It's The Program, Stupid!

I will apologize in advance as I have a tendency to harp back to topics that I have brought up before, however I think it is important to constantly hammer into people the reason for a summer camp's existence.  It seems that some folks develop tunnel vision when looking at a pet project or a passion they have and then lose track of what we are about.  It really is about losing sight of the forest because the trees get in the way.

The basis of looking at the program is best spelled out by Lord Baden-Powell from his "Aids to Scouting" handbook:

The Patrol is the unit of Scouting always, whether for work or for play, for discipline or for duty.  An invaluable step in character training is to put responsibility on to the individual. This is immediately gained in appointing a Patrol Leader to responsible command of his Patrol. It is up to him to take hold of and to develop the qualities of each boy in his Patrol. It sounds a big order, but in practice it works. Then, through emulation and competition between Patrols, you produce a Patrol spirit which is eminently satisfactory, since it raises the tone among the boys and develops a higher standard of efficiency all round. Each boy in the Patrol realises that he is in himself a responsible unit and that the honour of his group depends in some degree on his own ability in playing the game.

This is not what I think, this is what it is all about.  The patrol method sets Scouting apart from all other youth organizations.  Is it the only way, or the right way?  Who knows.....but it is our way and it seems to have worked quite well when you see the end product.  It is not just about meetings, it is not just about hiking/camping, it is not just about activities that are done during the winter season or summer season; it is the operation of the group within the larger group (the troop) that matters.  The activities are opportunities for experience and practical application of this prime method.  It is this method that forms the foundation of the summer camp program and experience.

Their are several goals of the summer camp program.  The first and foremost is to help the troop become stronger using the patrol method as this is the only time in the entire scouting year that everyone in the troop can participate.  The brand new scout, the "crusty" SPL and the adult leadership.....for an entire week.  You can implement the patrol method in everything you do; camping, cooking, participating in the area activities to name a few.  It is also a chance to exercise other aspects of the scouting methods; opportunities for advancement, wearing the uniform, being friendly and making new friends, learning to be courteous when sharing a meal with your patrol in the dining hall.  I could go on and on about all the opportunities to put this grand experiment to the test every day during your only week at scout camp.  Last but not least, we have the opportunity for scouts to try new experiences either by themselves, with a buddy or with the patrol.  These experiences may be ones that spark an idea for a career or a lifelong hobby.  These are found in our various areas; Aquatics, Shooting Sports, Climbing Tower, Scoutcraft, Eco/Con and Craft Lodge......again to name a few.  These experiences are meant to spark an interest or perhaps hone a specific skill........what the are not meant to do is usurp the purpose of the program.

Every scout who uses the Aquatics is not expected to be or want to be a BSA Lifeguard; every scout that shoots doesn't want to be a NRA qualified sharpshooter; not every scout who uses the climbing tower intends to scale Mt. Everest and so on.  Yet, that is the way some leaders of these various program believe, or at least that is the way I perceive this to be as I read what others want to do with these programs.  I guess what upsets me the most is that adults want to force their passion or love for a particular activity on these scouts.  "If a scout cannot hit a target when shooting a rifle then he has no business being on the rifle range"....yes, I actually heard someone say that and that someone is in a position of influence (not in our council luckily).  All of our area programs are designed to give scouts a "taste" of that activity and if the scout wants to do more, we gladly support and encourage his interest.  If a scout develops a passion, we want to do everything we can to foster that interest......but NEVER at the cost of the overall program which is far more encompassing than only one aspect.

Here is my goal when it comes down to the program activities at a summer camp.  The scout must have fun...period, end of story.  I want him to sample everything the program has to offer.  I want him to understand water safety, I want him to be comfortable in and about the water and if we can send a scout home as a swimmer when he wasn't one before that would be a job well done.  Being able to swim is a life skill that everyone may use at some point in their life.  I want a scout to learn how to act around a firearm and have respect for it and how to use it safely.  I want the scout to be able to shoot a rifle for the experience....if he hits the target once out of 100 tries, I would consider it to be a success.  I want a scout to try and overcome his fear of heights by rappelling down the climbing tower as facing a fear is one of the bravest thing a young scout can do.  I want a scout to be able to tie basic knots, another skill that is practical for life.  I want a scout to understand the environment we live in.  All of these plus many more are additive and not one is greater than the other within the scope of the scouting program.

Regardless, nothing is more important than what our mission is; to develop desirable characteristics in young men that will help them make ethical and moral decisions during their life and thereby be better citizens (a paraphrase).  It is our job (my job) to develop these characteristics in youth.  We are to find the good in each scout and try to develop that to the exclusion of the bad.  Lord Baden-Powell says that there is 5% good even in the worst character and it is the Scoutmaster job (or sport as he calls it) to develop that to be 80% of the man that youth is to become.  The activities we do are nothing more than to support the methods by which we use and the values which we support and found within the scout law.

I respect the work that other organizations do to help support our program; the NRA, the American Red Cross, the various climbing associations as well as many other professional organizations.  I have and will always welcome their support, their experience and their direct or indirect financial support.  However it is the needs and purpose of the Scouting program that will drive what we do; not personal or organizational mandates.  It is all about the program. 

As personal opinion.