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The Boy Scouts The Salvation Of The Village Boy

During the last four years the order of the Boy Scouts has been organized in every country in the civilized world. There are at present probably, in the various patrols, more than three million scouts, a number equal to the standing army of Russia. In this country the order is less than four years old, yet there are already five hundred thousand scouts, and a whole library of books devoted to scouting. Perhaps at no time before in the history of the world has a social movement taken so strong a hold on the public imagination. Whenever an idea spreads as this one has done, it must come as the satisfaction of a long-felt want. There is no explanation, unless there is some intimate relationship between its ideals and the natural ideals of adolescent boys.


The honor of founding the order belongs to. General Baden-Powell, the hero of Mafeking. He discovered that in times of peace, army life was very uninteresting to the men, and there were constant desertions. He sought to make it more interesting and hit upon scouting as the means. He had thought of it as a purely military expedient, but on his return from the war he was surprised to find that the manual that he had drawn up for his men had been adopted by several private schools in England. This led him to think that it might be well fitted for boys everywhere, and he was led to revise and enlarge his manual. In doing this he got many suggestions from the Society of the Sons of Daniel Boone, which had been founded by Dan Beard several years before, and from the Woodcraft Indians which had been organized with similar purposes by Thompson Seton. The bands of the Woodcraft Indians already numbered one hundred thousand boys, and Seton was conducting a training class in New York for the leaders of these bands. Baden-Powell, himself, did not consider that we needed the Boy Scouts in this country because of these other organizations and the boys' department of the Y.M.C.A. The Macedonian call, " Come over and help us," which came to him while he was in the midst of his work of promotion in Canada, was a complete surprise to Powell.

On the organization of the Boy Scouts of America, the Sons of Daniel Boone and the Woodcraft Indians came in as a part of the new order ; and Powell says that we have here in America the strongest organization of the Boy Scouts there is. The Boy Scouts is often criticized as a military organization ; but the founder always insists that the work is to be " peace scouting " and must not be military in any sense. He says that the boys will sicken of the military drill, and while tactics are probably the easiest thing to give them, the boys will soon give up the practice. In this country we really have the Sons of Daniel Boone, the Woodcraft Indians, and the boys' department of the Y.M.C.A. in the dress of Powell's Scouts. Outside the uniform, the patrol organization, the name, and an occasional drill which is not encouraged, the Boy Scouts of America have nothing military about them. The order is trying to develop the sturdy virtues of the pioneer and the love of outdoor life rather than soldierly virtues or vices.

The manual is the sort of book that ought to be in the hands of every adolescent boy. It covers essentially the virtues and accomplishments that are fundamental to youth. The scout must be familiar with nature ; he should recognize all the birds, animals, fish, and flowers. He should be able to follow a trail and to find his way in the wilderness, to camp out and cook his own food. He should acquire the arts of the pioneer and the Indian. He is to avoid the wretched butchery of game that so often characterizes the city hunter, for " the scout does not kill animals or birds except for food." He must practice the self-reliance and hardihood of the wilderness. These are virtues that appeal to every boy. They are the best possible antidotes for the idleness and coddling of so many fond homes.

The boys' department of the Y.M.C.A. has added to the scouts the idea of chivalry, which has two fundamental concepts, that of honor and that of courtesy to women and the weak and aged. These are essentially adolescent virtues, most easily taught at this age. They add a sense of romance and dignity to the order. They also are essentially virile virtues of a crude but vigorous age. Some of us realize to our sorrow that a tradesman's word is not always as good as his bond, - that an assurance that a thing will be done falls short of a guaranty, and the business world should welcome any sort of order that will create and promote this sense of honor. Young America has, as a rule, much of the outer show of gallantry toward women, but this does not always represent that respect, almost veneration, that chivalry was supposed to stand for. At its best, chivalry is probably the best safeguard we have against the social evil.

There are two chapters in the manual that come from the modern movement for health and athletics. These are excellent practical hints in caring for the health, and the games are a good series of outdoor games, such as any company of boys would play with pleasure. These are for the most part real scout games, which involve skill in woodcraft and scoutcraft.

Scouting promotes the heroic virtues and offers bronze, silver, and gold medals for deeds of heroism. Nothing could be more salutary than this promotion of courage. It invites the boy to run into danger, but only that he may rescue another. The order gives him its hero medal when he does it. Baden-Powell tells a story of a boy who saw a runaway team in the suburbs of London. He got into the wagon, climbed out on the wagon tongue, and knocked the horses' heads together until " he knocked some sense into them." He was given a medal for his bravery, and there followed a regular epidemic of stopping runaway horses. Recently I saw a horse running away down a crowded street. There was an eight-or nine-year-old boy in the carriage. The street contained a goodly number of automobiles and carriages and its usual quota of people on foot; but even the autos scurried to the gutter, and not a person lifted his hand. We evidently need some of this scout training. There have been a number of cases where scouts have saved people from drowning, and not a few where they have made rescues from fire. The first aid is more or less necessary to scouts, because their scouting often leads them about the wilderness, where they are by themselves. Injuries are likely to occur, and they will be helpless if they cannot render this assistance themselves.


