What is Traditional Scouting?

What is “traditional scouting” and how does it differ from mainstream scouting?

Traditional scouting is a term that admits of more than one definition. In the United States and Canada, it is often used to describe the traditional programs of mainstream scouting, namely cubs for younger boys (and girls) and scouts for older, whether those programs are rooted in the traditions of scouting or not. In recent years, however, traditional scouting has come to describe a movement within the larger scouting movement dedicated to a back-to-basics approach, drawing inspiration from the original sources, and making modifications only for things like:

  • health and safety;
  • environmental concerns; and
  • advances in camping technology (e.g., lightweight tents and sleeping bags).

In other words, advocates of traditional scouting (of which this author is one) want to return to the idea of scouting as a game, and to play that game as it was played from the early years of the 20th century until the 1960s (in other words, before the modernizing trends of the 1970s).

Many (but by no means all) traditional scouting associations are explicitly religious, just as in mainstream, modernized scouting. The reasons for this are varied. In some cases (for example, the Guides and Scouts of Europe, UIGSE-FSE) they were founded with an explicitly religious character; in others, because they split off from existing religious associations when the latter succumbed to modernization (the Unitary Scouts of France, SUF, is an example of this). Those associations that are secular tend to be those that split from organizations that were already basically secular in character.

The Aims of Scouting

Traditionally scouting has four aims:

  1. Character
  2. Health and strength
  3. Handicraft and skill
  4. Service to others

Some traditional scouting associations, namely those that take inspiration from the work of Ven. Fr. Jacques Sevin, SJ, add a fifth aim:

  1. Sense of God

Traditional Scouting Associations in the United States and Canada

The following associations in the United States and Canada can be described as traditional scouting associations:

It must be said even though all of the above associations are traditional scouting associations, the differences between them are not minor. For example, the Baden-Powell Service Association (in all its associations) seeks to present “scouting the way B.-P. intended,” while the Adventurers Association of Baden-Powell and the Federation of North-American Explorers take their inspiration from Fr. Sevin’s implementation of Baden-Powell’s educational method. In addition, the BPSA allows, and even seems to encourage, units to be co-educational; while the AABP allows it for all units except Explorers (12-16 years). The FNE, on the other hand, observes strict separation between boys and girls; men lead the boys and women lead the girls.

Why isn’t group X listed here?

There are two reasons why group X might not be listed here. One, I wasn’t able to find anything about it in the course of my research on the Internet. Of course, one can’t take Wikipedia as gospel so if you know of any traditional scouting association that is not listed above, please contact me at the email address at the bottom of the page.

The other reason why a particular group isn’t listed is that it isn’t traditional scouting according to the definition given above. A group might describe itself as “scouting” but be more of a fraternal or family camping organization. Or it might be a legitimate scouting association but in the vein of modern, mainstream scouting rather than traditional. For example, North American member associations of WOSM and WAGGGS, whatever their merits might be, are not “traditional scouting” in any meaningful sense of the term. They do not observe the four classical aims of scouting; they don’t wear traditional uniforms; they have changed the Law and the Promise into something almost unrecognizable; and they have ceased to be volunteer organizations.

Email additions and corrections to roverscoutusa@yahoo.com.