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Penta

BSA training: Some thoughts from an outsider

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NJCubScouter said: "Personally I think that Scoutmasters and ASM's (leaving aside any other positions) need to be well-trained in outdoor skills AND leadership skills (and other skills such as dealing with behavior issues, how to best teach skills to boys, etc.) The two (or more) are not mutually exclusive."

 

I promised myself I wouldn't get involved with these threads. I am not an active Scouter, my Scouting career wearing the tan uniform was brief and undistinguished, and I don't even go camping anymore. Haven't since I was a Boy Scout, actually. Take everything I say with that note of humility in mind, please. I will fully admit that I don't have "skin in the game", no matter how much I wish I did.

 

But I wanted to point this out, because I think it basically demands discussion. NJCubScouter, that's a pretty wide range of skills you're calling for an SM to be expert (or at least "skilled") in...Some of them not commonly available.

 

Now, I may have no dog in the fight over Patrol Method or anything like that, but I am someone who still thinks it wouldn't be a bad thing if a Scout unit could start by pulling itself up by the bootstraps, if need be, as units originally did. If they can be started with full BSA support, that's ideal, but there are plenty of situations I can see where they may not be happening.

 

How is a SM supposed to train themselves in all that? Additionally, from where I sit, I do not get the impression that the BSA, either National or councils, necessarily has the training infrastructure to support the kind of recurrent training, updates, refreshers, etc. of volunteers on all those topics that would seem to be required.

 

I mean, let's think about it realistically. Skills are perishable. I would never presume someone who had not trained in, say, some aspect of outdoor skills recently would still recall how to do it all, let alone know enough to then go out and teach Scouts, which is pretty much what they're required to do as a SM.

 

I wouldn't presume it, any insurance carrier would rightly walk away from covering you (and I don't think BSA can plausibly self-insure, do you? I don't think COs would allow them to, if they used their brains) if you did on major matters...

 

Here's the problem, though. In the only other volunteer organization with which I have been affiliated, the American Red Cross (I got disaster training...And only then did I figure out that without the ability to drive I was functionally non-deployable *cry*), there are professionals at a much deeper level than there ever is for Boy Scouts, if you think about it. Chapters of ARC (their equivalent to councils) have people specialized in disaster response, or health and safety, or whatnot. Volunteers are overseen in virtually everything by the professionals. Training is overseen by the professionals, training is coordinated by the professionals.

 

Which makes sense, because even for stuff the volunteers can do (like Mass Care, otherwise known as running an evacuation shelter) with relatively little training (I think it was 12 hours total I got for all my certs?), the stakes are high. Volunteers run evacuation shelters - as staff on the line and as on-site managers. Volunteers are the folks who deploy to assist victims in the event of a house fire.

 

You're talking, at a minimum, NJCubScouter, about a SM needing not only to be trained in, but be a *trainer* in those skills. A trainer - often enough to Scouts, but also likely to ASMs.

 

Which raises a question that, to be frank, makes me a little uncomfortable to be asking. Actually, a few questions. The first makes me squirm, the rest not so much.

 

1. At what point does the level of knowledge required of an SM (or CM), as a practical matter, cross the line from what we can expect reasonably of a volunteer (whom we must presume, for the purposes of any training, comes to us totally unskilled) to what is basically a professional position?

 

2. Training: If it is to be recalled, it needs to be practiced. Training should, if you don't do "drills" like the ARC does, be recurring - meaning your "camping cert", for example, would only last 1 or 2 years before you train again.

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A scoutmaster basically needs the same skills as a parent, only you're a parent with multiple other parents who are actively looking over your shoulder once a week and critiquing your parenting. How does a parent get trained in what they're supposed to do and how things are supposed to go? Luckily, scoutmasters have an active training system and theoretically at least one assistant if not more to delegate more responsibilities to.

 

If a scoutmaster is going camping once a month like he should, then he won't forget how to camp.

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Hit enter too early, ugh. Where was I?

 

2. Training: If it is to be recalled, it needs to be practiced. Training should, if you don't do "drills" like the ARC does, be recurring - meaning your "camping cert", for example, would only last 1 or 2 years before you train again. Does BSA at any level really have the ability to fully train all its volunteers in the skills they need in an effective manner?

