Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Note on Scouting

With mixed feelings I have been following newspaper reports of the court case between the City of Philadelphia and the Boy Scouts. I deplore the discrimination that the national organization lists in the membership requirements. Like the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," I think it will eventually be changed, probably sooner rather than later.

On the other hand I am an adult volunteer with both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. As a child I was a scout very briefly, as was my husband. While it could be said that my involvement would benefit my household that was not the impetus for it. A few years ago an incident at my children's school alarmed me. I brought this up at a public meeting and was told that this was "a matter for churches and schools." This was not the response I wanted to hear but I thought about it a lot. If this was true, what role could I play?

Thus I became a Boy Scout merit badge counselor. A scout cannot earn a merit badge until a certified badge counselor has signed off on it. I have worked with scouts individually and in groups. One summer another adult and I led a badge class for 12 weeks. Each of us took a badge, got certified, and we alternated weeks leading a group of scouts. There are badges across a wide spectrum of interests. (Trivia -- Eagle Scout Steven Spielburg helped the scouts develop the criteria for the cinematography badge. More trivia -- Michael Moore is also an Eagle Scout. See a full list of notable Eagles here.)

In addition I've sat in on the boards of review for boys at various levels of scouting. Scouts are on a "trail to Eagle," though only about 5% of those who join scouts reach that rank, and have to fulfill set requirements for advancement. The final step of each rank advancement is a board of review where a scout faces a panel of adults and answers questions about their work so far. Being able to articulate their accomplishments, plans, and thoughts is a skills that will transfer to many other aspects of life. Boys often drop out around age 14, when other interests become distracting. But some of the better aspects of scouting -- self-sufficiency, outdoor skills, teamwork, leadership opportunities, and badge work can stay with them. Each badge requires the scout to interact with someone associated with the topic and, again, the ability to interact with people from various walks of life, not to mention the ability to explore topics of interest, is also valuable.

Girl Scouts works a little differently, with different organizations at various ages. There are daisies, brownies, junior girl scouts, cadettes, and senior girl scouts. In lieu of an Eagle rank, girls can earn the bronze, silver, and gold awards at different levels of scouting. I've worked with girls on badges, in groups or individually, organized field trips, and so on. Working on goals in a girls-only setting, as well as working on badges alone, lets girls achieve a sense of accomplishment and worth that has nothing to do with the approval of boys or men. Our culture and media push girls into sexualized roles at a young age these days and providing them with alternate pathways to success is imperative.

I am not vain enough to think that my involvement has had a dramatic impact on any one of the kids I have worked with, but I know that some of them would not have met one or more of their personal goals if I and other adults had not volunteered our time and attention. If a community activist or small group of parents or other concerned adults want to change the culture of a neighborhood they could do worse than starting a scout troop. Providing a safe place to learn and explore a variety of interests, especially when there may not be a lot of alternative venues for this, can be a real boon.

So while there are problems with scouting, and the discriminating policy of boys scouts in particular, I will continue to work within those organizations and with the young men and women who belong to them.


Anonymous said...

Jane -- I thought this was a really thoughtful post. I still hold to the idea that a private organization operating counter to the laws of its physical jurisdiction should not be housed in a building owned by that jurisdiction, but there's no doubt that what scouting is about is mostly unrelated to sexual orientation. And that Michael Moore was (is? do you ever cease being one?) an Eagle Scout is a revelation.

AboveAvgJane said...

Thank you for your comment.

Scout membership is transitory, applicable only as long as the young man (or his family) are paying dues, etc. However, achieving Eagle is a permanent accomplishment similar to graduating from high school. A man can be a former scout but once an Eagle always an Eagle.

Like you I was surprised at Moore being an Eagle Scout, Spielberg too. The astronauts and congressmen made more sense.

I do wish the scouts would change the restriction on gays. But, you know, I've read through the Boy Scout Handbook several times and there is nothing in there about excluding gays. Not a word.