I spent some time over Christmas going through my Scouting memories. I opened the box from the attic and pulled out items from my father’s time in the early 1940’s, my own in the 1970’s, my son’s from the 1990’s. Dad passed me some of his merit badges and his shoulder patches for his town (Tiffin OH) and troop number (44). I kept similar items (Findlay OH, Troop 319), and for my son I have his Webelo’s Den (3) and the Tidewater VA council patch. There are neckerchief slides to go with a dozen neckerchiefs, some Order of the Arrow sashes, and a backpack and canteen from dad’s era and my own. These are tangible items I’m working to pass down to a nephew and a granddaughter.
The tangible items represent a culture of character building that now stretches over eighty years. One might expect that within a family it is a natural course of events to involve the new generation in the ways of the older generations in order to pass on cultural values. So let me illustrate first the broader effect on our own culture.
I was an Equal Opportunity instructor in the Navy, aboard the USS Enterprise, in the last four years of the 1990’s. This was a cultural ‘equalizing’ class mandated by the Navy following the 1964 Equal Rights Amendment. The post-deployment class required presentation to over one-hundred new sailors reporting to the ship. I began simply by commenting that I was about to repeat an oath and anyone recognizing this oath should stand and join me as they recognized it. I began, “On my honor…” and two sailors stood. “…I will do my best…” and a few more stood. As I finished “…physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight” there were more than twenty-five sailors standing, fully one quarter of the class. Now, even given all the known demographics, 25% is more than a fair quantity of cultural transmission.
Imagine now my reaction as I reviewed the Scout Handbooks I’d gathered through the years. I have the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Twelfth Editions. These represent my own time in the ‘70’s, my son’s, and one of my grandson’s. The Twelfth Edition is the 100th Anniversary edition for Scouting in 2008, printed in 2009. It’s important to remember now that Scouting suffered through the same difficulties of pedophilia as the rest of society in the 1980’s and 90’s. It’s also important to know that the cultural changes of family evolved such that mother’s became Boy Scout leaders, that Scouting struggled with the LGBT community to allow access to the organization for both youth and leaders, and that corporate pressures were brought to bear in the form of withholding donations, making the Board of Directors of Scouting take actions to maintain the organization while continuing to move forward. Finally, and notably, as Scouting moved into a family-friendly format, girls are now welcome in Scout troops from Cubs through Explorer and Venture (these last two programs were begun in the 1970s). I bring these events back to mind to make a point about one of the changes, one that diminishes the cultural formation of youth and accompanying adults through the program. The cultural issues presented above are not in discussion here.
Something happened through the transitions that diminished the values taught through Scouting. The Handbook illustrates this change;
Seventh Edition – 13 pages are dedicated to the discussion of the Scout Law
Eighth Edition, Ninth Edition – 11 pages are dedicated to the discussion of the Scout Law
Twelfth Edition – 2 pages are dedicated to the discussion of the Scout Law.
The same comparison can be made to the section on the flag of the United States. Another example is the space afforded the explanation of the Scout symbol. One final example is simply the font used to print the book. Twelfth Edition font is so much smaller than the other three. What fifth grader will take time to squint to read something (and no, my curious readers, this is not due to the weakening eyes of this grandfather) Of course, the book is likely digital now and every entrepreneurial Scout, Scout Master, District probably has its own website for all this along with the ‘apps’ for mobile devices.
The point remains ‘real estate’ space given to the explanation of the cultural virtues intended to be passed on. Struggling through the real-life culture challenges those virtues that are supposed to see us through these changes, these ‘light houses’ of guidance have been dimmed. Just when we all needed them most, the work of Lord Baden Powell to build a program for youth based on Knightly principles has been scattered throughout the Scout’s manual instead of being collected in a core foundation story to be read and shared.
I always ask my readers to take some sort of action. Provided here is one detailed explanation of the Scout Oath as I learned it and practiced it over my lifetime. I encourage those reading to pass this on to their youth, or similarly based virtues as were learned in your own youth and programs. The Girl Scouts’ Oath of the same era is similar to below. Camp Fire Girls, American Heritage Boys/Girls, Knights of Columbus Squires, and many more programs share these common values. Below is a letter I am sending with my memories. I hope you will read it with the intent of sharing your experience with these virtues.
