Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Vanguard Scouts: Mormon Boys in Their Mid-Teens: part 1

Vanguard Scouts: Mormon Boys in Their Mid-Teens: part 1

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 15, 2012

We’ve had a lot about girl-life in the Church lately – time to look at the boy-life again.

The Church was an early adopter of the Boy Scout program – and please, let’s please please please try to talk about this without instantly devolving to the trope “the Church ought to sever its relationship with BSA”; been there, done that, done that, done that, done that, and done that.

Early on, though, the Church felt that Scouting was most appropriate for deacon-age boys, and that it lost its effectiveness as boys matured. In 1928, the Church created a program for teacher-aged boys (15-16 in those days; boys were deacons for three years), called the Vanguard Scouts. This program, while still relying heavily on camping and outdoor activities, focused more on developing leadership and responsibility, reinforcing their priesthood quorum duties, than on the recreational aspects of Scouting. When the Boy Scouts developed Explorer Scouting in 1933, the Church adopted that program for its oldest teen boys, but retained Vanguard Scouting until 1959.

The manual to be reproduced in this series dates from 1929-30 and is directed toward the boys’ leaders rather than the boys’ themselves. Early installments will describe the Church’s attitude toward boys and what they are capable of and what they should be learning. This is followed by material on how the program was organized. Later installments include sample merit badge requirements.


Objectives and Leadership

Strange creatures these boys, their attention ruled by their interests and bent on expressing their every whim in some form of physical activity or ever-changing mental pursuit. They refuse to remain quiet and everything must move with them. They are keen to perceive the qualities of an associate or leader and their judgment placed upon such a leader is unscrupulous and harsh. Either they like him or they don’t, his program is “keen” or it is “bunk” and their decision is final one way or another. If they like the leader and his program they accept both completely, but they make their dislike conspicuous by their absence.

Like a colt in the pasture they must be caught before the harness can be fastened on. A whole field full of men cannot drive a colt that is running free, but one man with a pan of oats can lead him anywhere, and once stabled he can be tied, harnessed and broke to perform work. Boys are grateful for the opportunity to express themselves in the boy way. The leader who will venture out into the boy pasture, not to criticize and scorn but to understand and appreciate, verily has the “pan of oats” under his arm; and these boys, who are peculiar for their willingness to reciprocate, allow themselves to be tied with this rope of interest, strapped into the harness of responsibility and to be taught the thrill of tightening the traces and feeling the load respond to their strength. Out of this experience they learn the interdependence of fellow workers, and a sense of duty is born. This duty is taught not by preachment, which they often detest, but by purposeful experiences which have been enjoyable to them. They are led from their pasture of pure interest to a pasture where duty is interesting.

We are training young men for citizenship in the kingdom of God – a participating citizenship, for we can conceive of no other. All aids to this end must serve their purpose efficiently and contribute a maximum of results in this training. The Priesthood was revealed for the salvation of men; the duties in the Priesthood are a means of expression which will bring about the results desired from the individual holding the Priesthood. For a man to hold the Priesthood means little; but if a man magnifies his calling in the Priesthood by giving it full expression, he will gain salvation.

Auxiliary organizations are developed to aid the Priesthood program by providing a more complete expression for the individual’s interests and to tie up his spiritual life more definitely with his mental, physical, and social life. Back of all this is the boy and the man he is to be. He is first, the programs must come second. Programs were made for boys, and not boys for programs. The Master expressed the truth that even Sabbaths were made for the rightful use of man and not man for the Sabbath.

Strange creatures, these boys, but we must discover them and learn their interests. Then out of these interests we must weave situations that will teach spiritual values. Our present classwork must change from lessons and more lessons to a place where projects of activity are planned and checked – projects that only begin in class and carry over into the life of the boy; projects, the working out of which will make them better citizens for the Kingdom; projects that challenge the capacity of vigorous, active boys who crave something to do with their hands, and who find sitting on a bench and listening to someone talk their most disagreeable task.

The program outlined in this guide is an attempt to apply the foregoing principles to a group of boys in the Church, never before reached in this manner. It is the result of the application of sound theory and considerable experimentation with boys of this group. It is submitted for fair trial to leaders who are willing to think it through and make their experience available to those responsible for general leadership in this work. It represents a new mission of service to the young manhood of the Church. Strange creatures, these boys; but we must court their favor and win them, for it is only a day and the responsibility we bear is upon them.

