When we started doing Venturing, there was no advancement system. When that was finally produced, my daughter said, “I want.” She had a year and a half to go before she turned 21. She buckled down and earned the first Silver and Ranger Awards in our Council. That Crew and our current Crew have always led the Council in advancement, just doing what comes naturally.
If we had people who needed to do utensilless cooking, we’d plan an activity where we all did that. We scheduled several ethical controversies a year. When cultural diversity was the order of the day, we would have a presentation, and then a poster party: the youth would make posters and present them. The advancement system that is fading away now had a LOT of demands for presentations or displays to be given to the group, and we discovered that poster parties were a fun way to do them.
When it was time to appoint leaders for upcoming programs, I’d look over who’d done what and who needed to lead an event, and consult with the Crew President about whom he or she might want to appoint. We made sure that people got the opportunity to be the leader.
All this is simply what Baden-Powell envisioned when he set up Scouting all those years ago. If we expect you to do a hike, as well as identify ten trees or plants, what would be more natural than to schedule a hike, and then announce a game to see who could identify which trees along the way – or look for signs of wildlife, or whatever. Only when we got back would they discover that they were passing requirements.
The typical Boy Scout Troop will schedule a dynamite program, but they don’t organize their activities around the boys’ advancement needs. So when a Scout needs to pass firebuilding or something, the whole program comes to a screeching halt and they revert to doing school. We have a class, and we expect you to pass a test. Lots of adult Scouters assume that if you can’t do it the first time, you have to wait until the next day to try again (which is not BSA policy). Or, they’ll say at a meeting that you can’t learn it and pass it the same night. This is also bogus.
BSA operates out of a Realist educational philosophy. All requirements are behavior-based. A Scout is never asked to “know” something, let alone “understand” it. He is told, “do” this, “recite” that, “demonstrate” that, “tie” this knot, etc. He is also not required to show he can do it again next week (although we hope that he can – but that’s more a matter of staying in practice). And it should all flow naturally out of the activities the Troop (or Crew, in this case) is already doing.
After every Crew event, I take out the master list and check off everything each Venturer has done which fulfills any requirement in the system. If someone has a book and he or she wants me to sign it, I do; but the official list has always been what I kept, not what they kept. Most of my Venturers have been surprised by their first Bronze Awards; they didn’t know they were earning them until they were presented. After that, they began to eye the Gold and Silver Awards with some desire to achieve them.
Since we did so much high adventure, we kept ourselves in training as if we were doing Philmont every year. We camped on weekends the way we would in the mountains. We emphasized bear training even where there were no bears. We made sure we offered First Aid and CPR and the other credentialing classes. All of these fed into passing the requirements for advancement.
About half my Venturers have earned Religious Life as their (first) Bronze Award, because many of them have done their PRAY award with me in church, and that was the biggest hurdle to earning the award. Any kid moderately active in church could knock out the rest of that award in nine months or so. We won’t have that available in the new advancement system, of course. But I mention it here just to show that advancement isn’t about scheduling classes and doing schooly stuff. Learning happens as we do things that are fun and challenging. Some things the individual Venturer will have to set up for oneself, but an awful lot of this stuff should flow naturally out of the program the Crew designs.
The old Venturing advancement system was chockablock with presentational stuff, as if we were preparing the youth to be teachers or Toastmasters. The new advancement system is replete with individual guidance-counseling type sessions. But what exactly is required is not the problem. We are the problem. We make of any advancement system we have a hindrance and a bother, and then we wonder why the Venturers (or Scouts) aren't advancing. We prize rehearsed, hyper-validated performance over experience as it happens, and we wonder why nobody's excited about learning. We teach skills we never use, and wonder why the lessons don't stick.