The Greatest Challenges
By: Mike Walton (blackeagle)
Posted On: 2019-10-21
Shutterstock image purchased by Mike Walton
This was originally written and posted to the Scouts-L youth programs discussion list in the fall of 2004. Many of these challenges still exist to this day.
There are five challenges to which the Boy Scouts of America must respond to in order to maintain its hold as the predominate youth organization in the United States. These challenges, like addressing, working through a strategy and overcoming an obstacle as part of a course, call to action those volunteers and professional members who have been struggling over these concerns for the past fourteen years (since 1997).
The biggest challenge is MAINTAINING RELEVANCY IN AN INTERNET DECADE. While we saw the emergence of the Internet as the tool for educators and in turn, students, back in the 90s... THIS is the decade in which the Internet plays a much more significant role in the lives of young people. We've figured out pretty much how to protect ourselves and our families from the "hazards" of online communication and entertainment... now comes the implementation as kids who grew up "pointing and clicking" are now designing their own ways to "communicate" and "entertain" themselves. The BSA clearly HAS NOT KEPT UP WITH THOSE KIDS. We've tried, but what is needed are more Internet-savvy tools and resources whereby Scouts, Ventures, and their adult mentors can use WITHOUT RESTRICTION (I'll explain restrictions later) to make the program grow even more. Scary, isn't it?? It is very scary. But the future "trails," which must be blazed today have to be engineered first.
The second biggest challenge is TELLING THE PUBLIC WHO WE ARE AND WHO WE ARE NOT. I have joked for years that the BSA would have done best to hire me as their National Director of Communications and providing me a small budget in which to do those things we used to do back in the 70s and early 80s -- before the BSA "outsourced" their PR and marketing offices and left small shells in the wake. Whether it is *me* or some other Scouter, it needs to be SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN IN ALL OF THE PROGRAMS AS A YOUTH MEMBER, AS A VOLUNTEER AND AS A PROFESSIONAL in order to address all segments of the BSA's audience. It needs to be someone who can talk with urban youth, with rural youth, and with parents and adults from all social-economic backgrounds, creeds, colors, and yes, sexual orientation.
The BSA can provide programs to ALL youth, but they need to carefully market those programs and TELL THE STORY OF SCOUTING and why it's essential to maintain some of the histories, customs, traditions, and yes, restrictions.
I tell OA audiences when I speak about my own mother's reluctance to allow me to participate in what she called “the Order for the Arrow" (the Order of the Arrow is the correct name). Without Charles Leftwich convincing my mother that first, it's safe, and second, other Black and Hispanic kids are involved in this...I would have NEVER become an OA member... those same efforts need to be conveyed today. SCOUTS and SCOUTERS do need to be out talking about Scouting to EVERYONE-- it's NOT a cuss word, nor a secret word only exchanged between those who can share the Scout handclasp!
The third most significant challenge is in PROVIDING RESTRICTIONS WHERE THEY NEED TO BE PROVIDED. We have taken our programs and basically "ruled the fun out of them." Take, for instance, a recent discussion lasting 17 days on the Guide to Safe Scouting and the game known as "laser tag." Yes, there are restrictions in place to keep our youth safe, keep them healthy, and keep them away from predators and those who want to harm youth. But there are also rules which local Councils, as well as National themselves, have placed onto local Councils, their professionals, and their volunteers solely to "keep tabs" or to "take some of the fun out."
A group of Scouts does not, in my opinion, need three signed pieces of paper and a handshake to camp overnight in town or in someone's backyard. They DO need some sort of supervision if they are camping in a location outside of their community or someplace where camping is not generally conducted as a rule. Give Scouts the opportunity to exercise what they are being taught in Scouting... yes, we'll have SOME Scouts to "test the limits," and that's when we tell the Scout that perhaps Scouting isn't for them. But for those Scouts who WANT to DO SCOUTING, let's LET them DO SCOUTING.
Restrictions need to be lifted for adults, as well.
Why do we insist that those who went through the "old Wood Badge" course WAIT until everyone goes through the “Wood Badge for the 21st Century” course before they can serve on staff?
Why do we insist that only the Chartered Organizational Representative can serve in more than one registered position (we do it ALL of the time...why don't we formalize what we've been doing informally for the past 40 years)? If it's a matter of "what do we call these folks"? let’s call them what the BSA has been calling professionals who serve in more than one role: "Multiple persons," as in "Scoutmaster multiple person" or "Advisor multiple person" ("m/p"). Or simply "Scouters" (SC)
The fourth biggest challenge is to REDEPLOYING AND RE-ESTABLISHING OUR NATIONAL AND REGIONAL PARTNERSHIPS. George (Sparks), I know you and other members of the BSA's Relationships teams are working hard toward this goal, but in all honesty, it needs to be kick-started. For everyone else, here's what I'm talking about.
In the 60s and 70s, the BSA developed partnership programs with some of their national chartered partners. For instance, Kodak used to sponsor an annual photography contest, and local camera stores had "Scout photography clinics." Daisy and Remington Rifles took turns hosting postal bb-gun and rifle matches (you participate at your Council's camp or a participating gun range...the targets are then certified and then mailed to the BSA whereby prized would be awarded through the local Council or the Region for the best shots). Readers' Digest would sponsor public speaking contests. Ford used to sponsor the Safe Driving Road Rally for Explorers, again on a national and local basis. And on and on.
The issue now with many of our national chartered partners is the only time they are asked to help out with the promotion of Scouting is during the year of the National Jamboree... this isn't much "bang for their buck" for them nor for the BSA...and we need to utilize their ability to communicate the "story of Scouting" to their customer base... which by the way, happen to be many of our potential parents and current parents.
On a regional basis, our regional partners need to be fully engaged also into the marketing of Scouting... and things which make sense, like a Bisquick National Cooking Contest for Boy Scouts and Ventures, CAN be done!
The final biggest challenge I see for the BSA in the next five to seven years is to MAINTAIN ITS PURPOSE. When a boy joins a Cub Scout Pack, he and his family should be told about how excellent Cub Scouting is, why Cub Scouting exists, and to allow them to do CUB SCOUTING THINGS. Leave the Boy Scouting things -- hiking, camping, fishing, etc. -- to Boy Scouting.
Our problem is that we try to incorporate ALL elements of Scouting into EVERY program. One of the great things about the "formula" of Scouting is that we give Scouts bits at a time...we get them used to being with other kids and get them used to working toward a goal as a Cub Scout; we get them outdoors, doing things with and for other people as Boy Scouts; and we give them challenging ways to use all of the skills and techniques of Boy Scouting as a Venturer or Sea Scout. And when we're all done with that... we offer them the opportunity to serve as a volunteer or professional member of the movement.
We have "broken the formula" by offering family programs in Boy Scouting and Venturing; by providing Cub Scouting camping opportunities instead of maintaining the day camp concept; and we have created so many badges and awards and items and THINGS for everyone to earn...that the emphasis has been more on the earning of the badge and less on the concepts behind earning or receiving the badge. We need to maintain what it is that brings each group of kids to our programs. For Cub Scouting, it's games, silly skits, songs, and all of the stuff that keeps kids young. For Boy Scouts, it's the challenge of the outdoors and to do the necessary things -- leaving the more difficult things for Venturing and Sea Scouting and all of the wonders that come with "getting older."
There's no need to "go back to the basics...” instead, it is more of a focus by the movement to sharpen JUST WHAT IS EXPECTED of youth in a particular program.