Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cub clothing, conjugation, correction and community.

D'you wanna see my badges?

I loved the outdoors, the idea of camping, the idea of making fires, the idea of climbing.  

I was pretty pissed off with the rigmarole they asked me to go through to do what I loved.

You might imagine that I was born to be a Cub Scout.  

You would have imagined wrong. 

Cub clothing.

Week after week they asked me the same question.

"Have you got your Cub-shirt yet?"

"No, They don't have one my size."

"No, My parents couldn't find one in the shops."

"No, It got lost in the post."

Any excuse was good enough to avoid wearing that rubbish uniform. 

Pledge and Mottos

Then there was the silly Cub salute and pledge.

Then there were the silly Cub badges that the seniors showed off on their sleeves.

Don't ask me to explain to you what the pledge was, I refused to give even lipdub to their stuff.

Now that's got me thinking...

I am curious now. 

I shall have to Google it.

Here it is, in a ghastly blueish typeface,

The Cub Scout Promise:

I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to God and to the Queen
To help other people
And to keep the Cub Scout Law.

The Cub Scout Law:

Cub Scouts always do their best
Think of others before themselves
And do a good turn every day.

The Cub Scout Motto:

Be Prepared

There it is, I was never prepared to accept their wretched promises, laws, caps, badges, shirts, mottos and miscellenaeous mumbo jumbo.


"Sprechen sie deutsch?"

"Not on your Nelly."

There it was, I was a Germanophonephobe. 

There was nothing I could do about it. 

It was a strong allergic reaction to the teacher, the word order, the weird lexical assemblages. 

There was the associated war-time imagery...

A German Teacher
The teacher had a short crop, a black leather jacket, and a BMW motorbike...

At a quick guess, I would say he was the Wehrmacht motorcyclist second from the left.  

No threat of low marks, punishment, or physical torture would break my resistance, it was a question of patriotic pride. 

There would be no collaboration with the enemy.  

I was prepared. 

I had seen the Colditz series on the BBC 

They had no ways to make me speak.

Colditz Model School.


"Speak English."
"Why don't you speak English?"

I have spent hours being paid to say those words. 

There are times when being an English teacher seems like a big waste of time.  
(shhh don't tell anyone)

I had spent hours correcting that student. Nothing seemed to stick. Nothing seemed to stick...ever.


He arrived with his new English friends, with bright eyes, and excitement.

"I have just learnt loads of new expressions, Barry has corrected all of my English."

Well, I suppose that I was in part responsible for finding Barry to make friends with the student... 

It was clear that he was suddenly really keen to learn, he was taking pleasure to learn, he was learning like never before...

early 17th century (in the general sense ‘a legal or moral obligation’): French, fromengager ‘to pledge’ (see engage).

I have been thinking about the problem of learning within institutional settings. 

I suspect that we don't engage in learning, rather we engage with a person, a club, a community or an army. 

We pledge our belonging to a community.

Any learning in the community may be inherent or incidental to one's belonging to that community.

I suspect that the community is always the curriculum.

Do communities really care about learning which does not reinforce the community?


I love camping.
I love learning.
I love learning languages to speak with people that I like or to avoid people I don't like.
I love learning from people that I respect.

I do my best to help other people...

I have no particular longing to belong.

You can keep your badges, your pledges, your marks, your threats, your engagements... 


  1. Yes. the community is always the curriculum. and yes, it is brainwashing. That's why the rhizome is so important, it means the membership is not about reiterating - it's about participating.

    1. Hmm membership. problematic word association with rhizome?

  2. Interesting post. Don't know why you are pulling scouting and badges into this in a negative way. I'm a cub scout leader and was a cub scout and scout in my youth... taught me many many things. Particularly, how to work as a group and build things bigger then all the parts. So much learning took place... I always (and still do) considered the uniform and badges incidental, but it levels the playing field as we all have the same equipment and resources... Also a big fan of open badges, particularly when building your own self-determined badge system. My kids and I also love all the things you speak of... but neither scouting uniforms or badges get in the way of this...

    1. I would bet that there is part of you that also understands Simon's take on the Cub Scouts. I looked over your G+ site and saw a marvelous child being 'jack o' the greens' (https://plus.google.com/113493514286674541941/posts/GPmJxA2x5GQ). I think some kids, likely Simon and myself as well, were wired to want to just play at being jack o' the greens, too. Having said that, I would also want you to 'think of others before yourself' as a practicing scout is instructed to do. I would ask you to assume a position that the person you are visiting is not a hateful git but a human being trying to live as a human being.

