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As the tagline promises, I’ve created this blog as a repository for ideas related to writing, Scouting, and writing on Scouting. I talk about the books I sell at EagleBook.com, my other Scouting-related writing projects, and other items of interest. I hope you find the blog of interest. If you have ideas to share, just post a comment on the About page.

How Do You Scout?

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Opposites may attract in romantic comedies, but in real life relationships can face major challenges when people disagree about finances, religion, values, and priorities.

The same is true in Scouting. Troops that look alike on the parade ground at summer camp may be different–sometimes very different–beneath the surface. Consider a few examples: Troop A offers a very full schedule of robust activities, while Troop B holds a relative handful of laid-back activities each year. Troop C has families that can afford to pay for expensive trips, while Troop D is sensitive to families’ financial challenges. Troop E is closely aligned with the church that sponsors it, while Troop F is proud of its multicultural makeup. Troop G is almost entirely Scout-led, while Troop H relies more on adults to guide its young members.

None of these troops is necessarily doing things wrong–unless what they’re doing doesn’t align with the priorities their families have. Such misalignment can led to struggles within the troop or exits from the troop by families that often don’t realize the troop down the street might be a better fit.

What can you do about troop/family misalignment? A good first step is to use the Spirit of Adventure Council’s nifty “How Do You Scout” survey.

Completing the survey is simple. First, for eight aspects of the Scouting experience, each family rates the current state of the unit and their own preference. Second, they mark whether misalignment in each area would be a big deal to them. Finally, they calculate a score that shows how aligned or misaligned they are with the unit.

The council recommends that all families in a unit complete the survey once a year and that someone collate the results. After that, it may be time for some hard conversations about whether the unit needs to change (if many families are misaligned) or whether the unit needs to help misaligned families find a new home in Scouting.

Breaking us is hard to do, of course. But it can be just as hard to stay together when you have nothing in common.


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Amazon! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org

Rules, Rumors and Responsibilities

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It was one of those seemingly innocuous posts on social media that gets more attention than it deserves. I’ll have to paraphrase since it has been deleted, but it basically said, “Did you know Scouts can’t cook hot dogs over an open fire?”

Some of the people who commented tried to make sense of this comment (example: “Scouts can only reheat hot dogs because they come precooked”). Some took the opportunity to criticize the BSA for its “ridiculous” safety rules and the lawyers who allegedly wrote them (including the long-discredited belief that the BSA bans sheath knives). A dispiriting handful proudly announced that rules are made to be broken.

Fortunately, several people actually searched the Guide to Safe Scouting and pointed out that the only reference to hot dogs in the guide appears in the list of prohibited activities (page 42 in the current print version): “Water chugging and eating or drinking competitions such as “chubby bunny” or hot dog eating contests.” (If you aren’t sure what “chubby bunny” is or why it’s dangerous, read this article.)

In other words, there’s no rule about Scouts cooking hot dogs over an open fire. That’s probably why the post eventually disappeared. (Fun fact: The cover of the Guide to Safe Scouting actually shows a picture of Scouts roasting marshmallows and eating s’mores.)

Whatever you think about the BSA’s safety rules, as a Scouter you’re obliged to follow them. They’re mentioned in the Scouter Code of Conduct, which everyone who signs an adult application pledges to abide by.

A good way to make sure you and the other leaders in your troop are following the rules is to download the PDF version of the Guide to Safe Scouting and send it to your Kindle device (or Kindle app) if you have one. (In your settings, there’s a unique send-to-Kindle email address.) That lets you access the guide from anywhere–a PLC meeting, for example–and search for specific terms when you have questions. Just remember to check for updated versions occasionally, as the information does change.


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Amazon! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org.

 

 

More than Perfume and Gasoline

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For more than 30 years now, I’ve been hearing Scout leaders bemoan the loss of their high-school-aged Scouts. And more often than not, these leaders have blamed “the fumes”–perfume and gasoline–arguing that high-schoolers leave Scouting when they discover girls and cars. (Obviously, the first part of this equation has changed with the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA.)

