Skip to comments.Scouting the future
Posted on 07/30/2007 1:12:21 PM PDT by fgoodwin
Scouting the future
July 29, 2007
Hal Iggulden, co-author of The Dangerous Book for Boys, believes the Scouts 100 years after they were founded can solve the crisis in 21st century manhood
In a school playground way back in the 1960s I made the first significant moral choice of my life. My best friend had asked me if Id come to a meeting of his Cub Scout pack: just to see what it was like. On the other hand, a girl in our class also wanted to know whether Id be at all interested in seeing her knickers. There was no time to do both. Im afraid I chose the knickers.
Its not that I was all that interested in knickers at the age of nine. I could just tell that Cubs and Scouts did not somehow fit the freewheeling spirit of the Sixties, or at least the faint whiff of the Sixties that had reached the playground at Wookey Hole school, an establishment so conservative that the head teacher once gave us a days holiday to mark a local landowners birthday.
Heres what bothered me. The Cubs and Scouts were obviously run by a strict hierarchy, some of whom Akela in particular seemed to have peculiar names. They seemed a little too keen on uniforms and tradition, and a Scouts idea of a solid nights entertainment was a song that started with the words ging gang gooli, which baffles me to this very day. As I saw it back then, all this would soon be swept away by the unstoppable tide of progress: woggles, scarves, ging gang gooli and all.
Somehow the Scouts survived my childish disfavour and thrived into the 1980s. But they became distinctly unfashionable in the 1990s, when no parent would dare let children roam free in the woods.
The movements promise of a rugged outdoor life gradually lost out to the allure of television and computer games. And in the fevered child protection atmosphere that was just getting a grip, it also became more difficult to find adults prepared to work with children and young people.
Yet numbers have risen again over the past two years there are 446,000 Scouts in the UK and there is evidence that Scoutings time might once again have arrived.
This weekend 40,000 young people from all over the world have been setting up camp near Chelmsford in Essex for the 21st World Scout Jamboree, which celebrates Scoutings centenary. Dotted with tents, the site looks likes the Glastonbury festival in uniform, although obviously a lot tidier.
Its the first time the event has been held in Britain since 1957, and it has pitched up here to mark 100 years since Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouts, first took 21 boys on a modest camping trip to Brownsea Island, just off the coast of Dorset.
Scouting has changed a lot over the past 100 years, and for the new modern compassionate multicultural Scouts its a big week: their best chance in years to attract a lot of new recruits.
One cause for optimism is the popularity of The Dangerous Book for Boys, which has sold nearly 1m copies since it was first published last year with the following message: In this age of video games and mobile phones, there must still be a place for knots, tree houses and stories of incredible courage.
Baden-Powell would have approved. The book not only teaches the five knots that every boy should know, but gives instructions on building tree houses, assembling a go-kart, and making a bow and arrow.
I walk my dogs in woods and parks all the time and this summer I have seen more tree camps, more bases, more gangs of little boys hiding away in the woods than I can remember, says Hal Iggulden, co-author with his brother Conn of The Dangerous Book for Boys.
The feminist onslaught of the past 30 years was good for women but bad for us. I think it had an unseen knock-on effect on men and boys, who became timid. We have a need to do that kind of rough and tumble stuff.
Iggulden, 35, joined the Scouts after getting into a fight with a local Scout troop in Ruislip, northwest London.
They were doing tree surgery, he recalls. We buzzed them on our BMXs, and they chased us away. A week later we joined that Scout troop. I think we were jealous. They were climbing trees, and we couldnt.
With the Scouts he found he could lead the sort of boisterous life that was completely out of the question at school.
We went off into the countryside. It was probably just outside London but it seemed like the back of nowhere. A farmer turned up on a quad bike and on the back he had two dead hares, which hed shot. We got to hold and look at the rifle.
We skinned them, which was the first time Id ever skinned an animal. We skinned it and we ate it. Just learning those basic things was good.
We got to push all our testosterone and aggression into other things. The night games were probably the greatest thing. They were very rough.
