This Is Your Brain on Scouting



I don’t consider myself to be a prescient person. For example, I was pretty confident the first-place Alabama Crimson Tide football team would beat the unranked Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the second week of the 2016 season, but I would have predicted a much bigger victory margin than 28 points. (48 points, anyone?)

So against that background, I have to take a modicum of credit for predicting NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the National Anthem at games this season because he refuses “to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Earlier this year, my Ethics column in Scouting magazine explored the implications of a senior patrol leader declining to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; you can read it at

The Ethics column, in case you’ve missed it, presents realistic situations involving ethical dilemmas our Scouts could find themselves in. The point is not to prescribe solutions but to provoke discussion. Read the installment about the Pledge of Allegiance (or any other installment) and you won’t find the “right” answer.

Now, you may look at the Colin Kaepernick situation as cut and dried, saying either “of course, he should be required to stand” or “of course, he should be allowed to sit,” but the reality is that this situation, like most, is more complicated. Consider, for example, the fact that some veterans have voiced support for Kaepernick’s decision. I love what one of those veterans told Kaepernick when they met: “Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it.” (If there’s a “right” answer, perhaps that’s it.)

Anyway, I really don’t care what Scouts think about Colin Kaepernick’s decision; what I care about is how they make their own decisions. I believe our role as Scout leaders is not to tell our Scouts what to think but to teach them how to think. Or, as Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell once said, “The most important object in Boy Scout training is to educate, not instruct.”

That’s an important distinction, one I hope you’ll bear in mind as you discuss contentious issues with your Scouts.


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