William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt is the man who wrote the book on Scouting, literally. His Patrol Leader’s Handbook is, without a doubt, his best and most influential work. His understanding of scouting was simple, but not simplistic.
To an outsider, Scouting must at first appear to be a very complex matter. If it were only possible to swing the gates of Scouting wide open to him and show him from a vantage point in one immense view the full panorama of the Scout Movement! Under the open sky he would see gathered hundreds of thousands of wide awake, red-blooded boys, busily occupied with self-appointed tasks, practices expected and required of real Scouts, ranging from the sending of signals with flags from hill-top to hill-top, to lighting a fire by primitive means—all living, breathing, absorbing Scouting.
The boys swarm around him, and as one of them runs by he asks him: “Tell me, what is Scouting?
As the boy passes, his smile and his answer come back: “Scouting is fun!”
He bends over a boy who seems to have forgotten his surroundings, completely absorbed in preparing a simple outdoor meal, and asks the same question.
And the boy answers as he looks up wonderingly: “Scouting is adventure!”
A bunch of Scouts, led by one of their number, comes running and, as they draw near, their answer sings out: “Scouting is comradeship!”
Thus the boys define their own activity, their game. And GAME—that is the word.
Scouting as a Game
To a boy Scouting is a game, a magnificent game, full of play and full of laughter, keeping him busy, keeping him happy.
That is the strength of Scouting! A boy becomes a Scout for the sheer fun there is in it.
The action in Scouting appeals to the boy’s impulse to be doing something. The meetings, hikes and camps are essentially periods of activity. Even the code of Scout conduct is presented to him in terms of action- “Be Prepared,” “Do a Good Turn Daily.” In fact, the basic principle in Scouting is “Learning by Doing.” There is nothing negative in it. There is no “Go up in the attic and see what Johnny is doing and tell him he mustn’t!” There are no “Don’ts.” Scouting does not say “Don’t rob bird’s nests,” but “Find out about birds.” It does not say “Don’t cut down trees,” but instead “Help save the trees.” That is talking boy language—stimulating, not prohibiting.
There is adventure in Scouting. There is adventure in tackling a job alone—all by oneself, or with the gang. There is adventure in finding Good Turns to do every day. There is adventure in pioneering, exploring, out-door living.
There is companionship and fellowship in the Patrol, the natural unit in Scouting. There is always present an urge to achieve. A harder task, a higher rank always looms ahead; there is distinction to be gained.
Scouting in a Nutshell
Here, then, is Scouting in a nutshell: A game for boys under the leadership of boys with the wise guidance and counsel of a grown-up who has still the enthusiasm of youth in him. A purposeful game, but a game just the same, a game that develops character by practice, that trains for citizenship—through experience in the out-of-doors.
The Boy’s Game
Immediately upon arrival at a camp site, a Troop’s Patrols establish their “duffel-lines.” The Troop Leaders’ Council gathers and makes a survey of the site for the purpose of giving their Patrol Leaders a chance to select campsites for their Patrols. As soon as the selections are made, the Patrol Leaders are dismissed, each Patrol Leader leads his Scouts to their site, and they go to work – while the Scoutmaster and the other Troop Leaders keep hands off, possibly going into a huddle about special activities to take place later. You—the Scoutmaster—and your assistants should be present to advise, but you should not volunteer any. And most important of all, you should not go near the Patrol set-ups until after the Patrol Leaders come to you and announce: “Camp completed, sir!” Your fingers may itch on the first few camping expeditions to help the various Patrols put up the tents properly, or to rearrange the stones of the primitive fireplaces produced by the Scouts. But, please, don’t! This is the boys’ game. Let them do their best. Then, after they have done the job, you may aid them with friendly advice and suggestions that will help them do even better the next time.
When tents are being put up for the leaders to sleep in, you will naturally give a hand. Otherwise be a free but exceedingly interested onlooker. You will have a chance as never before to study your Patrol Leaders at work, to find out how well they distribute the jobs, to see with what willingness the boys follow them and perform the duties assigned to them. Make written notes of points which may be bettered, and have friendly talks with the Patrol Leaders later suggesting how they may prove your leadership—by not pitching in to do work which honestly is none of your business.
To make such smooth sailing possible, the Patrol Leaders must, of course, have received proper training in advance.