Every school day, our Scouts get up in the morning, have their breakfast, gather their belongings and head off to school for a day of learning. Important subjects such as history, English, mathematics, science, music and art are taught, with the aim that our young people will acquire a well-rounded set of skills to give them a starting point when they head out to college and a career.
Trouble is, they aren’t learning the important stuff. In fact, what they actually are learning most likely works counter to their future aspirations.
In a recent article in vox.com, psychology writer Mark Manson described three destructive things you learned in school without realizing it – things that nearly every student is subjected to, but which Scouting can help remedy.
Manson’s first point is that our students are learning to measure success by the degree of approval that they receive from others. He explains that people are more concerned with appearances rather than actual performance – that we gauge ourselves by others’ standards. This is very true in a school setting, where expectations are set by the curriculum and faculty, and students who don’t measure up are marked as underachievers. He calls this performance-based as opposed to purpose-based – it forces students to mimic what is expected rather than nurturing their passion for the things they are best suited for. Perception is reality to them – the perception that they are fulfilling someone else’s expectations is taken to be the reality that they are a success.
While we measure progress through ranks by advancement requirements, this is only part of being a Scout. He will experience success through reaching his own goals – making First Class rank, completing a mile swim, finishing a backpacking hike, or earning a challenging merit badge. He’s not treated like just another student to be measured by a standardized test. He can forge his own experience and enjoy success on his own terms.
The second point that Manson makes is that in our schools, students learn that failure is a source of shame. Everything boils down to getting good grades, to doing well on the test, to winning the game, to succeeding the first time because there are no do-overs. As a result, they learn to be cautious – to only attempt those things that they know they can succeed at, because trying something new or different – a class in a subject they don’t know anything about, a sport they’ve never played – could result in failure the first few times they try.
Scouting gives our young people a way to fail and to learn from that failure. Within the framework of Scouting, there’s no penalty if something doesn’t work out the first time, whether it’s burned pancakes, a wrong turn on a hike or a troop meeting that didn’t go the way it was planned. We keep them safe, but we don’t step in to fix things, and we don’t mark them down or berate them when they don’t succeed the first or the fifth time. Instead, we look for learning and improvement – learning from failure, and improvement over time. Manson bemoans the lack of personal purpose in our education system, but the purposes of Scouting are manifold and aimed at developing young men of strong character who can take the basic knowledge they’re learning and put it to good use.
Finally, today’s students learn to depend on people in authority to guide their journey. They take the classes that their guidance counselors suggest. They run the plays their coach tells them to run. Later in life, they have learned just to do what the boss says and they’ll be safe. They don’t have to think for themselves – just do what higher-ups want them to do and they’ll have the illusion of success. Unfortunately, this kills creativity, because people are afraid to depart from what they’ve been told to do.
Sure, we have figures of authority in Scouting. Many Scouts are of the impression that the Scoutmaster rules the troop and they’d better do what he says. That kind of Scoutmaster misunderstands his role. In reality, the Scoutmaster is a mentor and guide for the youth leaders, who learn to serve the Scouts of the troop. On the smallest scale, members of a patrol learn to depend on one another, rather than listening to and doing what an authority figure tells them to do. Given a broad task, Scouts figure it out for themselves, and answer only to each other.
Scouting isn’t school. We don’t sit the Scouts down in the meeting room and teach them Scout skills like a teacher might lecture a class. Scouting’s classroom is the great outdoors; Scouts teach each other and learn from their experiences, and so become better learners and better teachers. The lessons learned not only sustain a Scout and his patrol for the weekend, but instill the confidence and ability to succeed in life on their own terms, where others are merely going through the motions.
Image: Ryan Tyler Smith / Flickr Creative Commons license