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A New Day for Scouting

During my years as a Boy Scout, at the close of every troop meeting, all of the Scouts and adult leaders would stand in a circle, arm raised with the three fingers of the Scout salute extended, and recite the Scout Law.

A Scout Is…

TRUSTWORTHY
LOYAL
HELPFUL
FRIENDLY
COURTEOUS
KIND
OBEDIENT
CHEERFUL
THRIFTY
BRAVE
CLEAN
REVERENT

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

I often describe my family as a Scouting family.  Neither my mother or father really cared if we played sports but they damn sure cared that we were in Scouts. Sports were a sideshow for us. Our calendar was built around Scouting. My sister was a Girl Scout for many years and my brother and I both came up through the ranks of the BSA. I am not exaggerating when I say that Scouting was life-changing for me. At a time in my life where I was desperate for male role models, because I only saw my father one day per week, I could attend weekly meetings, go on camping trips, work on service projects and get the mentoring I needed from the fathers of my fellow Scouts who volunteered their time as adult leaders. And even though I didn’t spend as much time with my father as I would have liked to, he was still an important part of my life. He attended some of our volunteer work sessions and one of my proudest weekends was when he joined me on a winter camping trip and I got to show him my wood skills in person.

After discovering dating around the age of 16, I came up a little short by finishing with the rank of Life, but my brother achieved the rank of Eagle. It was a bit hard for my pride to see him accomplishing what I didn’t, but I was also proud. The outdoor stuff was always my forte in Scouting and I remembered trying to mentor him on his first camping trips as a Scout and trying to set him on his own path as an outdoorsman. I also remembered gently hazing him and his friends, in the great Boy Scout tradition, by sending them to other troops to ask for bacon-stretchers at annual camporees. Seeing him 6 years later, a leader himself within the troop, and achieving the highest honor in the organization was a good lesson in hard work for me, taught by his example. In all the years I had with my dad, I only recall seeing him cry three times. Once was when my oldest daughter (his first grandchild) was born. The second when my stepmother died. And the third was when my brother made Eagle Scout. It was a big deal.

I’m also happy to report that the legacy of Scouting continues for my family. Just a few weeks ago my sister’s oldest  boy, who is the closest I will ever have to a son, also made the rank of Eagle. We haven’t attended the ceremony yet, but I am positive that I will shed tears, just like my dad did all those years ago. It’s hard to put into words just how proud I am of that kid.

Today the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would be allowing girls to join their ranks. As a father of two daughters that are now too old to participate, I can’t help but feel a little bit jealous. Nothing I say here is meant to be a slight to the Girl Scouts, however I am delighted that the organization that meant so much to me growing up is now open to girls that are looking for a different experience. My youngest daughter spent several years in the Girl Scouts and it was a great social opportunity for her, but it never had the appeal of other experiences she would later have. Both my daughters spent over a decade of summers at a YMCA camp, plus several annual trips to ‘family camp’ in New Hampshire. They’ve both spent quite a bit of time in the outdoors over the years and have each come to love it in their own way. I think the Boy Scouts might have nourished that interest a bit more. So I look forward to hearing stories about the first girls to enter these programs and what it means to them.

I am also heartened to hear that the programs for boys and girls will be kept somewhat separate. It’s not that I don’t think both sexes can benefit sometimes from interaction, but I also appreciate the ‘focus’ I was able to have without girls there for my Scouting days. In much the same way, I am still immensely grateful for my Catholic high school experience which was in an all-male environment because sometimes those teenage hormones simply needed a break. In time, Scouting will learn when to host co-ed activities and when to keep them separate. Achieving a good balance should not be hard.

No doubt there will be many who will complain about this, including many who never participated in Scouting themselves. They will suggest that liberal feminists have once again subverted an American institution. To that I ask, how do they explain that to their daughters? As I was telling someone today, the older I get and the more I appreciate the opportunities I had, the more I want other people to have them. If opening the programs of the Boy Scouts to girls has the positive effect it had on me, I see no downside to the decision. Yes, as a conservative I believe we must protect our traditions, vigorously at times, but not at the expense of our children.

There was comment making the rounds in 2004 that said, “America is returning to the values that Scouting never left.”  While that was politically motivated and implied things I don’t feel comfortable about today, the sentiment of the Boy Scouts representing certain traditional values does ring true for me.  So today I am proud to be a Scout and happy that Scouting is sharing our values with more people.


