Scouting, Moving Forward, Struggles to Carry its Baggage

Em Carpenter

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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39 Responses

  1. Philip H says:

    As a fellow Wolf Den Leader, and former Boy Scout, Cub Scout,Troop Committee Chair and Assistant Scoutmaster I can attest that the organization that you and I volunteer with today is indeed very different then the one of my youth. I believe those changes are good things, and some – like the move to recruit girls – actually bring us in line with our international scouting partners. Our British cousins – whose Lord Baden Powel gave us the Scouting movement – never has girls scouts as a separate entity – they have been integrated for most of the history of scouting on that side of the pond. The abuse allegations are definitely serious and should never have been swept under any rugs – look at how well that has turned out for the Catholic Church and at how the same story is playing out in the Jehovah’s Witness sect.

    But the hand wringing over integrating girls into Cub Scouts and eventually Boy Scouts is for me the most irksome. The BSA has had teenage girls in its ranks since I was a Scout in the late 1980’s. They were Explorer Post, Venture Crew and Sea Scout Ship members. The wore the uniform, participated in the program, camped at Council Camporees, and even attended the National Jamborees.Their presence is what got women allowed behind the curtain as Scout leaders generally – a feat we men have yet to pull off in Girl Scouting (full disclosure – my youngest daughter is ow a Junior in GSA and my wife co-leads her troop). with that background I don’t see what the fuss is all about.

    The looming backruptcy is worrisome, but I think the BSA may well weather it. certainly the local Packs, Troops, Posts, Crews and Ships will weather the storm, and Scouting will go on.Report

    • Erp in reply to Philip H says:

      Actually Baden Powell did set up a separate group, the Girl Guides (under the control first of his sister and later his wife) after a few girls insisted on being involved; he was a close friend with Juliette Gordon Low who was first involved in the the UK Guides before returning to the US to set up the first Girl Guide troop (shortly renamed to Girl Scouts). The Scouting Association (UK) only allowed girls in much later. The Girl Guides is still strong in the UK even though the Scouting Association now has women.

      Also girls were allowed in the then Explorers starting in the 1970s but were not allowed at the National Jamboree until 2013 (women scout leaders had been allowed since women were allowed to be scout leaders in 1988).Report

  2. DensityDuck says:

    As is often the case, “you can’t do this unless EVERYONE can do this” results in nobody doing it. A job well done.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to DensityDuck says:

      But why is ‘nobody’ doing it? Because ‘everyone’ can, or because a handful just can’t stand the idea of not being exclusive in some fashion or another, and they make it unpleasant for everyone else?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Cults are easy to join, hard to leave.
        Communities are hard to join, easy to leave.

        If you’ve got a community and you demand that it become easy to join, you’ll find that “easy to leave” results in a lot of people just failing to show up anymore and the reason to join was the community.

        “make it unpleasant” isn’t required.Report

  3. Chip Daniels says:

    As a former Scoutmaster, I’ve been tempted to declare that everything I know about politics I learned from Scouting.
    That a successful organization (or nation) thrives on a combination of individual initiative and “All for one, one for all” ethos.

    It does sadden me to see the declining membership, but I connect it to the larger forces that are changing us into a more splintered and fragmented society that turns away from groupishness.Report

    • fillyjonk in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      every group I am a part of as an adult (church congregation, AAUW, a Native Plant group….) complains about declining membership and ‘what can we do?”

      Splintered and fragmented is part of it. Another part I see is “too busy” – many of the groups suffering are ones where people who work “full time plus” can’t carry responsibilities in them (and yes, some had their heyday in the era of lots of women not-working, and maybe in some ways those were the bad old days, but). Also with kids now it seems the push is SPORTS – for health, or else for training towards the slim hope of a scholarship. (Back when I led a church Youth Group, we had to move the meeting time several times to accommodate baseball practice, or basketball practice, or what-have-you).

      We also have problems with the church Youth Camps. They want an adult from the church to attend for every 2-3 kids that do, and very few adults have that kind of time – not even grandparents.

