One of my purposes with the blog is to help members of the Church better understand the Scouting program. The "Aims and Methods" are the basic ideas on which the program is run. You will notice that the aims of both Boy Scouting and Cub Scouting are in line with our goals for our children in the Church and as parents. In fact, Church leaders have told us that our main goal for boys this age is to prepare them for a mission. The Aims and Methods of Scouting meet that end.
In this article I will cover the Aims and Methods of Boy Scouting. Cub Scouting is slightly different, but is designed to prepare boys to be Boy Scouts. I will cover those in another article.
The Aims of Boy Scouting are:
Character Development - "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent." One of the things I think is a testament to the BSA is that in the anti-religion climate that seems to be growing in America, they have never taken, "do my duty to God," out of the Boy Scout or Cub Scout Promises. Boys are encouraged to understand and follow their religion, as well as develop the character traits listed in the Scout Law. How many youth organizations do you know of that can claim that (or would want to)?
Citizenship Training - To me, citizenship has two sides: knowing about and loving your country, and being a good neighbor. Scouting covers both. Boys learn about flag etiquette, history and government. Most importantly, though, they learn about service. Service hours are required for advancement in rank, and they are also required for some of the merit badges. As leaders and parents, we should be helping the boys understand that these service projects and hours are not just something to do because they have to for rank. Service should become part of life, something we look for opportunities to perform. That is one of the things the program is meant to teach. The original Scouting program was founded on the idea to, "Do a good turn daily," and that's still the attitude the boys should have. We should be preparing the boys to not just "go on a mission" but to serve a mission. One of most important parts of missionary work is service.
Mental and Physical Fitness - This is something we all want for our children, especially in a time when we hear terms like "obesity epidemic" and "educational crisis" tossed around so often. Even in the gospel, the importance of intelligence (the one thing, besides your testimony, you can take with you to heaven) and physical fitness (Word of Wisdom) are stressed. These are also important qualities for missionaries to have. Your ability to share the gospel will be hampered if you aren't fit enough to walk or bike around town.
The Scouting program uses eight methods designed to meet these goals. This is a brief overview. We will cover many of these more thoroughly in future articles. I am going to list these in the order Bradley Harris uses - the acronym PAUL SOAP:
Patrol Method - This is one of the fundamental ideas of Boy Scouting, and so naturally it is one of the things that is most often misunderstood and misapplied. The patrol method puts the boys together in a group, or patrol, which they are expected to run through cooperation. In so doing, they learn many leadership and personal skills. The Scoutmaster should be there only as a background figure whose job is to help the boys succeed. According to Charles Dahlquist, there may be times when the Scoutmaster needs to take charge long enough to demonstrate to the boys what to do, but then he steps back and lets them take the lead once more.
Advancement - This is sometimes the only part of Scouting that we see. The Church puts a heavy emphasis on earning the Eagle, because it has been shown that a boy who earns the Eagle is more likely to accomplish a number of things, including going on a mission. However, we need to remember that this is one of the methods, not one of the aims. The purpose of the program is not to achieve as many advancements as possible. Rather, advancement, when applied correctly with the other methods, helps meet the goal of growing boys into men.
Uniform - The uniform is often a controversial part of the program, but it really does help meet the goals. It gives the boys group identity and it affects their behavior. A group of boys in a uniform with uniformed leaders will act differently than boys in street clothes. The Church Handbook says, "No boy or young man should be excluded from Scouting if he is unable to purchase a uniform... The wearing of Scouting uniforms by adult leaders is optional, but it is encouraged where feasible." Uniforms are not required, but they should be encouraged. If a boy cannot afford to purchase a uniform, his leaders, his troop, his ward, should be able to find a way to help him get one. Units can have a uniform library. Old uniforms can be donated. Cheaper uniforms can be found on ebay, at DI or other local thrift shop. Working together, your unit should be able to come up with a way for every boy to be in uniform, so they can all feel like an equal part of the group. Think of this in terms of mission or temple. Missionaries have their own uniform, and there is a uniform in the temple. Each serves its own purpose. What does a ward do when a boy cannot afford to serve a mission or buy a suit? What about when situations make it difficult for a member to take themselves to the temple or purchase temple clothing?
Leadership Development - All of the methods of Scouting together are designed to build leadership. If leaders know when to step back and when to help, the boys will be able to develop necessary leadership skills. They will learn through example as well as practical application. Older boys should be given the opportunity to mentor younger boys, both in the their patrols and in opportunities like being a Den Chief. The culmination of all of this leadership training is the Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project. The point of the project is more than a big service project - it's giving the boy a chance to organize and lead a major effort.
Scouting Ideals - These are contained in the Scout Motto, Scout Slogan, Scout Promise and Scout Law. Basically, Scouting teaches morality, citizenship, service and duty to God. It presents many opportunities to tie in the things the boys are learning on Sunday.
Outdoors - There are many reasons to give the boys plenty of opportunities to be outdoors - too many reasons to discuss well in just a brief paragraph. Camping and other outdoor activities provide room for the physical activity the boys need, opportunities to listen to the Spirit and grow closer to God, and a setting where the skills the boys have been learning can be practiced.
Adult Association - Bishop H. Burke Peterson said, "'The primary reason why we have youth activities is to give our youth opportunities to associate with men and women who have testimonies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." It is important for the boys to have good leaders they can look up to, but Adult Association also refers to the merit badge counselors, another part of the program I have observed is often misunderstood and misapplied both in the Church and outside of it. Merit badges are meant to be earned through merit badge counselors, because those counselors are meant to be mentors for the boys, more examples of good men and women who contribute to society and share their time and talents with others. Boys should be contacting these merit badge counselors and setting up appointments themselves, as part of the path to personal growth.
Personal Growth - When a good program is provided, boys will increase in independence, spirituality and desire to serve others. Through Scouting and Young Men, we are helping "perfect the saints" (not that they will be perfect, but it's a good start) so that they can go on to "proclaim the gospel."
Keeping a proper balance of all of these methods, with the aims in mind, and more importantly the keeping the goal of "ensur[ing] that every deacon is prepared and worthy to be ordained an elder and serve a mission" (source) in mind will help Scout Leaders and Bishoprics accomplish the full potential of the Scouting program.