I always thought there was some truth to this argument, even though I knew Scouts also leave because of sports, academic pressures, part-time jobs, and other reasons. But lately I’ve decided that the “fumes” argument is not only incomplete but completely backward.

If Chap Clark is to be believed, our high-schoolers haven’t left us; we’ve left them. Or, to use Clark’s intentionally provocative term, we’ve abandoned them.

So who’s Chap Clark? He’s a pastor, youth-ministry expert, and author of Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, which came out in 2011. That book is based on both academic research and Clark’s own experience spending more than six months at a public high school in California, observing, interacting with, and (most importantly) listening to high-schoolers. (This project was akin to how embedded journalists report on the military.)

I think everyone who works with high-schoolers ought to read this book, but until you get the chance here are five key takeaways:

  • High-schoolers are not plus-sized middle-schoolers. Since the 1990s, social scientists have almost universally agreed that adolescence now includes three distinct phases: early (roughly the middle-school years), middle (roughly the high-school years), and late (roughly the college and early-career years). When we infantilize teens, we not only insult them but also hinder their individuation, which Clark says is “the overwhelming motivational task of adolescence.” (I often say it’s far better to treat teens as the adults they’re becoming than the children they were.)
  • High-schoolers crave adult attention. Hurt 2.0 quotes a student who says, “We spend no time with adults from junior high on–maybe fifteen minutes every other day is the best we ever get.” And don’t let teen callousness deceive you. Clark says, “They often act as if they believe that adults are unnecessary. Yet this is never the whole story, for at their core each one is crying out for an adult who cares.”
  • Adult association is critical to teens’ development. As child-development expert David Elkind has argued, “Identify formation requires a kind of envelope of adult standards, values, and beliefs that the adolescent can confront and challenge in order to construct and test out her own standards, values, and beliefs.” (Sounds sort of like Scouting, doesn’t it?)
  • Almost no one today is putting teens first. I find this passage troubling, but true: “Organizations, structures, and institutions that were originally concerned with children’s care, welfare, and development have become less interested in individual nurture and development and more interested in institutional perpetuation (or the competitive, even pathological, needs of the adults in charge).” (Think of overbearing sports parents who are reclaiming their lost youth through their kids, and you’ll see what Clark means.)
  • The stakes are high. Near the end of Part 1, Clark quotes William Mahedy and Janet Bernardi, who wrote the following in Generation Alone: “No society that alienates its youth and sets them adrift can continue to exist, for it is already in a state of collapse.” I would say the same truth applies to youth-serving agencies.

Fortunately, there’s good news for us in Scouting. As I’m sure you know, adult association is one of the eight methods of the Scouts BSA program, although it doesn’t get the same emphasis as advancement, the patrol method, and all the rest. Moreover, well-designed troop programs offer plenty of opportunities for teens to develop mentoring relationships with adults that could mean the difference between triumph and tragedy.

To paraphrase Forest Witcraft, it is within your power to become the most important person in the world in the life of a Scout–and every Scout is a potential atom bomb in human history. How will you use your power?


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Amazon! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org.

 

 

Dropping by the NESA Store

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Readers of The Eagle Court of Honor Book sometimes ask if they should bring a gift to an Eagle Scout ceremony. While I don’t think gifts are expected–as at a wedding or baby shower, for example–they’re certainly appreciated. And the closer someone is to the honoree, the more appropriate it is to bring a gift.

You can find lots of nice gifts at your local Scout Shop or at ScoutShop.org, and eBay is full of vintage Scout books and trinkets. (Often these are perfect for the honoree to give to Scout leaders.)

But my other favorite source is NESAStore.org, the official online store of the National Eagle Scout Association. Joe Weingarten, the NESA volunteer who mans the store, has assembled a huge range of fun Eagle Scout gift items, everything from Eagle Scout key rings to watches (Timex or Leatherman) to graduation cords. You can even find prints of the Joseph Csatari painting shown at the top of this post. Best of all, all proceeds benefit NESA, which provides scholarships and other opportunities for Eagle Scouts.


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Amazon! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org.

And We Have Some Loving Parting Gifts….

