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Rick Seymour

The most interesting aspect of the early Scoutmaster handbooks is the fact that the BSA did not use the "Patrol System" or "Patrol Method" for most its first twenty years.  The very first mention comes in the form of a supplement to the Handbook for Scoutmasters, Second Edition

This omission is puzzling given William D. Murray's account of the "careful procedure" involved in creating the first edition:

The preparation of the first issue of this book proceeded slowly in spite of the insistent demands from the Field for it, in order that the final book might represent the best thought and procedure.  It was published first in a series of pamphlets, which were made available to the Field and, in 1913, 10,000 copies in proof form were printed.   The Executive Board authorized the distribution of these, without cost, to the men actively engaged in Scouting at that time, and authorized the sale of the proof edition at $.25 each.  At that time, there was considerable concern as to whether the book would meet the needs of all the men in the Field.  By circular letter and through the magazine SCOUTING, all of the active Scoutmasters and other Scout Officials, were urged to submit their suggestions as to changes.  No radical changes were suggested, and in 1914 the first edition was printed [The History of the Boy Scouts of America, pages 397-398].

It is surprising that not a single person in the "Field" noticed that the central principle of Scouting, the "Patrol System," was missing.  The Six Principles of Boy-Work takes its place, for which there is no acknowledged source.  

Most likely this theory is borrowed from an organization such as the YMCA.   Clearly it is not based on any of Baden-Powell's work because in the "Principles of Boy-Work" scheme the "Scout Master" is clearly in control.  

To "get in on the deal," a boy had to agree that the Scout Master decides "what the game is and how it is to be played":

First, there must be a clear plan well thought out, progressive in its stages with an aim for each stage.  In other words no man need try to work with a group of boys unless he knows what he wants to do, not only in outline but in detail.  He must have these details in mind and so well worked out in his thought knowing exactly what comes next....as to be master of the situation at all times and to be the recognized leader....That is to say, he should tell the boys what the game is and how it is to be played, getting their approval and agreement to get in on the deal [emphasis added].

The Principle following this one indicates that once the adult leader gives the boys his plan, he should "let them do as much of it as they can and will do under adequate supervision...." In other words, he lets them figure out their own way of carrying out the Scout Master's creative plan. 

The Handbook warns that this rare opportunity should not be confused with "pure self-government in which the boys are entirely the dictators of their policies and activities [which] can not be thought of, because such a course is so generally fatal to successful development."

This early form of program planning is bad enough, but nowhere is the absence of the Patrol Method more obvious than in the suggested intrusion of the "Scout Master" into the forming of Patrols.  The amusing  theories set forth in "Grouping Standards" are based on "the experience of boy workers in various parts of the country" rather than the experience of Scouters in England or the writings of Baden-Powell.  They suggest grouping boys by age, by "the school boy/wage-earning boy standard," or even by height and weight!  It finally suggests that "the best and most satisfactory way of grouping boys is by their interest."  Nowhere, however, is the faintest hint of letting the boys group themselves!

The "Principles of Boy-Work" require the Scout Master to distrust the judgment of the Patrol Leader and to control the activities of the Patrol himself.  When the Scout Master delegates decisions, he does so to the entire group rather than to the Patrol Leaders!

The Patrol Leader and the Scout Master

Care should be taken by the Scout Master that the patrol leaders do not have too great authority in the supervision of their patrols.  The success of the troop affairs and supervision of patrol progress is, in the last analysis, the responsibility of the Scout Master and not that of the patrol leader.  There is also a danger, in magnifying the patrol leader in this way, of inordinately swelling the ordinary boy's head.  The activities of the patrol should not be left to the judgment of any patrol leader, and if the Scout Master wants to delegate the work of the patrol and troop, the whole group should reach a decision in regard to the plan [p. 85, emphasis added].  

In the following passage we see the natural result of ignoring the Patrol Method.  As might be predicted, the addition of each new Patrol Leader adds to the "Scout Master's" burden, rather than easing it.  

Every patrol leader that a Scout Master has increases his responsibility all the more, and the addition of a patrol to his troop, with its corresponding new patrol leader, means just a little more supervisory work for him [p. 85].

Likewise, look for the lack of understanding of the Patrol Method in this suggestion:

Lack of Interest in Patrol or Troop Meetings

Inability to sustain interest in the patrol meetings is given by some Scout Masters for failure to get boys to become enthusiastic in Scouting.  The trouble here seems to depend largely on the part of the Scout Master and no doubt, arises from the fact that the Scout Master makes no program for a patrol or troop meeting.   The situation will probably change materially just as quickly as the Scout Master knows what he is going to do when he meets his boys [p. 86, emphasis added].

Own Your Own Copy:

The Methods of Scouting






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.