Breadcrumbs and Badges

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In his book Lessons from the ‘Varsity of Life, Robert Baden-Powell gave a great explanation of how Scouting should not be marketed: “Had we called it what it was, viz, a ‘Society for the Propagation of Moral Attributes,’ the boy would not exactly have rushed for it. But to call it Scouting and give him the chance to become an embryo Scout was quite another pair of shoes.”

A cynic might have accused Baden-Powell of a world-class bait-and-switch scheme, but there’s no question that the best way to get young people into Scouting is to sell the sizzle.

Another way to look at this is to imagine that we as Scouters are trying to get our Scouts to follow an invisible path toward a faraway destination called adulthood. To keep them moving along the path, we scatter breadcrumbs called badges, which offer interim targets along the way. (In some cases, the biggest breadcrumb–the Eagle Scout Award–lies right at the end of the path, but that’s not necessarily the case.)

Carrying the analogy a bit farther (hopefully not to the breaking point!), all breadcrumbs are not created equal. What motivates one Scout to move a few yards down the trail may not hold the slightest interest for another Scout. So while much of our focus should necessarily be on the ranks and merit badges, we should remember that some Scouts will be more motivated by the Hornaday Awards … or the Supernova Awards … or the BSA Lifeguard patch … or a matched set of religious emblems. And there are many smaller awards, like the recently updated World Conservation Award, that you can scatter on the path when other breadcrumbs seem few and far between.

The key is to remember that Scouting’s goal is to propagate moral values–or, in the words of the BSA mission statement, “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law”. One of the best ways to do that is to spread breadcrumbs along the trail and to encourage our Scouts to follow them.

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