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Mike Dwyer is a writer in Louisville, KY. He writes about culture and the outdoors for Ordinary Times. He is also one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky. Mike is active on Facebook and Instagram. He lives with his wife and daughters in the distant suburbs, at the place where neighborhoods give way to farms and forest.

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50 thoughts on “A New Day for Scouting

  1. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides have always had a number of joint activities right? The biggest one is the jamboree. In Singapore, it is not unusual for Scouts and guides from the same school or from sibling schools to conduct activities together.r

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    • The US has historically been more gender-segregated scouting-wise than a lot of other countries and there’s a lot of politics between BSA and Girl Scouts now. (including around this) They’re separate orgs and while they do some things in common it’s not quite like other countries.

      In Canada it’s been Scouts Canada since 2007 – and completely co-ed since 1998 –
      when they went co-ed I remember being really envious, since I quit Girl Guides around 13 when it became way more social and sedentary and way less outdoors stuff. Would have loved to switch to boy scouts (had more Scout than Guide friends anyway), wasn’t allowed, ended up joining 4-H for a couple years and then finding the same sense of adventure in my concert-band cohort instead.

      (Canada has Girl Guides rather than Girl Scouts, btw, and they are separate but not antagonistic.)

      Not to get all into the detail weeds here, but just saying- every country is quite different in its approach & especially in its history.

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        • There is an international org but the different countries are independent, the international thing is more consensus than ruling body.

          Also guides and scouts haven’t merged – in Canada both still exist, it’s just that scouts went 100 percent co-ed without antagonism from guides…

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      • since I quit Girl Guides around 13 when it became way more social and sedentary and way less outdoors stuff.

        I was briefly in cub scouts, so this was definitely before I was 13, but at the time I noticed that girl scouts (or campfire girls?….whatever is the age that corresponds to cub scouts) tended to do a lot more outdoorsy stuff than my troop (den? I forget). That probably reflects the peculiarities of my situation and perhaps things change in the adolescent years. But this is kind of a paradoxically contrary experience to yours.

        On a personal note, I don’t have fond memories of cub scouts. It seemed sterile and preachy in a way that even a rules-follower like me didn’t quite like. That whole car racing thing we were supposed to do, where you get a chunk of wood and have to turn it in to a small car that races at one of their meetings, was a disappointment because I didn’t know how to do it and was too afraid/ashamed to ask my father to help. And I was turned off by the ceremonial, [and what I interpreted as] quasi-Native American aspects of scouting, like some ceremony that cub scouts did before passing into the Webelos rank.

        I’ll admit that most of that boils down to scouting just not being my thing or to circumstances for which the scouting organization didn’t have any control over. Obviously, if it works for others, then that’s a good thing, and it’s also good to expand the opportunities for girls as well as boys.

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        • I was a scout (made it to Star rank), and through talking with other adults who were scouts, it’s pretty clear that troop leadership mattered deeply with regards to the experiences boys had in scouts. When our troop leader left, the new leader was a sheriff deputy, and while he wasn’t bad, he seriously changed the tone of the troop, enough so that I left.

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          • Very much this. I have read innumerable comments that amount to “This was my experience with Scouting. I assume my experience is universal.”

            If a parent or kid wants a specific sort of experience out of Scouting, such as lots of camping in the woods, then ask around. There is a hierarchy. Talk to someone on the regional level and discuss what troop would be a good fit.

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          • I take full responsibility for not making Eagle, but a change in our troop leadership also hurt me. We went from being very organized and active to meetings where nothing was planed and no one was making sure we were progressing. My brother only made Eagle by personal willpower and mostly working on his own.

            So yes, i would agree that the leadership has a lot to do with it.

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              • I know I dropped out of Scouts when leadership changed over. The new leadership had…no idea what to do. Our meetings literally went nowhere, there was no direction, no help, no focus.

                Which would have been find if I’d been a 16 or 17, but was instead like…14? 13? Something like that.

                For all I know there was a ton of work being aimed at the two going for Eagle Scout at the time, but the rest of us were just an afterthought. The whole troop sorta collapsed over the next year, and it ended up being rebuilt out of the better led cub scouts moving up a few years later.

