The “what” comes immediately. The “why” takes longer.

whowhatwhy_stuartmiles_200If there’s one thing that Scouting does thoroughly for its adult volunteers (besides handbooks and publications, that is), it’s training.

There are all manner of courses for training every volunteer position, from den leader to council chairman. Basic training courses are offered online and in person for unit positions – a first exposure to adult leadership at the pack and troop level. In-depth seminars and specialty classes at events like Pow-Wow and University of Scouting expand on that knowledge. High-level courses such as Wood Badge and Advanced Backcountry Leadership Experience put Scouters through the wringer. For the serious volunteer, there are week-long courses at Philmont that offer something for everyone.

Yes, the BSA is big on training – make no mistake about it.

Most of these courses are excellent at giving the leader the knowledge on what to do: what they need to know right now, so they can plan their next den meeting, or how to handle typical Scoutmaster situations during the normal course of a troop’s operations.

But an important aspect that’s often missing is the why. With just about everything we do in Scouting, the ways of doing things didn’t just happen – there is a very important philosophy behind everything we do.

That philosophy can usually be summed up if you boil it down to the aims and methods – developing and promoting character, fitness and citizenship by applying methods such as the outdoors, dens and patrols, adult association, advancement and uniforming.

Much of the time, though, these methods stand with little explanation of the reasons behind them. Take patrols, for instance. We’re told that Scout troops consist of patrols of six to eight Scouts, meeting, working and camping together. At root, that’s what patrols are, but sometimes it isn’t clear why a patrol has six or eight Scouts, or what would happen if we just lumped everyone together at a meeting or campout. Some digging beyond the official BSA training would turn up what the founder of the Scouting movement, Sir Robert Baden-Powell, learned about soldiers in the military, and how he transferred what he learned into Scouting for boys. The boys took to it naturally – patrols that carried out military maneuvers were replaced with groups of neighborhood friends enjoying their own adventures in the outdoors. Baden-Powell was quick to see that both had aspects in common, and was able to construct the concept in Scouting. It was further refined by William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt starting in the 1920s with his rewrites of the Scout handbooks in the United States, bringing Baden-Powell’s concept to the Boy Scouts of America. When we look at the patrol method, we should see more than a convenient way to partition a troop into smaller subsections; rather, we see that patrols are the heart and soul of Scouting, the very reason it exists in the first place.

There are countless other examples of the “what” that the BSA tells us, without really delving into the “why”. These whys are, as they say in math textbooks, left as an exercise for the reader to discover. And there are many ways to discover the whys. Online research is the most available way, including blogs and podcasts, but there are many books, such as B-P’s writings and reprints of early Scouting publications, that delve into the history of the Scouting movement and how things came to be the way they are. And certainly your fellow Scouters can help fill in the blanks.

These things aren’t going to be taught in the BSA’s training courses. Excellent as they are, as taught by dedicated volunteers, there just isn’t the time to cover it all, nor would you want them to. The fun of discovery is left up to you.

Image: Stuart Miles /

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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