 

3. Plain and simple, how do you meld all this with the ideas that: A. Scouting is delivered to the kids by volunteers - frequently parents of kids in the unit who are busy as heck? B. Scout units can be started up by any interested group with no need for specialized skills? C. Scouting can in theory be something done intermittently, without continuing requirements? All that seems pretty important to folks around here, and rightly so. If it were to require the same time commitment as, say, Red Cross disaster response volunteering (Training requires a whack of time, then there's meetings running an hour or two every month to keep up on stuff - with a requirement that you attend 70% of meetings over I forget how long a time period before you deploy to anything, if I remember right (It's been a long while)), on top of stuff you do with/for the kids, how many would still volunteer? If it required specialized skills training, wouldn't that knock out a lot of the people who might start units? If it required continuing training, how many people would still be volunteers?

 

I'm not saying you aren't right, NJCubScouter: I think you are. I think that the best SMs are in fact skilled, possibly experts, in all the areas you mention.

 

But I wonder how that can really work in the real world.

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Gah, you ninja'd me, Bart...:)

 

My reply to "an SM needs the same skills as a parent" is: Yes, but how many *parents* have those skills? C'mon, be honest...

 

I personally don't think many do. I really don't. I'd never suggest a "license to have kids" or a "license to parent", but do I think parents often have the sorts of skills NJCS lays out? No. Doesn't mean I don't think it wouldn't perhaps be a good thing if parents had a way to learn those kinds of knowledge, skills, and abilities. (Honestly, speaking as someone who's only babysat their younger cousins and watched relatives with their kids, and seen (or, while babysitting, experienced in a limited way) the frustrations to a point, I think CPS agencies could do a lot to prevent child abuse and the like by offering free parenting skills classes (and discussion groups, and similar) to parents - way before they enter the system. Say, when Mom is pregnant with the kid, or immediately after the kid is born, start the process. How many people still live where their parents, grandparents, or other relatives can help pass on the hard-won knowledge of how to raise a kid? Not many. So we need to find something to fill the same role. (Maybe those agencies already do that. I don't know.))

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Excellent post, Penta. Thanks for takin' the time.

 

I think yeh point out a real conundrum. Especially from da legal/risk management side, da BSA is being pushed toward the "professional Scoutmaster" view, eh? That's in part because da national risk management and legal folks come out of that professional side. It's also because there just aren't that many (any?) youth services organizations that run on independent volunteers anymore. Certainly not many our size. Most operate on da ARC model you describe - the oversight and planning is done by paid pros, and the volunteers are just worker-bees. They're not leaders, nor trainers.

 

Mandatory recurring training is a "pro" thing. It can be quite a burden on volunteers. So da BSA sorta does fig leaf training. Short stuff that nobody thinks is adequate to take and teach kids in the woods, but makes it look like they're "trained." I think that's what CNY is talking about, eh? And yeh can often read on da forums people who don't really have enough deep understanding or judgment to be reliable in the woods, though they can quote their training manual. It can be a bit scary.

 

I think in reality we in da BSA rely on two things, really.

 

First, we rely on adult leaders who come in with prior skills. They know outdoor skills because they are former scouts, or military, or have years of personal camping, not because they spent a weekend at IOLS. Enough are OK at teaching kids just because they're "naturals" - they like kids and are good at relating, and they bring teaching skills from their work or professional lives. Da rest are great for support roles.

 

Second, we rely on adults who know their limits, and who care enough to work at self-improvement. This is da trickier one, eh? Particularly because our personal limits aren't the same as the kids' limits, and because we can occasionally get testosterone poisoning and overestimate our own ability (or estrogen poisoning and underestimate da kids :)). The BSA tries to address this with things like da age appropriate activities chart, and things like SSD/SA/CoS/Trek safely, which really are just meant to be a "gut check" before doing something risky, not training to actually do that thing.

 

Those have worked relatively well for us, eh? Most scouters do come with prior outdoor skill and prior kid skill, and most are pretty decent about not getting in over their heads. But they aren't da rigorous training-and-policy-protocols that happen in professional organizations. And since da national risk management folks come from the latter group and aren't a particularly bright or creative lot, there's increased push to try to force quite a silly mandatory fig leaf training and ever increasing policy book on scouting volunteers. It's really funny in a lot of ways, because they've never required da professional staff to take rigorous outdoor skills, education, and program supervision training, which would be da necessary first step in really implementing such a system.

 

Beavah

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To add a comment on da parent thing, I disagree. Seen lots of wonderful parents who were poor scouters, or who even failed completely in da task.

 

Parenting involves being able to guide a few kids of different ages who you know intimately, and who have come to know and rely on you intimately.

 

Scouting involves being able to guide a lot of kids of the same or similar ages as a group, none of whom you know intimately, none of whom know you initially, who come from different backgrounds and expectations and who aren't dependent on you.

