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Policy Pronouncements in Scout Literature

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I apologize to my betters if these observations are self-evident.


It sometimes seems to me that Scout literature is like the Bible: language can be found that differs on many points. Therefore, it can be cited on more than one side of a position about "authentic" Scouting.


So the first Scout Master's Handbook (1913) describes boys as little beasts, warns against giving them too much power, and looks on pure boy-democracy with great alarm.


However, in a BSA behavior that persists to this day, the 1913 SMHB was written by a committee. In fact, it is a collection of separate articles by identified authors. So, on other pages in the 1913 SMHB we find other ideas.


1. The ultimate aim of every Scout, we are told, should be leadership. Presumably, since Scouts are handy to a "Scout", leadership of Scouts is at least contemplated.


2. The very writer who decries "too much" boy leadership in the 1913 version of the ["Six] Principles of Boy Work," also admonishes the adult to lead indirectly from off the stage: "Thirdly, the best way to have boys accomplish things is to allow them to do the things. . . . Thus the Scout Master will will not do anything that the boy can do himself, and he will be continually placing responsibility on the lad. Responsibility is the great maker of men." Gee, that sounds familiar, does it not?


3. To the question, should Patrol Leaders be appointed OR elected, the 1913 SMHB answers with a resounding, "yes!" George Merritt, at p. 254, writes "In the unorganized gang there is always a natural leader in command, and this boy will assert his ability and power for leadership in whatever group of boys he may be. For this reason it is better for the boys to elect their own leaders as this natural leader-type is most likely to be selected by them. Otherwise, if another sort of boy is appointed or selected as leader, the chances are that the natural leader of the group will either oust the other fellow or break up the patrol."


Merrit goes on to describe appointment of PL's by the Scoutmaster as "dictatorial appointment."


Merritt also states that the PL "presides" at patrol meetings and , "usually," the senior of the PL's "presides" at troop meetings.


4. Later in the 1913 SMHB, Ormond Loomis, a serving SE, describes appointing patrol leaders and assistants in a new troop or if conditions otherwise compel it, until the "election of patrol officers."


He also notes that the Patrol Leader "should be the actual leader of the patrol" who "should be given full charge of developing and carrying out the activities assigned to Scouts under him. It is his duty to arose the spirit of unity and strength without which a patrol cannot succeed and without which patrol life is impossible." The PL is to take responsibility for his patrol independent of adults: "The Patrol Leader should make it his duty to get a physician to teach First Aid rather than to depend upon the Scout Master." "Patrol Leaders should regularly be given full charge of meetings of patrols," AND the best performing PL "should be in charge" when the troop is called together


Loomis does advocate that an adult should attend every "hike."


He finds it "preferable" that the Patrol leader select his assistants himself."



When differing, even conflicting, positions exist side-by-side in official literature, should they not be cited as authority with care and with context?


Moreover, one might allow for honest changes in thinking over time and as experince is accumulated.



The 1913 SMHB is available on line. Google "Handbook for Scoutmaster's" + "1913."

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Although I know what I am about to say is considered heresy by some in this forum, I don't regard decades-old Scouting literature as being "official" at all anymore, especially a book that is 98 years old. It served its purpose and now there are new books. And I know many people say the current books are terrible, and I would agree that some of the old books may have advice that is worth listening to, ideas worth considering, etc., but even that is not an "official" pronouncement of what the program is today. So personally I would not worry about inconsistencies in a book that was written by a variety of authors 98 years ago, and I would seek more recent advice. But, as they say, your mileage may vary, and I know that among the people who speak up about things like this, my opinion seems to be in the minority.

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I am not bothered by the inconsistencies in superseded literature in the slightest.


It is interesting that some of the "newer" ideas ("Never do for the Scout what he can do for himself.") were present far earlier than generally acknowledged and that the pattern of inconsistent statements by BSA continues continues. The last is troublesome to the extent that we are to follow the "official" line.

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".. the pattern of inconsistent statements by BSA continues."


We hear that statement from time to time and I always wonder what the point is in making it. An invitaion to take your pick of one point or the other perhaps, or maybe ignore both and do your own thing. Perhaps. Rarely is there any citation offered to support the claim. I suspect that virtually all of the "inconsistencies" follow from the necessities of a revisions schedule, e.g. the Boy Scout Handbook being revised, and the Scoutmaster Handbook revision comes later. But no matter. One can either choose to work with the program or fight it. I don't know why good Scouters choose to fight the program they love.

