Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tough Decisions

I'd like to share a rather bittersweet event that happened last night.

Aaron and I attended the scout meeting for another troop. Troop 129 has been chartered for over 50 years and is a very well run program. We showed up last night primarily as observers. They introduced us both and then just went about their normal meeting. I was impressed at how little the adults did. The boys were clearly in charge. And it wasn't just token leadership for a few minutes until they turned the time over to an adult. Besides about 5 minutes worth of announcements the adults were not involved at all.
They guys had just gotten back from Summer camp and they also had another group off at Florida Sea base so there was only about 20 scouts there. The patrols are not sorted by age. I really like that. The younger guys can learn a lot from their elder scouts in the same patrol. It also makes inter-patrol activities a lot more level than having all the 12-13 year-olds in one patrol, the 14-15 year-olds in another and the 16-17 year-olds in a third. Yes, you heard that correctly. They have boys active in the program right up until their 18th birthday. Last night they even had an 18 year old alumni visit from college. He was looking for some assistance to go help do some up keep on his Eagle project.
I spent about 30 minutes talking with their scoutmaster about the troop and the boys' plan for the the next couple of years. It was refreshing to hear him frequently refrain from telling me what they were going to be doing just yet. You see they have a PLC, a boy lead planning meeting, on Thursday and until then he doesn't really know what the boys will be planning for next year. It really is up to them. After that meeting he will take their plans to the committee and see what assistance they may need from the adults. This is how the program is supposed to work. And it has been working very well at this troop for decades.
So by now you may be wondering why I said it was a bittersweet event for me. You see part of me feels like switching to a clearly superior troop would be throwing in the towel on my current troop. Aaron and I have had several conflicts recently with the way the LDS church administers the scouting program. Far too much of the program is dictated from the top down. The SPL must be the deacons' quorum president which means it's an appointed position rather than an elected one. I ask you, whom do you respect more, the leader you elected or the the one that was appointed to govern over you? We've also had a few instances where the boys' plan was deliberately overridden for no real reason at all. We were just told to follow the directives of our Stake leaders. This is fine in any other situation, but it simply isn't the scouting program. These issues would be bearable if it were not for the fact that the church has turned a voluntary organization into a compulsory activity. Some of the boys Aaron's age would never have any interest in Scouting were it not for the church requiring it. There's nothing wrong with that at all. They may fit in just fine in school sports programs or other activities. Many of the same leadership and teamwork skills taught in scouting are also taught equally well in these other venues. Not coincidentally, these are the very same boys with whom we have the hardest problems. They simply are attending because the church and their parent make them. Personally, I think it's a waste of their time and it degrades the program for those that really want to attend because the enjoy Scouting.
Another part of me really hates to give up on the other boys in the troop who are enjoying Scouting. There are about five that would continue to attend and enjoy it even if the church stopped making it compulsory. I've grown to love them all, even the ones that don't want to be there. I've just grown weary of the constant struggle to do it the way Baden Powell set it out and the way the church wants us to do it. There are just too many conflicts.
Fortunately, the other troop meets on Tuesdays and my troop on Wednesdays. I will likely bring Aaron to 129 on Tuesdays and work behind the scenes at that troop, while still maintaining my Scoutmaster position at 519. That is at least until the church decides that somebody else needs to take the reigns for a while. As difficult as it is to work with, I've made a commitment to these boys in 519. I'll continue to struggle to make it work for those few boys that still want it to work.


  1. As you are aware, I hd to make a similar decision a while back. You come to love and care about the boys in your troop, you never want to disappoint them.
    I took two years off and worked with the district to "clear my mind". We must let our children decide what they want to commit to, then support them and allow them to succeed and fail as things happen.
    BTW, A few folks were asking about Aaron, and you, this morning. We always welcome dedicated boy leaders, and if they come along with involved adults in tow all the better...

  2. I remember when I was in scouts, before the church really messed it up, I was elected Senior Patrol Leader at 13 or 14, by guys that were older than me. It wasn't long after that, the church decided that the deacons were the scouts, the teachers were varsity scouts, and the priests were explorers. By separating us like this, I was the only active participant in the varsity program.

    I've read a lot of speculation that the church is considering dropping scouts as the activity arm of the Young Men's program, and implementing the Duty to God, the same way the Young Women do Personal Progress.

    This would seem a great solution to the problem, but I don't think it'll happen anytime soon.

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  4. If the church ever dropped its sanction of BSA I would consider it an answer to my prayers. Both programs would be improved.

  5. I have always felt it should be run as BSA meant it to be. I really don't see why the folks in SLC can't see the wisdom of doing the program as intended. It is one of the most worthwhile programs around to build good men.

  6. The Church sees the Scouting program as a means to an end: preparing young men to be Priesthood Leaders. As long as the program serves that purpose, the Church will continue to utilize it as it does. Once that purpose is no longer served, other solutions such as the Duty to God program, will take the place of scouting.

    There are many that would prefer the severing of ties to what exists today and there are others who would prefer a strengthening of ties between the church and the Boy Scouts. As I can see valid evidence to support both arguments, I cannot advocate fully either side of the argument.

    This is according to me and should not be considered official in anyway.

  7. Mike,
    I have faced the same dilemma too many times to count. Occasionally I've had file leaders that could see the wisdom of having all of the young men work together. Probably my best years as a scout leader were in that environment. I'm glad life has made me take a break from Scouting, it was just getting too hard to run the program in an environment that is not conducive to running the program. Looking for a community Venturing crew for my kids to join. That may be my solution.