      Also, as someone without kids, it seems to me that more and more things close in on the nuclear family – people do stuff as a family, and if you’re without one, sucks to be you. You either wind up carrying the heavy load of responsibility in a group, or you have nowhere “social” to be. I suppose that is related to the fragmentation and also much more distrust of one’s neighbors.

      I was a girl scout years and years ago but I lived in a prosperous area and it was frankly less woodcraft and more ‘training to be Junior League” and I dropped out when the cookie sales started.Report

  4. Erp says:

    Three things

    1. It was likely the LDS (aka Mormons) would leave no matter what the BSA did. They are an international organization and want a youth program for their boys that is international. The Boy Scouts of America could not be that. The LDS did have relationships with some other Scouting organizations in other countries but (a) some didn’t give them the leeway the BSA did and (b) the organizations are somewhat different (e.g., different Scout law). The previous leader of the LDS was very pro-Scout (Silver Beaver recipient) so no change under him; the current leader is not so shortly after he became leader the LDS announced their decision to leave.

    2. The BSA ban on gay youth did not exist for very long despite them retroactively claiming otherwise. They had long had a ban on gay adults but gay youth were allowed (presumably sexually active gay youth would have gotten kicked out but the same could have happened to sexually active straight youth). In 2004 they announced a policy that out gay youth could not hold leadership positions (e.g., patrol leader) but did not straight out ban gay youth and in fact implied they could join. In 2012 they announced they did ban gay youth only to change the policy in 2013 to allow them (note the LDS church announced they supported the 2013 policy change). Gay adult leaders were allowed in 2015 but there was (and is) no requirement that a local unit has to consider gay people as possible leaders (in other word the LDS was free to not have gay scout leaders just as they don’t have women scout leaders [outside of cubs]). Charterers are also free not to have girls in their troops or packs (again the LDS was free to still be male only as far as Scouts).

    3. The Boy Scouts of America still discriminates against atheists and requires members to agree to the “Declaration of Religious Principle” which states “…The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them….” If anything they have doubled down on this recently by adding the requirement that at all scoutmaster conferences that are required for scouts to move up in rank that the scout “Tell how you have done your duty to God” (there is no equivalent for the other two duties just a more general question on the scout oath and law). How this will work with their recent agreement with the Unitarian Universalist Association which does allow atheists is unclear.

    The Girl Scouts of the USA btw have been fine with gays and the godless for decades.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Erp says:

      The Girls Scouts of the USA seemed to have never become as associated with political and religious conservatism of the Boy Scouts, presumably because it seems less military like as an organization. Instead it got associated with liberal feminism and girl power, leaning it to be much more friendlier to LGBT people and the godless.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The Girls Scouts always had a feminist streak, though how or if this played out varied wildly. They were never any sort of partner organization to the Boy Scouts. They had an independent streak that the Boy Scout leadership didn’t like. This is where the Campfire Girls come in. They were the Boy Scout approved girly version, emphasizing the feminine virtues in a way the Girl Scouts didn’t. In practice, this sort of thing depends on where you are, and on the specific troop, but as a general trend, Girl Power is and always has been a Girl Scout trait.Report

  5. LeeEsq says:

    Our dad did not let Saul and I join the Cub Scouts because he saw it as a reactionary, militant organization. Considering it was founded to install the values of the British Empire in working and lower middle class British kids, the type that wouldn’t go to the public schools like Eton, he might have had the point. The Scouts are more universal now but American scouting has remained much more political and right-leaning on a whole seemingly than other Scouting organizations in other countries.Report

  6. Aaron David says:

    I think Fillyjonk gets to the point up above. We are no longer that type of society that joins clubs. And couple that with smaller families along with women having entered the workforce, and groups such as the scouts, among others, are taking the hit.

