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Maintaining Traditional Advancement Skills?

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Well, I think I figured out why it bothers _me_ when a Scout at the rank of First Class or above can't remember basic skills or knowledge acquired in the course of earning Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class.


First, someone spent a lot of time and energy teaching those things for the purpose of completing advancement requirements, and the Scout spent a lot of time and energy learning them. If the skills/knowledge are forgotten, all of that effort is wasted. (And if I was the one teaching, it is a personal disappoointment.)


Second, I think that there is a certain set of skills and knowledge -- that we call "Scoutcraft" -- that by history, tradition, and act of Congress (the Congressional Charter), Boy Scouts are expected to have. And if a Scout doesn't have this basic range of Scoutcraft proficiency, it feels like something fundamental is missing, even if the Scout is an Eagle, is an expert marksman, a guide on the Colorado River, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, and about to enter the seminary with the goal of becoming a military chaplain.


At the same time, I'm quite sympathetic to the view that it is like "throwing good money after bad" for a troop to go out of its way to create and run competitions, activities, and campouts for the principal purpose of maintaining traditional skills that would not be used otherwise in the troop program and would be quickly forgotten by the Scouts.


Dan Kurtenbach

Fairfax, VA

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OGE glad you are back,


I am having a bad morning so I will try to be Cheerful --it is not a natural state for me.


Talked with a former Bear co-leader of mine last night. One of "our boys" her son dropped out of scouts (her other son got his Eagle). I talked to the boy. He did not like the outdoors stuff, the camping, etc. Found it too challenging. Preferred baseball which he is good at. Fair enough he is passionate about something and wants to do it. As we have said their is a lot of competition.


There is no way this kid is ever to go pro; he is good but not great. So are the baseball skills not practical?


In contrast, later that night my two boys insisted on me getting them up to (try Unsuccessfully) to see the Perseid meteor shower. We had time to talk, I mentioned their friend and we talked about scouts. They are excited about our new SM's ambitious schedule (I am working on the calendar so the they got a peak). I asked what was it they liked most about scouting:


1-Camping, fire, knives, cooking, making stuff.(the Outdoor Program)

2-Going on adventures, Canoeing, sailing, learning 1st Aid.

3-Uniforms. (Surprising)

4-Hanging out with the boys before the meeting (game time)

5-Daddy time.

6-Being in charge (they both are chomping for leadership)


Sports can accomplish some of that. Uniforms, yes. Fun with boys, yes. Daddy time, if I was a coach, yes.


They value the traditional outdoor program the most. To do that, I would argue as others have here, it is best to learn and keep up the traditional outdoor skills.


Like my young friend in baseball, this does not appeal to all boys. BUT my watering down the traditional program we make Scouts boring for those who are attracted to the traditional program. That is our market segment. My boys pour over the old manuals and boys life magazines. We sell them an image of adventure and we had better deliver.


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Oh, I think it is pretty clear that there are some skills that are part of the Boy Scout T-2-1 advancement requirements that while inherently good and useful and excellent life skills to have, they just aren't needed as much in Boy Scout outdoor activities as they were 20 or 30 years ago. That is because gear has evolved and our outdoor practices have evolved (for better or worse -- that's another discussion). Yes, some of us may choose to use those skills daily or on every campout because they remain inherently good and useful; that is not the issue. The issue is that while we may like the traditional way and it still works and has other good qualities, there are other options that in most situations are as good and as useful and have other good qualities the traditional way might not have.


Dan Kurtenbach

Fairfax, VA

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I agree that you have to teach the modern techniques as well. I like boys to make, if possible, their own gear to be thrifty and learn about what they are using. If you rigging an ultralight tarp those knots come in handy. We have had some good new-school vs old-school debates with the boys and encourage them to figure the stuff out on their own. I have one old-school son and one who has to have the latest innovation.


I think the traditional skills, partially because they are different and a tad exotic, encourage a bit more creativity and a deeper understanding of how things work. That breeds more Independence. A cord-lock does what a taut-line hitch does and is easier to adjust. Bungee cords are nice but seem to abrade faster. What should you do if the bungee breaks or you not have enough. Etc, etc.


I have seen guys go at both sides of the continuum. Traditional guys that start using more modern techniques and equipment because it is easier and more practical. Modern guys that back into learning "the basics" because they have realized on some trip that they were not nearly as prepared as they thought, say when the stove stopped working or the canister was empty.


