feel the power of these things as shaping things.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that in a way, they have to be aspirational goals.


In Wood Badge and everywhere else, we're taught that if you want to make goals that you are likely to be able to go out and achieve, you make them SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound). Trying to live the Scout Oath and Law is not specific, measurable, or time-bound.


I'd say it's not specific, because not everyone can agree what it means. How do you know if you are being loyal the way the Scout Law means it? What does duty to God mean? Because different people, and especially different leaders, have differing interpretations of this, it makes it hard to hold people to some standard. It's certainly not a "standard" in the way that international standards are normally set.


It's definitely not measurable in the way implied here. Were you 50% as brave as you needed to be? 70%? Did you over-achieve on bravery by 130%?


These are the equivalent to the New Year's Resolutions like "I want to be a better person this year", and "I'm going to be nicer to my kids." You could say "I'm going to be more reverent this year", but will you meet that? How will you decide? Now, if you said "I plan to attend Sunday morning services at my church at least 12 times in the next four months", it becomes specific, measurable, and time-bound.


I guess I don't the Oath and Law as "goals". I think of them as principles. I don't really like the term "aspirational goals", as it implies they are goals you will aspire to, but not actually meet. Aspirational goals could be things like "We want to have zero defects on our manufacturing line". If you think of the Law as really saying things like "I will be 100% courteous", then I think it's safe to say that more than a few posters here aren't actually following the Scout Law. But if you view it as pointing the broad general direction for how to conduct yourself in civil society, then we're perhaps doing a bit better.


So yes, I do think they stand for something, and something attainable at that. Do we all agree on what exactly they might mean in a given situation? No, I don't think so. I'd say it's more of a "fuzzy goal".

Link to post
Share on other sites

"I'd say it's not specific, because not everyone can agree what it means. How do you know if you are being loyal the way the Scout Law means it? What does duty to God mean? Because different people, and especially different leaders, have differing interpretations of this, it makes it hard to hold people to some standard. It's certainly not a "standard" in the way that international standards are normally set."


Actually, under at least SOME BSA regs on the topic, the CO should define the precise definition of these terms. Of course, I gather that few COs have ever been very involved. And, with the demise of what might be called "American civic religion", the value definitions have defaulted post-modern emptiness. However, I suspect this is only a peripheral contributor to the problem.


I think a far more significant issue is that most Scouters lack genuine Scout skills, and thus are put in the awkward position of 'requiring' what they can't do, and don't understand, themselves. Kudu, who seems to know more about this than anyone, has suggested the modern skill-less Scouter is the product of both the skill-less Scouting introduced in the 70's and the transformation of Wood Badge from skill acquisition training for Scouters, to an rah-rah motivational and managerial bonding ceremony.


I don't know for sure.


I do know that most Scouters I've encountered locally can't do most of the things they are supposed to teach their Scouts to do, and know.



Oak Tree, I think you've given a great example of how the Wood Badge managerial approach Scouting helps turn Scouting from something into nothing. However, if you really want to take your own words seriously, it would be possible to define trustworthiness VERY SPECIFICALLY in terms of

+ how you completed rank & MB requirements;

+ how you prepared for trips;

+ how you reported negative events among the Scouts, etc.


And, almost ALL of the advancement and MB requirements could be handled as a set of 'performance standards' (applying recent educational jargon). I could even write a performance standard for "reverent" that could legitimately be applied (I think) to almost any CO lying within the realm of orthodox Judaism, Christianity, or Mormonism.


So, there's nothing about many of the Scouting goals that forces them to be aspirational, instead of real.


Let's give the credit for the triumph of "aspirational goals" over real goals where it's due: BSA National, Wood Badge, and local Scouter preference.




Link to post
Share on other sites

GaHillBilly makes many good points. Political correctness (PC) is damaging this country and scouting. In order to be PC, people try to never offend. So if a scout requirement says that the youth must tie four knots, tying 3 knots with help and being shown the 4th then asked if they can tie it without ever demonstrating the ability leading to being passed is PC. It is PC because people do not wish to tell the youth that you did not pass, work on it for a week and try next week because it could 'hurt their self-esteem'. Youth are being passed, and expect to do so, for half way trying to do something. Mastery is a thing of the past. I don't think that my patients would appreciate that level of care but I see a definite attitudinal difference between young physicians and older physicians about their responsibilities to their patients. So this is not just scouting. I would like to see scouters enforce there youth actually having to master the skills that they are being asked to learn. Maybe it could start a movement to overturn PC before the country is destroyed.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Law is a code of conduct. While I expect anyone human to have occasional lapses, I think the term "aspirational goal" takes away the pressure to sincerely TRY to live up the Law. I agree 100% with GAHB on this point and it's one aspect of modern moral relativism that I find repugnant -- especially when I see it in Scout units.


In the example GAHB cited about a SPL lying to his BOR about completing a requirement, I'd have finished the BOR right there: "I'm sorry son, that's not demonstrating Scout spirit in your daily life. Let's try this again in a couple of months."

Link to post
Share on other sites

GaHillBilly, I think I agree with what all you've written.


I agree it would be possible to define trustworthy in some very specific ways. But the point is, the values are not currently defined that way. That's what makes them aspirational. You could absolutely set performance standards, but Scouting hasn't done so.


As for the skills, you're right. That doesn't seem to be the focus the way it used to be. It is indeed much easier to set performance standards for skills. The Scout Law hasn't changed, though, and I'd say it's always been aspirational. If you are arguing that there used to be both real goals and aspirational goals, with more focus on the real goals, then I might agree.