We divided into two teams. You had to hide a bright light in the darkness which of course you couldnt and you had to capture the opposition light. The Scout leaders would be one team, and we would be the other team. I remember charging in and they would just pick us up and throw us into thorn bushes. I was straddled across a bush, screaming. Because to move at all was to make things worse.
It made me tougher to a large degree. I was very proud when I was in the Scouts because I was the patrol leader. You almost had a gang that you could rely on.
And as for the canard that Scouting attracts paedophiles, Iggulden remembers: A deacon who was leader for the whole district of London turned out to live three doors down the road from us. It was the first time I got to know an older man on equal terms. I could talk to him in ways I couldnt talk to my parents. He was the most gentle, lovely man youve ever met.
Scoutings emphasis on individual responsibility and the outdoor life makes it perfectly poised to take advantage of a backlash against the nanny state and the culture of overweening health and safety.
Certainly the philosophy of Scouting is being taken seriously at the top of government for the first time in many years. Gordon Brown has apparently been impressed by research that shows how group activities with a clear structure and well-defined aims help children to develop social and emotional skills. They do even better if members wear a uniform, which emphasises order and discipline.
Many well known figures learnt helpful skills with the Scouts. My Scouting days helped me to cope with adversity, says Sir Richard Branson. Ive been pulled out of the sea six times by helicopters, when my balloons and boats either sank or crashed. I once ended up in the Arctic when it was 60C and had to worry about building an igloo. I suspect that without my Scouting background it would have been that much more difficult to survive these adventures.
Former US president Bill Clinton was a Scout. Survival specialist Ray Mears, it goes without saying, was a Scout. Yet so were Fat Boy Slim and Jason Donovan. Even Russell Grant and Boy George were Scouts.
I really loved being a Boy Scout, says the Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman. I loved the knots, I loved the camping, I loved making things, I loved getting badges.
The thing about the Scouts which I thought was so exciting is this opportunity to do things, to make things, to discover things, to explore the natural world and the built world with a sense of social purpose.
People might say it is a rather old fashioned idiom and I suppose it is old fashioned. That doesnt mean its not rather attractive and rather worthwhile.
The events of the past few days have also shown Scouts at their best. The 3rd Tewkesbury Scout hut was open at 5.30am at the height of the flooding in Gloucestershire, ready to provide hot drinks, food and shelter.
Scouts have been out in their communities, helping with tasks such as sandbagging properties and supporting refuge shelters for stranded residents, says a Scout Association spokesman.
It certainly brings a woggle-sized lump to your throat, but will it be enough to overcome Scoutings long-term image problem?
It has always struggled with its image. Like vicars, there is something intrinsically amusing about Scouts. PG Wodehouse certainly thought so. One of the characters in his first Jeeves and Wooster novel, written in 1923, is an overzealous Scout called Edwin who infuriates Bertie Wooster in his drive to do good deeds.
That image certainly put off potential recruits like Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye. I never joined the Scouts, said Hislop after making a BBC programme on the origins of Scouting. I think at that age I was probably too busy making jokes like Baden-Powells scouting for boys, is he? Naughty old Baden-Powell.
But I found, rereading Scouting for Boys, it is an extraordinary book. Its very radical and it addresses all sort of issues that we think of as modern: citizenship, what to do with disaffected youth, social responsibility. I talked to some Scouts and felt mildly embarrassed that Id been snotty about it. There were some quite tough lads saying, This is a brilliant thing and its kept me on the straight and narrow, and were very grateful about it.
To be honest, the founder of the Scout movement has not helped its image. He was a free thinker: today we might think him an oddball. He was married late in life, to a much younger woman, and then chose to sleep out in all weathers on his balcony. Yet back in the early 1900s he was this countrys greatest military hero since the Duke of Wellington.
He made his name in the Boer war when he successfully defended against a 217-day siege of the town of Mafeking. His tactics were a masterpiece of original thinking. To deter the Boers from attacking, he ordered his men to pretend to set out barbed wire and to pretend to dig in mines. To add authenticity, he exploded fireworks from time to time.
