Tuesday, October 16, 2012

After 100 years, why are we so bad at Scouting?

As you may know, 2013 is the centennial of Scouting in the LDS Church. That's right, we adopted Scouting just three years after its founding in the US. So, I have to ask the question - after one hundred years, why are we so bad at Scouting?

I suppose it's only fair for me to define "so bad" since there are many good things that happen in Scouting. Let me pinpoint a couple of areas that overall I think we fail*, badly.
  1. Engagement of parents
  2. Adoption of Varsity Scouting
  3. Adoption of Venturing
  4. Awareness of advancement beyond Eagle
  5. Use of youth leadership
  6. Use of Scouting 'methods' other than advancement
  7. Use of commissioners
  8. Integration of scouting and Duty to God
  9. Use of high adventure
  10. Tenure of adult leaders and advisors

That's just ten off the top of my head. I could come up with more, but the list is just depressing.

This is clearly a complex issue, but I think there are two main causes of our epic fail level at delivering the 'promise of Scouting'. The first is that too many of our adult leaders and advisors have not attended the appropriate BSA training(s) for their position. Secondly, we fail to educate parents about the importance of the Scouting program.

Among other things, trained leaders understand Scouting's aims and methods. They utilize all aspects of the program and tailor activities, events, and responsibilities to fit the needs of individual young men. Trained leaders understand that doing it themselves is not an option, and have the skills to coach and mentor youth leaders.

Educated parents demand a high level of performance and commitment from adult leaders and advisors. They leverage the ideals of Scouting in their home, and provide opportunities for youth to use the skills they learn in Scouts. Educated parents appropriately encourage advancement, and play an active role in their sons' Scouting 'career'. They prioritize Scouting above sporting events, and help create the expectation of full uniform, full attendance, and active participation.

If I could wave a magic wand and fix two issues relative to Scouting in the Church, these would be it. I think they are foundational issues that cause so many other symptoms of poor Scouting. In the absence of a magic wand, I'll keep trying to share the good word of Scouting, one blog post at a time...

*I should note that I see many great things happening in Scouting. Many dedicated adult advisors that are fully trained, and work hard to bring to pass the aims of Scouting. Many parents that play important roles in supporting Scouting, and understand how Scouting supports them. My comments here are meant to focus on the opportunities we are missing, the room we have for improvements. Not meant to diminish the good work that is being done.


  1. Adult Scouting advisers in the LDS church are 'called,' or asked to do it. Outside of the LDS church, those who are involved in Scouting, do so for their desire to be involved. Because of this, and because of the lack of tenure (I heard the average person in their Scouting calling is only about 1 year.) it's very hard to get anyone to really know what they're doing. In the LDS church, you don't go looking for a position in Scouting. Callings are suppose to be by inspiration from God, so we don't seek after these callings, we wait for God to speak to the Bishop. (personally, I've been involved in this enough to know that many callings are made more out of desperation than revelation.)

    So, knowing that the time is short for a Scouter, the best thing they can do then is jump in with both feet and get fully engaged in the work. To do so, they need to know what they are doing to avoid the Scout experience from dwindling into weekly basketball practice. They need to be trained. They need not just 'go to training' but they need to be TRAINED. How does a person know how to do their job, how does an athlete know their position on the team, how does a person learn anything new? They get trained constantly. It surprises me how many people think they can sit in a room for 6-8 hours during 'Basic Leader Training' and think they are then trained and can advise the Scouts. That is preposterous! An athlete doesn't go to 1 practice and know all about the game, an employee doesn't sit through one day of training and know everything about their job, a person doesn't learn to play "Mary had a Little Lamb" on the Piano and expect to be playing Bach overtures the next day. It takes constant practice, constant training.

    I've been the Venture Crew Adviser for 3 years. I've been to Basic Leader Training 4-5 times. I've taught BLT 3 times. I've been to Round Table dozens of times. I've taught Round Table on numerous occasions. I can not stop learning. I can not stop training. And I STILL don't feel like I have a handle on it and 'know what I'm doing.' I desire more training so I can be a better adviser, leader, and example.

    Look to one of the great teachings of the Savior. The Law of the Harvest. This profound teaching tells us that we reap what we sow. A parent or leader who doesn't care about Scouting, or doesn't see its potential in the lives of the young men that it serves, will reap young men who are not good Scouts, who have few, if any, life skills, and are not prepared for the future. If a Scouter puts everything into the sowing, the training, the prayer, the endless studying, tweaking, and improving of his Troop, Team, or Crew, the bountiful harvest that is received in the end will be almost immeasurable. Those young men will have learned many life skills, they will have done so many 'hard things' that they know they can accomplish so much more that the world can throw their way. They are prepared for the future. They ARE the future.

    The other great teaching of the Savior is, or course, repentance. And that's the greatest thing. We can always change. We can always do better. We can improve ourselves and our programs so that the young men who we serve will be better for it. Thanks for this great topic!

  2. Contributing factors to the failure inclde: Bishoprics that do not understand the program and explain the expectations when a calling in Scouting is extended (training, roundtable, etc.); Stake leaders that do not get their own training and assist the Wards; and parents who believe that the role of the Scouting leader is to MAKE SURE their son gets to Eagle. All in all, it boils down to a common denominator: laziness.