If you have been a leader in the Scouting program for a few years, or any sort of program for that matter, you have probably reached a point when you have said to yourself, “Why am I doing this? Am I the only one who cares? Why do I put up with these problems and these people?” It has happened to me several times during the 30 years I have been a leader of a Boy Scout troop.
The first time I was ready to hang up my scoutmaster hat was in 1986. I was a 25 year old scoutmaster, on the job as the scoutmaster for less then five years. The boys had become an unmanageable group, at least in my opinion. I was so frustrated that I wrote a letter to the parents. Then I called a friend of mine who lived nearly 100 miles away but had one of those new personal computers and a dot matrix printer. I asked him if he could type this letter and print enough copies for me to send to each family of the troop. After he agreed to do it I drove to his place that night. It was early in the morning when I arrived back home and mailed the letters but I didn’t care. I wanted the parents to know how I felt about things. I listed the problems I saw in the troop, and gave some solutions on how we all could solve them. Here is what I wrote in that letter 24 years ago…
FROM THE DESK OF: Scoutmaster Steve B
TO: parents of the Scouts of BSA Troop 68
REGARDING: Problems of our troop.
The BSA program strives for three aims: 1) building character, 2) fostering citizenship, and 3) developing metal, moral, and physical fitness. Could our troop be failing to do this? I think so.
The month of April was the worst month, at least in my opinion, in our history as a troop. At the April 15th troop meeting the boys reached an all time high for rowdiness, goofing off, not listening, and not giving a darn. The meeting had to be halted twice to settle things down. It was after this meeting that I almost quit being a scoutmaster. But I didn’t. And I will tell you why.
First of all, I like the boys and I care about them. I believe that each one has the potential to be a great human being. Second, I believe in the Scouting program. I feel it is the best program in the world that a boy can belong to. Third, I think that you and I both realize that if I quit this troop will more then likely fall apart for lack of a scoutmaster. I do not want that to happen.
During the week following that meeting I did a lot of thinking about the troop and my involvement with it. Should I stay on as scoutmaster? Is our troop really Scouting? Do the boys really care about Scouting? Do the parents care?
By the next meeting I found six things wrong with our troop: attitude, advancement, discipline, Scout spirit, uniforms, and participation. Quite a bit, isn’t it? In the following pages you will read my feeling about these six items and my solutions. At the end there is a questionaire. If you as a parent care about your Scout and want Scouting to continue in Melrose, I would like you to fill it out and send it back to me by Monday, May 13th. If you do not send it back, my opinion will be that you do not care about your son being a Scout or Scouting in general. If this is the case, I ask you to keep your son at home. Scouting is a three way partnership between the boy, the scoutmaster, and the parents. If this partnership is not complete, the battle is lost.
And I am finally sick and tired of battling parents and boys.
Now, to get down to business. PROBLEMS:
I feel this is the most important problem. If this problem was solved, everything else would probably fall into place.
Problem – The boys just do not seem to care about Scouting anymore. They want all the fun and games involved with Scouting, but they do not even try to act like Boy Scouts. They will often fight things that deal with Scouting (for example – knots).
Solution – This one is up to the boys. Either they start trying to be what a Scout should be, or as far as I am concerned, they are out of the troop. I have several boys that would like to be good Scouts and I will not have their time wasted by kids who have an attitude problem. I have tried discussing this with the Scouts. It is now your turn.
This is a way of measuring a boy’s interest in Scouting. But most important, it builds confidence in the boy and recognizes him for his achievements. This is extremely important at his age.
Problem – Advancement in our troop is almost at a standstill. I knew it had been bad, but I did not realize how bad until May 3rd when I did a report on troop advancement. The report is on the 24 boys who were in the troop for at least three months. Out of these 24 boys there is 1 Life, 1 Star, 4 First Class, 5 Second Class, 7 Tenderfoot, and six Scouts without a rank. Over one half of the troop is Tenderfoot or lower. These thirteen Scouts averaged 9.3 months with no rank advancement. Eight boys have not advanced in rank in over one year. Four of these have not advanced for over a year and a half.