The scouts seek to inculcate patriotism through teaching respect for the flag, and the history of the United States. The scout pledges himself " to do his duty to God and his country."

Scouts are organized into patrols of eight boys. Each patrol has a leader and an assistant leader. The leader is generally an older boy. Three or more patrols constitute a troop, and a troop is in charge of a scout master, who must be an adult. Boys from twelve to eighteen years of age may become members of a patrol. The scout often wears a uniform of khaki and on his hikes carries a " billy " that resembles a knapsack. This organization of the patrol and the uniform suggest the military origin of the order, but there is little else that is military about it.


On becoming a scout the boy takes the following oath :

On my honor I will do my best:

1. To do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the scout law;

2. To help other people at all times;

3. To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

The scout law may be summed up as the Ten Commandments, with several social virtues added.

There are three common orders of scouts. The first degree is that of a Tenderfoot, who must be able to pass the following requirements :

1. Know the scout law, sign, salute, and significance of the badge.

2. Know the composition and history of the national flag and the customary forms of respect due to it.

3. Tie four out of the following knots : square reef, sheet bend, bow-line, fisherman's, sheepshank, halter, clove hitch, timber hitch, or two half hitches.

In order to advance from this lowest order to become a second-class scout, he must gain proficiency in a number of outdoor arts, and he must have saved up and deposited at least one dollar. In order to become a first-class scout he must be proficient, in general, in the arts of woodcraft and campcraft, know first aid, have at least two dollars in the savings bank, and have enlisted a boy who has been trained by himself as a Tenderfoot. After a boy has become a first-class scout he may go on to become a life scout, a Star scout, and an Eagle scout by acquiring proficiency in a number of arts and industries, such as agriculture, blacksmithing, athletics, swimming, surveying, etc. For each of these he must take an examination and will receive a merit badge if he passes. The life scout must get five of these badges, the Star scout ten, and the Eagle scout twenty-one. In acquiring these merit badges it is not considered that the boy is really learning a trade, but he is learning to be handy along the lines of certain trades. He is getting the groundwork on which technical skill can be built later. t is almost necessary that the first steps be taken early if the boy is ever to be a master work-man, and this training is a much-needed supplement to the work that the schools are giving.


Why have the Boy Scouts had their marvelous popularity ? I do not suppose that ever before in the history of the world has an order been organized in all civilized countries in so short a time as has the Boy Scouts. The growth of the order seems greatly to strengthen the position of the theory known in education and anthropology as the recapitulation theory, which is that " the individual repeats the history of the race." In other words the child is a primitive man ; he climbs up to civilization by much the same stages, has much the same interests along the way, as had the race in its progress. The individual child is constantly conditioned in this progress by imitating the actions of a later period, by the advice and encouragement that is given him for different kinds of excellence. Yet his deepest interests are the same as were those of the race at his stage of development. The boy enters at puberty upon the period that is in general characterized by the tribal life. Its chief activities are hunting, fishing, fighting.


It is a wild, free life in an environment of nature. It is a time of courage, sometimes of cruelty, of physical hardihood, of close observation, and a simple strategy that is closely akin to the cunning of some of the higher animals. These are the fundamental interests of boys everywhere at this period of development. It is at this time that the boy first forms his gang, that he begins to play team games. He wants to hunt and fish, to camp out and sit around the fire. His reading is mostly tales of adventure. He admires above all other things independence and daring. These are essentially the virtues that are promoted by the Boy Scouts, although it has aimed to substitute the interest of the naturalist for the love of the hunter, and it has introduced a number of moral precepts which do not psychologically belong to the adolescent period.

I am inclined to think that the order is at present suppressing too much the military ideal. For the soldier is one of the natural ideals of the adolescent boy. It has to contribute the ideals of obedience, neatness, and orderliness. It does not follow at all that the boy will be inclined to war when he grows up, because he has had military drill as a boy. In fact, I believe it is likely to have exactly the opposite effect upon him. The soldier's duty is always more attractive in prospect than it is in realization. Baden-Powell advises against frequent military drills, because he says that " it always makes the boys sick of it." If a boy has had his military craving satisficd in this way in his boyhood, he will not carry over an unsatisfied craving to later years, where it may cause trouble. The Boy Scouts are now organized in every country of the civilized world. In the near future we may look for international encampments and meetings. It is this knitting together of peoples across national boundaries, the meeting in conferences and conventions, that is one of the greatest safeguards against war, and the chances of a world peace are probably improved rather than lessened through the organization of the scouts.

As the scout virtues are essentially adolescent virtues, I cannot but wonder if twelve is not a year or two too young for a boy to be a scout. The ideals of the order seem to represent a period that usually begins about two years later, and while the little boy wants to imitate the big boy, it is not always a good thing to let him do it. Precocity is apt to lead to the feeble development of function. I do not think that the boy who takes it up at twelve will ever find it quite as interesting as he would if he had waited until a year or two later. The older boys of sixteen or seventeen do not wish to associate with these boys of twelve, and it will almost surely detract from the good comradery of the camp, which is one of its essential virtues. If a boy becomes a scout at fourteen and remains a member of the troop until he is eighteen, he is a scout for four years, which is long enough.


