Rates of membership retention varied greatly across the troops in the sample, though some patterns emerged. Scouts who had earned badges were more likely to continue in Scouts or to move up to Venturers. Larger troops have greater latitude in choosing programs and can engage in between-patrol competition. This should lead to greater satisfaction with the program. Troops have better retention when they are active, that is, when they have lots of outdoor activities. Having activities in the summer months also helps. Scouts crave autonomy. They are more likely to return in troops where they have opportunities to be on their own or when they have significant responsibility for their food at camps. There is reason to believe that making full use of the uniform also boosts retention.
Putting these findings together, the picture of a troop with high membership retention emerges as one which is relatively large, participates in many outdoor activities year-round, Scouts are actively involved in earning badges, Scouts are given significant autonomy, and proudly wear their uniforms as confirmation of their identity as Scouts. In short, it is a picture of a troop that makes the most of the things which differentiate Scouting from other activities. It is a troop which has fully embraced Scout culture.
By Scout culture, I mean the attitudes, values, norms, and behaviours that characterise Scouting. Underlying Scout culture is a radically child-centred approach to education. This child-centredness is the essential characteristic that sets Scouting apart from other approaches to education.
Generally speaking, education is about training young people to meet certain adult-defined standards. Whether teaching sports skills, a musical instrument, or school classes, education is about creating an environment where the kids will move towards the adult understanding of the topic. This is not to denigrate this sort of education. If one is doing math or playing Beethoven, there is a right answer. However, Scouting's subject matter, building character, is one that demands a different approach.
Scouting's radically child-centred approach makes the most of the natural characteristics of young people. BP wrote that patrol system puts young people ``into fraternity-gangs which is their natural organisation, whether for games, mischief, or loafing...'' (BP 1945:18). The Scouter ``has got to put himself on the level of the older brother'' (BP 1945:3). Scouters guide their Scout patrols away from mischief, not by suppressing it but by proposing Scouting activities instead. The Scouter does not fight the natural gang organisation of the Scouts, rather attempts to work with it. While when teaching music, the students become mini-maestros, in Scouting, the Scouter becomes a ``boy-man'' (BP 1945:19).
This is not to say that the idea of adult standards is absent from Scouting. The very idea of education requires that there be some sort of goal which is being pursued. Standards in Scouting can be seen in the form of the Scout badges. But standards or rules are kept at a minimum. Scouting is ``the man's job cut down to boy's size'' (quoted by BP 1945:15). Within this environment, Scouts are given maximum autonomy and responsibility, and they rise to the challenge (BP 1945:23).
One of the reasons why Scouting works is because within this ``child-sized'' environment, something which I refer to as ``necessary ethics'' emerges. The true implications of meanness, a small theft, or other minor misdemeanours is not apparent in a neighbourhood of hundreds. However, when one is in the backwoods with the other six Scouts in one's patrol, it quickly becomes obvious that hogging the Oreos ultimately makes the whole trip less pleasant. Necessary ethics are the ethical rules which become obviously necessary in an isolated small group situation. Scouts are given the Scout Law as a starting point, then learn what it really means by this natural process. If they bring this with them when they return to the city and into adulthood, Scouting has succeeded.