The Opening of the Boy Scouts
Following the publication of my first piece for Ordinary Times, Mike Dwyer replied to my growing conservatism in the face of newfound parenthood. His recent piece celebrating the inclusion of girls into the Boy Scouts seemed an apt time to repay the honor.
Mike’s piece, A New Day for Scouting, argued in favor of the recent move by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to admit girls into their organization. Michael Surbaugh, the organization’s Chief Scout Executive, said the following:
The values of Scouting – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example – are important for both young men and women. We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children. We strive to bring what our organization does best – developing character and leadership for young people – to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.
Mike makes similar arguments in how his childhood spent scouting played a positive role in his development as an adult. He wrote:
It has been 24 years since I attended a Scout meeting as part of Troop 461, but I still consider the Scout Law very good advice for how to live an honorable life. The Scout motto of ‘Be Prepared’ remains a guiding principle for me both personally and professionally. I love the outdoors, and I still remember my Totin’ Chip training every time I swing an ax. To put it plainly, the lessons I learned in Scouts have stayed with me.
Unlike Mike and his family, I have almost no experience with scouting. I had friends growing up (all Mormon) who were very committed to the BSA, with many of them earning the rank of Eagle Scout in their high school years. The organization’s view of the world, its uniforms and traditions, seemed foreign to me. This may have had to do with my mother’s aversion to the Boy Scouts, which she saw as militarism-in-training. My family was very involved in our community, but scouting was never a part of life.
I came to appreciate what scouting was designed to inculcate in young people only after departing college and getting interested in camping and travel. I decided that the program would be something I considered when I had kids of my own.
Now that I am a father of two young girls, and while they are still young, my wife and I have already begun deliberating the types of sports and organizations we plan to expose our kids to. As noted above, I know very little about scouting in general, but based on Mike’s piece and conversations with other parents, it does seem the Boy and Girl organizations that carry the scouting title have a distinctive attitude. Offspring recently compared differences between the two groups and found the following:
For Girl Scouts, a member’s ranking is determined by her age and merit badges, while Boy Scouts must meet with a scout master to review their progress, and appear before a board of review before advancing to the next level.
For Girl Scouts, the areas of focus are:
- Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). There are projects in computer programming, engineering and outdoor citizen science.
- Life skills. Girl Scouts learn skills such as how to cope with bullying, how to launch a letter-writing campaign, and how to make smart buying decisions.
- They learn business skills by selling cookies.
Boy Scouts participate in “skill challenges” such as walking with a compass, bandaging with a neckerchief, pitching a tent, tying knots and lashing. Popular activities include the pinewood derby (Cub Scouts make derby cars and race them in a competition), Jamboree-on-the-Air (an amateur radio event that creates contact among Scouts from around the nation) and camporees (camps where troops participate in competitive events with other groups).
Clearly, the local Scout leader plays a significant role in the tasks a local troop takes part in, but there are some significant differences between the organizational purposes within each branch. While most of us could benefit from the Girl Scouts’ emphasis on life skills and entrepreneurship, I find many female-centered organizations aimed at young girls stress those skills. I would love to have my daughters also exposed to the competitive aspect the Boy Scouts emphasize.
I do have my reservations about opening these organizations up to both boys and girls. I also believe strongly in the necessity for females to have access to the same activities as males. Generations of women grew up with only “feminine” organizations and activities available to them. They wanted to take part in “boy” centric games and groups but were excluded from them. I hope no girl growing up in our modern age is made to feel like her chosen hobby is not available to her.
Yet, I also fear the eroding of sex-specific organizations. Not because I believe women and men are so different that they cannot share the same interests and interact effectively; the modern world seems to defy that preconceived notion. Rather, there is something to be said of having places where men and women, boys and girls, can interact with people exclusively from their own sex. As a middle school teacher, I can see a great benefit to having boys and girls separated for parts of their daily activities. The urge to break down all organizational barriers between the sexes comes from an understandable place; “separate but equal” historically meant one group was given superior resources. Yet, I would be saddened to see my daughters never take part in girl-only activities and organizations. Not because I think they are weak and will be hurt by the boys, but because I have seen the positive aspect having time away from the opposite sex can have on a youth’s development.
As noted in the BSA press release and alluded to in Mike’s post, there will still be plenty of opportunities for members of the Boy Scouts to take part in sex-specific activities and gatherings. In the wake of foolish, ignorant hot takes from expected corners of the Internet, it’s unfortunate that this key detail was lost in the public conversation about the change in BSA policy. Like Mike, I think this is a perfectly acceptable change (and one I may take advantage of with my own children) and it’s fair to assume based on the BSA’s historic traditionalism that this was not done on a whim. The conservative in me desires rigorous, Socratic conversation prior to making major changes to staples of our community and culture, and while the Fox News scene framed this as SJW attacks on the essence of America, I doubt they made this change due to left-wing activist tweets. The BSA surely knew some of its supporters would oppose this change, but made it for the good of the order.
We should not make these changes lightly, and by all accounts, the BSA has done their due diligence in making this positive change to their collective union.