    As a former scout, it does sadden me to think of many of the lost skills, along with the loss in community service, but all things must change. Yes, it was a conservative organization, but it still afforded my very liberal mother to be quite active in it at the council level (though if she had daughters, she would have been active in Girl Scouts instead.)Report

  7. Pinky says:

    Is .01% a high rate for sexual abuse? Not to be that guy, but it seems surprisingly low to me.Report

  8. Richard Hershberger says:

    “(Perhaps the BSA’s recruitment efforts would be less successful if the Girl Scouts did more than sell cookies and learn to sew, but I digress.)”

    A cheap shot, and unfair. Yes, cookies are a thing. Boy Scouts sell popcorn. The difference is that people actually want to buy the cookies. Boy Scouts don’t set up popcorn booths because there would be no point. Both of my girls are in GS. Yes, selling cookies is part of that. No, it is not that big a part of it.

    AS for sewing, they have never done this. The kernel of truth is that the Boy Scouts emphasize activities traditionally considered manly more than do the Girl Scouts, which shouldn’t be all that surprising. If your kid wants to learn to go out into the woods and survive by killing a moose, then the Boy Scouts are likely to be the better choice. I use “likely” advisedly. What Girl Scouts do varies wildly by troop. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if there are some Girl Scout troops that are totally into field dressing moose.

    More to the point, why is it understood as so obviously true that it need not be defended that manly Boy Scout stuff like racing toy cars is inherently superior to learning to sew, or whatever the hell those frills are doing? The underlying assumptions carry a lot of baggage, and not all of it pretty.Report

    • Em Carpenter in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      I didn’t mean any offense. I wrote from experience. That’s what it was when I was a young girl and is the complaint I get hear from the Girl Scouts in my area who have defected to BSA, and from parents of Girl Scouts I know elsewhere.
      There’s not anything inferior about those things, and in fact my sons will learn basic sewing and cooking skills as well. But in my experience girls are less interested in traditional homemaking skills to the exclusion of “fun” stuff. Here’s something I read that partially informed my view:

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to Em Carpenter says:

        Selection bias. Some girls want to go moose hunting. They are the ones most likely to make the jump, and to express their dissatisfaction with the Girl Scouts. Their decision to switch is perfectly rational, and to complain is perfectly human. But this is a self-selected group.

        As for that Bozeman article, if there were no Girl Scout troops offering these activities, this was a failure of the regional council. This is entirely possible. But I think it significant that the reason stated by the “Scoutmaster and mom” of the first all-girl troop is that she wants her girls to get to be Eagle Scouts. I will grant that the Boy Scouts have won the marketing war there.Report

        • Slade the Leveller in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          Yep, I’ll bet 100/100 people can recognize the phrase Eagle Scout. 0/100 would recognize Gold Award, even though they are quite similar.

          My daughter was active in Girl Scouts through the end of high school, and she really only stayed because she enjoyed going to camp. She even became a counselor for a few years in college. I can’t say enough good things about that organization. (Plus, they’re my only supplier for Thin Mints.)Report

          • Richard Hershberger in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

            Before my girls aged in, our neighbor three doors down was our cookie supplier. I called it the stash house.Report

          • Richard Hershberger in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

            As for the organization, there certainly is room for criticism. Their waivers are absurd. You can spot the legal professionals among the parents. They are the ones rolling their eyes as they sign. Bu the criticism are of the sort that any large organization is subject to. I generally am impressed with the regional council.Report

    • Philip H in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      A couple of assumptions to unpack, from a family in both BSA and GSUSA:

      1) Cub Scouts (and many Boy Scouts) do in fact set up popcorn booths. I’ve spent many Saturdays over the last two years at one with my Cub Scout. And at least in Coastal Mississippi the local folks buy popcorn as much as they do cookies. The two sales seasons in our districts and councils don’t overlap, so folks generally aren’t making a choice.

      2) For my Girl Scout daughter, they are doing many of the outdoorsey things BSA is known for. There seems to be much more program autonomy in Girl Scout Troops then Boy Scout Troops or Cub Scout Packs, though the outdoors focus is by no means guaranteed unless the troop leaders take it up.Sadly down our way there are no moose to dress, but I know a number of Cadet Troops that regularly hike and camp the same way their BSA counterparts do.

