Welcome to the LDS Scouter Blog. We hope to provide you with valuable information, share useful resources and maybe even improve some attitudes and Ward Scouting programs. The recommended way to use this blog is to start with the post, "Why I started this blog." Then browse through the post titles in the archive (found in the sidebar) for topics of interest.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Setting Them Up For Failure

We team teach the Valiant 10 and 11's in our ward. In one of those strange flukes, both classes are all boys. There are over a dozen in there, and a majority are in the younger class, so they will stay with us for the whole year. Surprisingly, I think this is actually the most I have ever enjoyed a calling in the Church. I know it is not one most people would ask for. It was certainly not my ideal calling ten years ago. This is our fourth year teaching Primary in this ward, and during that time we have taught almost all of these boys before, so we have gotten to really know and love them. They may not be the best at sitting still, but they are really good kids.

I want to open up the discussion for a bit on various aspects of teaching and mentoring boys. I don't claim to be an expert in the area (is anyone, really?), but it is a topic that is near to my heart, and I have found a few things to be helpful in my experiences with boys, so I'll share those, and if anyone has any others, I hope they will share as well in the comments or by e-mail.

Something that often comes up in the Ask Andy columns is that the goal of leaders should be to help the boys succeed, but what often happens instead is leaders finding ways for the boys to fail.
To be clear, by, "helping the boys succeed," I am not suggested doing everything for them or making sure they get pushed through an achievement or advancement. That is not success for the boy, since he doesn't get anything out of it besides a badge. There is no learning, growing or real sense of achievement. Boys Scouts especially is about stepping back to let the boys do things for themselves and learn from their mistakes.

The setting up for failure comes in when adults try to interfere too much in the other direction. Sometimes we try to add in our own rules that we think are best, when really what we are doing is thinking of ways for the boys to fail. One example is an advancement committee that denies Scouts rank advancement due to troop imposed attendance requirements (third from the last letter on that page). Another is a Scoutmaster who tries to subjectively decide whether a boy is "ready" to advance, when he has met all of the requirements (here's one example, first letter on the page.)

I think even the small and subtle things we do, thinking we are being clever or tricky, can accumulate in a way that may be harmful to the boys' attitudes. I was recently reading the section in Teaching: No Greater Call about teaching with questions (one of our favorite methods, because it helps the boys become really engaged with the lesson). The book says, "When asking such questions, be open to all answers (see “Listening,” pages 66–67). Encourage learners to ponder the scriptures and gospel principles being discussed and to express their ideas. Do not try to get them to give specific answers to questions; they will quickly become aware of what you are doing and either stop participating or start guessing instead of thinking. When you need a specific answer, it is best to ask a factual question or present the information in some other way." I have been in classes where this is exactly what happens. It doesn't take long for students to become disinterested in the discussion because they can't ever get the "right" answer.

It is a difficult skill to learn - how to push the boys enough to build character, but not make things impossible for them. I see it at home too with my oldest son. We want to build him into a fine young man, but I think sometimes we expect so much, and we spend so much time pointing out his faults that he must feel like he's never going to get things right. It is difficult but very important to find just the right level of difficulty for him, things that he can accomplish but will require some effort on his part, and then to step back and not point out every mistake, but to help him see how much he has grown.

If you have any thoughts, comments or questions on this topic or anything else related to teaching and raising boys, please contribute to the discussion.

1 comment:

flash said...

Based on your post, I beleive that you possess uncommon insight and understanding of the program.
There is a tightrope that leaders and parents must walk because they can go the other way too. That is doing too much for the boys. I once saw an Eagle project that on the day the labor portion of the project was to be done, the father of the boy did all of the calling, reminding, organizing, directing of the manpower all the while the boy wasn't even on site.
Your post is a classic example of the benefits of training and tenure. The two most important things that are most often missing in LDS scouting.
It should also be noted that leaders are not allowed to ammend the requirements of the BSA in any way (except in the case of a scout who is registered as "special needs"). Leaders who do so are not following BSA guidelines.
If they change the requirements to require things other than what is stated in BSA publications that is not fair and could discourage the boys to the point of them leaving the program.
If they change the requirements and make it too easy for the boys to get the awards, then the boys do not actually EARN the awards and the awards are devalued to the point that no one cares. For example, even though we all want all of our scouts to make Eagle, not everyone will earn the Eagle rank. That is why it is special. My son once came home from Webelos and announced that they had earned seven Webelos activity pins in one sitting, that night. Sorry, son. I don't think so.