The Adolescent Boy

“Middle adolescence is preeminently the period of self-assertion; it is the time when the individual naturally develops self-reliance; it is the age when the ego comes into its own and to some extent slips into the place of the hero; Shakespeare’s ‘to thine own self be true’ now makes a strong appeal. This epoch in the life of the individual is said to correspond to the revolutionary period of constitutional monarchy.” Page 37, “Adolescence and High School Problems.” – Pringle.

“Physical growth is not so rapid as during the first two years of adolescence, and the body and limbs are now assuming the forms and proportions of manhood and womanhood. There is the clean-cut muscular figure which displaces the delightful chubbiness of earlier years, and there is the chiseled face of eager youth. The center of personality is fast shifting from a physical to a spiritual basis as King says, ‘the youth emerges from the somewhat animal-like crassness of the pubertal year and begins to think of his social relationship, his duties, and the rights and wrongs of his acts.’ He still thinks of himself, but of himself as related to others. Although there is as yet a lack of mental perspective, the youth is beginning to have a sense of values, and life is coming to have much significance. Much intellectual curiosity and enthusiastic eagerness and alertness now take the place of the earlier unresponsiveness. Although some fickleness is carried over from the earlier period, a new manliness and womanliness is rapidly becoming manifest, and an appeal to ‘honor’ can most profitably be made, for now comes, as Montaigne expresses it, ‘the polish of right and wrong’.” Page 37-38, “Adolescence and High School Problems.” – Pringle.

Cooperative Tendency of Middle Adolescence ideals

“Because the social instincts are so largely in control, cooperative games with much team-work displaces the more individualistic games. A combination of initiative and capacity for cooperation develop side by side; this means that the youth must now begin to get his training for leadership. Loyalty to the group is strongly manifest and the cooperative spirit which was lacking in early childhood begins to assert itself. The team spirit develops in middle adolescence, but there is still retained some of the ego-centric attitude. With the physical development and accompanying bodily changes come the manifestation of the sex instinct in an awakening of interest between the sexes. A man or woman with strong personality is now greatly needed to lead and to suggest; for youth has not yet sufficient self-control for continuous self-government. The social horizon is widening more rapidly than at any other time in life; it is now that the youth must take practically full possession of his social heritage; for the social instincts are now ripening most rapidly.” Page 37, “Adolescence and High School Problems.” – Pringle.

“On the spiritual side youth is seeing visions and thinking great thoughts, inspired often by a fine idealism; and he should be daily growing richer in that which is distinctly human and charming. Although not really an adult, the youth must in many things be treated as an adult and never as a child.”



  1. I think there is stuff here that is still applicable today. Real life application, learning their interests, etc.
    “Although not really an adult, the youth must in many things be treated as an adult and never as a child.” I find in my 13-year-old Sunday School class, if I call them boys as opposed to Young Men, I have lost them for perhaps the rest of the lesson.

    Comment by mahana — June 15, 2012 @ 10:31 am

  2. It seems like the psychology of the mid-teen is about right here. There’s more on that theory in this manual than we typically find today. Do we assume people more generally know this stuff now?

    Comment by Paul — June 15, 2012 @ 11:28 am

  3. Rather than assuming people already know this, I wonder if too often we haven’t forgotten the person altogether, that we’re more concerned with the material being taught than in teaching and reaching the person. That is, we get some general advice now (“help class members understand X” and “help class members participate meaningfully,” from the intro to the Book of Mormon teacher’s manual) without any practical advice on achieving that beyond the quite general “prepare” and “rely on the Spirit.” I would find it incredibly helpful to have advice on teaching adults vs. teaching children, or teaching experienced, long term church members vs. teaching recent converts or the newly returned, etc. — because even if everybody’s reading the same chapter in Alma, teaching to their needs and participation styles and understanding has to vary, if a lesson is to be productive. IMO.

    And mahana, that’s a concrete example of exactly what I mean.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 15, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

  4. I think the move away from the psychology of teaching young men in the manual is similar to the move away from teaching the history of the Church in the manual. In Sunday School the objective has become to teach the principles of the gospel, not the details of the historical events, some of which were being taught wrong anyway. I would assume that just as the manual writers were not historians, neither were they psychologists. Perhaps out of fear of getting their advice wrong the writers now provide nothing.

    It is a shame. Although I can get my own historical information, I have few resources to draw upon for the hows of lesson prep for young men.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — June 19, 2012 @ 10:10 am

  5. I recently acquired a couple Vanguard books and enjoyed your thoughts. I’m a Scouter of many years and have collected many Scouting books. Wish I had more.

    Comment by John — June 20, 2012 @ 9:59 pm

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