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Yah, perfectly natural to have inconsistencies in both content and vision, eh? Especially when yeh don't do much continuity editing and tend to use large committees to formulate content. By and large, large committees get yeh mediocrity most of the time :p.


That's OK, eh? Scouters being hardworking, intelligent, principled, and caring people take the ideas from the program literature that they need to make things work. And from their own life experience and their CO's mission and values and maybe from other sources here and there, formal and informal.


That's how the program is successful. Consistency is vastly overrated and hard to achieve. Yeh won't find consistency in real laws, eh? Or in their application. And lots more people being paid lots more money with lots more training are involved in that system.




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Noting inconsistencies and wishing to understand the actual BSA position is not "fighting" anything. It's trying to understand and/or to point out questionable situations.


Want an example?


Here is one discussed here before. Scout literature such as the SMHB and PLHB say the PL's responsibilities include things that almost anyone (Never say "all.") would agree is part-and-parcel of a dictionary definition of "discipline." Current Youth Protection Training expressly says all -- all -- discipline is to be handled by adults.


(I asked about this conflict at Council in April. They looked at the training AV again (with "new eyes"), expressed "surprise," and would not offer an opinion as to what course to follow. A discussion of the range of behaviors that fit the term "discipline" resolved nothing except that "serious" discipline was surely for adults to administer. I will be advised about "serious" in due course. Breath, holding of, not.)




Wilderness Survival Merit Badge pamphlet says Scouts should wear T-shirts and shorts and provides numerous pictures of Scouts at Philmont in T-shirts, shorts and no head-ware. Same book says wear trousers, LS shirts, and brimmed hat if it's sunny.




Same pamphlet says in a survival situation you are to stay put (Hence, zero discussion of navigation or self-rescue.). Same pamphlet gives pages of criteria for a proper 'survival campsite," almost surely useless if you are to stay put.




G2SS says to avoid "large sheath knives." Offical BSA survival books sold in BSA stores advocate khukuris and bolos, perhaps due to a sword or scabbard-tool exception to the "large sheath knife" admonition.


Please note these are all "health and safety" matters, presumably worthy of attention.


Beav's point being accurate, one ignores the silly and goes with the rational. PL's lead their patrols. Cover up in the sun. Move if it makes sense. No short-swords.



But things are not always that clear. Until recently, advice on whether the "two-deep" rule applied to "Patrol activities" was all over the block. Different DE's and middle-level paid Scouters were giving sharply different advice in our Council.

So now we know - sorta.

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I have some old books on and about Scouting.

I have at one time read them.

Much like I have cook books that cover cooking and how people cooked, prepared food and ate at different time through the ages.

For the most part I look at these more from a matter of interest than from trying to find a practical way of doing something or trying to get the job done.

When it comes to doing something and getting the job done, most times out of necessity I use what I know works.

Learning and getting to know what will work? Most times means falling back on past experiences, using whatever resources are available or sometimes researching what works and choosing the option I think is going to work. - If it doesn't work? Then this is added to my list of experiences.

Here is this forum for a very long time I've harped on about Train them, Trust them, Let them lead. I believe with this with all that's in me. Still there are times when "They" haven't received all the training that they need and a plan B is needed. Things don't always go to a plan or as planned.

Again here in this forum I for a very long time went on about how wrong it was for people to tweak the program. Today I'm not so adamant on this one. While I still see straying too far from the program as it is meant to be as wrong. I do see that people do what works for them and they sometimes change things based on where they are, what they have to work with and the boys that they are working with. I'd expect different things from a well established Troop from an affluent area than a new Troop from a not so well to do area.

I'm willing to trust other adults who sometimes interpret things that are sometimes not written as clearly as we might like and do at times contradict themselves, as they might see them.

If this at times confuses the Scouts? My hope is that there is a life lesson in there somewhere. Kids get conflicting information a lot from parents, teachers and a lot of the adults they have to deal with. Part of what we do is about having them make choices. Sometimes they need to look at what is offered and make a choice.

We will never know what the guys from Scoutings past would write or say about living in the 21st century. Lord Baden Powell and the rest of the gang aren't around to write a blog or put an app on our smart phones. I'm OK with this, they did their part they served us well but they passed the baton on to us and it's up to us to keep passing it on. We will never know what they might think about the job we are doing or have done. When the times comes that I'm not around anymore, my hope is that my legacy is that I did my best. To expect anymore more than that would be unfair.