Solution – The solution comes in two parts. First, and most importantly, you have got to show that you care. Sit down with him and calmly talk about it. Do not yell at him or he will shut you out. Find out how he feels about it. And then, this is very important, volunteer to help him, and then carry through with that promise. It is going to take some of your time, but he is worth it, isn’t he? Secondly, I have tried to push the boys along. It is now time for me to take more drastic action. Any Scout who has not advanced at least one rank during the previous eleven months as of 5/31/85 will not be allowed to attend any troop monthly outings until he does advance. The only exception to this rule will be summer camp.
3) Scout Spirit
Scout Spirit is defined as following the Scout Oath, Law, Motto, Slogan, and Outdoor Code, and having a positive attitude about things.
Problem – The boys’ Scout Spirit is at a very low point right now.
Solution – Other then to keep reminding them about it, I do not really have a solution. All of us, myself and you parents, must try to live up to the Scout Oath and Law, setting the example the boys need.
To put it bluntly, a lack of it.
Problem – There is not enough of this in our troop. There are two groups of people who are at fault, the adult leaders and the parents. When I say the adult leaders, I am referring to one person, namely myself. This is the main area in which I must improve. I realize that I have been too lenient in disciplining and have let the kids go too far. But I have one problem. How far can I go in disciplining them? After all, they are not my kids.
Solution – First of all, I must get tougher and do more disciplining. This will be hard for me because I hate doing it, but the attempt must be made. Secondly, our troop is presently at 29 members, which is too much for one man to handle. Therefore, I ask that at least one other parent should be present at all troop functions or they will be cancelled.
Are you willing to give two hours a month to help your Scout and Scout troop?
The scoutmaster handbook states, “Just as it identifies the wearer as a Scout, the uniform reminds him that he is a Scout and influences his actions. The Scout uniform is also a leveler. Whatever a boy’s background, when he puts it on he shares equally in the program.”
Problem – The boys do not like wearing the uniform outside of a meeting. Sometimes the parents side with the boys.
Solution – The Scout handbook, scoutmaster handbook, Council and National Office state that whenever a Scout is on a Scout Function then he shall wear the uniform. As I told the boys last month, “You don’t have to wear your uniforms, and you don’t have to come to Scout activities either.” If a boy wants to be a Scout in our troop then he will wear the uniform.
Problem – First, the boys sometimes feel they do not have to come to meetings or activities unless they fell like coming. Wrong! Part of Scout Spirit is actively participating in meetings, outing, good turns, and service projects. Secondly, it seems that some parents feel this is a baby sitting service. There are a number of parents in this troop who seldom help out. A couple have not helped at all yet. They keep saying they are busy and don’t have the time.
Solution – Well, you should make the time! They are your kids, not mine. If you can not find the time to help out with the organization your son belongs to, then I can not find the time either. From now on I expect a lot more parent participation at troop meetings, outings, activities, committee meetings, and such. I am not going to try to handle 29 boys by myself. And I do not expect those parents who are already helping a lot to help anymore then their share.
I will be asking all of you to make commitments to your son and the Scouting program. If this troop is to work properly, we will have to work together. I myself am making a firm commitment toward helping the troop. At the end of April, I dropped out of every other organization I was involved with except two – Boy Scouts and the city council. I did this for a couple of reasons. One, I was getting involved with too many things. I finally realized this and set my priorities.
Secondly, I strongly believe that our children are our greatest resource. If we don’t take the time to teach them and show them what is right, who will?
Third, the boys need adult guidance. By getting out of all the other activities, I will have more time to spend with the boys. But remember, your guidance is the most important to them.
Fourth, when I took the scoutmaster position, I promised the troop committee that I would dedicate myself to the troop. Well, I have been slacking and it is time I got back on the right track.
I have said a lot in this letter, and I have probably made a few of you angry. But I have been quiet for too long and it is time these things were said. I would like to hear your comments and remarks. Please remember to fill out the questionnaire and mail it back to me.
Looking back at this letter today I am amazed by what I actually wrote. I am also amazed to see that things have not changed that much during the last 25 years. We are still having a few of these problems with today’s troop.
I am curious, what do you think of this letter by the 25 year old scoutmaster in 1986?