Friday, August 12, 2016

[Unofficial Scoutmaster Motto]

(Unofficial Scoutmaster Motto)

As a relatively new Scoutmaster (I’m closing in on my third year) I still feel the need to seek advice as needed – and boy do I need it.

Here’s the latest struggle: I’ve got a small knot of boys who attend our monthly campouts religiously, but when it comes to our weekly Scout meetings, they’re rarely or only occasionally present.

Everywhere I read online tells me the same thing: It’s my fault.

I don’t buy that.

I think the fault lies in the fact that Scouts want activities that are FUN!!! rather than just fun, and that when any amount of tedium arrives, they’ve trained themselves to bail, and bail quickly.

What do I mean when I say FUN!! rather than just fun?

FUN!! is an activity that’s going to blow their socks off – thus their regular attendance at monthly campouts. We had a full complement of Scouts attend a week of Scout camp last month. That was FUN!! Last night, we went geocaching, which apparently was only just fun, as a smaller group of boys showed up. (And I’ll admit the week before we went to a city council meeting, which didn’t strike anywhere on the Fun-O-Meter, but got them through requirements for the Citizenship in the Community and Communication merit badges.)

Where are the differences?

From what I’m reading online, there are four cures to getting Scouts to come to Scouts:

1.      Letting the boys lead the troop
2.      Incorporating fun into every meeting
3.      Having friends in the troop
4.      Getting parents involved.

I agree all three have to be there, and we try our level best in our troop to make sure those elements are there.

I believe, however, there ought to be a fifth element involved:

5.      Training Scouts for occasional tedium.

But, young, inexperienced Scoutmaster, doesn’t No. 2 negate the need for No. 5?

Let’s look at our recent visit to the city council for an answer. I worked in newspaper journalism for ten years and know firsthand how dull city council meetings can be – and that’s even for the adults involved in them. To a group of 12- and 13-year-old boys, even the thought of sitting still and quiet for more than five minutes while adults drone on about uninteresting things is maddening. Yet if we want Eagle Scouts, the Citizenship in the Community and Communication merit badges have to be earned.

To the city’s credit, they asked our Scouts to present the flag and to lead a prayer at the meeting – getting them involved in a familiar part of the process. But there’s no way they can make a discussion on rezoning and easements appeal to a bunch of young Scouts. And do we bribe them with ice cream or a game afterward – shifting their focus to the reward rather than the points of view they should be earnestly trying to remember so they can pass off their requirements? Maybe. But we didn’t. And even a week later, we had as good a conversation about rezoning and easements as one can have with a group of 12- and 13-year-old boys. We had to have this meeting to check off requirements, and now we’re moving on to more entertaining things.

But what to do for the Scouts who didn’t show? Maybe they avoided the tedium for one evening. But they still haven’t magically checked off those boxes, so the tedium still lies in their future.

We have made games out of requirements – turning discussions on calories, food labels, and other such dull stuff form the Cooking merit badge into relay races. But there comes a time when tedium is the only way to get a Scout through a requirement – and if they don’t learn to deal with tedium and instead are enabled to dodge it, they’re missing out.

So how to teach tedium?

1.      Offer it in small doses. We were at the city council long enough for them to hear the points of view they needed to fulfil their requirements, and then we quietly left.
2.      Spread it out. We held off on the discussion of what happened at the meeting until the week after – giving them two smaller doses of tedium rather than one large dose that would have checked off those boxes a week earlier.
3.      Consider the age of the Scouts involved. Our discussion on whether the city should rezone a bit of residential property for commercial use over the objection of a few neighbors was short and sweet. We asked a few questions to get more responses out of each of the boys, but at the end the discussion lasted no longer than ten minutes – the time it took us to drive from our meeting place to a nearby park where we went geocaching. We didn’t expect a lengthy, detailed dissertation.
4.      Add incentives. And I do not mean bribes. We’ll obviously have to hold a follo0w-up activity at another city council meeting for the boys who didn’t show up. Those who showed up the first time won’t be forced to go again.

Ah, Mister-Scoutmaster-Man – you said your reluctant boys are rarely if ever attending weekly meetings: They must ALL be tedious!

Maybe they are, to a certain point of view. Remember that discussion of FUN!! versus just fun? The boys we took geocaching enjoyed their time, even if it didn’t end with the FUN!! of ice cream. Those who aren’t coming are making that FUN!! versus just fun choice before they even get to Scouts. All we’re asking of them is an hour a week, and we’ll try to make that hour as “fun” and as productive as possible. But (and I’ve seen this) if they band together and tell Mom and Dad they’re going to Scouts but instead wander off unsupervised to the basement to play yet another video game, we can be having fun (and even FUN!!) at Scouts, but if they’re not there, that’s not the fault of the program, that’s not the fault of the boy-led troop, that’s not the fault of the Scoutmaster either. These are boys making their own choices. And when they get caught in their choices, it’s typical to offer up the excuse that “Scouting isn’t fun” because that shifts the blame to the leaders and the program, not the boys. So if you’ve got a boy who says Scouting isn’t fun, go to a month’s worth of Scout meetings with him. Maybe you’ll find he’s telling the truth. Or maybe you’ll find out he’s feeding you a line. I know where I’d put my money in that equation.

These same boys went to a week’s worth of Scout Camp last month – and while they had fun, they also worked through the tedium of a few Eagle-required merit badges. All we had to do was to keep them from hanging around the campfire, whittling. And once they got to the merit badge stations, they saw the fun in what they were learning. Getting them there and through even the idea of tedium is the challenge.

“Follow Me, Boys” does a pretty poor job of showing the tedium of Scouting – nobody wants to make a movie about boys sitting around reading food labels, or writing reports about the city council meeting they went to. And yet the tedious is as much a part of Scouting as is FUN with as many exclamation points as you care to add to it.

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