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The 1913 Handbook for Scout Masters is interesting to read for historical reasons, but it was entirely rewritten and many of the approaches and policies and procedures completely changed in the 1920s and by the time and with the printing of the 1936 Handbook for Scoutmasters the way Scouting was directed to happened in the BSA was completely different than what is described in the 1913 Handbook for Scoutmasters. For one thing, the Patrol Method was introduced into BSA Scouting and we have been using it ever since.


Anyway, the only policies we are required to follow are the ones that are in the current handbooks and policy books.


As for modern books having conflicting advice, ya gotta go back to the committees that made them if the conflicting advice is in the current book. For example, modern recommendations for desert survival is to have loose clothing and a hat covering you to protect from the sun and to help with regulating perspiration evaporation.


What official BSA survival book recommends a 11 year old boy carry a khukuris to summer camp?


We are changing our polices on discipline in the troop and moving it from the Scouts to the adults. The youth protection folks are working through all the manuals now. They have completed their review of the SM Handbook so if you still see guidance that a PL does discipline in the 2010 version of the SM Handbook, that would still be policy. I just took a glance at my 2010 copy of the SM Handbook and I didn't find any reference that would lead me to believe that a Scout is in charge of discipline. Can you cite the reference for me?


The PL Handbooks are currently under review, the 2011 versions should be available at your Scout Shop this month. I would be interested in what changes there.


Although discipline is now in the hands of adults, giving direction and solving disputes are still items that the Jr. Leaders are responsible for.(This message has been edited by bnelon44)

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I too enjoy reading the older literature, if nothing else they capture "the spirit" of we are trying to achieve even if some things are different. I like Eamonn comparison to old cookbooks. I have been reading some old of my late Mother-in-laws cookbooks collection (1920-1960's) and while nutritional needs (anemia, malnutrition) and preparation (lard, long preparation times) have changes there are often some great lost ideas to be gleaned. It is great to have the old scout literature to get ideas from --some of our boys really like to learn something "old-school" now and then.


As for following the current literature remember it isn't a suicide pact. If something doesn't work maybe you need to modify it to capture the intent.

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During my hay day when I got to talk a few minutes with some person closer to the mountain top, I kind of gathered that they aren't as close a team as we think. We envision a half of dozen folks who are supreme experts with everything in the program. I never got that from them. I got that each person has their own area of expertise and didnt venture too far into the other guys area. They probably assumed they other folks understood their area enough to be consistant with their area, but there wasnt a lot of talk about it.


One example is the new SM Fundamentals course put out in 2000 was written by three different people independent of each other in three different parts of the country. Once they finished their part, they sent it to some other indpendent group to combine the three parts into the course. This makes sense to anyone who has taught the course because some of the PowerPoint slides and videos dont match the course contents. Their uniform content is inconsistent through the course chapters. They may have fixed this by now, but it was an annoyance for a few years.


What I think is, for what ever reason, inconsistencies are not a high priority if they arent causing expensive problems. They may be on somebodys to do list, but changes are expensive, so why bother until at least the next major update?




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I think you will note that I did not, in simple fact, say that BSA advised khukuris at Summer camp. As you know, contrary to BSA's acknowledgement of educational responsibility to teach safe use of all legally possessed knives (2011 G2SS "Knives"), many Councils purport to totally ban any fixed-blade knife at Summer Camp.


The survival books I mentioned are The Complete Wilderness Training Manual, 2d. ed. rev. (DK Publishing, 2007) and "The Survival Handbook," DK Publishers, 2009. Both are trade paperbacks and bear the Symbol and name of the BSA on the cover. They are for sale in our local BSA Scout Shop - as of last Tuesday. They were written by former UK commando types and are pretty good. Neither seems to be specifically aimed at youth. I suspect that no one outside the Supply Organization has ever turned a single page of either book.


As for the Youth Protection AV's pronouncement that only adults handle "discipline issues," I have no idea what was in the mind(s) of whoever came up with that language. Nor can I ask because as BSA has walled itself off from the general body of volunteers expected to carry out BSA policy. Even Scouting [Magazine] neither knows nor can get an answer for me.


This leaves us with the usual tools we use in every day life when confronted by unclear messages: the generally accepted meanings of words, context, and "common sense."


