Stan’s EYO Scouting Blog #17: Ethical and Moral Decision Making

by | Jun 15, 2016

Stan Stolpe

Stan Stolpe

Scouting is a practical program and can be subtle in its teaching methods. It has powerful tools that are neither well understood nor often practiced by Scout leaders. In this blog, I want to review what I presented in my first blog on delivering Scouting for eleven-year-old (EYO) Scouts, namely that Scouting is an enriching experience that brings EYO Scouts to Christ because it teaches them to make moral and ethical decisions.

This is in line with the mission of Scouting, which is:

“The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”

Scouting can teach our EYO Scouts how to make ethical decisions and live a moral life if we as Scout leaders know how to teach these principles correctly and directly. It is truly quite easy, but requires patience and faith on our part that the process—that I will present—will work.

What I have come to understand is that the ethical and moral issues are the small, day-to-day decisions and interactions that Scouts have with one another as they play, work, and learn within their patrols. EYO Scout leaders teach powerful, yet artful, lessons in ethical living when they learn to use the Scout Oath and Scout Law as consistent teaching vehicles.

The aims and methods of Scouting place boys in situations where they interact. It is the nature of EYO Scouts to be very active, alert, distracted, talkative, and rough in their play. As we take them into the outdoors, or as we teach them skills, the program situations will tend to bring out these characteristics that can easily manifest themselves in disruptive or improper behavior. This sets the perfect stage for the power of Scouting.

As an EYO Scout leader, instead of telling the EYO Scout what not to do or to stop doing, the skillful EYO Scout leader teaches ethical and moral decision making by presenting to the EYO Scout a moral question or a statement directly from the Scout Oath or Scout Law. “Are you doing your best?” “Please be reverent.” “Are you doing your duty?” “Remember, a Scout is kind.” “Go be helpful.” Or simply, “Choose the right!”

Then watch as the EYO Scout or Scouts make their decisions. They know what is right. Give them the time to ponder the ethical choice and allow them the time to figure out how they will do it. It will require patience on your part.

Young EYO Scouts have been instructed in proper behavior and ethics and—as Robert Fulghum wrote in his book, All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten,—they KNOW the basics of HOW to live and WHAT to do. Our job as EYO Scout leaders is to remind them of what they know as well as HOW and WHAT to do, and WHEN to do it.

The outdoor program, learning Scout skills, or going places can set the stage in a natural course for Scouts to get off message. That is the beauty of the program. Through the methods of Scouting, boys are placed in situations where we afford them the opportunity to make small, but significant choices. They get to PRACTICE making ethical and moral choices in learning to get along with one another. Through making these ethical decisions on small things over time, they learn how to make them on larger more substantial matters. Over the years they will spend in Scouting, it will add up and become a permanent part of their character.

The last step is to use reflection or evaluation at the end of EACH Scout meeting or outing. When we review with our EYO Scouts what they experienced, they get to talk about what transpired. Through the process of talking about the choices they made or their experience of decision making, it will solidify in their minds how, where, and when to make ethical choices as outlined in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. When done consistently by the EYO Scout leader, the boys become artful and responsive to the promptings and, in fact, learn to do it themselves.

I found that this method works in my CTR 5 class, too. After siting through sacrament meeting and sharing time, by the time they get to class time they have exercised about as much control as they can. But I have found the simple reminder of what TO DO and allowing them to make the choice, works every time, if only for a little while.

When I look back at what the founder of Scouting put in place, I can see that Lord Robert Baden-Powell had an amazing insight into the nature of men and boys. He was a very religious man with a strong faith, who had worked with men as an officer in the British army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant General. But he knew and understood that men and boys do not want to be preached to or told what not to do, but could learn how to live a moral life when taught to do so in a less direct way.

In Scouting, we have the wonderful way of teaching moral and ethical decision making at the root level. If we as EYO Scout leaders use this method, we can assist EYO Scouts in the daily practice of ethical and moral decision making. Making choices to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent in the little things and learning to, on my honor, do my best form the basis of value-based living, which is the precursor to a life of joyous living.

Stan Stolpe has served in multiple Scouting positions at the unit, district, council, regional, and national levels in the U.S. and overseas. He resides in Alexandria, Virginia, serving in the Mount Vernon Virginia Stake. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.