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One of the many purposes of an Eagle court of honor is to inspire other Scouts in the troop to work toward becoming Eagle Scouts. In fact, you can tell that your court of honor has been a success if it’s followed by a flurry of work on Eagle projects and Eagle-required merit badges.

Several years ago, a reader of The Eagle Court of Honor Book shared a neat way her troop inspired future Eagle Scouts at one court of honor. At a local bargain outlet, they bought a dozen statuettes of an eagle set on an American flag and used them as centerpieces. Then, at the close of the ceremony, each troop member was invited to take a statuette home to inspire him on his trail to Eagle. As that reader described it, “The Scouts were thrilled with the gift and left holding their inexpensive eagle statues in high regard.”

Of course, you may not find statuettes like that the next time you go shopping. But there are plenty of ways you could adapt this idea. For example, the Scout Shop sells two $4.99 coins that might do the trick: The Scout Oath and Scout Law Coin and the “Do a Good Turn” Spinner coin. And every Scout doesn’t have to take something home. During his or her remarks, the honoree could give statuettes, coins, or other gifts to the Life Scouts in the room. Or a special gift could go to the newest troop member in attendance. (You could even take an extra court-of-honor invitation and print it up with that Scout’s name and “TBD” for the court of honor date.)

The point of all this is not to send attendees home with something tangible. The point is to send them home with something far more valuable: the desire to become Eagle Scouts themselves.


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Kindle! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org.

Is Virtue Its Own Reward in Scouting?

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I’m a lurker in a few Scouting groups on Facebook, and I’ve become very familiar with questions like this:

  • Does your troop give service hours for participating in parades?
  • How does your troop allocate money to Scout accounts for group fundraisers like car washes?
  • What advancement requirements does attending National Youth Leadership Training fulfill?

Although I know nothing about the people posting these questions, it seems to me that they have a very transactional view of Scouting. In other words, if a Scout does X, he or she should earn Y.

But neither X nor Y is why the Boy Scouts of America exists. Instead, we exist, as our Mission Statement says, to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law. Our aims are not badges; they are character development, citizenship training, leadership, and mental and physical fitness. The journey, not the badge, is the reward.

If you find yourself asking questions like those above, perhaps it’s time to ask another question: How does our troop define success? In answering that question, you might be well served by reflecting on this quote from the Guide to Advancement:

Success is achieved when we fulfill the BSA Mission Statement and when we accomplish the aims of Scouting: character development, citizenship training, leadership, and mental and physical fitness. We know we are on the right track when we see youth accepting responsibility, demonstrating self-reliance, and caring for themselves and others; when they learn to weave Scouting ideals into their lives; and when we can see they will be positive contributors to our American society.


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. For a limited time, use the coupon code newyear20 to save 20% off the price of the new edition.

Shutterbugs and Eagle Scout Ceremonies

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Photo by Gary Tamin from FreeImages

I recently had the chance to serve as “official photographer” at the 100th birthday party of a member of my church. Taking on a project like that is a fairly big responsibility–after all, you only turn 100 once!–so I was glad to see that other guests had cameras. One in particular–a son-in-law, I think–clearly had the equipment and expertise to do a credible job himself.

But I had one advantage over him and the selfie-shooters: I wasn’t a family member or close friend of the honoree (or of most of the guests, for that matter). While the other photographers were greeting old friends or helping coordinate the cutting of the cake, I was free to shoot, shoot, shoot. As a result, I got some nice photos that other people would have missed.

That experience only reconfirmed for me the importance of recruiting an official photographer for every Eagle Scout ceremony. As I explain in The Eagle Court of Honor Book, this person is uniquely positioned to capture the event for posterity.

To make his or her job easier, be sure to provide a list of “must have” photos, such as Mom pinning on the Eagle badge or the quartet singing “On My Honor.” If possible, have the photographer come to your rehearsal to get a better sense of the physical layout of the ceremony.

And one more tip: If a gaggle of photographers is taking a group photo, no one will know which camera to look at. For official posed photos, have someone stand behind the official photographer and say, “Look this way.”


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Kindle! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org.