Sunday, August 17, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 8-21-08
Jeff Gill

Get a Peace of Scouting

This Saturday, Granville’s own Super Pack 3, our Cub Scouting organization, will have their start of the school year picnic out at Infirmary Mound Park.

Aug. 23 at 3:00 pm the lawn chairs and shady canopies will unfurl around the bounce houses and food tents back behind the horse show arena, and a few hundred Cubs and Scouts and little brothers and sisters (plus parents) will say hello to a new school year of Cub Scouting (and a hog will end his year, with our sincere appreciation shown in bbq sauce).

First graders are Tiger Cubs, and from those newest Scouts to the Webelos ready to make the jump in March to Boy Scouts in Fifth grade, we have over 150 young men in Super Pack 3.

The normal pack meeting, the gathering of the whole shebang, is at 7 pm on third Thursdays right through May, but the heart of Scouting is the small group: dens in Cub Scouts, patrols in Boy Scouts. Each grade has a “rank,” Tigers in First, Woves in Second, Bears in Third, and Webelos in Fourth and Fifth. And each rank has three to five dens (Pack 3 had 21 dens last year), which is where the real Scouting program happens, learning about the outdoors, themselves, and what it means to be a citizen and a leader among your peers.

The Scouting Movement goes back to 1907, 1910 in the US, and really to May of 1900, when the entire British Empire went crazy over good news in a very bad year. The Boer War had gone badly for England in South Africa, and a small outpost had been cut off and assumed overrun. It turned out that Mafeking was holding out against overwhelming odds, and on May 18, 1900, a relief column made it to the city and commanding officer Robert Baden-Powell.

Baden-Powell, or B-P as he was known by both friends and respected enemies, returned to a hero’s welcome, and the startling news that his book written for soldiers, “Aids To Scouting,” was selling like hotcakes among young boys (and girls) back home, with “B-P Clubs” starting in various towns (think Michael Phelps and swim clubs).

B-P was actually disturbed by this – he had not written the book for children, and knew that romanticism of warfare was not what young people needed. On the other hand, he saw so many city kids new to the military come into the wilderness helpless, starving where food was handy and dying of thirst where water was available. If kids thought heat came from furnaces and food from grocery stores, what would you expect?

So he turned down a cushy spot in the military bureaucracy, retired a General, and spent two years doing research and writing (in Windmill Cottage next to Wimbledon, which I’m told you can still visit). Then he told his publisher, eager to hit the shelves while his fame was still remembered, that he wouldn’t sell his scheme until he tried it himself.

B-P called his new plan “Peace Scouts,” and used the “patrol method” to deliver character formation and leadership development through outdoor education, with a focus on learning by doing, not adults standing up talking unless it was storytelling. And he did one thing that some still think controversial – he kept uniforms as a central feature of his program.

Uniforms weren’t about militarism, but about uniformity. Because the test run of his new book, “Scouting For Boys,” was to bring 22 young men to an island off the English coast, 11 from the city, and 11 from the small towns and countryside, 11 from some level of privilege and 11 from humbler backgrounds. The Scout uniform was meant, and still means that all the boys are on a level playing field, with only their individual achievements marked with “merit badges” and “activity awards” which they earned by competing against . . . themselves.

August 1, 1907, these 22 boys and three adults spent two weeks testing out “Scouting For Boys,” and the program they began there now serves 38 million young men and women all over the world, in over 200 countries (basically, every country but Cuba and China).

The program gave birth to not only Boy Scouts but Girl Guides, called Girl Scouts in this country, and in 1930 the junior level, Cub Scouting was formally organized. The nation with the largest total number of Scouts in all phases? Nope, not the USA, which “only” has 7.5 million registered – that would be Indonesia, with over 8 million young men and women in Scouting.

But you can just come out to Infirmary Mound Park Saturday afternoon! Or e-mail me at

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