XXXXX, thank you for your thoughts. Fundamentally, you, XXXX, and I are coming at this situation from completely different perspectives, and this is bubbling out in our discussion as a disagreement. Here is the underlying assumption that keeps us from meeting in the middle (I fear). In my view, Venturing (and LFL Exploring, too) is a last opportunity to serve and shape the lives of young people who never did Scouting. These kids, some of whom joined Cubs but never bridged to a Troop, require a different approach in order to recruit them into the BSA family. In my view, we have already lost the battle over uniforms and ranks. Instead of leading with those program features, I have always led with adventures and social interaction. I have been involved in Crews and Posts that have specialized in a wide variety of sports from scuba and mountaineering to horses, whitewater rafting, and Civil War reenacting. Once those kids have been recruited and made the emotional commitment to our Crew (or Posts), we have also engaged them in community service, youth ministry, mission trips, Philmont, Florida SeaBase, summer camp staff, and a variety of other more traditional pursuits. But we always led with the adventures, and I bristle at the implication that this is not “real” Scouting.
I have had 23 young men achieve Eagle Rank, 7 young people achieve the Silver Award, at least a dozen achieve Bronze Award, 2 receive Rotary RYLA scholarships, several go to service academies (Air Force Academy, West Point), and many get accepted to other fine universities. I have also had kids get great careers as auto mechanics, aviation machinists, truck drivers, pastors, and so on. One of our boys is in prison for a series of bank robberies. I have also had a suicide and an attempted suicide. One of our alum died of Aids in the 80’s. Another died of brain cancer three years ago. I hope and pray that I had a positive influence on ALL of these kids, and that even the most troubled of them had some brief happiness while they were in our Posts and Crews.
If we want to serve the broadest possible number of youth, we need to offer a program that will appeal to ALL of them. By the time they have achieved the age of 13, they are not going to learn anything from memorizing oaths and laws. Their personalities and moral codes have already been largely formed by that time. What we CAN do is help them find themselves as members of a group. We can model how mature adults act, especial in stressful situations inherent in high adventure. We can teach them how to follow, and later how to lead (as they say, you have to be a good follower before you can be a good leader). We can teach them life skills like first aid, responsible driving skills, cooperation on a climbing rope team, and so forth. We can expose unchurched kids (and their families) to our churches and to Faith based community service.
In Scouting, rank advancement is a personal accomplishment in the context of camping and camp craft skills and works exceptionally well with younger children. We are dealing with more sophisticated consumers, however, and their accomplishments in Venturing need to be of a nature that they can talk about when they return to school after the weekend. Their accomplishments need to be impressive to their families and to their peers. Kicking the winning goal in a soccer tournament is a good example. Running Killer Fang Falls in a kayak, rappelling off Dead Man’s Cliff, or completing a bicycle trip over a mountain pass are these kinds of accomplishments. Spending a week working at an orphanage in Ensenada, renovating a migrant labor camp, or helping clean up flood damage in a nearby town are personal achievements. Memorizing the Scout Oath and Law are not.
Anyway, I am looking at this puzzle in the context of serving the overwhelming majority of teens who never joined Scouting. If we focus on alumni of Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts we are engaging in a terribly unfortunate form of myopia. At any given moment, there are about 20 million teenagers in this country. Less than a million of them are in Scouting.
As a historical comment, it was Exploring, BSA that had no uniform back in the 1980’s, not LFL Exploring. And another historical perspective is that Venturing was a major step back into the Scouting family for Exploring, BSA. The current reforms are part of a continuum that started 15 years ago.