I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about what it takes to sustain a movement for more than 100 years – and in reflecting on Scouting in particular, what it takes to continue providing youth with new, relevant, and fresh experiences while still honoring Scouting’s proven and impactful values and ideals. In particular, I’ve been thinking not only about how we impact youth, but in turn, how the priorities of today’s young people can and should shape our programs into the future. To remain relevant in our next 105 years, we must push ourselves to think differently about Scouting than we have in the past – and to rely on the youth we serve, in part, to help us continue to innovate.
We recruit Scouts largely based on the fun things they’ll get to do in the outdoors. Thus, it’s natural for us to think the essence of Scouting is in those fun outdoor activities – camping, hiking, high adventure, etc. While these elements remain important to our movement, it’s essential for us to recognize that the real essence of Scouting is in the outcomes – developing character, citizenship, leadership and physical and mental fitness. These are the aims expressed in the Scout Oath and Law.
We achieve our aims through the methods of Scouting – 1) instilling the values of the Scout Oath & Law; 2) adult association through positive role models; 3) providing peer leadership opportunities; 4) goal setting and achievement; 5) uniforms, which give youth a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves; 6) providing opportunities for service to others and 7) outdoor activities. These methods develop positive traits and outcomes.
Our methods are consistent with independent research done on positive youth develop (PYD). Key features of PYD are marked by “the Big Three:” 1) Positive and sustained adult-youth relations; 2) Life-skill building curricula; and 3) Opportunities for youth participation in and leadership of valued family, school, and community activities.
Think of it this way – if we provided fun activities, whether indoor or outdoor, without the methods that develop these positive traits, we would fail to accomplish our mission. The activities are what we use to attract kids to Scouting, but it is through our methods that we instill the values of Scouting. Our founder, Lord Baden-Powell, said: “Field efficiency, backwoodsmanship, camping, hiking, good turns, jamboree comradeship are all means, not the end. The end is character with a purpose.”
As I envision our next century of serving kids, this distinction is paramount. For Scouting to thrive in the future, we must provide a wider choice of activities that kids want to do. We must appeal to the kids who like outdoor activities as well as those who do not.
This starts with adding new programs that expand our scope – activities like science, technology, engineering and math, for instance. This is the basis for the new STEM Scouts program that has been successfully piloted in the Great Smoky Mountain Council and will be expanded to additional councils this fall. It brings together Scouting’s longstanding values and ideas with the innovations of our future to help us grow into our next 105 years. STEM Scouts, for instance, includes outdoor activities, but uses meetings – or labs – based on STEM activities to attract the youth.
Together, we will collaborate to ensure our place in molding the future leaders of tomorrow. It is a challenge I know we can master. And with that thought, I’ll leave you with wisdom from Lord Baden-Powell:
“Here is a job to our hand that is really worthwhile. Let us seize it and do our best, with God’s help, to make a success of it.”
Yours in Scouting,