The part-time patrol method

half_patrolsAs a unit commissioner and Friends of Scouting presenter, I have the opportunity to visit many troops and packs and get insight into how they operate. We commissioners also talk among ourselves about problems and issues in our units.

One of the troops had an observation about a recent campout:

…the boys were separated by patrols… more boys seemed to be engaged cooking and cleaning…younger Scouts did well…we should continue this method.

While on one hand I’m happy that the troop conducted a successful patrol-method campout and has seen its benefits, I was disappointed to hear that most of their monthly “campouts” tend to be group activities: a ski trip, a merit badge clinic, a museum weekend, and so on.

This troop seems to be employing the patrol method on a part-time basis, and while you might think it’s OK to fit in a traditional campout only now and then, a troop that dips in and out of using the patrol method when it’s convenient or when there’s nothing else to do just isn’t fulfilling its responsibility as a Boy Scout troop. It’s more like an adventure club where the participants happen to be wearing Scout uniforms.

Any troop that doesn’t embrace the patrol method simply isn’t faithful to Scouting as our founder, Sir Robert Baden-Powell, intended, and as our Scouts and parents are entitled to. Scouting stands apart because no other youth organization employs the same methods as we do, and when we abandon them, we lose our unique value and become just like most other youth groups.

In his blog Scouting Rediscovered, Enoch Heise has a great explanation of what in the world is this Patrol System? Enoch said Baden-Powell told us that you can’t have a real Scout troop without a real implementation of the patrol system – and I should add a consistent implementation. He points out, as we have, that a troop is a collection of patrols – each one with its own unique character – not a mob of boys subdivided into patrols to simplify management. Everything that a troop does should be to support its patrols and to encourage them to function as independent Scouting units within the troop. When you read his post, you’ll learn what Baden-Powell laid out, along with the definition of a patrol, its roles, responsibilities and activities; how patrol spirit is defined and developed, and how relationships – between members of a patrol and between the patrol leader and the Scoutmaster – form the building blocks of the patrol. Enoch knows what he is talking about; he is a recent Eagle Scout, now an assistant Scoutmaster, from a troop that knows the patrol system.

Going back to the troop I mentioned earlier, we should ask just who is responsible for adhering strongly to the patrol method? While certainly the Scouts are responsible for leading themselves, it’s up to the adults to ensure that we don’t get in their way and not let the boys take the easy way out. For instance, we can go overboard with “youth leadership” by allowing the Scouts to plan outings like the museum trip or merit badge clinic I mentioned earlier – or ask the adults to do it for them. Boys being boys, they’ll gladly let others do the heavy lifting, and if the adults go along, we’re not lifting – we’re actually letting them down. Now there’s nothing wrong with these activities as such, but they shouldn’t be a major part of your outdoor program.

So if your troop is holding patrol campouts only when there are no other, more exciting, activities to do, take another look. You’re probably not really using the methods of Scouting to advance the aims.


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