In My Own Words
Thoughts on Education, Artistry, and Leadership

45,000 people make a lot of trash, use a lot of water, and eat a lot of food. The de facto city which has been erected as the 2010 National Scout Jamboree is no exception.

Each night, tons of food and supplies arrive via semi-truck at the gates of Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, the host site of the jamboree. Hundreds of pallets of bottled water dot the Arena field, ready to be consumed by the 100,000 expected attendees at the Centennial Celebration on Saturday night.

Although these numbers boggling to the mind, the Scouting movement teaches the principles of “Leave No Trace” and “Tread Lightly.” Each principle has an educational activity area dedicated to it along the jamboree’s main thoroughfare. Scouts learn techniques to minimize their impact on the environment and follow the point of the Scout Law that says, “A Scout is Thrifty.”

The Boy Scouts and their U.S. Army hosts have also posted signs around the base which read “Smell a little! Save water.” Trust me, the nose knows; there are Scouts heeding this advice. (Hopefully they are balancing it with a reasonable amount of “A Scout is Clean!”)

Unfortunately, some logistical hurdles inhibit thrift. For instance, it would be wonderful if the jamboree had a food recycling system available for Scouts to return usable food which would otherwise be discarded. Likewise, the jamboree’s availability of plastic recycling facilities is not always obvious to participants. It is challenging to set up these systems for a city overnight, which is what would have to be done at a jamboree. In itself, it is basically a city built overnight.

However, the jamboree staff managed to find other thrifty ways to set up the event. The press stage at the Hometown News area was built entirely from scrap lumber left over from other jamboree construction, for instance.

Thriftiness is perhaps the point of the Scout Law which is most challenging for Scouts to learn and adopt. American society—and increasingly world society—is becoming focused on impulse buying, even after the start of the ongoing economic situation.

The Boy Scouts of America is not immune to this trend. The revenue potential for embroidered patch sales alone has driven the Boy Scouts’ marketing division to design dozens of “special,” “limited,” or “collectible” embroidered patched to lure Scouts and Scouters (including me) to spend big bucks to collect them all.

Scouts have always enjoyed trading patches with interesting designs from faraway places. That’s reasonable. Simple patch trading offers opportunities to meet new friends and establish relationships. I only worry that the trading trend has moved away from its roots in Friendship (another point in the Scout Law) to something much less ideal in nature.

Nonetheless, every moment is a teachable moment, and I have been pleased to witness Scoutmasters encouraging Scouts who have been at the patch trading table too long to move on to other activities for a while.

Boy Scout merchandising aside, however, the Boy Scouts still teach important lessons in thrift. The Personal Management merit badge, for instance, requires Scouts to develop a personal budget and record their spending over a span of months. They examine their financial habits and learn about the value of saving.

One of the new innovations introduced at this National Scout Jamboree was an indestructible waterproof bracelet that works as a debit card and is “spendable” at most vendors and trading posts on site. Parents load funds into the card online and then can monitor spending.

I was initially skeptical of the devices, believing that Scouts would use them with the assumption they contained an infinite supply of “free” money from mom. After checking her son’s balance, however, one mother on Facebook said he’d only spent $14. “I know scouts are supposed to be thrifty, but wow!!” she exclaimed.

When it comes down to it, thriftiness is as much a mindset as a skill, and one which must be learned or developed over time. Parents can help by sitting down with their elementary school children (as Cub Scouts, we hope!) and talking about money, where it comes from, when to spend it, and how to save it. Give a small weekly allowance and help them build a simple budget, perhaps to buy special decals for a Pinewood Derby car.

As children age, so too should financial responsibilities. Allowance might become contingent on contributions in the household (lawn mowing, babysitting, etc.), and savings might be budgeted to pay in part for summer camp.

Scouting can reinforce the principle of thriftiness, but it would be next to impossible for it to teach alone. A partnership must be formed between parents and Scouting, with parents providing the initial learning and Scouting following up with age-appropriate lessons to cement the thrift-mindset in place.

Just like any other investment, Scouting is what you get out of it. Good thing the return rate is pretty good. (Unless, of course, you are an avid patch collector.)


This week and next, I plan to blog about Scouting’s main principles as set out in the Scout Motto, Scout Law, and Scout Slogan.

Daniel M. Reck, M.S.Ed., is a copy editor for Jamboree Today, the daily newspaper of the Boy Scouts of America National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. An Eagle Scout, he is also the Assistant Director of Greek Life, Leadership, and Involvement at Monmouth College in Illinois.

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