In the USA the Boy and Girl Scouts are part of our childhood and culture. Nearly everyone is either a Boy or Girl Scout and before this many of us are Bluebirds or Cub Scouts (scouts for younger kids). We go on camp outs, earn badges for various skills and most importantly, we learn to be self-reliant; to problem solve and to make things happen. For the boys, (granted this is a bit biased towards the superiority of men) there is the highest honor, few ever achieve, of becoming an Eagle Scout. This is a difficult series of tasks and community service that must be completed by the age of 18. Scouting has received a bad reputation in recent years but overall it is great thing. And amazingly, it does NOT have its roots in America. Instead scouting, as we know it today, comes from the British author and military hero Robert Baden-Powell the 1st who lived from 1857-1941.
What may be lesser known than Baden-Powell’s military prowess is that he loved the arts and that he was an accomplished artist himself. He wanted to create ways for boys to be able to express themselves in socially acceptable creative ways. He believed that hobbies were important to the lives of young men and in developing a stronger nation of self-reliant citizens. Thus, a strong element of the scouts was teaching pragmatic skills. Baden-Powell wanted to teach a young man: “to use his fingers and his brain, and to take a pleasure in work. For one boy these may remain his hobbies for years; for another they may lead to craftsmanship which will give him a career. In either case, the boy is not so likely to become a waster later on. Hobbies are an antidote to Satan’s little games. (Baden-Powell, 1919a, n.p.)” (Chalmers and Dancer). Baden-Powell was a man who did not so much believe in reading and highbrow activities as in doing. Many of the skills he wanted scout leaders to do included ironwork, basketwork, woodcarving, lettering, photography and more. This emphasis on art and craftsmanship has been instilled in scouting so heartily that as of 1993 nearly one million boy scouts earned their art merit badge. The requirements to do this are not easy. In the 2004 edition of the Boy Scouts lists the 7 requirements. These show the influence that Baden-Powell’s emphasis on art, hobbies and pragmatism are still seen in modern scouting. The requirements are (1) Tell a story with a picture or pictures (2) promote a product or an idea with a picture or pictures (3) Decorate something with an original design. Put the design on Scout equipment, furniture, ceramics or fabric. (4) Design something useful (5) Render a subject of your choice using four of these ways: pen and ink, watercolors, pencil, pastels, oils, tempura, acrylics (6) record in an art medium something you have done or seen (7) discuss career opportunities in art. (Boy Scouts of America, 2004 p. 2).
In addition to the arts what was of great importance for Baden-Powell was that boys appreciate nature and its beauty. In this sense, he believed that boys would develop to be happy men. Taking his cue from the first scouts, the Native Americans, Baden-Powell strove to instill in boys skills that would allow them to lead happy, productive and appreciative lives. He felt that men were meant to be happy and to make those around them happy. This could be done through the arts and the hobbies of photography, carving and virtually all forms of creative expression.
It may seem that Baden-Powell focused too much on boys and preparing them for life. But he also played a major role with his wife in establishing the Girl Scouts. The Girl Scouts today positively affect the lives of thousands of girls and the focus is the same as for the boys; creative expression and self-reliance. In many ways Baden-Powell was before his time in his ideas about self-fulfillment, hobbies and interacting with nature. His thoughts on life align very well with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which did not appear until 1943 after Baden-Powell’s death. Baden-Powell strove for boys (and girls for that matter) to become self-actualized or happy by using their creativity to solve problems, keep busy, and appreciate the beauty in life.