There are a lot of ways to visualize how Boy Scouting works. We can look in the handbooks and training literature and read all about the patrol method, how elected patrol leaders make the decisions and how the Scoutmaster and other adult leaders guide and support the Scouts. We can also try to compare Scouting to other youth organizations, or to school or church, but the comparisons start to fall apart when we find adults largely in charge of these other activities.
One comparison I’ve found to be valuable is to imagine that you’re going on a cross-country driving trip. (I know that Scouts often travel to get to campouts, but I’m thinking of something different here.)
- You have the Scouts, who have made the plan to somehow reach a destination.
- There’s the Scoutmaster, who guides the Scouts in planning the voyage to their destination.
- There are the other adults and parents, who support the process in a variety of ways – finance, materiel, administration, etc.
Now imagine that Scouting is the vehicle by which this all takes place – a car is a good analogy:
- The Scouts drive the car. They decide where to go, who is going to drive, which roads to take, and what the outcome of the excursion is expected to be.
- The Scoutmaster helps them plan their trip. He offers advice, when asked, on which roads are better because they’re smoother or have less traffic. He helps them find their way when they get lost. He asks them questions that lead them to the answers to things like “Are we there yet?” and “Right or left at Oak Street?”.
- The troop committee keeps the wheels turning, fuel in the gas tank and the car in good running order. They make sure there’s a big enough car to get everyone to where they’re going. They renew the car’s license every year and get the Scoutmaster trained to teach driving skills so he can help get the drivers trained to drive.
As scary as the thought may seem, picture your Scouts driving the car, which represents the troop program. Remember that it’s the boys’ job to plan and carry out the troop meetings, campouts and outings – they’re driving the car. If adults step in and do the things Scouts are supposed to be doing, they’re effectively grabbing the steering wheel out of the Scouts’ hands.
More importantly, the Scoutmaster needs to gently but firmly guide them to learn what they need to know when they need to know it. It doesn’t make sense to give them the last two or three turns they need to make when they’re just starting out. It’s important to look forward and highlight the positives while reflecting on the wrong turns with an eye toward preventing them. Shawn Jenkins, CEO of a high-tech benefit company, reflected on his experience learning to fly in a recent interview with the New York Times Business Day section. Jenkins had made a mistake while testing on a new aircraft and wanted to end the test and land the plane. His instructor told him he couldn’t just quit – that he had to finish the test and get to where he was going. Afterward, the instructor reflected with him on where he went wrong and helped him understand how to correct his error. We do the same thing with Scouts: we don’t let them stop the car and just get out when they take a wrong turn, but we take the opportunity to help them see how to get back on the right course when the opportunity presents itself.
Keep in mind who is behind the wheel. Don’t take away the Scouts’ experience of driving their program. Equip them with the knowledge and tools they need to make sure they can successfully complete their journey.
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