Boy Scouts and Teaching

I’ve not been blogging the last two weeks because I’ve been working at my summer job, teaching at a Boy Scout camp.  Some colleagues think I’m silly, teaching at a camp when it’s just like what I do in the regular school year — teaching.

Except it’s not.   Teaching summer school is exactly like teaching in a school. Teaching merit badges in a boy scout camp is NOTHING like teaching in a school.

For one, the curriculum is entirely requirement-based.  For most merit badges, there’s a list of six to eight requirements that the candidate must fulfill.  The requirements are clear, concrete, obvious, and real (for a sample, check out‘s page on the requirements for Archaeology, the merit badge I’m currently teaching).

This is not wishy-washy.  Either a scout can explain an archaeological dig, or he can’t.  Either he can show understanding of why archaeological sites should be protected, or he can’t.  Either he’s done eight hours under an archaologist, or he hasn’t.  Either he knows three careers in archaeology, or he doesn’t.

The kid sets his own motivation.  Either he works hard, puts in the necessary study, and finishes the requirements (and earns the merit badge), or he doesn’t.  It’s entirely up to him (and to some degree on the interest that the parents put into helping the kid through the process).  My scout kids are not pompous, overly privileged, or (for the most part) mean.  They are not in my experience, catty, overblown, and show no sense of entitlement.  Their ranks include goths and geeks, future Marines, jocks, nerds, wusses, freaks, and all the other categories of the tribes of high school.  But in the camp dining hall they sing silly songs, shout ridiculous chants and cheers at one another, and even get up and dance.  They are happy to be there — where they will learn to swim, fire a gun, shoot an arrow, play an instrument, paddle a canoe, hike a mountain trail, and yes, even root around (safely) in the cellars of abandoned houses.

Most of all, they are sincere.  They’re eager to learn, they’re eager to share what they know with others, and they are tremendously helpful to one another and to the adults.  If a kid sticks with scouting, and gives himself over to the effort of becoming an Eagle Scout, by the time he’s 18 he’ll have spent close to two thousand hours improving himself, helping others, and working to better his community.  There’s a reason Donald Rumsfeld (whom I would normally not quote at all) called the Eagle scout award the only thing you did at 18 that you can still put on your resume at 60 and nobody laughs.

I often wonder if teaching in the regular school year could be more like Scout Camp.  I don’t know, but I wonder… if we must have standardized education at all, maybe we could compartmentalize it more into 5-hour, 20-hour, and 100-hour units, like merit badges, and make all students learn some small number, while encouraging them to earn many many more across many categories, and certifying the results in some other way than “graduation” or a score on a “standardized test”.

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  1. I agree school should be more like this. I think more important than the clear requirements of the boy scouts are the fact that the “learning”is authentic, real-world learning.

    Too much of what is done in schools is abstract bookwork that is not motivating at all. Boy Scout camp is educational and fun. The more relevant we can make our curriculum the more motivated students will be.

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