The Scout-led Troop Blog #9: We’re Raising Boys, Not Cows

by | Aug 21, 2017

Bill Chapman

Years ago, I looked across the street from my home and saw my neighbor training his dog, a German shorthair pointer. He would give commands such as “heel,” “sit,” “roll-over,” or something like that. The dog obeyed perfectly. It was a beautiful sight. I thought, “Why can’t I train my children to be perfectly obedient like that?” It was very tempting.

Elder Loren C. Dunn told a story about raising cows when he and his brother were teenagers. Their father gave them a lot of freedom as to how they went about raising these cows and they made some mistakes. A neighbor complained to their father about what they were doing. Elder Dunn’s father responded to the neighbor, “Jim, you don’t understand. You see, I’m raising boys, not cows” (“Our Precious Families,Ensign, Nov. 1974). Elder Dallin H. Oaks retold this story in a later general conference and declared, “What a marvelous insight! What an example for parents who are inclined to view and evaluate their children’s performance solely in temporal terms” (“Spirituality,” Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, Nov. 1985).

When you see a troop that has its tents perfectly lined up and the Scouts faithfully attending to every chore, it is likely that one or more of the adults has created a system that is based on rewards (and possibly punishments) to ensure that the temporal performance of the Scouts measures up to their standards. Sometimes parents will tell their son he cannot get his driver’s license until he achieves the rank of Eagle Scout. A different approach is to replace the temporal rewards with the freedom to decide what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. When a young man is given that kind of freedom, it is amazing what he can accomplish.

Just like Elder Dunn and his brother raising cows, when we give a young man the freedom to determine how he is going to accomplish a task, the temporal outcome will often be far from perfect and at times things will look messy and, at worst, even chaotic. However, a good Scoutmaster can see his senior patrol leader, and hopefully his assistants, trying to work through and solve all of these problems. But if it looks like a Norman Rockwell painting, there is probably too much adult intervention.

If our goal is temporal, we can set up a system of rewards much like my neighbor training his dog. If we are diligent, the results will be impressive. There will likely be more merit badges, more rank advancements and even more Eagle Scouts. On the outside, our troop will look very good. But what is happening on the inside?

Our Scouts will be, like my neighbor’s dog, trained to respond to temporal rewards in exchange for the desired behavior. However, a few years later, when our Scouts are far from home and see no immediate temporal reward for what we hope they will do, they will be more likely to falter and even fail the test. In contrast, if our Scouts have eight years of choosing, planning, preparing and executing their own activities and are left to solve the inevitable problems that will come up along the way, they will be up for the challenge. After all, we’re raising boys, not cows!

I would love to create a separate Facebook page where we could gather stories and pictures, like the ones above, illustrating what a Scout-led troop looks like. If you are interested and willing to contribute to a separate Facebook page (not just in the comments below), please let me know.


-Bill Chapman lives in San Clemente, California, loves to surf, trail run, backpack, camp, do anything in the outdoors, and watch young men achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood through the Scouting program. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.