                (I really hope all that made sense. Those are 25ish year old memories of Scouting, which I was not really involved in much after. My son tried it for a year, but decided it really wasn’t for him. And even that was 10 years ago…)

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          • Like your father, I certainly see some of the authoritarian aspects, and perhaps also the militaristic aspects, too. I have no idea what I’d do if I had children, but I probably wouldn’t actively encourage them to join scouts. However, I probably wouldn’t discourage it if that’s what they wanted.

            I don’t want to give the impression that I was just a free spirit like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, who couldn’t and wouldn’t be limited by the authoritarianism around me. There were and are other ways I expressed or lived my inner authoritarian. PD Shaw mentions below some Scouts-ish organizations that some fundamentalist churches sponsored. I was briefly involved in one as a child (it was an evangelical and not fundamentalist church, but probably what he was getting at). I say “Scouts-ish” in the sense that they were youth organizations with uniforms and credos. They weren’t at all, to my recollection, focused on practical skills or things like camping or even service.

            I strongly suspect I’m not unique. Not that everyone was involved in an evangelical youth organization. Rather, I suspect most people, even those ostensibly opposed to authoritarianism and militarism, accept those as necessary when they seem to protect or enable something those people value and believe is worth the price. The people might regret that it’s necessary, but they’ll embrace it.

            In other words, I’m going to temper my criticism of the scouts as authoritarian. Even though the organization seems at first glance (to me, as mostly an outsider) to fit the bill, it also seems to inculcate limiting principles and positive values that, who knows, might one day help counteract authoritarianism.

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    • Jaybird, you’re being a grinch.

      Real story: neighbor’s little girl came over “mr damon, would……ah…I’m selling….ah…would you like to buy some cookies? (this sentence took about a minute. Mom was standing a bit back, letting her do her thing. The girl was in her uniform. Looked to be like 6.)

      My response: “Cookies? Cookies?!! Cookies!!!!! YES I want to buy some cookies!” Worth every penny dude.

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    • Why you picking on the little girls? About a month ago some Boy Scouts (or Cub, I’m not sure) had a table set up at a truck stop in Jackson, MS selling popcorn and such. I picked up a bag of trail mix, not sure how many ounces but about the size of a medium bag of chips.

      Twenty bucks. Sorta pricey to say the least, but I already had it in hand and didn’t want to look like a heel. After all, it’s “for the children” amirite?

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  2. They will suggest that liberal feminists have once again subverted an American institution.

    Are people really saying this? Because that is a pretty spectacular misreading of what is going on. There is a term for a liberal feminist who is into Scouting. That term is “Girl Scout.” This has been true since the Girl Scouts were founded. The Campfire Girls were the group more into the proper womanly arts. The Girl Scouts often pushed activities disconcertingly similar to the Boy Scouts. How this plays out on the local level varies wildly, but this was the historical pattern.

    This current kerfluffle has nothing to do with liberal feminism. It is about the Boy Scouts seeing their numbers declining (as are the Girl Scouts’) and looking to expand their recruitment pool. It is a turf fight pure and simple.

    There also is an interesting, and decidedly unprogressive, undercurrent to this. It being a simple turf fight, why can’t the Girl Scouts simply respond by opening up to boys? Even assuming they wanted to, this is a non-starter. It is far more culturally acceptable for a girl to do traditionally boy things than for a boy to do traditionally girl things. It is far more likely for a girl, or her parents, to be open to joining a Boy Scout troop than a boy, or his parents, and a Girl Scout troop.

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    • I found out about this yesterday because I received a very angry email from someone claiming that the Left had just destroyed the Boy Scouts. There have been women’s rights groups that pushed for this, but as I told him, if the BSA’s leadership really caved, instead of making a well-thought-out decision…then do you really want to be a part of them anyway?

      I do also feel bad for the GSA. They believe in their mission and that providing a safe place for girls to be girls is important. They just haven’t progressed enough at getting away from the Suzy Homemaker stuff IMO.

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      • The regional GS office released some sort of statement that suggests research shows girls learn better and develop leadership skills better in an all-girl environment.

        My daughter was in GS for a couple of years, but quit because some other activities intruded on the night they met, probably soccer. Most meetings were arts and crafts stuff that was probably less compelling to her than it would have been when and where I grew up where most kids did not attend day-care or after-school programs.