"Discipline" is often used for punishment, but discipline is also self-control, orderliness, or submission to authority.


The Patrol Leader Handbook states that "When you see that a patrol member is overstepping the boundaries of the code of conduct spelled out in the Scout Oath and Law, it is your responsibility to step aside with that Scout and discuss with him why his behavior is not acceptable." That is a description of handling a discipline issue.


Spelling out to the offender consequences for the unacceptable behavior would be discussing discipline INCLUDING "punishment" ("The SPL says your tent is an embarrassment. You and Jon are on KP until your tent passes inspection.").


As we have doubtless all observed, "discipline" is often enforced by some or all of the group without reference to any official title or role ("Stop screwing up the tent inspections for us!). There may also be unofficial group punishment to enforce discipline ("Why won't anyone talk to me? I didn't mean to screw up the tent inspections.).


If the BSA clarifies that the AV is now the rule --- if discipline is now solely the province of adults, they will have done a very unwise thing by producing a rule that simply will not work and cannot be enforced in the real world. Unenforceable rules produce disrespect for all rules. And what would be left of the Patrol method or youth leadership? So I sincerely hope that we will get more specific, more useful language in the AV.


And as you seem to be a spokesman for the corporation ("We are changing our polices on discipline in the troop and moving it from the Scouts to the adults. The youth protection folks are working through all the manuals now."), I hope BSA will, through you, apply the knowledge and experience that you seem to possess to making decisions on such matters.

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>The Patrol Leader Handbook states that "When you see that a patrol member is overstepping the boundaries of the code of conduct spelled out in the Scout Oath and Law, it is your responsibility to step aside with that Scout and discuss with him why his behavior is not acceptable." That is a description of handling a discipline issue.


If you call that discipline, then you are correct. However I don't see that changing in the near future. But I also don't see that as what YPT is talking about either.



>Spelling out to the offender consequences for the unacceptable behavior would be discussing discipline INCLUDING "punishment" ("The SPL says your tent is an embarrassment. You and Jon are on KP until your tent passes inspection.").


No that is not what the above paragraph says the Scout can do. It does not grant the Scout permission to punish. It tells the Scout to discuss why a behavior is not acceptable.


>And as you seem to be a spokesman for the corporation


We are all members of the organization (I assume you are a member with a current membership card.) We are all BSA, it isn't an "us vs them" situation. Volunteers help to define policy in our organization.

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No that is not what the above paragraph says the Scout can do. It does not grant the Scout permission to punish. It tells the Scout to discuss why a behavior is not acceptable.


Yah, hmmm... I need a "rolling my eyes" version of one of those little smillie icons.


Just can't wait for da Patrol Leaders to sit down and try to do some version of the Adult Behavior Lecture. :p Doesn't work for adults most of the time. Can't imagine why it would work for a Patrol Leader.


We are all members of the organization.


Yah, but we all have to be a bit careful about whether we're speaking as members of the organization or as spokespeople for the corporation. There's a difference, eh? And da Rules and Regulations of the BSA don't allow regular members to speak on behalf of and for the BSA. Nor members of committees, eh? ;) And as you've pointed out, you agreed to abide by those Rules & Regulations when yeh signed your membership application.




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I think National really screwed the pooch when it put its seal on those DK and other books. It's fine to list suggested resources in our own manuals, as we've done for years. But the Fieldbook and Handbook should really cover all the basics, without confusing the issue between a half-dozen other "BSA" books that necessarily aren't matched to the way we do things.


If there's a need for advanced outdoor skills books, we have enough expertise in our own organization to be able to publish our own editions without piggybacking off someone else.

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benlon44, BSA is VERY careful to point out that it "owns" the brand and makes the rules.


I am not a representative of BSA in a legal OR practical sense.


IF you believe that a PL cannot, under current policy, assign KP as punishment, I believe you have a very unique perspective, and I use "unique" deliberately and in its literal meaning., not in any sarcastic sense.


Shortidge, I think the DK books are questionable even though, on the whole, they are vastly superior to the MBP on the subject. However, if one takes into account the current, wretched Wilderness Survival Merit Badge pamphlet, I have no confidence in the general proposition that the corporation has the capacity to write expertly on outdoor skills in general. Nor do I think that was ever the case. The volunteers, as a body, have considerable expertise, but are often ignored.



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