I suppose that some consider Scouting to be old-fashioned, out of touch, or even irrelevant for today’s youth. I disagree. In fact, I believe Scouting is a program ahead of its time.

In speaking of Scouting Robert Baden-Powell said, “In giving the [outdoor] elements… to boys we supply a system of games and practices which meets their desires and instincts, and is at the same time educative.”

Almost twenty years later, noted educator John Dewey wrote Education and Experience (1938) a work that proposed a carefully developed theory of experience and its relation to education. Dewey rejected both traditional and progressive (for the time) educational philosophies and instead asserted the need for experience-based education that provides learners with quality experiences that will result in growth.

In short, Dewey suggested that we learn from doing, and that education should be based on what might be called ‘structured doing’.

Dewey’s work was an academic justification of the theories Baden-Powell had built into the Scouting program. The activity elements of Scouting were founded, and continue to be based, on this experience driven approach.

Consider the key role of the outdoors in Scouting. Our activities should be full of experiences for boys. The simple act of pitching a tent, or cooking a meal in the outdoors provides boys with experiences, skills, and opportunities to learn to work together. The experiential aspect of more complex activities such as land navigation, trip planning, and executing large service projects are clear.

The merit badge program is also based on providing experiences. The BSA recently warned about a loss of this active element of Scouting as it warned against the use of an entirely scholastic approach to merit badges, “We don’t like worksheets, and we’re reasonably sure our founder would be horrified by their very existence…That’s why they are permitted only for fulfilling requirements where something is to be done in writing. Worksheets must not be accepted in fulfillment of requirements that call for ‘showing,’ ‘demonstrating,’ ‘discussing,’ or whatever else the written word does not fully accomplish.”

Both Robert Baden-Powell and John Dewey recognized the need for boys to learn by experience.

An essential aspect of Scouting today continues to be learning by doing. In your unit, you might ponder the extent to which activities are planned and evaluated by the experiences they provide. To help you keep this in mind, you might consider the following questions:

  • Are our activities planned by the youth?
  • Do we make sure that everything that can be done by boys, is done by boys?
  • Are we using the EDGE Method to transfer skills?
  • Do we consider an activity a success if boys get new experiences, rather than if the activity was perfectly executed?

Using this approach we will stick close to the Founder’s vision that, “The principle on which Scouting works is that the boy’s ideas are studied, and he is encouraged to educate himself instead of being instructed.”