 

It's a very different skill set. Some of da best people at it are young folks and teachers who have never been parents.

 

Beavah

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I wouldn't presume it, any insurance carrier would rightly walk away from covering you (and I don't think BSA can plausibly self-insure, do you? I don't think COs would allow them to, if they used their brains)

Indeed they do. From the G2SS:

 

BSA self-funds the first million dollars of each liability claim. This means that almost all money spent on a liability claim is Scouting money, not insurance money.

I'm not sure, if I were a CO, that this would cause concern for me. The BSA has been around for 100 years. Their latest 990 shows assets of over $500 million. They are probably in better financial shape than some insurance companies.

 

In my view, Scouters come from 2 lots; those who already have excellent woodsman skills and want to share those, and parents who may not already have those skills, but have a motiviation to help and a desire to lose those skills. Trends to eliminate outdoor skill training bother me, especially the consolidation of boy scout and webelos outdoor leader training.(This message has been edited by the blancmange)

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In reference to training, councils and districts are suppose to have the volunteer base to cover training. Is it difficult, yes, do some districts have challenges, yep, I'm in one, but you do not need to take the training in your district/council.

 

SMs do need outdoor skills. Alot of the skills were that asults knew b/c A) they had been doing it all their life, i.e. using woodtools, camping, etc, B) they were prior military and learned the skills in the service, or C were scouts themselves. I am seeing a lot less adults with these skills due to the A) more urban environment, B) the draft no longer exists, and C) Some folks were never scouts in their youth.

 

Yes IOLS is just that, an Intro. It's not created to make you a master teacher. rather it's designed to give you the basics, let you try things, and then be able to go back and practice.

 

And that is the key PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Once you got a taste of it, you need to keep using it so that you master it. For a new leader in a new unit, they need to teach the skills to the odler new scouts, let them practice, and then teach the younger scouts as they come in. BUT you must practice, practice, practice.

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Conundrum is exactly the word I would use, Beavah.

 

Because it feeds into something I think everybody who cares about Scouting deals with or confronts on some level. Certainly, it comes up here enough: Getting adults to volunteer. Not so much the kids, I sense - but getting adults to step up.

 

Scouting relies on prior skills from the adults, you say. I'll ask what needs to be asked: If that's a good thing. It definitely limits who can realistically volunteer at the unit level - How many adults do you know who were scouts, who are prior military (and had any outdoors training in that!), etc? A good number, probably, but the groups almost certainly overlap and are a very limited subset of the potential pool of volunteers. It's even worse with my generation (I'm going to take a wild guess here and presume everybody's at least 10 years older than me!) who are the volunteers coming up, because very few were Scouts (maybe more out west, but not many here on the East Coast), the number who're prior military (and have relevant skillsets) are a fraction of a percent (and I'd wager most of those are concentrated in the West or the South)...And personal camping? Not very common that it doesn't overlap with one of the two prior descriptors. That covers outdoor skills. For teaching skills...You're looking overwhelmingly at schoolteachers. That or parents. I don't see boys sticking around a group with a teacher...And parents is worth its own discussion. I personally am not sure parents of kids in the troop are the most...objective folks in the world. Certainly they can probably do the role in a pinch, but I don't see it coming without major issues.

 

And since we're looking for one person (the SM) who has all those skills...

 

You may be right in an ideal sense, Beavah, but I don't know if that ideal is going to be reachable much in the future. And when I think about Scouting, I want it around if a woman is ever mad enough to marry me and have kids, so, years in the future. I have reasons to think long-term.:)

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I have been an ARC volunteer, volunteer firefighter, EMT, and rescue squad member. I am also a ASM and Eagle scout. What the ARC does and the responsibilty is has to the public is in no way is similar to what BSA does.

 

The SM is the CEO of a scout troop. He does not have to know how to tighen every bolt on every product coming down the assembly line. He has to set the course for the ship and hire the right people with the right skills to run the factory. The better people skills he has the more likely he will succeed. Having better outdoor skills helps him to better understand the potential issues the troop may have as well as to identify the better qualified people (ASMs) who work with the scouts in the field.

 

BSA training is really an introduction to outdoor skills. A one weekend course (IOLS) is not going to make anyone an experienced outdoorsman. It is going to open their eyes to the possibilities and hopefully encourage them to explore additional training and hands on practice. It is occasionally discussed here should there be advanced outdoor skills training cources offered by BSA. The one train of thought is that IOLS covers everything that is expected of the scouts and there is no need to train beyound that level and the scouts with more desire can explore the areas on their own. THe alternative is that the adults are there for safety and should have a deeper understanding and skill depth to offer to the interested scouts as well as be able to salvage activities that go awry in the field.

