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By Gilcraft

I take the following extracts from an article in Pearson's Weekly for January 30th, 1908, entitled "B-P's Boy Scouts - All about General Baden-Powell's New Corps."

"Ever since the siege of Mafeking General Baden-Powell has been a popular hero with boys. His latest idea - the organization of a corps of boy scouts in this country - should make him literally idolized.

"Scouting, beyond question, is the king of all outdoor sports. In the first volume of B-P's book, Scouting for Boys, the hero of Mafeking draws such an attractive picture of the excitement and fascination of a Scout's life that no boy worthy of the name will rest contented until he is enrolled in the corps.

"It is not a mere desire to provide a popular game for the youth of the country, however, that has led the General to the formation of his latest scheme. He believes that by taking advantage of a boy's natural love of hiding, imitating animals, and making use of secret signs, the whole moral and physical standard of the rising generation may be raised to a better and healthier level.

'Every British boy,' says B-P, 'wants to help his country in some way or other, and the way in which he can do it most easily is by becoming a Scout. A Scout is generally a soldier who is chosen for his cleverness and pluck to go out in front of an army in wartime and find out where the enemy are. But besides war scouts there are also peace scouts - men who in peace time carry out work which requires the same kind of abilities. These are the frontiersmen of all parts of our empire - real men in every sense of the word, who can find their way anywhere, are able to read meanings from the smallest sign or foot-track and know how to look after their health, when far away from any doctor. They are accustomed to take their lives in their hands and to fling them down without hesitation if they can help their country by doing so.'

"It is the existence of a large corps of English boys with some elementary knowledge of `peace scouting' that General Baden-Powell is attempting to establish.

"It would be difficult indeed to imagine a game which would appeal more to the heart of the right type of boy.

"In conclusion, the General impresses vigorously on his readers the necessity of keeping fit if a boy wishes to be a good scout.

"Every healthy-minded and patriotic person will wish the gallant B-P the utmost success in his efforts."

The sentence I intend to dwell on is: "It would be difficulty indeed to imagine a game which would appeal more to the heart of the right type of boy." The question is: is the present-day Scoutmaster prepared to allow that to occur? As appears to happen with all movements - secular and religious - the basic idea and principles of the movement are apt to be distorted and perverted by subsequent interpretations. It is the Scoutmaster's duty to interpret Scouting for Boys into action. In too many cases he himself has had so many interpretations given him by books, other Scouters, courses, and so on, that he cannot see the wood for the trees and makes a sad hash of his own personal interpretation.

We have at present two schools of thought in our Scouting: the one holds that we should get back, and stick as closely as we possibly can, to the original conception of Scouting, as described in Scouting for Boys: the other says in effect, "Scouting for Boys is over thirty years old, it contains nothing which appeals to the modern boy; if it is to continue to be used, it must be brought up to date with modern invention and progress." I have no hesitation or shame in saying that I subscribe to the former school.

After all, we have to remember that Scouting is not the whole of education, but a supplement to it, and that a Scoutmaster is not a scientific expert but an ordinary kind of man who likes being with boys and who likes exploring what countryside is left to us these days with them. Scouting is not concerned with scientific investigation but with "outdoor sport". It is a game to be enjoyed by men and boys at their leisure and according to their own inclinations. It has power to give them not only passing enjoyment but lasting value because of its aims and aspirations.

How can the Scoutmaster use Scouting for Boys to-day?

First of all he should be continually browsing through it himself. It is not a book to be read at a sitting and then laid aside with a feeling of duty done. It was a very wise circumstance that necessitated its original issue in six fortnightly parts. The Scoutmaster who is accustomed to pick the volume up, read through a few pages, and put it down again, knows that he is continually picking up fresh suggestions for activities. Some of our "not-so-bad" books on Scouting have been written after the same method: a sentence in Scouting for Boys has been expanded into a chapter, a few paragraphs into a volume. Program building is only difficult to the Scoutmaster who cannot read Scouting for Boys with his seeing eye. It is for this unfortunate that all the books are written, all the courses arranged. The fellow with the seeing eye can make use of books and courses, but merely to confirm his own ideas and encourage himself to further initiative and understanding.

I know, from many illustrations over many years, that the Troop run on Scouting for Boys succeeds. One of my D.C.Cs. whispered to me in the dark after an Association Annual Meeting, "I've completely reorganized my Troop; we've gone back to Scouting for Boys, and it worked." The person who goes to Church fortified by Bible or prayer book, or both, stands to gain more from his religion. The Scoutmaster who goes to any form of Scout meeting fortified by Scouting for Boys, is of more value to his Scouts. I draw the parallel in no spirit of levity.

In this country seventeen editions of Scouting for Boys have been published with a sale of over 550,000. It has also been translated and published in several other languages and is used, practically unaltered, in many countries outside the British Empire. In 1932, however, an important advance was made in the publication of a Boys' Edition. The only difference between this and the seventeenth edition is that the Hints to Instructors and the final chapter containing Notes for Instructors have been omitted from the former. This edition was brought out so as again to bring Scouting for Boys within the reach of the Scouts themselves.