Short of manpower, he also recruited a cadet force of teenage boys to act as messengers and lookouts: an early version of the Scouts.
Baden-Powell returned to England in triumph. Popular songs were written in his honour and his face peered out from china plates and cigarette cards. More important, a military training manual he had written, Aids to Scouting, was a bestseller.
It was the success of this book that encouraged him to gather 20 boys from different classes and backgrounds on Brownsea Island. He taught them about animal tracks, first aid, knots, and camping skills. In the evenings they gathered around a camp fire to hear Baden-Powell talk about his adventures in the army. The event was a roaring success and was followed shortly after by the publication of the book that so tickled Ian Hislop, Scouting for Boys.
Certainly the book is often comic to the modern reader. Here, for example, is Baden-Powell on the importance of wearing your hat correctly: It is said that you can tell a mans character from the way he wears his hat. If it is slightly on one side, the wearer is supposed to be good natured. If on the back of his head, he is bad at paying his debts. If worn straight on the top, he is probably honest but very dull.
Early Scouts had a lot to remember. While keeping a lookout for badly worn hats, they were also under instructions to breathe through their noses, not their mouths, to smile at all times, and never to offer tips in return for service.
Yet the central core of Scouting for Boys has a surprisingly modern ring. The importance of equality especially racial and religious equality is written into Scout law. According to the fourth rule of Scouting: A Scout is a friend to all, and a brother to every other Scout, no matter to what country, class or creed the other may belong.
Baden-Powell was particularly hard on snobbery. A Scout must never be a snob, he wrote. A snob is one who looks down upon another because he is poorer, or who is poor and resents another man because he is rich. A Scout accepts the other man as he finds him, and makes the best of him.
The environment was also important to early Scouts. As a Scout, you are the guardian of the woods, says the book. A Scout never damages a tree by hacking it with his knife or axe. A Scout cuts down a tree for a good reason only. For every tree felled, two should be planted.
The problems Baden-Powell was trying to address have a very contemporary ring: he worried that the young people of his day were a wasted generation. He wanted to unite different classes, and to give young people a purpose.
Unfortunately, his military style did not always find favour. There was a breakaway Scouting movement in the early 1920s led by a charismatic pacifist, John Hargrave, who had risen to become the movements commissioner for woodcraft and camping and was the Ray Mears of his day.
Hargrave was a former soldier, but he had become a pacifist after his experience of the first world war. His new group, the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, was created as a peace movement, but later became known as the Green Shirts uniformed opposition to the fascist Blackshirts.
Some members of Kibbo Kift found Hargrave too authoritarian and formed the Woodcraft Folk in 1924. This was Scouting for socialists, and is still going strong today. Judging by its website, the Woodcraft Folk is also struggling under something of an image problem. We do not under normal circumstances hug trees or craft wood, it says.
Despite these early divisions, Scouting grew into a worldwide movement, and remains one.
During the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s, Scouts drove ambulances. They are now helping to rebuild the country after last years war between Hezbollah and Israel. Scouts in Madagascar are doing their best to raise awareness of Aids, while in the troubled African states of Congo and Rwanda Scouts have been trained as community mediators.
This weeks jamboree in Essex is the United Nations general assembly of the Scouting world, where Israeli Scouts set up camp next to Lebanese Scouts, and Greek Cypriots pitch their tents alongside Turkish Cypriots.
Todays campers will spend their time doing the usual Scout things: canoeing, building rafts, climbing, doing good deeds, and being prepared. In keeping with modern times, they will also be learning how to reduce their carbon footprint.
But perhaps the highlight of the 10 days will be a ceremony at sunrise on Wednesday morning at which the campers will renew their Scouting promise. Holding up their hands in the traditional three-fin-gered salute, they will pipe up together in clear confident voices: On my honour, I promise that I will do my best to do my duty to God and the Queen, to help other people and to keep the Scout law.
At least, thats what most of them will say. If they are Muslim or Hindu they can now pledge themselves to Allah and Dharma. Scouts from republics will promise to do their best for their countries. These days you can even be an atheist Scout, promising to live life in good moral standing.