There are still real goals today, but as you say, with less focus. Here I agree with skeptic - if you remove all the real goals and retain only the aspirational ones, in an attempt to appeal to everyone, you'll actually end up appealing to no one.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Oak Tree, I don't see how you're saying the values are defined to be aspirational. I'm glad the new Scout Handbook brought back the example definitions but they are hardly aspirational (pages 24-25):




What the Scout Law Means


The Scout Law will show you how to live as a boy and as a man.


A Scout is trustworthy. A Scout tells the truth. HE is honest, and he keeps his promises. People can depend on him.


A Scout is loyal. A Scout is loyal to those to whom loyalty is due.


A Scout is helpful. A Scout cares about other people. He helps others without expecting payment or reward. He fulfills his duties to his family by helping at home.






... and it continues. Nothing "aspirational" about them. They're pretty definite. They don't say "a Scout tries to keep his promises except when they're inconvenient." They say "a Scout keeps his promises." Period. The same goes with the Scout Oath: "Do all you can to live by the Scout Oath, even when you are faced with difficult challenges."


I just don't see how you read those as aspirational rather than definite.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Simply stated, the Law is a positive statement of expectation. "A Scout Is"; meaning that our expectation is that he will be trustworthy, and so on, to the best of his ability, and he swears this on his honor. But the idea of honor seems to have become pretty ambiguous at best. When I first became a scout in 1955, the fine print of trustworthy said, "A scout's honor is to be trusted. If he were to violate this honor by lying, cheating, or not doing exactly a given task when trusted on his honor, he may be directed to hand over his scout badge". For some reason, most of us took that to heart, and tried "to do our best".


In regard to the lack of skills demonstrated by many senior scouts, it has a lot to do with the pressure to advance too fast, and the idea that retesting is somehow wrong. In the earlier years, First Class was the highest rank. Star, Life, and Eagle were simply extensions of that with the addition of merit badges and more service. Until WWII, scouts were registered as First Class with merit badges, rather than Star, Life, or Eagle; or very early Life, Star, and Eagle.


Too often today, we act as if having high expectation of our young people is wrong. But, that is actually what will be most likely to drive them to better results, while also increasing their confidence and esteem. I will always remember how I felt when I finally was able to tie all 7 tenderfoot knots two times in succession for two weeks in a row. That was the troops requirement to pass that test; and it took me forever, as I have always been challenged by rope work. Same went for signaling for First Class.



Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm with HICO. The Handbook is still pretty clear. The weakness is in the leadership and interpretation. We're the ones who set the standards. In kids' sports, it's not the youth who came up with the everybody wins concept. It's us! If we say that a Scout's effort is good enough, then the book gets signed. Did he do his best? Maybe at that very moment. Maybe. Can he do better? Did he prepare well enough? When a kid finds out that he can get by with a mediocre effort, that's what he'll give. I think that's why we have so many arguments regarding Eagles. It's all so-so until it suddenly becomes important. Then the standards change. Who changed the standards? We did.


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a good discussion.


I think America herself has idealistic aspirations. . . and we feel bad about the country when we see these aren't being reached.


But there are practical things going on---as well as PC relativism---in how we treat values.


----There are many more split-up families.


----Our economy is not producing jobs that allow for family stability and middle class stability.


----Our overall future is uncertain.


----Our consumer society provides many different entertainment options. This lessens the hold of any kind of organization on its consumers, clients, customers, members.


----I think most Americans deeply respect and love the idea of rational tolerance of others, but I think the PC-boosters overstep this and have said extreme relativism is the only way to demonstrate this. This is heady stuff, hard for most people to handle, especially on the immediate level, and so our efforts to handle values are made much more challenging.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Another thread is toying with a survey to "fix" Scouting. I think that by asking outsiders what they'd do to change the program that it would destroy Scouting. They'd probably suggest a new set of values. Mr Boyce said handling values are much more challenging. i would submit that they're all the more important. Our society ... youth mainly ... has no moral compass. Scouting offers what they need. Somebody has to draw a line in the sand. Our society keeps moving the line. Scouting doesn't. We catch heat for it, but I'm proud of our standards and our values. If you don't stand for something, you eventually don't stand for anything. Our kids are being taught (including by some here) that you can stay seated for the pledge if you feel like it. Don't bother saluting. Don't say "God" in the oath. Don't pay any attention to an insignia guide. That's for other people. Don't take your hat off when you're indoors. Don't bother with requirements if they're a little too hard or inconvenient. I don't know. It gets annoying to me when values are tossed aside and we become more like society in general. It should be the other way around. We need to carry the guidon. If we're not willing to lead, then we'll have to follow somebody else. We have a compass, and we know where we're going, so let's go! Am I an idealist? Darn right.


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Oath itself is aspirational, however. "On My Honor, I will do my best..."


If you don't want it aspirational, you remove the words "my best." You make it, "I will do my duty" instead.


Hmmm - interesting Scoutmaster's Minute somewhere in there I think.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The entire Citizenship Aim of Scouting is about inculcating the Oath and the Law into young people. Yes, the Law is Descriptive. It tells us how we are to live. Yes, the Oath is Aspirational. It is our commitment to the 3 points within it, as well as the 12 points of the Law.


When the Scout Oath and Law are graven on a youths' heart and in his mind as his earthly behavior set, we've done our job.


No one said getting the Oath and Law graven in our hearts was easy ;)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...