In the same way as money in a good investment pays dividends down the road, the Scouting program and our work as volunteers in laying the foundation for the future of our youth produce dividends as well.
As I was driving my son back to college after a recent visit home, we got to talking about Scouting, and he mentioned how he thought his time in Scouting has helped him in the post-secondary environment.
I had a few thoughts in mind: how you learn to take care of yourself on campouts, cook your own food, pack a backpack, stay hydrated, get along with a bunkmate – that sort of thing. Having been in Scouting improves one’s chances of admission into selective universities, and often there are scholarships for Eagle Scouts.
He had other things in mind, though.
“Dad,” he said, “you know how in Scouting, you have to face deadlines? You have to make Star by a certain age to give you enough time to earn Life, and then once you are Life you have until your eighteenth birthday to finish Eagle? It’s a hard deadline and there is no moving it. In college, you have the same kinds of deadlines. The end of the semester comes up quickly if you don’t stay on task, and you need to plan ahead so you can get all the reading done, all the assignments finished, and be prepared for the exams. There’s no postponing it – you either finish on time or you don’t.”
He went on: “Take merit badges. You have to ask the Scoutmaster for a counselor, and you have to call that counselor. You have to get the merit badge book and work on the material on your own. You have to meet with the counselor – someone you’ve likely never met – and show him you know the material. In college, you have to take that initiative – your professors aren’t going to spoon-feed you. You have to get the textbooks and study material, make time to learn it, ask for help when you need it, and finish it up yourself.”
“Office hours – seeking out your professor, making an appointment to talk about the class or get questions answered, or to check up on your progress. That’s just like scheduling a Scoutmaster conference. You’ve finished your rank or are having trouble? You make an appointment with the Scoutmaster. You might have to meet at a time outside a troop meeting so you have to know your calendar and be able to set something up, then arrange with your parents to get you there. Scouting helps by getting you in that mode of thinking before you need to do it on your own.”
His wisdom always surprises me. (I sometimes wonder where he got it from!) We talked about setting goals and about failing and trying again. And he reflected on how he thought he was far better off and learned a lot more than many of the Eagle Scouts in our troop even though he didn’t make Eagle himself. I never poked and prodded him about advancement, or took him by the hand and led him through the Eagle process. I felt that casual discussions led to far more important character-building experiences than taking him step by step. “Having that deadline staring at you, and not meeting it, helps to emphasize the meaning of deadlines. It helps to inspire you to do better the next time, to not let it happen again.” While I mourn the lost opportunity on his part to make Eagle, I still celebrate the life lessons he learned through Scouting and attribute his success in college (and in life in general) to the leadership he gained during his time in the troop.
He had another relatable observation when I brought up Ask Andy’s recent post in issue #327. It’s the one about the parent who was upset with his experience at summer camp where rather than helping out, the Scoutmaster just sat and observed as the boys tried, failed, and eventually succeeded at camp tasks. Reflecting on what he does as a study group facilitator for a particularly difficult class, my son explained “My job is to facilitate their study session, not to teach them. They are supposed to find their own way to the answers. I know the answers and can easily jump in and tell them, and I find it really hard to stay out of their way.” Only being able to ask questions that hopefully will lead them to the answers is frustrating, but it is exactly what Scoutmasters do to mentor the youth leaders in a troop. My son was senior patrol leader in the troop at the time when the Scoutmaster was more results-oriented than process-oriented, and would rather just get things done by any means (often doing them himself) than allow the boys to figure it out for themselves. As a result, he has seen both methods at work and can see the greater value in guided discovery. Not only do things get done, but the boys learn that they can accomplish tasks on their own and learn the process of achievement.
Among the many selling points to our Scouting program – character development, service to others, personal responsiblity – this is one that isn’t brought up very often. These are not just outdoor skills – they are life skills, and our impact from a properly boy-run program will pay dividends in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.