An Introduction to the Aims and Methods of the Baden-Powell Service Association
Our founder, Robert Baden-Powell, called scouting “a game”— a game the BPSA feels should be open and available to everyone. This spirit of fun, positivity, and shared experience is at the heart of everything we do— even those activities that are quite serious at heart.
The aims of BPSA scouting include:
- —Character development: training scouts of all ages in the personal merits of honor, duty, and self-reliance. “Doing one’s best” is at the heart of everything we do.
- —Training in service and citizenship: instilling loyalty and thoughtfulness as we render service to others, and learning more about our local and national communities; these are keys aspects for every responsible citizen.
- —Personal health and fitness: encouraging practices that promote sound physical, mental, and emotional development and lifelong habits for well-being.
We accomplish these aims by using Baden-Powell’s “scout method”— a system of progressive self-education that uses these tools:
- — A scout uniform, motto, promise, and law
- — A hands-on approach to “learning by doing”
- — Baden-Powell’s patrol system
- — A program of activities that focuses on individual growth and takes place largely in the outdoors
- — An advancement program based on personal challenges, growth mindset, and acquisition of useful skills
- — An emphasis on traditional outdoor abilities and scoutcraft
- — An ethic of service and citizenship— which begins with knowledge and awareness of one’s own community
As a traditional scouts, we model the uniform that was worn in B-P’s time. The uniform is simple, utilitarian, and designed to be tough and worn in the outdoors. It is also designed to be relatively uncluttered. You’ll find that the uniform is not covered from one side to another with badges and other items but is designed to showcase an individual’s scouting work while still looking neat and, as B-P would have said, “smart.”
The uniform is an integral part of the Scout Method. As B-P said, "Smartness in uniform and correctness in detail may seem a small matter, but has its value in the development of self-respect, and means an immense deal to the reputation of the Movement among outsiders who judge by what they see." If members dress like scouts, they will act like scouts. Wearing our uniform sets the example.
If a group, scout, or family—due to finances, environment, or other reasons—find purchasing a uniform to be inaccessible, they are still scouts. Baden-Powell himself stated, "I have often said, 'I don't give a fig whether a Scout wears a uniform or not so long as his heart is in his work and he carries out the Scout Law.' But the fact is that there is hardly a Scout who does not wear the uniform if he can afford to buy it. The spirit prompts him to it."
Should barriers to purchasing and wearing a scout’s uniform exist, we’d collectively work to help them. Whether it’s a matter of income, circumstance, neurodiversity, etc., the focus of the scout group or section will be on the program itself. The camaraderie of the group is the goal; good uniforming as a matter of group pride is one facet of this esprit de corps.
We also have practical reasons for being in uniform: visual identity. The uniform helps us stand out as scouts in our communities. It helps promote our organization throughout the US. And it identifies us as members of an international youth movement.
The Motto, Promise, and Law
Our scouting motto, promise, and law help us to solemnize our involvement in BPSA scouting. The versions may vary according to section, but the intention is the same: that scouts, on their honor, will do their best. Speaking these words aloud, with their accompanying handsign, helps show our shared unity in scouting. Over time, scouts of all ages come to think even more of what these words mean to them, and how their lives have been changed as a result. To a BPSA scout, honor is everything.
Learning by Doing
Learning works best through a “hands-on” approach— not by reading a book or watching a web video. In the BPSA, skills are demonstrated and taught by one who already possesses the skills. The learners practice until they, too, can demonstrate the technique, and then they, in turn, become teachers. “Each one see one, do one, teach one” describes our approach to learning in the BPSA.
It’s also worth noting that both youths and adults serve as teachers. Baden-Powell’s “patrol method” creates a structure through which members teach and learn from one another. In the BPSA, a teacher may equally be a youngster as an adult: all have a chance to share their knowledge and skills.
The Patrol System
The patrol system is the one essential feature in which scout training differs from that of all other organizations, and where properly applied, B-P tells us it is absolutely bound to bring success.
A patrol is a small group of scouting peers who are close in age. In the BPSA, Pathfinder Troops are separated into patrols, and Rover Crews may also form patrols. Otter Rafts mimic this same structure by forming dens, in Timberwolf Packs by forming sixes. The patrols and patrol-like structures form the small units in which scouts work together, whether for work or play, for discipline or duty.
The patrol system places responsibility on each individual. Each small unit is led by a single scout serving as the leader; members then work with their leader to accomplish the group’s goals. Spirited competition between patrols adds fun and enthusiasm and develops increased proficiency as the scouts teach and learn from one another. Each scout in the patrol realizes that they are important to the group’s success, and through shared collaboration, the patrol, six, or den succeeds. They learn first-hand about reliability and have a chance to both cooperate and lead.
Program and Activities
In the BPSA, section leaders work with scouts to develop and implement a rich program of varied activities that supports the organization’s aims and methods. A strong BPSA program focuses on interesting activities that support advancement, service, and personal growth. Each scout advances at their own pace, and every program considers both individual and group needs.
Whenever possible, program takes place in the outdoors and includes specific outdoor skills and activities. You’ll find BPSA scouts of all ages outside in all kinds of weather, even rain and snow: as one of our leaders put it, “Challenging weather gives us a great chance to test our gear and our scout skills!”
Each section has its own advancement program designed to track a scout’s growing proficiency in a number of skill areas. Advancement may be completed, at least in part, individually, but it is also part of a rich scouting program, and it’s traditional for scouts to teach and learn from one another.
Our advancement system varies from other scouting programs in three key ways:
1. In other scouting programs, scouts earn “ranks,” e.g., Tenderfoot, First Class, etc. In the BPSA, we use the term “rank” to describe assigned positions such as Patrol Leader, Troop Leader, and Quartermaster. Badges earned to show mastery of skills and competence are known as “proficiency badges.”
2. In the BPSA, we don’t award badges on a “first try,” i.e., the first time a scout demonstrates a skill. We allow some time to pass, showing that the skill is retained, practiced, and increasingly perfected before it’s checked off in a scout’s advancement record. This is true for BPSA scouts of all ages.
3. We expect scouts to retain advancement skills over time. A scout may be retested on an earned skill at any time and is expected to be able to demonstrate the skill. Failing to demonstrate upon retest may mean removing the badge until the skill is remastered. Some advancements actually require retesting at certain intervals.
Baden-Powell called scouting “a school of the woods.” He felt that spending time in the outdoors built strength, awareness, and competence in ways that could not be achieved in the home, school, or community setting.
Today, scientists have proven that time spent in the outdoors has measurable benefits on human health and well-being. The outdoors calms our spirits, lowers our blood pressure, stabilizes mood, and may lift depression. It also heightens our sense of awareness and may make us more innovative. Scouts in the BPSA spend as much time in the outdoors as possible, whether camping, hiking, exploring, swimming, boating, or engaging in other pastimes.
Service and Citizenship
According to the US Citizen and Immigration Services, a citizen’s responsibilities include:
Staying informed of the issues affecting one’s community
Participating in the democratic process
Respecting and obeying federal, state, and local laws
Participating in one’s local community
Through community activities and service, these activities form a central part of the BPSA program. Our scouts may visit local fire stations and City Halls, study and learn to handle the flag, march in community parades, help remove invasive weeds from city parks, find out about local laws, or pack boxes in local food banks. These are only a few examples of the ways we interleave service and community with scouting.
The BPSA is founded upon Baden-Powell’s original aims and methods. All adults and youth— regardless of age, gender, class, or other variables-- who live in the US are welcome to join us. The more who come together to play the game of scouting, the better!