 

Taking scouts outdoors is just a method to get them out of their normal environment so they have to challenge themselves. The ultimate goal is not to create the worlds next survialist but rather to force the scouts to learn something/anything new and develop self confidence. Doing so in a safe and fun manner is important.

 

Hiking 5 miles into the wilderness with only the equipment in a daypack and spending a week is a challenge. Driving to the state park in town with a trailer load of equipment is also a challenge for most 11-14 yr olds used to playing video games.

 

The first year the scouts are learning how to cook an egg. Really. Kids have no idea how to open an egg and cook one. They have no idea that they need to bring rain gear to every outing. They have no idea that fire is hot or knifes are sharp. It does not take a world class wilderness and survival expert to teach basic cooking skills to the scouts.

 

If the SM is doing his job, he is selecting adults who have at least basic outdoor skills and are willing to learn. Some are lucky to have adults volunteer who have extensive outdoor skills. I have been a participant at Philmont, Florida Sea Base, and Northern Tier. The scouts needed to know only basic stuff. Pitch a tent, cook your food, follow a basic map in the wilderness, handle wet weather. Survival was very far away. Experienced adults with extensive outdoors training would be helpful but is not necessary.

 

The public thinks that scouting is about creating a wilderness survivalist with First Aid, Firebuilding, and Knot tying skills. BSA thinks scouting is about developing personal self worth, confidence, and leadership that just happens to take place outdoors.

 

I personally like outdoor skills and practice on a regular basis. The other ASMs in my troop are experienced outdoorsman. The troop camps at least once a month, twice this month, so everyone gets a plenty of opportunity to practice and upgrade their skills.

 

 

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Interesting discussion.

 

One thing that concerns me in the push for ever more training is where are the volunteer trainers going to come from? At this stage of my life, most of my volunteer effort is devoted to participating in the BSA training program as a trainer. On the whole I think the syllabi are well conceived and we do a pretty decent job delivering the training in the local programs in which I participate. We are fortunate to have sufficient volunteer resources upon which to draw.

 

We have an effective district level program in which three districts collaborate. We also have advanced skills training at the council level in our High Adventure Training program.

 

Having said all that, my sense is that we would have a great deal of difficulty implementing ever more training programs. There is only so much volunteer time to go around and the other necessary resources are also costly.

 

I also believe that many of the additional training sugar plums dancing in some folks' heads are unnecessary. We can bring new volunteers up to a minimum level of understanding and competence and the troops will do just fine. We are not talking about rocket science here or planning the Normandy invasion. Most people can do this stuff.

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Resqman: Good corrective re ARC. You're right, the "Roles and Missions" are not very similar. However, ARC is what came to mind first when I was writing. (Idly: While I could never see this happening, I do wonder: If ARC allowed disaster training or deployment for

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Eisely: It depends on what you want the leaders to know, I think.

 

I think the current BSA program re leader training, what I know of it, is good. I spun off this thread because NJCS seemed to have in mind SMs knowing a lot more about things...Which raised some pointed questions in my mind.

 

There's also a fact I'm coming to realize in my own life: You may not use some of the more specialized/unique skills very often. It would make sense, in those cases, to formally say "It's been so many years, go back and retrain for safety's sake!" Scouting, particularly in the outdoors...You might use those basic skills every month's outing, but what about (for example) winter camping skills?

 

Could leaders be trained more? Yes. But there is, as you imply, a point where it becomes very much a matter of diminishing returns.

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The public thinks that scouting is about creating a wilderness survivalist with First Aid, Firebuilding, and Knot tying skills. BSA thinks scouting is about developing personal self worth, confidence, and leadership that just happens to take place outdoors.

 

That's the Prime Disconnect, right there.

 

If I may generalize, the latter mindset is why we're losing kids. They're promised hair-raising adventure in the wilderness, and we give them meetings in a church basement and monthly campouts a couple hundred feet from an overloaded trailer.

 

You can't have Scouting without outdoor adventure!

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Shortridge: Or, to put it another way, "The bears. You promised bears!"

 

Kids think they'll be camping in the real wilderness, where there are bears waiting to snack on them.

 

Adults would have none of that. (Neither would the bear, but that's another matter.)

 

So instead of heading out into the vanishing real wilderness, they camp...effectively in their backyards.

 

Leading to "But where are the bears?"

 

Was that way when *I* was a Cub Scout.

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