Has this ever happened to you?
The following question was posted on one of the Scouting forums in the last few weeks. I thought it was an interesting conundrum and offered my comments. Since it’s unfortunately not an uncommon situation, maybe you can relate. I’ll paraphrase:
Last month at the troop committee meeting, I [a Scoutmaster] was told that “this boy-led thing” was not working. I was hurt and disappointed in the boys. The parents thought the boys chose their leaders poorly at the previous election, and they want a major overhaul. I’m not sure we did the right thing, but we had two boys express interest in being senior patrol leader. The assistant Scoutmasters and I picked between the two and chose a tenth grader as the new SPL.. We let him pick his staff down to the patrol leaders and assistant patrol leaders. The boy we chose believes in the patrol method and wants to continue to develop it. I think.he has chosen a good staff, but the parents are still calling for changes. What do you do to quell a parent revolt?
It sounds like there is a lot more going on than what was touched on in the explanation, but it seems likely that the troop has been adult-run for a considerable amount of time. As a result, the parents have come to expect an orderly flow of activities planned for their sons. This is most likely why they are revolting at the thought that a mere boy (gasp) should be given any sort of authority whatsoever, especially when it comes to authority over their son.
The Scoutmaster clearly has good intentions – in fact, he seems to want to do things the right way – but it needs to be taken a step further, not a step backward. Appointing, rather than electing, the SPL to appease the parents is the wrong move, but it’s done, and the new SPL is on his way toward establishing a solid youth leadership corps. He needs mentoring to reinforce the patrol method and strengthen the boys’ ownership of their troop. (Next time it’ll be back to electing the SPL.)
The real issue is not that the boys are doing a poor job of leading. The real issue is that the parents need to be educated as to just what Boy Scouts is. When it comes to troop leadership, the senior patrol leader is elected by all the Scouts in the troop – not appointed by the Scoutmaster or another adult. Further, the patrol leaders are elected only by the members of their individual patrols, not appointed by the senior patrol leader or anyone else. All other positions are appointed: the troop-level positions (Assistant SPL, Quartermaster, Scribe, etc) by the SPL, and the assistant patrol leader by the patrol leader. This is Boy Scouting. We do not deviate from this, for it is vitally important that the Scouts are responsible for who they choose to lead them. (You would not want your district commissioner to come into your troop and appoint the Scoutmaster and committee chair, would you?)
The boys may have “chosen poorly”, presumably in their election of a senior patrol leader, but it is the Scoutmaster’s responsibility to work with whoever the boys elect and try to guide that boy down the path of learning how to lead others. If everything goes well, he will have grown into a more competent leader by the end of his term. Scouting is a learning experience, and every boy deserves a chance to learn to be a leader if he so chooses.
Now, how to deal with the parents?
As I guessed above, these parents probably have a mistaken idea of what Boy Scouts is about. This could arise from their previous experience in Cub Scouting, where the adults run the show. They have probably seen mayhem and disorganization at troop meetings and campouts and feel that things are out of control. In any case, I’d suggest first listening to their objections without judgment. Collect facts about their viewpoint and expectations. Don’t shoot them down as they talk, but listen and echo back some of their main points.
After hearing them out, call a parent meeting. The parents may think this is a forum for them to call for changes, but plan to first present an outline of what Boy Scouting actually is, for they may not understand the aims and methods. The BSA has a training module for orienting parents who are new to Boy Scouting. If you don’t use it verbatim (there are several parts that can be skipped over or condensed), at least use it as a guide for how to explain the program. If possible, the chartered organization representative and the unit commissioner or district unit-serving executive should be present as backup. Having talked with the parents and learned their expectations and objections, you can craft responses to them, as these will surely come up in the Q&A that follows the presentation. Rehearsing these objections and responses with the unit commissioner ahead of time can be helpful, and having appropriate resources at the ready, such as the Scoutmaster Handbook and the Scout Handbook, will provide the written authority you need.
The expected outcome of the meeting is to make clear to the parents how a troop operates, to express the unique value of Scouting for their sons, and help them to realize that if they want a different sort of program – a guided, pre-planned activity club – they are free to seek one elsewhere.
It’s essential that uniformed leaders have completed their basic training (Scoutmaster position-specific and Intro to Outdoor Leader Skills) and that the committee chair and as much of the committee as possible complete Troop Committee Challenge. It is also vitally important that the Key 3 (Scoutmaster, committee chair and chartered organization representative) are on the same page and support one another.
When parents don’t understand what Boy Scouting is all about, and try to treat it like most other youth activities, things can get ugly if they have mistaken expectations. One of the Scoutmaster’s most important jobs is to help parents understand that a troop is meant to be led by the boys under the watchful guidance, but not interference, from adults, and this is how the values of Scouting are instilled. We have the power of over a hundred years of Scouting to back us up.
Clarke Green of scoutmastercg.com just finished a four-week series of podcasts explaining the patrol method, with advice for Scoutmasters on how to strengthen it in your troop. Listen to the first in the series and follow the links to the other three.