Boy Scouts

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The Boy Scouts began in 1908 in Britain, where Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Baden-Powell, a hero of the Boer Wars, founded the Boy Scouts. It reflected the spirit of scientific efficiency promoted by the Progressive Movement. The Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910, as a copy of the British model.

Today the Scout Movement is the largest voluntary youth group in the world. Its membership exceeds 28 million, counting boys and girls. Most (95 of 155 National Scout Organizations) are now mixed at at least some ages.



Baden-Powell wrote in a pamphlet "Scouting & Christianity" (1917): "Scouting is nothing less than applied Christianity." Since then, various Scouting Organizations have been founded for members of other religions, or which are not specific to any religion.

In designing the Scouting program, Baden-Powell drew ideas from the Japanese warrior's code or "bushido", on the Victorian "ragged schools" movement, and the educational methods of Montessori. His Scouting for Boys (1st ed. 1908) synthesizes Zulu war-cry and Sherlock Holmes; it is full of practical tips on health and hygiene and object lessons in woodcraft.

Alongside practical instructions on how to light fires, build a boat, or stalk wild animals, it includes sections on chivalry, self-discipline, self-improvement, and citizenship. The book overflows with Baden-Powell's philosophy of life, one that replaces self with service, puts country before the individual, and duty above all.

The Handbook is the original blueprint and inspiration for the Boy Scout Movement, and as a best-seller in the British Empire was second in its day only to the Bible.[1][2]

Although himself an army general, he successfully excluded militarism from scouting in Britain and most countries. The basis of Baden-Powell's emphasis on the individualistic development of skills of observation, tracking, map-reading, camping, pioneering, self-reliance, and self-improvement stemmed from his earlier enthusiastic attempts to transform the cavalry into a reconnaissance organization of scouts rather than lancers. Only the elements of the Army which emphasized the values of duty, skills and honor were incorporated. He addeed the educational strain which emphasized individual character development and child-centered learning by doing. Furthermore, he brought in the religious dimension which emphasized public service and appreciation of nature produced a balance which withstood challenges and provided an acceptable voluntary alternative to compulsory national training and service.[3]

Scouting around the world

United States of America

See Boy Scouts of America


The Catholic Church eagerly cooperated with the scouting movement in many countries, including the United States. In France the Catholic scouting movement emphasized social usefulness. Scouting tended to produce elites and, in the case of religious-based movements, implant moral rigor and attachment to internalized values from an early age. The French scout movement tried to educate the sons of the middle class to take their place as the social, military, and colonial elite by inculcating a particular set of heirarchical conservative values within a total educational schema. The idea was to redirect the sexual, aggressive, and religious instincts and energies of boys into total control of their imagination through a series of games and outdoor activities. Ignoring the working class, this elitist pedagogy was intended to instil a religious, patriotic, and militaristic ethic through which boys would follow their chief and which would constitute their entire being.[4]

Eastern Europe

The norms, rules, and educational methods used in the Polish Scouts' Association between 1919 and 1939, stressed national and patriotic values, absent from the original Baden-Powell model.

In Hungary by 1919 the scouting movement had fewer than 2,000 members. Politicians, church leaders, and the military tried to secure and control the leadership of the organization. Constant disagreement among the leaders on all relevant points brought the scouts to disarray; no individual was able to decide whether religion, education, character building, leadership, nationalistic militarism, patriotism, or political orientation was the eventual aim to be followed. The boys, aged 8–15, were unaware of this disharmony and enjoyed scouting and the benefits offered by the movement.


