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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.


Staff Writer
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Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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26 thoughts on “The Opening of the Boy Scouts

  1. I really have’t been paying much attention to this subject because, frankly, I don’t care. I don’t have kids and the only exposure I’ve had was girl scout cookies and being a cub scout, oh about 40 years ago. (Before that I was, apparently a YMCA Indian Guide. I’m sure it would be considered racist now.) But it was fun, as I recall.

    However, while I expect that there will be quite a few girls wanting to sign up for the boy scouts, how many boys are going to want to be girl scouts? So, the girls, will come out ahead, regardless-they can join both and the boys are only likely to join the boy scouts. Other than the occasional trans boy, does anyone really thing boys will be selling cookies?

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    • I was in Girl Scouts, but I was also in what would now undoubtedly be called racist&sexist ‘Indian Princesses’. Despite the awful name and embarrassingly stereotyped Native American dresses, it had one great advantage over Girl Scouts: It was set up to be a father-daughter club.

      In an era when most dads had paying jobs and most moms stayed home with the kids, it gave me a chance to do cool things with my dad, who worked long hours outside the home. (Outside of that club, my primary memory of him from kindergarten through 3rd or 4th grade is ‘guy asleep on the couch’).

      My daughter did Girl Scouts and went to Girl Scout camp which is much different than the one I had gone to – she did rocking climbing and whitewater rafting for one of the programs. However, while I have a full time paying job, so Girl Scouts was good mother-daughter time, I think it would have been nice to have something that was explicitly father-daughter too. Maybe girls joining Boy Scouts can provide that.

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  2. 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 the father of two not-quite-so-young girls, I find this absolutely adorable! Unless you are planning on home schooling them on your armed compound, they will be exposed to all sorts of things without you or your wife having a say in the matter. I held out against the Barbie-industrial complex for as long as I could, but finally succumbed to the inevitable, at which point my older one went into a Barbie craze to relieve the long-suppressed pressure. You can poke and prod in the direction you want, but unless you keep the kids locked up in a box they will see what is around them and will have thoughts on the subject. The good news is that they will pick up a lot from you. The bad news is that this will include the bits you were hoping they wouldn’t.

    As for scouting, people who like Boy Scouts tend to talk a lot about the woodsy stuff. If your girls like that kind of thing, and that is a total crap shoot, my suggestion would be to have a talk with someone on the council (i.e. the regional) level about finding a troop that meets their needs. They really do vary wildly.

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    • Interesting… I didn’t read that statement as an attempt to control their exposure. But rather conversations about what they, as the parents, plan to expose them to.

      I’m likely in a similar boat to our author here, albeit with boys instead of girls. Boy the Elder is 4.5 and Boy the Younger is 2.5. I make conscious choices about what I expose them to while recognizing I am but one of many influencing forces.

      Right now, Star Wars and Super Heroes have become strong interests among The Elder. Only… he’s never consumed any actual Star Wars or Super Heroes media directly. But cultural osmosis is strong. So he picks out shirts with “The Black Guy” on them and then asks me if he is good or bad when donning his “so cool Star Wars” shirt for the umpteenth time.

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      • I didn’t read that statement as an attempt to control their exposure. But rather conversations about what they, as the parents, plan to expose them to.

        Sure, but they will go their own way and be interested in what they are interested in, regardless of what Mom and Dad expose them to. My older kid is a reader. I encourage her to try some of the better books that are appropriate for her age and reading ability (which is excellent). Sometimes this works, if I can get her interested enough to try the book. More often it doesn’t.

        This isn’t because I am pushing stodgy literature designed to improve her character. She has so far been uninterested in Harry Potter, for example. If this were twenty years ago I am confident that she would be one of those kids lining up at the bookstore at midnight for the next release. But Harry Potter’s cultural moment has passed. It has receded to the background of the general culture. She is aware of it and has a general sense of what the books are about, but there is no cultural imperative to read them. I expect she will eventually.

        So when I see talk of what parents will and won’t expose their kids to, I giggle. Sports? You can expose your kid to jai alai and cricket, if you want. And who knows? Maybe jai alai will totally click and junior will be a lifelong addict. But chances are the kid will want to play soccer and basketball.

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        • I think your point strays a bit by using products to buy children as an example, but I think your point is strong in terms of what social organizations kids ultimately engage in. Unless parents are strategically choosing which children their kids play with, their social influences are going to be more lateral than hierarchical.

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    • “As for scouting, people who like Boy Scouts tend to talk a lot about the woodsy stuff.”

      This is true. I’ve never heard a Scout reminisce fondly about their time working on their Citizenship in the Community merit badge. However, some kids aren’t super-hype about the outdoor stuff and tolerate it because they like the social stuff. It’s a mixed bag. My troop spent a LOT of time outdoors, so much that many of us didn’t make Eagle because we just wanted to do all the fun outdoor badges instead of the required ones.