  3. Hi Peter. Thanks for commenting. Fortunately the cubs and scouts didn't have a monopoly on access to doing stuff that I loved and I have many unbadged memories and many years of unbadged learning to share with others. So-called 'level playing-fields' are clearly a myth which mask a social reality in which people do NOT have the same equipment or resources. The British Empire (amongst others) was built by people working together to build something bigger than all the parts. So was the Great War.

    I have learnt many many things about the suffering caused by uniformisation, badging, group pressure.

    If you haven't lived something negatively it is difficult to imagine that others might feel alienated by behaviour, language, clothing, etc which for you are 'normal' or a source of joy.

    Sorry but I am allergic to uniforms, badges, and pledges to God, Queen and Country.

    Uniforms were clearly not incidental in the cubs - they kicked me out because I refused to wear one.

  4. Wow harsh... too bad that was the taste it left for you, my experience was very different. You are getting way to academic for me. you never have attended one of our meetings so how can you say "leveled playing fields" are a myth, you should see meet our group, very diverse from many perspectives. How long ago were you a member of scouting? Did any members of your family fight in a the "great war"? The group I am a part of is open to all (gender no longer and issue) and our last weekend away, not only did we spend time outdoors, practicing amazing outdoor and group skills but we also had leadership activities for 9-10 year olds which included some pretty amazing problem solving and empathy skills development. And we are opening up the outdoors to many kids who due to financial, family, resources wouldn't have a chance otherwise to get into the outdoors. It's pretty amazing to see, and the kids level of engagement was pretty deep... I wonder if you take kids, who have little opportunity, with you when you go camping? I suggest you give it a try. Pretty sure you could do it through a non-scouting organization, but be prepared to make pledges and have some records checks...

    1. Hi again Peter.

      I would love to meet your group. of course experiences are hugely different, I am speaking about an experience 40 years ago.

      As soon as you use the term 'playing fields' you are using a culturally loaded term.

      Yes I did have members of my family involved in the Great War and also organising camps and other activities for underprivileged kids.

      I don't doubt that you do some great work.

      I had some great experiences in the military cadets - didn't lessen my hatred for the military ethos and uniforms.

      What I was writing about in the post was about engagement and therefore identification with a person, group, or community. These are not neutral, level playing fields.

      Clearly you identified strongly with the cub scouts, I didn't, there are many people who put energy into offering kids opportunities but they don't dress themselves up with paraphernalia of pledges like the ones I was referring to.

      Maybe your cub scouts is a laic, non-aligned, group? :-)

    2. One point being that YMMV. You cannot define engagement by any measure that is external. Each of us 'cares' differently, perhaps on a continuum. Definitely on a some kind of bullshit continuum. Unless your 'caring' involves actions that directly impinge on someone else's, democratic societies cannot really act from any other assumption. When teacher caring is paramount and without limit, you get fascism (authorianism). When students' caring is all, then you get fascism (mobocracy). When there is no room for the give and take of caring, then you get Simon's experience in Cub Scouts. Perhaps engagement is simply the acknowledgement of the interplay of care between and among people of all ages.

  5. I think we sometimes seek out affiliations and then find ourselves regretting some of those affiliations when they don't meet our needs or meet our expectations of what it was all about.
    Dave's rhizomatic metaophor (OK, not Dave's as in he owns the damn thing or anything like that but still ...) to me means breaking away when I need to break away, finding nodes of connections where they meet my needs and even giving up on the whole shebang if I find it unsatisfying. Can't often do that in a typical learning environment, can we?
    I was in Cub Scouts, too, and enjoyed some of it (my first saxophone solo ever was in front of our troop playing some patriotic song), but not all the religious overtones and uniform expectations resonated with me.
    Alas, I was never good at patching patches on myself (maybe this is some strange source of my aversion to online badges?), and when I was in the military, I got dinged more often than not for the state of my uniform, which was often wrinkled when it should have been ironed. I had more important things on my mind.
    I feel as if I am tumbling down into a Simon-like verse poem comment here ...
    That all said, happy new year! See you on the other side ....