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.


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6 thoughts on “Is Virtue Its Own Reward in Scouting?

  1. Constance Knie

    While I agree with you wholeheartedly it’s the program itself that has created this type of transactional thinking. More and more emphasis on the ranks and less on patrol method. And then the real shameful part of summer camp that is all focused on how many merit badges a scout can earn.

    • Summer camp is expensive for most families. Parents just want to know, did their child really benefit from it? Ok, they had a great time but they could have had a great time at home that week for a lot less money. So did they really benefit? Did they learn? Did they grow? Did they have any foundational experiences?

      Merit badges are an easy way to measure that.

      The problem is not that people focus on how many merit badges a Scout earns. The problem is that Scout leaders and Scouts are not working together to help parents feel assured that their money was well spent, that it wasn’t just an expensive way to go have fun but that the foundation was laid to create more ethical leaders of tomorrow, etc. And that’s a series of discussions and work that has to happen within the troop.

      • Constance Knie

        Yes, that was well said. Summer camp for our troop has almost nothing to do with merit badges. We don’t even keep track to see if they are attending. That being said we are very restrictive as to what merit badges our scouts can take. That being said we bring all of our own merit badge counselors for the Eagle required merit badges. The reason being, we all know that merit badges at summer camp are less than well done. So we make sure that any Eagle merit badge is truly earned. We are a patrol cook only troop and plan 90% of our own program. We have a corps of youth instructors who take care of our first year scouts. We have two troop events that are put into the hands of our youth leaders to plan and execute. Tuesday night is patrol challenge games and Thursday night is our troop party. We use the camp programs to supplement our program in so far as shooting sports, climbing and fun on the river. I have heard we have a fairly expensive summer camp and never have had parents wonder if their money was well spent. So yes, I agree it has to be part of a troop’s culture to explain how we use summer camp to make better, more responsible, servant leaders.

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