The Kuomintang party (or KMT, led by Chiang Kai-shek) used scouring in the Nanjing decade (1927–37) to promote civic duty and citizenship. The KMT sought to modernize China and build a base of dedicated citizens throughout the large nation. The obstacle was traditionalism in the villages, and it hoped scouting could help transform the younger generation, creating a cadre of citizens committed to serving the nation and party. Throughout this period, Boy Scout citizenship training combined moral cultivation, political indoctrination, and military drills, with lessons in etiquette, hygiene, and practical skills. These multiple dimensions of civic training were, however, fraught with fundamental internal tensions. For example, scouts were taught forms of etiquette characteristic of urban elite society while also learning practical skills needed by modernizing youth such as cooking, cleaning, and washing. Scouting also presented contradictory visions of the social order. Some lessons portrayed society as the product of the autonomous actions of its members, who were differentiated by their distinctive contributions. Other lessons characterized society as a homogeneous mass organized into ordered ranks by the authority of the KMT. The war with Janan (1937) and the subsequent civil war disrupted scouting; when the Communists came to power in 1949 they closed the movement down and used Red Guards to create young obedient Communist fanatics.


Scouting was highly controversial when India was part of the Empire. The modernizing Indian elites wanted it; imperial officials feared it would be too effective in creating a new class that would want to take back control of India. The movement's military-related activities were seen as beneficial for British and Eurasian youth but dangerous for Indians who might turn them to seditious purposes. Admission of Indian youth into the scout movement divided imperial public opinion. Although the colonial government vacillated in taking a stand, numerous British officials, missionaries, and others along with Indian groups organized scout troops. By 1921 the viceroy intervened and asked Boy Scouts founder Baden-Powell to amalgamate the various scouting organizations in India. His efforts ultimately failed, and in subsequent years Indian scouting groups left Baden-Powell's racially divided organization and formed what became the Bharat (India) Scouts and Guides.[5]


In the 1910s and 1920s, the Osaka Boy Scouts were established in Osaka, Japan, from an American Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), which had close contacts with the Boy Scouts of America. The acceptance and subsequent popularity of the Boy Scouts reflected widespread Americanization of Japanese city life, although the Japanese domesticated American Boy Scouting and tried to remake it as a Japanese entity. The Boy Scouts was a part of the Progressive movement that represented various efforts responding to social problems in both Japan and the United States. It was actually included in transpacific Progressivism. In the 1930s the voluntary Boy Scout organization was forced to transform itself into a militaristic association, starting with an incident at the Osaka Boy Scouts. Exchanges with the BSA eventually stopped, yet transpacific Japanese interest in the BSA continued. Observing the US treatment of minorities in a domestic colonial situation (blacks in the South) the Boy Scouts came to be utilized as a cultural agent for supporting the Japanese empire in Eastern Asia and the South Sea Islands. In this sense, the Boy Scouts was a transpacific social movement, too.[6]

Further reading

  • Baden-Powell, R.S.S. Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship (1908), excerpt and text search
  • Springhall, John. Youth, Empire and Society: British Youth Movements 1883-1940 (1977), esp, 53-70.


  1. Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys"
  2. Robert Baden-Powell as an Educational Innovator
  3. Allen Warren, "Sir Robert Baden-Powell, The Scout Movement and Citizen Training in Great Britain," English Historical Review 1986 101(399): 376-398; Martin Dedman, "Baden-Powell, Militarism, and the 'Invisible Contributors' to the Boy Scout Scheme, 1904-1920," Twentieth Century British History 1993 4(3): 201-223
  4. Philippe Laneyrie, "Quarante Ans de Scoutisme Catholique en Region Stephanoise (1925-1965): Modalites D'implantation et Role Social," ("40 years of Catholic scouting in the Saint-Etienne area, 1925-65: patterns of implantation and social role") Cahiers d'Histoire 1989 34(2): 135-159
  5. Carey A. Watt, "The Promise of 'Character' and the Spectre of Sedition: the Boy Scout Movement and Colonial Consternation in India, 1908-1921," South Asia 1999 22(2): 37-62,
  6. Shigeo Fujimoto, "Trans-Pacific Boy Scout Movement in the Early Twentieth Century: The Case of the Boy Scout Movement in Osaka, Japan" Australasian Journal of American Studies 2008 27(2): 29-43