A Crisis in the Scout movement?
The fact that there are problems within Scouting can be evidenced from two factors. One; a loss in numbers, and two; the growing number of independent organisations, often of a traditionalist nature in reaction to changes designed to modernise scouting in an attempt to hold numbers.
It must be noted that the crisis of the scout movement in the west is not reflected universally. Other societies have not experienced social transformation at the same rate, or in the same direction. This means that the traditional image of the scout in these countries will continue to share a backdrop with its society at large. In other countries, the scout movement will be one of a relatively few agencies in the provision of youth work, as was true for Britain in the Edwardian period, and therefore not present a picture of decline.
The schisms in the Scout movement in the UK in the 1970s/1980s, and post 1980s overseas, although minor compared with the great scout schism of 1909-1911 (which created the first world Scout organisation led by Sir Francis Vane in opposition to Baden-Powell), emerged out of a need to come to terms with an essential problem that can be rehearsed as follows; "How does an organisation born in an age of imperialism and nationalism, with a society which was more monolithic, survive in a post-imperial age with a pluralistic society in the west and where each Country is but one community in a global village?"
The Scout Movement, Launch and Expansion.
When Scouting was launched, the 'market' was ready for such a movement. Various Cadet movements had been successful, but lacked the imagination and ideals to which Scouting aspired. The launch of the Scout movement was promoted by a well-known personality, who was a national hero. It was well financed by a Tory publisher. The launch was well co-ordinated, with lectures around the country, contact with other youth organisations, and good publicity.
The Scout movement, with its uniforms and drill, fitted into this jingoistic age. The climate was partially set by the National Service League, founded in 1901, which had pushed for compulsory military conscription, and had managed to gain the support of well over a hundred M.P's. This 'patriotism' happily was exportable, and fitted the requirements of such a scheme for the United States of America, hence the international expansion of the movement, growing beyond the British Empire, funded from the USA.
The uniform of the Scout movement, along with the name "Boy Scouts", evoked the image of a frontiersman in an age of colonial expansion. The first Boy Scout in popular literature had served in the Boer War. The "Stories of the Boy Scout" of the True Blue Library ran from 1900 to 1906. The Scout movement also appealed to those fighting the social ills of the day - smoking, incontinence, lack of national pride etc.. B.P. also wrote to the magazine "Truth" commending his scheme as a means of halting Socialisation.
In 1908 Boys Papers were the only form of mass media for youngsters (with radio appearing in the twenties) "Scouting for Boys" in fortnightly parts, and the "Scout" which followed, found a ready market. There was in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods a revival of the ancient view of chivalry. Scouting, with its Law and Promise, was not unique. Indeed, if it had lacked this dimension it would have been out of step with most boys' organisations and clubs - Seton's Woodcraft Indians founded in 1902 had a vow and ten laws. The Trusty Blue Band of the "True Blue Library" had a motto and a number of laws. "Boys of the Empire" had their own motto and Laws - examples abound. In short, Scouting fitted into the spirit of the age and could not fail to be successful. The further domination of Scouting in the Youth Market, was guaranteed by the training programme embracing all manner of disciplines with a good training scheme and proficiency badges.
After two World Wars Britain as a society had undergone a series of changes. Britain was no longer a world power as once she had been. Social reforms took place in line with the political drift to the left. The rise of Social Services, State provision for youth work, extra-curricular activities in schools. The overt morality stressed in youth work was now a thing of the past. In short the society back-drop favourable to the rise and expansion of the movement had changed and there were now competitors in the market place. It would not be fair to suggest that, Scouting had remained static whilst this process was going on. In the early years : criticism about the possible military nature of the Scouts produced a shift away from this - the regulation which allowed Troops to carry carbines was dropped, and the proposal to register the movement with the War Office did not take place. The training scheme also underwent modification since new proficiency badges were being added continuously, and such requirements as having sixpence in the Savings Bank was dropped.
Various reports emerged from the Boy Scouts Association seeking to deal with the problems of declining numbers. The report which initiated the greatest changes being the Advance Party Report of 1966. Comparing membership numbers through the years without considering any other factor reveals a decline, but when this decline is placed against the fact that the population has quadrupled since the turn of the century reveals that the decline is very severe.
The Heyday is over.
