Wednesday, April 23, 2008
[I never sent the following letter. Writing it was all I needed.]
Dear Scout Parents and anyone else involved with scouting,
I was recently asked to be the Scoutmaster in the El Centro 2nd Ward—a very odd choice indeed. I reluctantly agreed. Over the years I have known many Scoutmasters and there has not been a single one of them about which I haven’t heard someone complain about his performance.
Scouting is another religion, complete with its rules, oaths, laws, mantras, handshakes, ranks, uniforms, and even fundamentalist-type zealots. The job comes with detailed manuals and lots of different expectations from everybody. Frankly, I don’t see how it will be possible to administer the letter of the law and satisfy everybody so I will tell you upfront that I will not be the model Scoutmaster.
I achieved the rank of Eagle Scout largely through my individual efforts, and to make my parents happy. Achieving Eagle never really meant that much to me perhaps because I didn’t experience much group camaraderie in the process. I take very seriously, however, the idea that kids should honor their fathers and mothers, and if achieving Eagle is important to a mother then it should be important to a scout, even if only to make mother happy—that’s what I did. Unfortunately, in some geographic regions of the Church, mothers place much of their self-esteem on whether or not their sons achieve Eagle Scout. To some mothers Eagle Scout means success as a mother while anything less is failure. This was the mentality of LDS mothers when I was a scout.
The Boy Scouts of America was started almost 100 years ago and it used to be extremely popular with young men but today it seems stuck in a time warp and is seriously outmoded to the point of becoming irrelevant and unappealing to modern sensibilities. Someday the Church will probably scrap the scouting program or help revamp it since scouting is really just a transitory or temporal program in the big scheme of things. In the meantime there are usually a few men and women in a typical Stake that obeisantly idolize scouting rituals as some end in themselves instead of a means to an end. I am not one of these people. So, to be clear here, I want to say that I do not worship the structure of Scouting. For me, Scouting is a tool, a means, for reaching the boys and instilling in them the characters and values of the Scout Oath, Law, Motto, and Slogan, which, by the way, I believe with my whole heart.
I looked on the internet the other day to search out ideas that I could use as a scoutmaster. I quickly became immersed in the myriad discussions on how LDS scoutmasters usually do an inadequate job and LDS troops are usually “mediocre.” Interspersed among the diatribes of the scouting fundies are occasional success stories of men who have dedicated their whole lives to scouting—the heroes of scouting. I marveled at how all the good efforts of the “mediocre” scoutmasters could be dismissed with so little appreciation. Is it any wonder why I am apprehensive about entering the fray of scouting since I will probably be just another mediocre scoutmaster at best?
Since I received this call I have been thinking about what my goals should be. I decided that I don’t yet have sufficient background to set all my goals. They will gel in time. My first goal, however, gelled immediately. That is to have fun on Wednesday nights with the scouts. I think it is very important for kids to have fun so that they look forward to going to Scout Meetings (Young Men’s). I have often said, “You can’t teach them if you can’t reach them.” I realize that if I act like a wacked-out scouting Hitler then the boys will harbor their secret doubts about the whole program and their attendance will drop off. So first and foremost I want to have fun so the kids will keep coming back.
I want the kids to form life-long memories of good, clean fun at Church with Church friends and leaders. I want the kids to feel loved by their leaders and develop strong bonds of friendship with each other. I never want the kids to think that their leaders, and therefore the Church, are heavy and pharisaical. We will celebrate all achievements, not just Eagle. Often we will look to the merit badge pamphlets to find ideas for fun activities and we will consider the activity a success if we have fun, learn something, build character, and instill scout values, even if we do not complete the merit badge together. I will be very vigilant to ensure the safety of all boys at all times but I cannot guarantee that boys will not occasionally get hurt. I will at all times be safety minded. I will also be vigilant about bullying, cliquishness, or hurtful comments.
What about campouts? I don’t know how to answer this question yet. I don’t have a large vehicle or trailer that I can use for overnight campouts. With parental support we can probably have some fun times but I can’t do the campouts alone. I do want to do some quota of campouts per year but I have to give this some more thought and talk to the fathers of the boys to see how willing they are to go along. Regular camping with fathers is one of the best ways to make good memories. I remember the first time I took my oldest son, Erik, to Fathers-and-Sons Outing, I was surprised on the drive home when he said it was the “best day of my life”…and then he paused and said “almost as good as Disneyland.” At that moment I appreciated how much more fun kids have when camping than parents. Let’s take our boys camping!
If you have any advice for me I will appreciate it and seriously and respectfully consider it. I may, however, not always follow it.
If you want your son to become an Eagle Scout then I suggest you send him to Scout Camp.
I really want to do a good job as Scoutmaster (good job by my standards, mediocre by fundamentalist standards). I know that I will not follow the manuals with exactness--not even close. But I will pick some goals and accomplish them. I mean, come on, if I start passing out callings like commissary, historian, or bugler—jobs with bogus job descriptions—then scouts will soon recognize the hollowness of the structure and neglect their duties. However, I do believe in sharing the duties and delegating meaningful work yada yada yada.
I do have some good memories of scouting. I particularly loved cub scouts and webelows. I liked boy scouts too for a while. I think most kids grow tired of scouting as they start high school. I will try to remember the things that I liked most about scouting when I was a boy and emphasize those things as Scoutmaster.
Please take a minute to review the values of scouting that I copied and pasted below. I believe in these values and will try to instill them in the scouts. Please help me by, first of all, trying to get to know me better. Please go out of your way to greet me and make small talk with me as often as possible. I look forward to working with you, the parents, as well as with your scouting boys.
April 23, 2008