How often do they – or you – stop to ponder what those words mean?
They are the essence of our movement, reduced to forty words in the Oath and twelve points of the Law: Duty to God and country. Help others. Be trustworthy, helpful, courteous, reverent… you know these things.
What do Boy Scouts do, mostly, though? They hold meetings and they go camping. That makes up, I’d say, 80 percent of their time and efforts.
Is there anything in the Oath and Law about camping or meetings? No!
So how do they fit in?
The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to instill the values of the oath and law. Camping – the outdoors – is one of eight methods by which Scouting instills these values in our young people, and meetings are the process by which they learn the necessary skills and prepare to go camping. If we stop to think about it, I’m sure we can all come up with how each point of the Scout Law is put into practice on a weekend campout.
When we lose sight of these things, we start to lose the meaning of Scouting. The object of our weekends is not entirely to go enjoy the outdoors, and the object of our meetings is not to fill their schedules one night a week, or keep our boys off the streets, or play games, or give them a place to do their homework or run around.
We, as adults, help to provide opportunities for the boys to meet so they can learn the skills and make their plans, and to go camping so they can learn leadership, self-reliance, cooperation, and a spirit of helpfulness. These are life skills that will benefit them in their future years. You could say we are meeting them on their level by doing things that interest them.
Our job is not to provide an outdoor program for them. We don’t make the plans, and we don’t run the show. What we provide is the support and assistance that can only be given by adults, so they can plan and prepare and go camp.
Can these values be instilled by other methods? Yes – there are seven others besides the Outdoors – but without an outdoor program, we just wouldn’t have Scouting as we know it. In addition to these life skills, they’re learning to conserve our natural resources, to Leave No Trace, and to gain an appreciation for the world around us by experiencing it first-hand. If you don’t think today’s youth are nature-deprived, just look at multi-state initiatives like No Child Left Inside and author Richard Louv’s description of the problem as nature-deficit disorder, comparing the syndrome to ADD and proposing the lack of outdoor experiences as a possible cause.
The genius of Baden-Powell’s teachings was to get urban London youth into the outdoors where they can exist in a microcosm among nature, and it grew into the Scouting movement we have today. It’s up to us to use the outdoor method to instill the values, and that means using it as Baden-Powell designed it – as a laboratory for youth leadership.
(Image by Suzy H. Smith)