The second step, therefore, that a Scoutmaster should take is to see that his Patrol Leaders at least have copies of this edition. Some Scoutmasters make a point of presenting each new P.L. with a copy on his appointment.

There is no need to limit the reading of Scouting for Boys to Scouters, Rovers and Patrol Leaders: the more Scouts who read the book the better. Critics will tell you that it is not a book that boys will read to-day. Is this because their Scoutmaster has disparaged it or because they are put off by the word "Boys"? The Scoutmaster can answer the former question, and he can also get his boys to see that the word "boy" is an honorable title and not to be despised. I only know that many Scouts of my acquaintance have read the Boys' Edition of Scouting for Boys and professed to like it; that many have bought it for themselves in preference to spending their money on chocolate or lemonade. A short while ago I was journeying by train from Chingford to Liverpool Street, a journey I avoid as much as possible. Alongside me was a boy of 14 or 15 who, despite a crowded compartment and the interesting talk of a couple of girls about their young men, kept his eyes glued to the copy of Scouting for Boys that he was reading. I did not embarrass him or put him off by asking to what Troop he belonged, but only gave him a smile and a salute when we parted and received the same from him in reply.

The third thing the Scoutmaster can do is to put into practice with his Scouts some of the suggested activities and practices contained in Scouting for Boys. We do not have enough of that at Troop Meetings and in camp, especially the latter. I frequently open the book at random and see what there is there to put into practice. Once when I did this the Boys' Edition fell open at page 142 where the Chief says that the Scout's motto is, "Never say die till you're dead." He illustrates this with a yarn of the great South African hunter and scout, F. C. Selous. That yarn immediately suggested a Wild Game, stalking by night, finding one's way by the stars, swimming across a river with one's clothes on - or taking them off and taking them over dry, a treasure hunt for food, trying the experience of going hungry for a day or more, and so on. That is, I believe, the great secret of how to use Scouting for Boys, USE IT TO SUGGEST THINGS WHICH SCOUTS CAN DO - with the Troop, with a Patrol, with a pal, and on their own.

The fourth thing the Scoutmaster can do, once he has mastered one, two and three, is to encourage Patrol Leaders and Scouts to use Scouting for Boys in a similar fashion. As a start get each Patrol to write out a list of the things they could do as a Patrol giving them a couple of pages of the book chosen carefully or at random - to make their selection from; compare the lists of the different Patrols; and then ask each Patrol to select two or three items from its list and practice them before next meeting. Next, encourage Patrols to meet on their own, and try out some of the suggestions given them. I am all in favor of Patrols and P. L.s being given more liberty to play the game of Scouting on their own without being hemmed in with too much supervision and coaching. Thirdly, encourage individual Scouts to try the same idea, and to see how much they can find suggested in Scouting for Boys to do for themselves. Again opening the book at random, I came to page 35 (Boys' Edition, remember). There I find I should go off and practice my Patrol cry. That gets me for I am conscious that I am very rusty in that particular! I can draw a good Patrol signature; I can, perhaps, burn or carve one on my staff, or make a lino-cut or wood block of it. I can try my hand at making a Patrol flag, either the common or garden form, or a more ambitious affair in my Patrol colors. I can go out and make the various signs depicted on that page, using a variety of materials for the purpose. If I have time I can go on making other signs, perhaps inventing some to show to my Patrol. Anyway I believe I have enough to do on my own to keep me out of mischief for a week. There is actually more in the way of definite suggestion on that page than I have mentioned, but I don't want to spoil all the fun of exploring the possibilities for you.

There is a moral to all this, and it is contained in the last three paragraphs of the Boys' Edition of Scouting for Boys. I will repeat them for you so that you, too, perhaps may realize the appeal and do something about it.

"I hope I have been able in this book to show you something of the appeal that lies in Scouting for all of us. I want you to feel that you are really Scouts out in the wilds, able to work things out for yourselves, and not just Scouts in a Troop carefully looked after by Patrol Leaders and Scouters. I know that you want to be up and doing things for yourselves; that these old explorers and frontiersmen appeal to the spirit of adventure in you; that, despite all the modern inventions of the cinema, wireless, motor bicycles, etc., you want to get out on your own, fending for yourselves, pitting yourselves against the forces of nature, exercising yourselves with games, enjoying the freedom of the open-air.

"I have just tried to suggest to you some ways of doing this and of helping yourselves to become real men.

"Scouting is a fine game, if we put our backs into it and tackle it well; and no game is any good to anyone unless he works up some kind of an enthusiasm about it. As with other games, too, we will find that we gain strength of body, mind, and spirit from the playing of it. But, remember! it is a game for the open air, so whenever the opportunity occurs get out into the open, and good luck and good camping go with you."

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.