The numbers of Scouts in Baden-Powell's organisation in the UK (The Boy Scouts Association) had started to decline in 1934 and Baden-Powell had sensed the changing world that had brought this about #1. If in the 1930s the Scouts and Guides had to compete with other pursuits, this has been even truer in the fifty years since then. By 1956 it became apparent that whilst the Wolf Cub section (8-11) was increasing the Scout section (11-15/18) was decreasing #2. Between the years of 1960s and 1980 there was growth despite an initial set-back within the Scout section due to the Advance Party Report. The changes of the Advance Party Report had a detrimental effect on the older boy in Scouting. In 1966, Seniors and Rovers numbered 55,206. The effect of the radical changes was enormous. When the 1969 figures were released they revealed there were only 21,698 "Venture Scouts" in the replacement section for the older boy. After much work on building up the replacement Venture Scout section it could only muster at its peak 39,307 in 1989 #3, and after the decision in 1976 to admit girls! The losses between 1966 and 1969 are too great to place upon natural 'leakage' (i.e., when members fail to move upwards into the next age section), and appear to be a reaction from the older membership to the change in image. This view is partly verified by the creation of traditional alternative organisations. From 1981 onwards there is a decreasing figure for both Scouts and Cubs, and after 1989 for the Venture Scouts. Numerous reports on the decreasing membership and the problem of 'leakage' have been published. The question that seems to drive the organisation is, how can Scouting appeal to a wider cross section of young people?
No matter how many reports emerge, or how fundamental or cosmetic the changes which are made, the hey-day for the Scout movement in terms of its original concept (A Youth movement for boys aged 11-18) is over. The decline in the original age section within the UK Scout Association has been masked by the introduction of Beavers (6-8 years). This section has a particular appeal to parents who feel that their children are in safe hands, and who usually take their children along and collect them. Even the off-shoots from the main body in the UK, once numbering 50,000+ in 1910 can only muster less than 10,000 in 1988. These off-shoots have a tendency to include girls, as the same decline has not been experienced by the Girl Guides, showing that a girls' uniformed movement still has an attraction to the 11-15 age group. Again, parents concern for girls and what they are attending in the evenings may have something to do with this.
The politics of numbers!
In UK Scout Association, in the period of 1966 to 1989 the membership figures overall rose! Justifying the modernising policies. Yet to look at the Scout section (11 to 15) this was going down? Why were the UK figures rising?
In 1970 the UK figures included for the first time, Adult helpers adding an immediate 8343- and rising over the years. In 1972 the entirely separate B-P Guild of Old Scouts was counted in - another 7058, and rising! (finally merged as the "Scout Fellowship" in 1977). In 1976 girls could join venture Scouts - more numbers! Beaver Scouts were officially added in 1987 with 80,003 and rising!
The addition of girls, Beavers, Lay helpers and Old Age Pensioners, masked what was really a picture of decline, in what had been the core section of the movement. This does not mean to say that there is no place for Scouting in today's society, but put another way, Scouting will no longer have the mass appeal that it once commanded. There are of course other factors which affect all youth work, and that is the decline in the volunteer culture, with increasing difficulties in gaining adult Leaders and helpers.
The Way Ahead.
In a curious way the changes in society will mean there will always be a place for the scout movement. We have moved away from a monolithic society to a pluralistic society; had this not been the case the total shift of society would have seen scouting as out of touch and a sharper decline experienced. In addition, certain elements which make up scouting have a universal appeal - . world friendship, survival training, disciplined work. Others might identify more elements. These are samples. Other features such as the being a "brand name" leader from the past will commend it.
It a useful to define at this point what we mean by Scouting. Below I rehearse three points which might be accepted as an acid test.
1. Law and Promise.
There is a criteria set down by the World Scouting Bureau. The test of an organisation which is recognised by the World Bureau as a Scouting Organisation is an Association whose members are bound by the Law and Promise set down by Baden-Powell. The exact formula is not required. A form of Scout Law, and a Promise of Duty to God, the Nation, and helping others. Even the independent scout associations accept this as a criteria.
2. A.progressive training scheme based on outdoor pursuits.
This is universally accepted.
3. A distinctive uniform.
This was once accepted universally, but several associations have modified their uniforms such as the Scout de France who selected bright coloured shirts for each section with pin-on badges. On an initial look at their publicity literature it is difficult to believe that it is a photograph of Scouts at all. Other Associations have similarly modified their uniform to one degree or another.
