Boy Scouts - The Lost Troop

When I was a boy, I wanted to do boy scouts. I was probably 10 or so at the time, so when I went to the local scout group I was a "cub". I went to a single evening, was disillusioned, and never went back. When my mother asked why I didn't enjoy it I was unable to articulate it, but I think I finally have a handle on it.

Before I talk about why I was disillusioned, first I should mention my mental model of what a scout is. I had grown up on a diet of bookes like the Famous Five and the Hardy Boys. In these books the characters go around, have an adventure, and succeed due to logic, personal skills and planning. Speaking of planning, what is the boy scout motto? "Be Prepared". If you read the wikipedia page on Boy Scouts you find:

... program of informal education with an emphasis on practical outdoor activities, including camping, woodcraft, aquatics, hiking, backpacking ...
And that sums up my view of the boy scounts, as it was and is. I went there to learn the things that school doesn't teach: to learn skills that would be useful and practical in the world around me.

So when I attended that single night of Cubs, what happened? We were divided into teams and played indoor cricket.

Can you see the distinction? I went expecting to learn skills, and instead played a "pointless" game. At the end of the evening when I mentioned to my mother that all we had done was play a game, she asked "what did you expect?" I have no idea what I said in response.

I'm sure some readers out there are going "but indoor cricket isn't so bad. They were probably teaching leadership skills or teamwork. Scouting isn't all about outdoor activities." Yeah, maybe. It was only one night. But there was nothing that occurred that evening that suggested to me that things may be different on other nights. There was nothing to suggest that Boy Scouts would ever be "skills focused."

It's worth mentioning that by this point our family was doing pretty serious hiking. Spending a few days in the outdoors was not foreign to me. My sister did Girl Guides for a while (months?) and was similarly disappointed. I have a memory of her coming home going "we learned to brush our teeth using a cup of water rather than a sink." In later discussions I remember my parents pointing out that if someones parents didn't take them hiking, then they'd never learn that sort of thing.

A couple years back I read a book "Shelters Shacks and Shanties" published by one of the founders of the American Boy Scouts. (It's available on Gutenberg). This book describes - to boys, how to shingle a building with bark, how to build a foundation for a shelter on a marsh and warns about the challenges of building an underground house.
This is a book aimed at teenage boys!
There is a very very long way between playing indoor cricket and building a house on a swamp.

Fast forward a couple years and I did a "trainee ranger" course aimed at turning people into forest rangers. The very first day we went out and ... planted trees. Maybe it was aimed at adults, but at no point did we play games solely for "team building" or "leadership." Team-building and leadership training came in the form of being handed a radio and told to run a trapline.

So what would I have made me come back to boy scouts? What could they have done that evening? Pretty much anything that involved learning and my hands. Look at the list of boy scouts badges. 99% of them involve practical skills (and those that don't are all created > 50 years after the scouts movement was originated). Any of those would have sufficed.

So I never did boy scouts. But I spent last night sleeping in a shelter I built, after walking several kilometers off-track through dense bush. I knew the names of the birds both in Maori and English, and I knew some of the geology of the mountain I was walking over. I chatted to the farmer who owns some of the land I passed through, and was courteous to others I passed before I turned off-track.

Am I a boy scout? Nope. I'm a graduate trainee ranger, and at least in my mind, that is something better.