As you might expect from an organisation whose motto is Be Prepared, the Scouts and Guides have been modernising ruthlessly to be ready for their moment. Just last week the Guides set out the skills needed by a modern young woman.
No longer need they bother with lighting fires, making jam and keeping a scrapbook about a former colony. Instead the modern Brownie (aged 7-10) should be able to name the prime minister, swim 100 metres, care for a pet, and surf the web safely.
Meanwhile, Senior Guides should know how to manage their money, produce a first-rate CV, assemble flat-pack furniture, practise safe sex, and perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (very possibly after safe sex). The only hint of the old fashioned Guide movement were the words first rate.
Life isnt always so serious, though. My neighbour, who is a district commissioner for Explorer Scouts, has been involved in Scouting for the past 43 years. I dated a Cub mistress for 18 months, he tells me wistfully. I found the women involved in Cubs and Scouts had a lot more about them than anybody I met in nightclubs.
He will never speak a truer word. As for that stark choice I was forced to make at the age of nine, I should have gone with my friend to the Cubs because I never saw that girls knickers. To my secret relief, she decided to show them to somebody else instead.
A movement born out of British grit against the crafty Afghan
The very name scout carries with it, even among civilians, a romantic idea of a man of exceptional courage and resource, while among soldiers the title is so much sought after that small bodies of mounted Volunteers and companies of Light Infantry skirmishers have within recent years demanded to be called scouts. A scout is, nevertheless, a special man, selected for his grit, and trained for one class of work only, and that is reconnaissance. His work is not fighting, but getting information about the country and the enemy.
The British scout has, too, to be good beyond all nationalities in every branch of his art, because he is called upon to act not only against civilised enemies in civilised countries, like France and Germany, but he has to take on the crafty Afghan in the mountains, or the fierce Zulu in the open South African downs, the Burmese in his forests, the Soudanese on the Egyptian desert all requiring different methods of working, but their efficiency depending in every case on the same factor, the pluck and ability of the scout himself . . .
Many people will tell you that pluck is not a thing that can be taught a man; it is either born in him or he has not got it at all. But I think that, like many other things, it is almost always in a man, though it wants developing and bringing out. The pluck required of a scout is of a very high order. A man who takes part in a Balaclava Charge is talked of as a hero, but he goes in with his comrades all around him and officers directing; he cannot well turn back.
How much higher then is the pluck of a single scout who goes on some risky enterprise, alone, on his own account, taking his life in his hands, when it is quite possible for him to turn back without anyone being the wiser.
From Baden-Powells military manual Aids to Scouting, which inspired him to start the Boy Scouts
Please ping your Scouting list.
No, it wasn't good for women, either. Even the ones who turned out at the top socioeconomically are miserable and filled with anger.
precisely 8 a.m. on Wednesday, August 1, 2007.
boy scouts are 100 years old
Scouting News Just In!
Production begun on Scouting USA TV show
Production has begun on Scouting USA, the first official television series about the BSA. With your help this program can become a strong, positive outlet for our strategic messages and Scouting in general.
Airing this spring on the Outdoor Channel, the network has made production of the six-episode series a high priority. They are providing airtime and paying for production to make this program available to their 26 million subscribers and the Scouting community.
Great! Sounds like we’ll want to get the DVD :-).
Don’t you just know that this will drive the ACLU NUTZ! LOL!!!
Yeah, Boy Scouts on TV? It must be against the law, or Unconstitutional, or something, right?
I celebrated Scouting’s 100th anniversary in the middle of my 43rd week of sumnmer camp, which I spent at Owasippe Scout Reservation. I told a group of 10 Scouts how Scouting came to be started by a man who was a military spy and who used wit, cleverness and bravery to do his job and who became a hero, and who then started a worldwide movement that’s lasted for a century. They had no idea until then that Scouting was in 156 countries, or that it had such origins. That inspired the boys to voluntarily get off their duffs and into their uniforms to go see a re-enactment of Brownsea Island, listen to a re-enactor tell the story of Lord Baden-Powell (I did a much better job) and play some of the original games.