We tend to think of Scouting as a perpetual program – something that’s always been there and always will, without much changing. The ideals, the oath and law, the principle of the boys running the troop are all things that seem to be carved in stone.
So how can our Scouting knowledge become obsolete in a program with so much that remains constant?
While the principles we live by don’t change, and haven’t changed in a hundred years, the way the program implements them have changed over the years, and sometimes quite dramatically. If you were around in the 1970s, you may remember when the BSA revised the Boy Scout program to lessen the emphasis on the outdoors, removing outdoor skills requirements for the lower ranks and deleting several outdoor-related merit badges, including Camping, from the Eagle-required list. It took “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt coming out of retirement to beat some sense into the program and restore the outing in Scouting.
In his blog The Reformed Broker, financial expert Joshua Brown presented an illustration titled The Shelf Life of Your Knowledge. His concept is that there is some knowledge, like calculus, that is unchanging and will be useful essentially forever, while other subject matter, like VCR repair, no longer has any practical use. Most knowledge falls in between these two points. As one who is conversant with computer programming, I was amused to see that one of the languages I have learned, COBOL, is alongside Latin toward the “Forever” end of the spectrum, while contemporary systems like Android programming are as prone to obsolescence as the cellphone devices they run on.
Our own personal knowledge must constantly evolve to keep pace, not only in life but also with the changes in Scouting. New versions of merit badge pamphlets come out to reflect changes in the requirements. Changes to rank requirements, safe Scouting rules and advancement procedures dictate revisions of publications every year or two. Training courses have to change to keep pace with these changes elsewhere in Scouting. Even the venerable Scoutmaster Handbook is due for a revision later this fall and will encompass not just the role of the Scoutmaster but will have all adult leaders as the intended audience. We need to regularly monitor these changes and realize that our knowledge of Scouting must keep pace.
But another aspect of Scouting that requires us to update our thinking comes from within ourselves. Remember when you first got involved in Scouting? Was it in Cub Scouts, where you had no idea what was ahead but you plowed forward anyway? Then you went to a training session and learned more about what you were supposed to be doing, and your knowledge changed. You had to throw away some notions you had when you first started, to be replaced with a better and easier way. As you progressed through, there was always new information to be learned and new ways to deliver the program. Boy Scouts was a huge leap for an adult who was conditioned by Cub Scouting’s parent-led program, and it takes a lot of re-thinking (and throwing away of old knowledge) to do it the right way.
What’s your best defense against a constant program that’s constantly changing? Keeping in touch with online resources like this one is a good start, but pay attention to the news your council sends out. Read Scouting Magazine regularly. Go to Roundtable each month and find out what’s coming down the road. Much of the time, we hear about changes through the grapevine before they’re officially announced, and Roundtable is a good time and place to find out from fellow leaders and district volunteers what’s being talked about. Be careful to avoid charging ahead with anything that hasn’t been officially announced, but do your best to know what’s new and current.
We all want our knowledge to keep, but knowing what’s obsolete and what’s evergreen is important.