        ADDENDUM: She would never have joined something called Boy Scouts; and almost certainly would not have joined a coed troop.

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      • there are more active Boy Scouts than Girl Scouts in the United States by a factor of about 900,000

        Doesn’t “factor” imply multiplication?

        In any case, both groups are seeing roughly the same size (as a %) declines in membership over the last 20 years or so.

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    • Richard Hershberger: The Campfire Girls were the group more into the proper womanly arts. The Girl Scouts often pushed activities disconcertingly similar to the Boy Scouts.

      OTOH, Campfire has been co-ed since the mid seventies. I was a campfire kid in elementary school (though at least in my troop it was all arts and crafts rather than rugged outdoor adventuring, IIRC)

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    • On a purely anecdotal level, you see a lot of girl scout troops in San Francisco (usually selling girl scout cookies at tables) and very few boy scout troops. A friend who grew up in South Bay made it to Eagle Scouts though.

      I suspect the political angle is all on the Boy Scouts. They have proven themselves to be a socially conservative organization since the 1990s and this has caused liberal-leaning parents to be wary of letting their boys join. Despite the selling cookie thing, Girl Scouts have become more progressive as an organization and have an empowerment angle. But as you note, that is as old as the organization.

      I wonder if there is a red-blue divide in parents who send their kids on Outward Bound.

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      • It could also tie in to how money is raised by different troops- Girl Scout cookies are pretty ubiquitous and well known, and therefore easy to sell from a table in public. There is no corresponding “Boy Scout jerky” or “Boy Scout Cupcakes”.

        My experience as a scout (from the 90’s) was that my troop generally raised money by raking lawns and other cleanup type projects, and occasionally things like poinsettia sales.

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        • Around here my nephew’s troop sells Blue & Gold sausage, bacon (mmm bacon) and chicken strips

          Others also sell gourmet popcorn

          I made it through Brownies and a year or two of Girl Scouts my troop did not do outdoors stuff no camping so I quit :)

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        • We sold pumpkins, painted fire hydrants, door-to-door flyers, etc to raise money. My troop, which was solidly blue collar, raised enough money to go to Florida for 2 weeks one summer. Camping next to the beach, touring Spanish forts, sleeping on a friggin’ battleship…that was worth every bit of sweat.

          Now they do Christmas tree sales, popcorn and we donated an old PC to a troop last weekend that would transport it to a recycling facility for a reasonable donation.

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      • The fundamentalist churches all have their own alternative to boy scouts, and I think the decline in scouting is related to the decline of the working class. A line has been drawn through society in which civic and political engagement is above the line, and families above the line have a lot of competing alternatives for time and attention:

        Whether we measure parents reading Good Night Moon, or children attending church, taking part in scouting or Little League, playing high school football or soccer, participating in the school orchestra or other extracurricular activities, socializing with peers, or trusting other people, the differences between kids from upper/middle class backgrounds those from lower or working class backgrounds are steadily increasing.

        Growing Class Gaps in Social Connectedness among American Youth (PDF)

        The political angle is that civicly-engaged youth will become habitual voters.

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          • Respectfully, when you were a kid did you know many people who weren’t middle class or upper-middle class? I think that might be skewing your view. I was a poor kid (granted one with educated parents) and most of the brownies, scouts, etc. that I knew were scraping together the $$ for participation, buying used (or inheriting hand-me-down) uniforms, etc.

            I think it’s important to remember that as orgs go, the boy scouts are very patchy and there’s really probably a good dozen reasons why this decision was made. Territory grab, feminist pressure (NOW is one of the orgs who were calling on them to change), and what they claim is the main reason: their analyses show that the populations they are underserving (eg non-white ethnicities) prefer activities the whole family can do together.

            They can all be true, we don’t have to pick one.

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          • My troop were the children of welders, postal clerks, GE factory workers, etc. The more ‘affluent’ kids had dads that were plumbers or cops.

