Scouting is a movement because it keeps on moving forward.
If it stops moving it becomes an organisation and is no longer scouting!
- Robert Baden-Powell
In the Beginning
On 25 July, 1907, Sir Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell of Gilwell - or simply 'B-P', as scouting folk refer to him - a British soldier and hero of the siege of Mafeking, took a trip to Brownsea Island, just outside Poole Harbour. He brought with him 22 young boys from a range of social backgrounds. He taught them camping and survival skills; he taught them tracking and trailing and he taught them knotting and pioneering1. More than that, he taught them to forget social barriers and to work as a team and to be responsible citizens.
The 14 days that followed are seen as the start of the scouting movement. That camp and BP's book Scouting for Boys encouraged many boys to take up his ideas and so spawned a movement that now spans the globe. Now, 155 countries have national organisations recognised by the World Organisation of the Scout Movement, or WOSM, the internationally recognised governing body. A further 26 territories are controlled by other national associations and 35 countries where there are organisations that are not yet recognised.
UK Scouting is now split into five youth sections:
- Beaver Scouts, aged five to eight
- Cub Scouts, aged eight to 11
- Scouts2, aged 11 to 14
- Explorer Scouts3, aged 14 to 18
- Scout Network, aged 18 to 25
Some groups specialise in particular activity areas and are known as Sea and Air Scouts. There are also other specialist groups that often cover different age groups such as university and hospital groups. These groups aim to allow people to keep their scouting links when a link to a regular group is not possible.
Scouting aims to teach young people values that make them valuable and useful citizens. This is best explained in the promise and laws of the UK Scout Association4. Also, the motto should be considered.
On my honour I promise
That I will do my best
To do my duty to God and to the Queen5
To help other people
And to keep the Scout Law'.
Let's take that one line at a time:
On my honour I promise: BP put it best himself in Scouting for Boys:
If a scout says 'on my honour it is so' then it is so.
So for a scout this is a promise to make what follows the truth. Using the phrase 'on my honour' makes this an unbreakable promise.
That I will do my best: This expresses the sentiment that scouts do their best in all things. Also, that no one can do better than their best.
To do my duty to God and to the Queen: This is a beginning of a list of duties. Here they are put in order of the importance that scouting believes they should be taken. The full list is God, Queen and Self. This is repeated in the three-fingered salute used by scouts, each finger representing a duty. Duty to God is a bit of a sticking point for many people. This is one of very few absolute conditions to joining the Scout Association: you cannot be an atheist. It is considered an important part of a scout's being to have some spiritual belief and guidance. What type is irrelevant and the promise may be adjusted to reflect this. In the context of the promise the Queen is used to represent the country. So the scout is not really offering allegiance to a person but to a country. It is considered important that scouts have a sense of duty to the country in which they live. How this duty manifests itself is another matter.
To help other people: A straightforward one. If everyone tried to help other people the world would be a much better place. It should be pointed out that helping other people doesn't just mean people close by or on a one-to-one basis. Scouts likes to promote a worldview. Helping other people might be taking part in a charity event to raise money. Or sometimes it is going out there and doing the work. It could also be as simple as being there when someone needs you. In doing all this don't forget: the old lady still needs to cross the road.
And to keep the Scout Law: The Law is a list of principles (currently seven) that every scout should stick to.
A Scout is to be trusted.
A Scout is loyal.
A Scout is friendly and considerate.
A Scout is a member of the worldwide family of Scouts.
A Scout has courage in all difficulties.
A Scout makes good use of time and is careful of possessions and property.
A Scout has self-respect and respect for others.
Trusted: You should be able to trust a scout with anything from a bottle of milk to your life. You should be able to trust a scout to do their best to fulfil a task assigned to them. A scout should be trusted to tell the truth at all times.
Loyal: This is a hard one to define. Everyone knows when they are being loyal or not. Everyone thinks they know when other people are being loyal. Without resorting to a dictionary it is difficult to define. We all have an instinctual understanding of loyalty. Most people agree it is a virtuous characteristic. In scouting it appears on many levels. Loyalty to your friends, your scout group, the Scout Association, your country and arguably, your god.
Friendly and considerate: Again, scouts have qualities that most would agree are good. Scouts try to encourage friendliness and consideration. This is helped by them being reminded of it every time they hear the law.
Member of the worldwide family of Scouts: As stated above, scouting is available in some form in over 200 countries worldwide. That covers a large percentage of the world population. Scouts like to remember that. Every four years, scouts from around the world meet for a World Jamboree. This is a large camp that thousands of scouts attend. Every year there is also the Jamboree on the trail (JOTT), Jamboree on the air (JOTA) and Jamboree on the Internet (JOTI). For JOTT, scouts across the world go out 'on the trail' on the same day and then share reports and pictures. For JOTA and JOTI scouts get together on radios and the Internet, respectively. Those are just some of the ways scouts keep in touch with their worldwide family. Also, scouts have sisters in the Guide movement who use the same law which was also organised by BP.
Courage: Courage comes in many forms. One thing scouts pride themselves on is giving people the opportunity and encouragement to try new things. For some activities the need for courage is obvious, like abseiling. What about the eight year-old who has his first night away from home? Or the shy scout who is asked to lead a game? All of this requires courage and that is what is expected of scouts.
Careful of Possessions and Property: This law is about not being wasteful. In a modern context it can be viewed as environmentalism, the idea that we should not waste what we have. Thrift, the make do and mend attitude, is just as relevant today as it was 1907. If you can make do now it may save you from hard times in the future.
Respect: A scout wears a uniform, and that uniform is meant to be tidy. This is an outward display of self-respect. A scout should always have the self-respect to keep him or her self as clean and tidy as possible. They must also respect themselves enough to stand up for what they believe. Respecting others is about doing as you would be done by, if you respect their beliefs, their personal space and their property they will respect you.
Seemingly self-explanatory, but look deeper. Being prepared is not just always having a pen and paper. It is also being prepared to be challenged and to also have your skills tested. Also, scouting hopes to make its members better prepared for future life.
At the time of writing, scouting is approaching its centenary in 2007. The movement in the UK is now co-educational and the recent reorganisation has made the age ranges more relevant to modern society. In 2006, Cub Scouts celebrated 90 years and Beaver Scouts 20. 2007 promises to be an exciting year, with the World Jamboree returning to its home in Britain.