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    • Interestingly this brings up some of my own hesitance and ambivalence about becoming a parent.

      I’m at the age where I know a lot of people with one or more kids. Many of these kids are very young but some are in the late elementary school/middle school range (with a few high school students). So I inadvertently spend a lot of time hanging out with people and their very young kids because parents of young kids generally need to bring them along or entertain in their houses.

      There are times when I think this is very nice and I think being a parent could be a good and worthwhile thing to do. But there are times when it seems overwhelming and I am not sure I am up to the task.

      From what I gather from my parent, I was not a typical boy. I liked to play videogames of course but I was also pretty good at being still and I was never into sports that much (shocker shocker). Eventually I became an arts kid.

      Interestingly, it is boys who make me think I am not up for the task of parenting more than girls. Every now and then I am exposed to some rather rambunctious boys who want to do nothing more than run around with what seems like endless energy. I don’t know how I would be as a parent to a sports-mad boy.

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      • Hopefully you would love and support that child and find means to connect with him in meaningful ways, sometimes around his interests and sometimes around your own. Just as we’d hope the sports-mad dads do with their artsy sons.

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  3. I think one reason that breaking down these walls within the Boy Scouts was necessary and important was because there was such differences between the Boys and Girl Scouts. At the risk of leaning on some ugly historical language, “separate but equitable” may sometimes be warranted with regard to heterogenous sex groupings. But what we too often have is “separate and unequal and inequitable”

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  4. It is the Girl Scouts that opposed this and if their concerns bear out, you won’t have meaningful choices as this will hasten the decline of the GSA. I’m not sure how many girls would prefer the boy scout program over the other, but girls also tend to prefer socializing with each other rather than with boys. But the lost density of Girl Scouts troops from 10% to 20% switching to the BSA may be enough to end GSA as a national organization. Time will tell.

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    • You don’t think some of the Boy Scouts might want to bail if girls join?

      Whatever reasons BSA claimed, I believe this move was more about dwindling numbers than anything else. They’ve really been losing numbers of the last decade or so. (Girl Scouts have seem the same fall over the same period).

      Losing 10 to 20% would do pretty much the exact same to the Boy Scouts as the Girl Scouts. And I have no idea if they’d have enough Girl Scouts coming over to make up the losses.

      And, although very anecdotal and limited, my experience with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts (and I suspect Girl Scouts are any different) — it was usually a small handful of dedicated people that held a pack or troop together — not that everyone didn’t work, but there was generally a very few really dedicated people that really kept things focused and going. God help whatever pack or troop loses one or two of them.

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      • it was usually a small handful of dedicated people that held a pack or troop together — not that everyone didn’t work, but there was generally a very few really dedicated people that really kept things focused and going.

        This describes every group in existence that doesn’t simply pay people to run things, and many that do. There is a core group that leads the group year after year. There is a much larger middle group that is willing to show up and pitch in, but not to do all the organizing around the actual event. Then there is an outer group that merely shows up. This is true whether we are talking Scouting or a chess club. The trick is to recruit people into the inner group faster than the current members burn out. Fail, and the group is doomed.

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      • There is something relatively comparable in the 1960s when a lot of formally single-sex institutions decided to go co-ed. The formally male institutions that went co-educational attracted a lot more women than the female institutions that went co-educational. My undergrad decided to go co-ed instead of merging with Yale (their brother school). My undergrad is still largely female by 60-65 percent of each class. It takes a very self-selecting type of student to go to a SLAC anyway. I think this is especially true for guys who pursue a formerly all female school that went co-ed. We aren’t exactly looking for the frat scene and went directly against a Greek oriented campus.

        The schools that managed to stay all female either did so because they were elite and/or were willing to have a really small student body like Mills College in Oakland.

        Now the big difference is that the Girl Scouts is a lot more progressive an organization than the Boys Scouts so you might see more liberally minded parents send their boys to the Girl Scouts if that organization went co-ed.

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      • People within scouting that were talking up these changes are by and large talking about incorporating families into one organization. Like this girl, who followed her brothers and became an unofficial member of the local troop. The local BSA council executive pitched the change by explaining how great it would be when his granddaughter could join the same troop as her brothers. From a cynical parent p.o.v., this sounds like the convenience of the single drop-off, but it is far more likely that in each troop, the “small handful of dedicated people” are going to be the ones who introduce girls to the troop, so it won’t be outsiders. But I do think that if the direction is for Boy Scouts to be composed of family units, it is a different type of organization.

