First of all, a warning: This is a long story! It's important I think, but maybe take a nap and eat something before diving in, tee hee.
I wanted to share an experience I have had over the past few months that has proven to me the tremendous power of Baden-Powell's vision when he formulated for boys what we now call the Patrol Method. It has helped me as a leader, and it has recently saved scouting for a young friend of mine in a way that has touched his family profoundly. I hope it helps somebody else to capture the spirit of what the Patrol Method can do for young men.
As a Webelos leader, I worked with my boys on the Scouting Adventure adventure (haha) where it has them use the Patrol Method for a month to prepare them for being Boy Scouts themselves. So I set to work on it with gusto, beginning with the story of Baden-Powell on Brownsea Island. I told the boys how the first thing they did, before camping, starting a fire, learning lore, or whatever - was to be put into groups and given their names - the Curlews, the Bulls, the Ravens, and the Wolves. They each came up with a flag and a call, and that was their identity for the duration of the camp - the first patrol names.
I read them the oart of the original handbook where he describes how important it is to find an animal or totem that represents their groups' character and identity, and then showed them every patrol patch available from Scoutstuff and ClassB. They picked a really sharp-looking archer patch, called themselves the Merry Archers, made up their call, and ran with it - everything we do now is archer themed, they have all bought books on Robin Hood that they read constantly, and the Arrow of Light has become the Holy Grail for them - all of them will receive it before they have been in the program more than 7 months. The success has been tremendous.
But, that's not the end of this story.
We meet in the same building as the Boy Scouts, and at the same time. While our Webelos Den is having all kinds of success, the Scout Troop has been ... well, lacking. They camp pretty often, but don't DO anything, and advancement is not really emphasized, so we haven't turned out many eagles in the past few years. The boys haven't had much excitement, and they lose a lot of their members after a couple of years. One boy in particular has been struggling; he has a rough family life, is a relatively new scout, and has NOT enjoyed camping at all. He is a suburban kid who just hasn't be taught the skills needed to make camping fun, and as Scout Camp approached, he was starting to dread it. I am a friend of all the boys in the Troop, so I had a lot of them coming to me to tell me of their frustrations or what few successes they have had.
Meanwhile, my struggling friend has seen my den, with our Flag and patrol emblems and den cheer, and has often asked me "why don't Boy Scouts get to have all that cool stuff?" See, their Scoutmaster has explained to me that those things "don't matter" and that they just "get in the way of getting out in the mud." Hmm, I thought, how can I help this Troop? I have a vested interest in it, since it happens to be the same troop I was in as a Boy Scout. SO. I told my young troubled friend, "you know, you CAN and SHOULD have all this stuff, and more! YOU BOYS lead the Patrol, not the Scoutmaster. If you want a Patrol Name, CHOOSE ONE! I will help."
I have never seen such magic in a boy before .He got so excited that he, on his own time, went online and went through all the different patches he could find. He asked me to send him pictures of patrol flags and samples of patrol yells, He asked me questions about the history of the Patrol Method and of Scouting in general. And he begged his Scoutmaster to let them spend time on their emblem For THREE MONTHS this kid begged and whined and cajoled, until two weeks ago, the Scoutmaster finally said "FINE! If you go to the Scout Store and buy them yourself, you can pick the name and get some patches." While the boy's grandparents took him to buy the patches the next day, I went to the Scout Committee and explained how wonderful it would be if they could put some money towards reimbursing him and paying just a bit for materials for the flag. And then I found out that NONE OF THEM had so much as HEARD of patrol names or flags or anything, and they went WILD over the idea! (much to our good Scoutmaster's consternation) So the boy was repaid and came back with patches of a knight in shining armor, and then asked my father (a professional tailor) if he could possibly make them a Patrol Flag before Scout Camp - the next week. I was asked to design it, which I happily agreed to. This kid was THRILLED. Suddenly, Scouting was an adventure for him! He wasn't just a Scout, he was one of what he named the KNIGHTS OF LIGHT and came up with a cute (okay, not cute, COOL) patrol yell and everything.
Well, two days ago, the night before he left for Scout Camp out on Catalina Island, he came by to pick up with flag my Dad and I created after working on it night and day to finish it in time. A grand, black and white shield tapestry with the Knight emblem emblazoned on the front, with their motto and a giant Eagle Scout patch on the back. When he saw it, this kid was so excited for Scout Camp he couldn't contain himself. I made him Keeper and Herald of the Flag, and told him to guard it with honor during his week at camp. He was so proud. And his grandparents were thrilled. They told he how his whole attitude had changed, and how much he now looked forward to going to camp as part of the great Knights of Light patrol, and how excited he was to see other patrols too. And I was shown a picture of him, with his Patrol, holding up his patrol flag and smiling ear to ear. All of them were amazed at their new ensign fluttering in the wind, and they have eaten up their new identity with zeal and gusto.
IF you have yet to witness the effect these little things can have on your Scouts, TRY IT. This friend of mine went from hating scouts to loving it, because the Patrol Method gave him IDENTITY, RESPONSABILITY, and MOTIVATION. It empowered him to take ownership of his scouting experience, and helped him find new meaning in the program. The Patrol Method WORKS. Let your boys use it!
Post Script: Would it be inappropriate for him to wear the Honor Guard patch as the keeper of the sacred Patrol Flag? I guess it would be, but I wish there was an official position the specifically related to the keeping of the flag's honor. Quartermaster just doesn't fit, lol.