The Boy earned his Star rank in August, topping off a great Scouting summer.
The day after school let out for the summer, he left with a crew from his troop on a self-supported, 6-day canoe trip (just over 50 miles) on the Buffalo National River. They earned the 50-miler for that trip.
The troop attended summer camp at Kia Kima Scout Reservation in northern Arkansas. The Boy took all the natural science-related Merit Badge classes he could, earning Geology, Fish and Wildlife Management, Nature, Forestry, Mammal Study (and most of Reptile and Amphibian Study), and Soil and Water Conservation. He’s planning to finish up Environmental Science this fall, and that will be all the Merit Badges he needs to earn for the Hornaday Award (I think). He has only Eagle-required Merit Badges left to earn for Life and Eagle. In addition to all the science ones, he also earned Robotics, Photography, and Emergency Preparedness this Summer.
In September, he became our troop’s first Outdoor Ethics Guide. He’s already taken the Outdoor Ethics Orientation class and completed a few more requirements for the Outdoor Ethics Awareness Award, which most of our troop is also currently working on. He plans to take a Leave No Trace Trainer course as soon as he turns 14.
In the context of being a Scout Leader and a father of a really outdoorsy boy, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last several years studying (as a layman) the general area of “outdoor education.” It’s also often called “Adventure Education” or “Wilderness Education,” and it lies along the spectrum of experiential education. I’m especially interested in how that can lead to more people interacting positively more often with Nature.
Dan Garvey gave a great keynote address at the 2012 NOLS Faculty Conference about who outdoor educators are and what they can do to help shape a better future. (As an aside, what appears to be nearly the entire conference is available as a YouTube playlist of over 40 videos covering a broad range of fascinating talks.)
Garvey cites a study in which Outdoor Ed majors scored the highest of any major in terms of their moral reasoning ability (the ability to make ethical decisions). Does the outdoors draw people who are already inclined to be moral or ethical or is it something in outdoor education that creates or nurtures that in them?
And though creating generally more people who are ethical and moral in their everyday lives is important, the essential things that getting kids exposed to Nature will do is create adults who will take action to preserve our wild spaces. A generation of kids raised on video games who’ve never been camping or hiking or swimming in a creek, or fishing, or hunting, or any other outdoor activities will not be the adults who write the legislation and the checks that help fight to protect our environment, both the wild places and where we live.
Creating and nurturing ethical and moral behavior in Scouts is certainly a focus of Scouting, since the outdoors is just one of the methods of Scouting, whose main purpose is to help raise good citizens who are equipped to make moral and ethical choices as adults. (As an aside, I wonder how many of the subjects in that study were Scouts or former Scouts?). That time spent in the outdoors is a major part of the moral and ethical training of Scouts, I’d like to say that would be the case for non-Scouts, too, who spend a lot of time in the outdoors.
Fewer and fewer children spent enough time in Nature these days. Scouting is a good organized way to make that happen, though there are other programs available for getting outside, too, and I’d certainly like to see more of them, and having more people involved in Outdoor Education — both professionally and as volunteers — will help that. With a rise in Outdoor Education programs, hopefully more ethical people will get even more kids outside.