“We cannot always create the future for our youth, but we can build the youth for our future.” It’s a quote which has been attributed to Franklin D Roosevelt. And there’s a lot of truth in it.
We’ve had word that Guiding programmes in the UK, for all sections, are going to change. So far, the first big announcement has been made, a change in age groupings for Senior Section. For quite a few years now, it has tried to encompass the full age range from 14 to 26. And although a few units did make this work, and did have active membership from across the range, by far the majority of units served either 14-18, or 18-26 - but not both. We have, of course, already started going through all the stages which feature in every ‘change management’ diagram ever drawn. We’ve had the upset, and the anger. We’ve had people complaining that the information provided to date is far too limited to be of any use, and simultaneously others complaining about the age change as if it was a done deal and totally non-negotiable. We’ve had people pleading to have this or that part of their section programmes preserved in formaldehyde, and others begging them to scrap the existing programmes entirely and start building from scratch. Some saying that a 2-year process is far too rushed, others saying that it’s ridiculously dragged out, they want change tomorrow (if not sooner).
Fact is, since the last universal change in 1966-1968 (yes, fully 50 years ago), there have been rolling and piecemeal changes to each section’s programmes. Tweaks and more significant changes have been made to each one in turn, but at no point has Guiding actually sat down to look at the youth programme as a united whole, and considered changes to apply across all the sections simultaneously.
Over those 50 years, a lot has changed in society. Back in 1968 there weren’t any of the equality acts we take for granted – no guarantee of equality for gender, race or disability. The role of girls and women in society has totally changed – back then most women only worked until they were married and then were housewives, the minority who stayed single had a full career but few of those earned a full pension. Education has changed – now girls and boys alike do both technical and home economics subjects, but that wasn’t the norm in the 1960s. Back then not everyone was ‘on the phone’, television was in black and white, and career options for girls were limited. Now we’re not just on the phone, but on the smartphone. Computers and televisions are widespread, and in theory every career is equally open to girls and boys.
In Guiding, too, uniforms and programmes have changed – cotton blouses and polished shoes have given way to soft shell hoodies and trainers. Typed newsletters and landline phone calls have been replaced by emails, texts and facebook. We spend less time on domestic skills and more on science, and adventure.
The changes in 1966 were introduced because the world had changed a lot in the 50 years since Guiding was first created. Guiding’s leadership felt that the old system of fixed tests for Tenderfoot, Golden Bar/Second Class, and Golden Hand/First Class had served well in it’s time, but in spite of piecemeal updating, was obsolete. So they were replaced by annual badges in each section which offered choices. Now, another 50 years have passed and once again piecemeal updating has been done over that time, but the programmes were once again becoming obsolete. So time for another 2-year period of review and change. Once every 50 years doesn’t seem too often, does it?
Things did not go entirely smoothly in 1966-68, despite a lot of preparation work being done. The biggest objections were to the ending of Sea Rangers, and in the end a breakaway Sea Ranger Association formed, which still exists albeit on a very small scale. And undoubtedly, whatever changes end up being introduced this time round, there will be a lot of anguish once again, and perhaps even breakaways once again. But, viewed from a distance, the 1968 changes did turn out to be positive, and did succeed in updating the programme whilst retaining the key elements of it. And it may be that the coming changes, however painful the process of deciding and implementing them may be, and however much initial upset is caused by change, will end up as positive ones too.
As the quote says, we can’t create the future for our youth. We can try to help shape it, but we can’t create it, nor can we choose exactly how it will develop. We can’t control the outside factors, and the future is going to be theirs, not ours. But building the youth for it? We can certainly make a significant contribution to that. Provided we accept that Guiding is, and has to be, a movement. It is constantly changing with us or in spite of us, and will continue to be constantly changing regardless of us. The world will still spin around every 24 hours, standing still isn’t possible. So it needs us to embrace change, to work to make change, to constantly be working to update what we do to ensure we are serving the needs of the future, not just the needs of the past or of the present. We are merely the current custodians, but just as we received it from the generation before us, in time it will pass from our hands onto future generations of members. We are training the girls of today to be ready to replace us tomorrow.
The changes in 1966 were the result of a review of programmes – and a report was published summarising the results of the review and the reasoning behind the proposed changes which were then implemented. I think we would do well to bear in mind the title of that report, for it described the person they were planning for – who is equally well the person we too should be planning for.
It’s name? “Tomorrow’s Guide”.