Uniform Comment

Sent: April 16, 2001 8:25 PM
To: webmaster@scoutscan.com
Subject: Uniforms

I found the three opinions (four counting the BSA) interesting to say the least. These missives confirmed my belief that the uniform is an adult thing and that its existence in it's current paramilitary format is an attempt by adults to relive a past that no longer (and in some cases never did) exists. Scouting, like other aspects of life, is an evolutionary process, times and "values" change and we must change with them. Harking back to the "good old days" is escapism to a past that mostly exists in our minds. One of the advantages of being old(er) is that one has lived in the "good old days" and believe me they were not what they are portrayed as being.

My Scouting history goes back, away back. I was a Scout, Queens' Scout and Assistant Scout Master in the 1950's-60s. I returned to Scouting as Troop Scouter (note the change in terminology in thirty years) in the early 90s and have just completed a four year term as ADC/Troop for the New Westminster District, Fraser Valley Region. I am still semi-active at a Regional Level with Adult Training. In other words I have spanned different eras in the scouting movement, or as they say, "been there, done that". I have seen Scouting evolve from the paramilitary organisation it was in the post war years (we were an "armed force" with staves and drill practice) Returning after such a long hiatus I was able to see the improvements in the organisation that had taken place and to participate in the changes that have gone on in the decade that I have been back.

Back to the topic, the uniform, what I have noticed is that Beavers and Cubs are mostly ambivalent to the uniform, it is when they enter their teens and become more aware of their individuality that the uniform becomes an issue. Youth want to wear the uniform of their peer group, not the over priced shirt and pants that point them out as "different" from their non scouting friends. It is at this point that we have to take a marketing approach to retention. What is our product? Is our product teaching youth about working together, having fun, leaning new and improving their social skills, having fun, learning respect for others, having fun, and I could go on. Or, is the purpose of Scouting to put youth into uniforms so that adults can try to relive a past that is just that, the past. An occurring theme in the dissertations was "respect for the uniform" and "what would Baden Powell think?". As for the former, self respect and respect for others is if far greater importance than respect for clothing. Contrary to popular opinion, clothes do NOT make the man (or woman). Clothes make enhance our appearance but they don't make us a better person. As for what Baden Powell would have thought, is it really that important? His era was close to a hundred years ago. The societal norms of the turn of the last century are tremendously different than those of this new century. We have to move forward with the times, not try to return to the past.

I see Scouting as something that is driving forward-sometimes slowly and painfully, but never the less, forward. I got a lot out of the organisation, my sons obviously did as they are both still involved as Rovers. One is "into" uniforms, the other couldn't find his if he looked for it. Does it matter? No, in either case it does not matter. What does matter is that they are still involved, making a contribution to future generations and to themselves as they move forward in life.

So Scouter Elsworth, keep listening to the youth that we are trying to guide (not lead) forward into the twenty first century. I am pleased that you and National are asking youth what it is that they want and trying to develop a program that will make Scouting meaningful to them. A recurring theme is "we are in it for the kids". The challenge is to make sure that this is the case and that we are not in it for ourselves. These young adults are smarter than many older adults think they are.

One of our New Westminster Troops (#12) put on a "fashion show" a couple of years ago. The Scouts were tasked with redesigning the uniform and they came up with some very interesting concepts. There was an interesting contrast with one leader who wanted to go back to short pants, Stetson and green shirt. This is something that some of you Troop Scouters might want to try. You might find the results quite revealing.

Yours in Scouting

Pete Ballantyne
Former ADC/Troop
New Westminster District
Fraser Valley Region.