Why don’t Scouts read their Scout Handbook?

I’ve been on about 20 Eagle Scout Boards of Review.  We usually ask the Eagle candidate whether they have actually read their BSA scout handbook.  To look at their book, someone might conclude that it has been read over and over many times since the layers of duck tape holding it together have long since given way to a zip lock bag.  However, most Eagle candidates are honest and always admit that they haven’t read it completely.  The wear and tear comes from hauling it around to troop meetings and getting it wet at camp outs.

This tends to really irk older scout leaders.  “All that information in one convenient place yet these young ones are too busy looking at video games and Snapchat to bother with it.” seems to be ruling sentiment.

In the recent update of the Boy Scout Handbook (13 Edition), page numbers were left off of the rank requirements record in an attempt to coerce Scouts into reading the entire manual rather than just the pages necessary to complete a requirement.  Apparently, there has been an minor uproar since BSA has announced that the next printing will add these page numbers back in.

A better tactic would be to understand how modern scouts consume such information.  Often, the scouts do not have a text book in their school classes – or if they do, it is a self-reference to what the teachers are sharing through individually printed handouts, wiki- or other online references, and YouTube videos.  Students don’t gravitate to these new information channels because their teachers ask them to.  Students are pulling educators along (sometimes kicking and screaming) since these new information channels are more immediate, more creative, and complement spoken language with more diagrams and videos.  Especially for most elements of scouting, which are literal and demonstrative, multimedia works better.

I eagerly argue that  a scout best learns how to tie a knot by watching an older scout do it – not reading in a book.  This was true at the beginning of the scouting movement and remains so today.  So the scout handbook has never been the primary repository of scouting skill.  It is a complement to the village lore of dedicated scout leaders.  Simply put, multimedia is a much better complement for modern scouts.

With these thoughts in mind, I have these recommendations for BSA and local leaders:

  • For BSA:  Create a droid/iPhone app of training videos for each scout requirement.  (Yeah, I know these can already be found on the BSA site and YouTube but scouts AREN’T finding them because they are being directed to their scout handbooks.)  Make these videos and online training resources the PRIMARY means of learning scout skills.
  • For local leaders:  Empower scouts to use electronics (phones/tablets/laptops) in a positive way.  Don’t ban them.  Don’t even restrict them.  Treat them like matches and knives – tools that SHOULD be used often but responsibly.
  • For local leaders:   Consider dropping the purchase of a scout manual NOW as a criteria for joining your troop.   All of it is online for free and their advancement log can be kept in Scoutbook or even MS Excel.

In five years, scout handbooks shouldn’t even exist.  They are a waste of trees, an unnecessary and wasteful expense for scout families, and a poor means of training scouts.

Some older scouters will argue that the Handbook is the one true repository of the scout’s advancement record.  This is silly.  It is like saying that a checkbook register is the true record of your bank balance.  My exact bank balance is available to me in seconds on my phone.  I quit using a check register more than 10 years ago.



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