      3) Our Cub Scout pack has an open class for its Pinewood Derby every year, and older sisters tend to place well in it. With the focus on increased STEM education across the board, some of them are way better at aerodynamics then their cub scout brothers.

      4) also in Mississippi, we have seen girls added to Cub Scout and Boy Scout groups where no extant Girl Scout opportunities exist. Many of our more rural communities just don’t have the infrastructure to support both organizations in even small numbers. It will be interesting to see if this is trend that bears out nationally.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to Philip H says:

        Popcorn booths: Fair enough. I haven’t seen them, but I acknowledge that my experience is not universal, despite my commenting on the internet.

        Autonomy: I don’t have direct experience with the Boy Scouts, so I can’t comment on them. As for the Girl Scouts, there is wide variation in what they do. This variation can be regional, or from troop to troop within a region. One function of the regional level organization is to match kids with troops. If either of my girls took to outdoorsy stuff, I would go to the regional people and see what we could come up with.

        The upshot is that when I see criticisms of the Girls Scouts for always doing A or not doing B, it is a fair bet that this critique derives from gross over-generalization.Report

  9. Slade the Leveller says:

    I’ll take issue with the parental participation thing mentioned in the OP. As a young Cub Scout, I walked over to Mrs. Gitsinger’s house every week on my own, where she led our den. My parents had absolutely no interest in accompanying me, and it probably would have been mortifying to me if they had.

    The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I signed up my kids for many activities, and was happy to drop them off. Today, they are adaptable adults, able to move in and out of situations with ease, and I think that’s a skill they developed by having to deal with strangers as children.Report

    • Em Carpenter in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

      It’s a rule at the cub scout level- these days, anyway- a parent must be present. No drop-offs.
      But beyond that, without parental participation, the pack folds. We have to have den leaders, committee members, and activity volunteers.Report

      • Slade the Leveller in reply to Em Carpenter says:

        The times they are a changing. One parent per kid? Sounds like an opportunity for meddling.

        We had all those positions filled when I was a boy, by those who chose to serve. Usually, I guess, by those who had kids that wanted to participate, but there was no group available. Heck, that’s how my mom ended up leading my sisters’ Camp Fire Girls group.Report

        • Em Carpenter in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

          Yes one adult responsible for the child must be on the premises during den meetings.
          We’ve had a very hard time getting volunteers, but fortunately some of the newer younger cub scouts’ parents are stepping up.Report

          • Richard Hershberger in reply to Em Carpenter says:

            With the girls, I don’t recall there being a rule about this, but I think most parents stuck around meetings, typically chatting in another room if one was available. I’m pretty sure there were mass events that we didn’t stay for.

            Both girls now are older than the Cub Scout equivalent. I’ll drop off if I have errands to run, but if not, for a one hour meeting I will just find a comfortable chair and read a book, which is not entirely unlike what I would do at home.Report

  10. George Turner says:

    I used to go caving with our grotto president, and he also liked leading scouts on cave trips. One time I was in Climax Cave with some friends at 1:00 AM on a weekday, for no particular reason, and a scout troop trundled past, with him at the lead. You meet people in the strangest places. He also worked a lot with Big Brothers and some other organizations. He just loved leading kids on adventures.

    I think he got sent up for three years or so when some of the scouts ratted him out. So while in prison he wrote letters to our grotto’s leadership, saying the kids framed him, and some of them believed him. My usual caving partner had gone downtown and accessed public records on him, and the list of complaints against him was long, detailed, and horrifying. She handed that out at one of the grotto meetings where they were going to vote on letting him back in once he was freed, and boy did that turn ugly. The rift took years to heal, and everyone realized that yes, he was in fact a smooth talking predator who preyed on children, and used outdoor activities like caving (or is that indoor?) to set things up.Report