By Darryl Alder
Mar 27, 2014

Ethics and the Scout Oath and Law

Philmont Scout Ranch, Cimarron, NM—today I taught a class on ethics in the BSA at National Camp School. There were five of us (each from councils in Ohio, Alaska, New Mexico and Utah), instructing camp directors, program directors and camp commissioners throughout the nation. So after more than 50 hours of instruction, there I stood trying to put a final word in on the affect the Oath and Law can have on youth.

Class started outdoors as we divided into groups of two and three. Each group had a simple Boy Scout Compasscompass course, where routes should have led them back to where they began. However one compass was fixed with a tiny magnet attached so that it would not work properly. The clever Scouters who got that compass were quick to notice, but when another lone Scouter with a working compass came to their aid, they got right to the task. Most groups never made it back to where they should have gone. Both examples were a good lead in to the discussion on ethics and the Oath and Law.

troop 491After the compass exercise, I showed the participants a short clip from Troop 491—The Adventures of the Muddy Lions that really set the tone for the discussion. In this clip a new Scout was reciting the Scout Law as he reflected on difficult conditions in his life. It really was quite an emotional start to a powerful discussion.

Then we considered some lesson content that BSA had adapted from Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of stages of moral development. (He was a professor at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, so his studies are quite scholarly). Needless to say I kept it pretty basic, but showed the group his six stages of ethical development in youth as shown in this chart:


I explained that as youth move through the six stages, the influence becomes cumulative in nature, one stage building on another. Also that in stages 1-4 youth do what is right to protect themselves, while in stages 5-6, they do what is right to help and protect others. They start doing things for the benefit of others and begin looking outward. This is the Scout Slogan in action.

To drive the session home I told of how my father had grown up in an essentially single parent home, in poverty. I explained how Scouting provided him the male role models he needed to grow into manhood and eventually becoming an Eagle Scout. Breaking the traditions that put his family in their destitute situation, my father went on to raise four sons (a Life scout and three Eagles), providing for them and more importantly, he was father who came home every evening for dinner with the family. Still he felt a strong need to continue serving other youth and remained registered in BSA for 75 years until his death.

Living by the Oath and Law helps boys like me, become men like my father.

Darryl Alder Director of Support Services

Author: Darryl Alder | Director of Support Services, Utah National Parks Council, BSA

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