I learned many things that are important to me in Scouting and I think they are important to you already. I would like to tell you about the Scout Oath, something so important that the friends I made in Scouts are still close friends of mine today because of these words:
On My Honor
I will do my best to do my duty
And to my Country
To obey the Scout Law
To help other people at all times
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
On My Honor – your honor is your word, your promise. It is how people will come to know just who you are. The things you do will be known to other people, especially your friends as soon as they hear your name.
I will do my best to do my duty – duty is what we owe to our community, how we get along with others and whether we follow a set of rules or don’t follow any rules. People will know this when they hear your name too. You will make mistakes in your life and you will have successes. Doing your best means you will always try to follow this Oath.
Duty to God – I trust you have been reading the Bible at home and at school. When a Scout gives his honor to God you already know there are things you must do. And you are old enough to learn these things for yourself. You still need your Mom and Dad and other adults, like all your Aunts and Uncles, and your Scout Master to help you learn them better. Your duty to God includes some things in the Bible you should read with these people: The Ten Commandments in Exodus Chapter 20. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Chapters 5, 6, and 7. These will tell you to love and worship God and to be good and obey your parents. Please take time to read these chapters in the Bible with your Mom and Dad.
Duty to your Country – We live in a big country with a lot of people. Our country has laws that come from our duty to God. Our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution tell people why we formed our Country. You will spend time in school learning about these. Scouts begin learning of our country by working on Citizenship Merit Badges; Community, Nation, and World. Duty to Country include why your Mom and Dad read the news and vote in elections. Sometimes it means joining the military or other community volunteer projects. The Citizenship Merit Badges will help you learn more about these things.
To obey the Scout Law – Lord Baden Powell, the man who created Scouting, and Dan Beard, the man who helped form Scouting in America, both knew there are ideas important to doing your duty. These are called Virtues. They are in the Bible too. The Scout Law is about these twelve Virtues;
Trustworthy Loyal Helpful Friendly Courteous Kind
Obedient Cheerful Thrifty Brave Clean Reverent
These Virtues are the foundation of good character. When you learn about these with your friends it will make you closer friends and a stronger troop. When people hear your name they will think “He’s a Scout” and they will expect and know how you act and what you do because of the Scout Law.
To help other people at all times – Its always easy to help friends, isn’t it? Is it easy to always help your Mom? Your Dad? Around the house? At school? What about people who aren’t your friends? In the Bible, read the story about the Good Samaritan in Luke Chapter 10. When you follow the first parts of this Scout Oath, you will always be able to keep this part.
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight – This last part of the Oath is a reminder that you belong to God. God made you with a body, a mind, and a spirit. Work to keep your body as strong as you can so you can do the work this Oath requires. Keep your mind strong with the Virtues of this Oath so you will always have a light, a guide to make good decisions by. And keep yourself morally straight with those same Virtues, that you bring yourself and others to God in heaven.
This is Scouting. All the things you do with your friends, the games, the campouts, the adventures to new places, the Merit Badges… these are about exploring the world around you while you learn to live by the Oath and Law. Today, you want to have fun and do exciting things with your friends. I hope you will keep doing these things. Some friends may leave the troop. Other people will come into the troop. You will make new friends with them. Teach them the Oath and Law by how you treat them and live when you are not with the troop.
I love you.
Plainly, I come from a Christian background. Scouting having gone world-wide; my cultural reference is different from others. What remains the same, and what allows Scouting to be a world-wide success is that the virtues of the Oath and Law resonate within many other cultures as well. Where I suggest Christian scripture to illustrate, someone else may include stories from the Mahabharata, the Torah, Qu’ran, or Confucius. Still others may prefer to use Plato’s Republic or other resource to exemplify the Scouting virtues in one’s own culture. The most important action is to sit routinely with your youth and share stories. The age of Scouting is roughly three years, age 11 through 13, before high school and other activities pull youth away from the program to other interests they develop. And rightly so, for the merit badge program is intended to do just that; allow them to find and develop their own skills and ‘Explore’ where those skills take them. Here, we want them to take the virtues of our culture with them. To this end I commend you for your efforts.