If scouting represents and teaches the virtues of the chivalric age of adolescence, is it not a training which every boy should have ? I believe it is. t is a more fundamental training in manliness, virtue, self-reliance, and efficiency than the boy is getting out of the school. It is certainly one of the best safeguards against the peculiar temptations and vices of puberty. t develops the good fellowship for which there is at that time such a craving, and which is apt to ripen into the friendships of a lifetime. Friendship creates most of the joy and ultimate values of life, but we are thus far doing almost nothing to create it. Here we are met with an obstacle which seems to be almost insuperable. There are very few men who have the necessary training for scout masters or who have the time or the inclination to render this important service. It is difficult to get the people to take courses of training to prepare them to render a service that will not be compensated. Hence I believe that the order can never come into its own until it becomes a part of the public school work and is required of all boys. t is already required in a number of private schools and, I understand, in all the public schools of Russia, where its military side will doubtless be emphasized. Why not dismiss the upper grades at noon on Friday and let the older girls have their camp fire and the boys have scouting?

This could not well be worked in the one-room rural school, and it would require nearly as many men teachers as women teachers in order to carry it out. But there are many new subjects, especially the industrial ones, and games and athletics that are also demanding more men teachers. Friday afternoon does not usually amount to much for school work. Its present value is not comparable to the value that might come from the practice of the arts of the Boy Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls. This would apply especially to the high-school age, and the high school is probably the place to try the experiment.


A number of things that scouting is teaching are the ones most fundamental to the welfare of the country the love of nature and the open-air life, self-reliance, observation, cooperation, good fellowship. These are what the country needs. The rural community might even do well to exchange the education of the rural school for such a training. However, under existing circumstances a satisfactory organization of the scouts is practically impossible in the open country, because there are no scout masters available, because the boys of four-teen and over are too widely scattered about the community to get together easily, and because thus far the country has not found the time for the boys to have the meetings. Again, some social center is almost absolutely necessary if the scouts are to be organized in the country at present, unless they can be organized through the county Y.M.C.A. or through the Sunday school, because there is no other place where boys who have finished the elementary school meet together. As there are very few counties having the county Y.M.C.A., regular Sunday-school classes for boys with competent leaders, or social centers, it is safe to say that at present any satisfactory organization of the Boy Scouts is well-nigh impossible in the open country.


It has been said, " God made the country, man made the town, but the Devil made the little country village." The country or suburban village is the most attractive place of residence in many ways that there is. The garden village seems to be the ideal toward which our housing and town-planning movements are tending. In the village one may have a house to himself. He may have a yard and a garden, and room and safety for the play of the little children. If he wishes to walk or drive, it is only a short distance to the open country. But for the children from about ten years of age to eighteen, the country village is probably the most dangerous place morally that there is. The children in the cities have their playgrounds and their clubs, libraries, museums, stores, and other places where they may go and find instruction and pleasure. The children on the farm have their duties which keep them busy and teach them the trade of farming ; but the village boy and girl miss both of these sources of education the varied life of the city, which makes it a constant exposition of the arts and ways of civilization, and the training of work which comes to the boy on the farm. There is no other place where there is quite so much idleness among the children as there is in the rural village, and idleness is always dangerous. It is in periods of idleness that children learn to smoke cigarettes, to shoot craps, to tell the smutty stories, to hear the smutty stories, to plan most of the things that their parents do not wish them to do. A boy may play baseball with eight other boys all of whom belong in the reform school, and so long as he plays he will not suffer much harm ; but let him loaf around with these boys for half an hour and there is no telling how much harm may be done. A girl may play basket ball with four loose girls and be a perfectly good, virtuous girl through it all ; but let her sit down and gossip with these girls for a half hour, and a whole life may not be sufficient to undo the harm.

The village is probably the best place that there is for the organization of the Boy Scouts, and it is also the place that needs them the most. The Boy Scouts is an outdoor order, that is teaching the arts and crafts and the virtues and the independence of the wilderness. t is difficult to do these things in the city. Very little of woodcraft or scoutcraft can be practiced there. The order cannot well be organized in the country on account of the amount of work and the lack of leadership, but all the conditions seem to be favorable to the organization in the village. The surrounding country is available for hikes. There are usually woods and lakes in the neighborhood for scouting and camping. There is an abundance of time, and there is usually in the village some young lawyer or doctor or clergyman who is not overburdened with duties and can take charge of the troop. I believe the Boy Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls are the solution of the child problem in the village for the older boys and girls, and with this organization the village will become the most attractive place in the world for everybody to live. Mr. James R. West, 200 Fifth Ave., New York City, is the Chief Scout Executive.

( Originally Published 1914 )

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