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  5. Roland,

    I’ll just piggyback on all the comments here and points in your OP. It really all just depends on the troop. It’s another area where you just have to do your homework. My troop was very focused on outdoors stuff. Our neighboring troop was more focused on merit badges and rank advancement. Some do a good job at both. And if your leadership changes, you shouldn’t be afraid to jump ship. Those (roughly) 6 years of Boy Scouts go by quick. My nephew, who I mentioned in my post, got Eagle 2 weeks before he turned 18. It was right down to the wire.

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  6. Some interesting thoughts and comments here, this being a topic I have thought a bit about. I was a scout, life scout being where I ended up. And I have fond memories of that time, which ended, frankly, when we really got into hanging out with girls and love interests. Given that issue and that this might not be what boys and girls at that age need, I overall think this is a good idea, for the parents at least. Because lets be honest, do the girls out there who are not joining GSA really want to be in the BSA? Or do their parents really want them to be in it?

    But makes the point above that this is a rearguard action by two organizations that are already facing difficulties with membership. BSA is often associated with a church on the local level, such as Mormons and that helps build the membership. But, it is a community, and a community effort is what is required to both make it and make it enjoyable. When the requirements of being a member of BSA stray too far from the community that supports it, then we see the negitive consequences a child, either sex, being a member.

    As I said, I was a scout. But my son, 22yo now, was never one. He was never interested and it was not part of our community when he was growing up.

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    • There are plenty of girls who want to be in BSA and have said so, and plenty of people who weren’t allowed in BSA because they were girls, but wanted to be, who have said so. You can deny all those people’s agency and suspect that it’s just their parents talking if you want, but then you should acknowledge you’re going against people’s self-reports.

      I’m somewhat of a special case as the only reason I identified as a girl at that age is that whenever I tried to tell people when slightly younger that I was “both”, I got shut down hard, so I gave up. But I definitely would have preferred Boy Scouts to Girl Guides (Canadian equivalent) and even made some inquiries, which were brushed off.

      Nowadays Canada has both Scouts (of all genders) and Girl Guides, and both orgs are thriving. Many other countries are the same way.

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      • The idea that there exist things kids don’t want and that this is all about the parents shows a fundamental misunderstanding of children and a real failure of imagination on behalf of the adults making this charge.

        The 4- and 5-year-olds at my school (my son among them) have gotten into Google image searching for very specific things. “I want a dragon fighting a bear where the bear is behind the dragon. And they’re in space.” Their ability to want things to be is simply unlimited. I mean, when you can have repeated searches using real English words and phrases that don’t turn up any actual hits on Google, the sky isn’t the limit… it’s the floor.

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      • Don’t get me wrong I have absolutely no problem with an integrated BSA. I simply feel that without a great amount of evidence showing me I am wrong, that most of the girls who say they would be interested in this are following the desires of there parents. And there is nothing wrong with that. Parental guidance is one of the strongest ways to establish a moral compass.

        Unless you can think of some better way, the surest way I can think of to learn how many girls truly want this would be to check enrollment/retention numbers after a change is made. Poking around online tells me that the main age of GSA is about 5 to 11yo, with boy scouts generally starting around 11yo. And while that doesn’t cover all activity (I was surprised at the number of adult girl scouts, around 800K) it would be a good aging in time between the two, so that might make a change in direction for many girls easier.

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        • The difference in enrollment vs. retention between GSA and girls in the BSA and boys in the BSA would be interesting, but I don’t think it would say much about whether the girls wanted to be there or not. It’s entirely possible they wanted, for eg, the programs, and then bailed out because they end up getting a lot of pushback from boys that makes them feel unwelcome. or conversely that they *didn’t* want to join for their own reasons and then once they got there they found that they really liked the BSA.

          In other words, I don’t see how your indicator points to your desired information in anything like a precise way.

          There’s actually *not* a way to evaluate the difference between self-reported own choices and self-reported parentally-guided choices except by lengthy qualitative research (interviews, analysis of behavior, etc.) and even then you’re in the somewhat subjective realm…

          But that’s not surprising since it’s dang hard, psychologically speaking to distinguish between a child’s desires and what they believe their parents desire anyway, unless those two things are orthogonal (NOT opposite) to each other.

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              • Sorry to snap at you, that was unfair. It’s just that, working at a college, the holy grail of enrollment/retention and the vast amount of competing claims that people pin on that particular set of numbers without digging deeper for any kind of actual proof that their hypothesis is meaningful and not some nearly opposite one (often due to discounting less quantitative forms of understanding problems) … it’s a bit of a sore point for me.

                Not actually as big a deal in this case as my level of crankiness would imply.

                But I would argue that changes in enrollment/retention would indicate a question needing to be posed and research that could be fruitfully done, rather than evidence *for* anything.

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