It is on the immediate issue of image that the Baden-Powell Scout Association was formed in 1971 in the UK when, in response to the Advance Party Report, the Boy Scout Association became the Scout Association. The Baden-Powell Scouts sought to retain the image. Whatever the proposed gains were in terms of future membership, Scouts and Scout Leaders were lost to the main movement on the change-over, sadly, the newly-formed independent movements did not pick up many of those lost with the changes.
As scouting once merged into the social backdrop of society, there will always be the temptation to modify scouting to fit once again, however such attempts can be artificial, and will always fail. Pluralism means you must be all things to all men at the danger of becoming nothing to anyone. Whatever changes are made to the scheme there will be a point at which the end product will fail to qualify with this acid test.
There are two main ways forward.
1. Seek to retain or gain membership.
The difficulty is membership of what?
Nevertheless a whole set of options are opened up. Change the uniform to be acceptable to almost anybody (Why not drop the uniform?) Alter the age ranges to capture a younger market. Open the organisation to both sexes (Girls uniformed organisations being more successful). One prediction could be of an organisation which contained more girls than boys in the age range 11-18, and being top heavy with the Junior age ranges. This certainly is a world away from the 'client Group' B-P had in mind when setting up the scheme. Seeking to appeal to a wider membership means you must be all things to all, at the danger of becoming nothing to anyone.
2. Keep to the original scheme, as something distinctive to offer, with
a clear image.
In a curious way the changes in society will mean that there is a place for the scout movement, as originally developed. Keeping to the original scheme and uniform, provides something distinctive to offer. In a pluralistic society there is a clear place for all manner of activities. The very renewal of traditional scouting in the UK in the latter quarter of the twentieth century, and the beginning of the present century, with the rise of traditional Associations demonstrates it's continued but limited viability. The disadvantage to this way forward is that as already stated, such a movement cannot expect to have a mass appeal. Given the difficulty in gaining volunteer leaders, the discarded Rover Scheme had much to commend it, especially with the open ended upper limit prior to 1956, in as much as it provided a pool of adults keen enough to identify with the Uniformed sections of the movement.
There are of course a variety of positions in-between. Whilst uniform can spell uniformity to one person, another will see it as a mark of belonging, a means of immediate acceptance in a community. Traditions can be yesteryear's ideas, they also can provide identity to the present by offering a sense of community with previous generations. They can add character to an on-going movement. It was probably due to the disregard of traditions that the top end of the training section in the Scout Association suffered losses never recovered. Cubs remained Cubs (minus a prefix but plus a suffix - Wolf Cubs to Cub Scouts), Scouts remained Scouts (minus a prefix 'Boy') but Seniors and Rovers were to suffer oblivion, and in the case of the Rovers, a fraction short of half a century of traditions sacrificed on the altar of modernity. As with all ideal worlds, they do not exist, and various organisations will be tempted to take a middle course - well able to justify any such course of action.
The way forward for the UK Scout Association.
The Advance Party Report of the UK Scout organisation sought fundamental changes. The word 'Boy' dropped from the title and long trousers replaced shorts in a bid to jettison the 'juvenile' image. The Advance Party also considered the traditional uniform of the Scouts to project 'a Boer War appearance'. The change of uniform was to enable the public to "SEE a modern and active Scout Movement" #4. The loss of the older boy in abolishing the Senior Scouts and Rovers, with the Venture Scout section failing to recover lost numbers, has meant that well over half the membership are under 11 years of age. The losses that occurred in the 1980s were only recovered by adding a Beaver section 6-8 years of age. By 1998 the bulk of the non-adult membership (68%) were under 11. Other recent decisions were taken in the 1990s, one; to admit girls and two; to allow members dispense with the 'modern' scout shirt, and replace it with a 'more modern' sweatshirt, until its fashion appeal had diminished. Followed by a more recent decision to ape the tradition used two decades earlier by the Scouts of France in different coloured shirts for different sections.
Girls and Infants Organisation.
Interestingly enough, those who would benefit most from the Scout scheme - boys aged 11-18 - are the most elusive in the quest for membership, and yet they will the ones to feel even less at home in a girls and infants organisation!
#1 Jeal, Tim,Baden-Powell, London 1989 Page 534.
#2 Scouts of Tomorrow, The Boy Scouts Association 1956, Page 2.
#3 The1966, 1969 and 1989 figures were supplied by The Scout Association November via email Wed September 12, 2001.
#4 The Advance Party Report 1966, The Boy Scouts Association, Chapter on Uniform Pages 300 and 303.