            I will also say that I always wonder about the ‘popularity’ angle. Lots of kids join Cub Scouts. A lot fewer join the Boy Scouts. And even fewer stick with it. I was somewhere in the middle of the social hierarchy during my time in Scouts so I kept my involvement fairly low-key when I was at school. I mean, people knew I was a Boy Scout but I didn’t talk about it much because I didn’t need the social stigma and there definitely was one. I never understood it though. All these cool, jock kids would talk about playing football over the weekend and I was thinking, “I did a 10 mile hike and got to cook over a fire and sleep in a tent. You guys need to re-prioritize.”

            I often think that the guys I know now that would have loved Scouts the most are the ones that thought it was dumb back then. Now they love the outdoors and are essentially living the Scouting life. Funny how that stuff changes…

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            • That’s the way it was with my troop, too. Mostly working class, a few exceptions. But that was my town.

              And yeah, the whole camping thing is something that a different class of people enjoy. It’s odd how class markers can invade camping, which you would think would focus on practicality.

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  3. Starting in the 2018 program year, families can choose to sign up their sons and daughters for Cub Scouts. Existing packs may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack. Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls. Using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts program, the organization will also deliver a program for older girls, which will be announced in 2018 and projected to be available in 2019, that will enable them to earn the Eagle Scout rank. This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today’s families.

    There does seem that there will still be some gender segregation, especially if the local councils/packs/troops want it.

    “Deliver a Program” sounds to me like they intend on setting up an entirely seperate structure for scouting-age girls. (like, otherwise, the simple answer would be, right now, girls can join existing troops and meet the requirements to advance through the ranks to Eagle – none of those requirements have ever had an essential gender component)

    (and BSA still isn’t letting atheists in, as far as I can tell)

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    • It really depends on the troop (as was noted above). In my troop, we had several atheists who were loud and proud about it. Our Scoutmaster made the point that you had to be respectful of differing religions, but had no problem with atheists.

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    • “The atheist-signal! Quick, None-Boy! To the Atheist-Mobile!”

      Was wondering if someone would mention this. To my mind it’s both strong evidence for the Left not having taken over scouting and a partial explanation for shrinking numbers, since thus generation is turning out even less religious than we had hoped thought.

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  4. I have fond memories of rainy weekend camping, squatting by the fire and listening to the water drip off a plastic tarp.

    I welcome this change. I have been co-teaching a kids martial arts class for years, and I think that managing a camping/hiking activity with that age group is in some ways easier than managing an activity where touching one another is part of the deal. Though we don’t have them for the length of time that a hike or weekend camping trip would entail. I’m imagining that that sort of thing is where things maybe get a bit more gender segregated.

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  5. I’m waiting to see if vast numbers of noisy people who have no reason even to have an opinion will fill up the internet and the cable talk shows with overheated blather about this.

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  6. I’ll be curious to see if/how the BSA programming and culture evolve. Inviting people into a community who were previously excluded — formally or informally — is generally speaking a good thing to do. But then attention needs to be paid to their experiences within that community.

    I ask these questions genuinely as I didn’t last in Scouts past age 7 or so, but are there aspects of the BSA programming and/or culture that many girls may find off-putting, hostile, or otherwise unwelcoming? Hell, are there aspects that some boys may find off-putting, hostile or otherwise unwelcoming? In what ways will the BSA change to accommodate for its new members and in what ways will they ask new members to adapt to the existing culture? There isn’t a right answer to these questions but I’ll be curious to see what comes to be.

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  7. Mike,

    Thanks for this thoughtful and timely piece. I also made Life, but not Eagle (one of my enduring regrets). Boy Scouts had a major and positive impact on the person I became. I know that a person’s experience with Scouting is very troop dependent. When I first heard the announcement, I was a little worried, because I think there is some benefit to having spaces for boys and girls to have experiences without having the opposite sex around, so I appreciate your thoughtful essay on this announcement.

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  8. I also made Life. Technically, I qualified as Eagle, but I declined to complete my review board. There was a bit of a scandal in our troop with “factory” Eagle projects and fast-tracking kids and I disliked the politics involved. Turned me off Scouting (Boy) for life, really. I’m still a fan of the Girl Scouts, though.

    My thoughts, in no particular order

    1) There are no scouting skills or qualities which require a particular set of genitalia.
    2) The Girl Scouts are far more laid back and integrated, and less God-bothery as well
    3) I see no real up-side to this

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  9. Pingback: The Opening of the Boy Scouts | Ordinary Times

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