So I do not think it is an either/or.


However all organizations have their cultures and prices of admission. And even if for no other reason the Traditional Skills are that for scouting.

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DK does raise a good point though - we should also be teaching how to maintain the newer gear. If 2 half and tautline are critical for old tents, replacing guy lines on new tents, etc. then there are also newer skills that should be covered like replacing shock cords on newer style poles, repairing nylon fabric, etc. Perhaps a course on cleaning out liquid fuel stoves as well.


Hmm - might have a job for my Venture Crew.

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Tampa Turtle wrote: "However all organizations have their cultures and prices of admission. And even if for no other reason the Traditional Skills are that for scouting."


Good comments, and I think you've captured my thinking on this. Scouting has good reasons to teach traditional Scoutcraft. Some of those reasons have to do with history and tradition, some with providing a foundation for other outdoor skills, and some with the value of handiness and life skills. And so traditional Scoutcraft is part of our advancement requirements and we teach it to Scouts. Once that is done, there is no longer any express requirement on the troop or on the Scout to maintain those traditional skills, and troops and Scouts may choose to no longer use them. However, the good reasons for introducing traditional Scoutcraft are still there, and a troop would be wise to take those into account when planning its program. After all, this is not a zero-sum game: you CAN learn traditional skills AND modern skills; you CAN learn to use traditional gear AND modern gear; you CAN still claim true descent from the kids with the campaign hats and Scout staffs AND be a nylon-clad, GPS-toting expert in cutting edge outdoor practices.


Dan Kurtenbach

Fairfax, VA


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Two stories, both anecdotal, but for me it's abotu "Being Prepared."


First story is about a service member deployed over seas. His unit is going to live in tents, and a few of the plastice sliders break. So he comes to the platoon sgt.'s attention when he starts tieing tauntline hitches. Ended up teaching the knot to everyone.


Second story is a bit unbeleivable, but I believe I read it in SCOUTING. An astronaught had to deal with a broken robotic arm on the shuttle. Contacted mission control about it, and stated he could fix it with a lashing he learned in Scouts. Mission control said they would get back to him on how to fix it. After the safety engineers on earth tried various methods to solve the problem, they agreed that the lashing would be the best way to fix the problem until they could get back to Earth.

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So, TT I was in Tampa, just for Thursday, flew in Wednesday PM and left 5pm Thursday. Was actually in St Petersburg but I digress


Way back in 2011 I went to the National Jamboree as a Second Asst Scoutmaster, in the Council I serve, that means Quartermaster. Well, it rained and it rained and soon the campsite had a raging torrent running through half of it. I had the scouts move the tents in the midst of the forming rapids and place them next to the tents on higher ground. These were BSA wall tents, Two Uprights, a ridge pool and 4 corner poles.


Well, there was not much space between tents at this point and the boys were having a hard time making the tents stay up as the length of the guy ropes were to long to have the slides work. One of the youth said we should cut the ropes. I was aghast. I said take off the slide, tie a sheepshank to shorten the rope and then a taut line hitch to tighten the line. I was met with blanker stares than one gets at a zombie mob. I showed the boys what I was talking about and eveyone loved the "new" skill I taught them. The Sheepshank, the taut line hitch they knew (!)

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You were in Tampa? They let you in? I am going to have to have another talk with security.


I actually live near downtown Tampa but go to Pinellas fairly frequently. We do a lot of aquatics since we live here. Do our conditioning hikes on the soft sand at the beach which has the added benefits of girls waving to the boys.


I like the idea of teaching the boys some basic maintenance of new materials. At least a few boys are learning to sew so my faith in mankind is restored a tiny bit. So much stuff that is repairable is treated as disposable; it bothers me the waste.


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it has been a while since boys had to know how to hitch up the buggy so the family could go to town, or braintan a deerskin so he could have some new britches. In a similar vein, I once had to learn the exports of the Latin American countries (sixth grade social studies), but that is long forgotten.

So, why bother? It depends on how you view Scouting. Let's set aside the character building aspect for a moment as other endeavors can also build character. So, why Scoutcraft? It depends on how Scouting is viewed. For some it becomes a hobby & avocation - being comfortable in the undeveloped lands, while for others it is just a series of trials & tribulations to keep the "little monsters" occupied through their childhood years.

Partly, it depends on how your troop camps. If the troop mainly car-camps, and even pulls a trailer, then having all the latest gear is natural, and there is no need to recall the old ways.

On the other hand, if the mode of the troop is to hike into the wilderness areas, then the less gear & gadgets you have to carry on your back seems to increase the amount of joy available. How to make a safe cooking fire, how to signal the patrol across the lake - because you don't have enough bars on the cellphone - that there has been enough fish caught for lunch, but would they please bring in some firewood, would those berries you've come across make a good pie...

Most of our Scouts like the twice a year camporees and the Klondike because it allows them to show their stuff. We've instilled in them that losing is not a disgrace; it is a necessary feedback mechanism in learning.

A highpoint each year is what I'll call the survival campout. The scenarios vary. One is that you are canoeing, and the canoe overturns. The swift current takes the canoe and loaded gear while you barely make it to shore. You later search for the canoe, but can't find it. You now need to survive. A second, all too popular, is that you're held on the prison planet xxxx. If you can escape & survive until you reach a place of refuge...

Frankly, we tell some of the older boys that through no fault of their own, they or their friends may suffer a period of homelessness. The more they know how to make do with nothing, the easier it will be. On a more practical note, your social group may desire a spontaneous picnic. In times of little money, the group can afford the food, but not the charcoal. Fire-building to the rescue as you light the wood in the picnic area grill.

Lastly, while not every Scout becomes a SM/ASM, some do join a living history group later on in life. Their retained Scoutcraft knowledge may make all the difference between fun and misery.

Part of Scoutcraft is craft, and any craft has to be learned. But, once learned, does it need to be kept? That is up to each individual.

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"...so you can focus on the everyday skills you will need for our program like climbing knots, 2-person cooking on backpacking stoves, GPS, paddling, and bike maintenace."


I don't climb, but I was "re-taught" all my basic scout knots for an Emergency Rescue Technician class I took a few years back. It was the easiest part of the class for me, I already knew them and ended up helping my classmates learn for the first time.


If I don't cook for a group, i.e. family, I will cook for myself. Never did the 2-person thingy in 55 years of camping.


GPS? I have a TOM TOM in my car, but I exclusively use a compass while hiking, hunting and traveling off-road.


Paddling? I'm an avid canoist/kayaker, but I also don't stay in hotels when I go paddling. Camp skills make the trip cheaper. Sandbar camping is a lot more fun than in a crowded campground, too.


Bike maintenance. I ride occasionally for pleasure, but normally just walk for exercise. I own 4 bikes and tinker on them all the time and never had any instruction on how to do it. It's not that hard. Easier than fixing the car.


I remember back in 1999 when everyone was abuzz about Y2K. Someone asked me what I was planning on doing in the harsh Wisconsin winter when everything shuts down. I said my freezer has plenty of food and without electricity, it should stay cold until spring. I will throw my 0-degree bag on my bed and sleep at night and when it comes time to cook, I'll start a fire in my backyard (plenty of wood in the woods behind the house) and drag out the dutch oven.


I use basic scout skills every day of my life, more so on weekends.


Got lost once in the woods hunting. The forest was criss-crossed with fire lanes and while wandering around looking for deer I lost count of lanes. It was getting late, built a fire, cut a few branches off the trees and spent the night. No big deal.


For lunch today, visited a friend who had "nothing in the house to eat". Looked in the fridge and saw a pint of blueberries and within 5 minutes there were blueberry pancakes whipped up and frying out nicely.


Scout skills have served me well over the past 50 years and to think that GPS is going to ever replace my trusty compass, it'll never happen. 6 hours in sub-zero weather, your GPS is deader than a door nail and my compass is still working just fine, thank you.



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I think dkurtenbach is clever to bring up this subject in the manner that he did. The "Devil's Advocate or Reverse Psychology" approach has many including myself justifying "Traditional Skills" that appear to be outdated on the surface. After a few comments, it is clear they are not outdated and we now realize we use them more often than we thought.


Thanks dkurtenbach for making us remember why we love scouting so much!



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Nice observation, Federalist.


Next step is to take the adult enthusiasm for traditional skills and convey that to the scouts. (They are not likely to see the need to whip the ends of ropes that they only use occasionally to learn knots.) Gotta find reasons for them to use them on campouts. I like the idea of campouts with no tents, no trailers, not a single luxury (a Giligans Island weekend, perhaps?)

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