I have opinions on the latest scouting news

12 Oct

In case you hadn’t heard the news, on Wednesday, “the international Day of the Girl’, the Boy Scouts of America announced that they’d be making a change to allow girls to enroll in the program, starting with Cub Scouting, and eventually allow girls to earn the Eagle Scout award.

Based on the information provided, the units involving girls will be single-gender at the den level in the Cub pack, at least to start (I wonder if this has to do with requirements of the BSA’s Youth Protection program?), but for a lot of folks looking for the textbook “Scouting” experience (Girl Scouts is a great program in a lot of ways, but the goals are a bit different) for their daughters, this is, at this point, good news.

I’m sure those who know me are not surprised that one, I have opinions on this. I am, after all, an Eagle Scout, merit badge counselor, and several-times-over Assistant Scoutmaster. I am also a big supporter of Scouts For Equality, and have been more than a little frustrated with the national BSA’s regressive policies over the last couple of decades (it’s very different, and much more political, than what it was like when I was a Scout), and have struggled with my involvement, at both the local (depending on the unit – they vary widely) and national level.

The organization is crawling into modernity, finally allowing LGBT youth involvement in the program, though, like SFE, I continue to struggle with the overtly Christian/Theist interpretation* of “A Scout is Reverent/Duty to God” in place (GSA really does this better), and the continued bans on LGBT Adult volunteers.

In spite of the GSA being a little upset with the decision**, I think it’s a good call overall, though I wonder how it’s going to fall out within BSA and the International WOSM organization.

My feeling is that we’re not too far off from a schism in the US organization. the BSA’s released information indicates that it’s up to the units as to whether they go co-ed; I expect the more conservative elements who are already kind of segregating themselves off on their own anyway, will resist making the changes, and double-down on what they’ve been doing, and the more progressive, welcoming troops (relatively easily identified these days) will develop more ties with the international Scouting organizations, which tend to be co-ed these days anyway, and have been for a long time. Ten years from now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the current BSA to become two different organizations, with the conservative factions splitting off to do their own thing, and the co-ed groups remaining affiliated with WOSM; that’s my hope anyway, but who knows, really. It’s probably going to get potentially ugly before that happens.

Anyway, I applaud this move in theory – we’ll see how it works out in practice.

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*- while the units I was involved with as a Scout – and I was with several over my tenure- weren’t overtly religious or particularly political (though pretty progressive generally – one of our assistant scoutmasters was a gay single dad, and nobody batted an eye, in the late 80s!), my modern experience as an adult volunteer has been different; I’ve sat through overtly Christian holiday programs that would make the theoretical Mohammed the Weblo Scout and his family feel terribly unwelcome, and have been advised while sitting on Eagle Review boards -an activity I quite like generally – that word from national is that there’s only one make-or-break element on an Eagle board, and it’s the God thing – if a kid even hints at being non-theist it’s a no-go, full-stop. That, unsurprisingly, made me *very* uncomfortable.

** – Girl Scouts does a lot of things really well; better than BSA in pretty much all ways socially, and their program is valuable and provides a great foundation for developing girls’ independence and ambition (in certain focused areas, particularly business***, but they’re getting pretty good with STEM as I understand it), it doesn’t do the traditional “outdoor” stuff well at all – in fact, the stringent adult volunteer training requirements make it *very hard* for a unit to organize even a simple overnight without hours and hours of GSA-sponsored training involved, so most groups, unless they’re very motivated, don’t go there.

*** – After being associated with the GSA for several years as the spouse of an adult volunteer (who was once even cookie mom, which meant hundreds of boxes of cookies stacked in my living room for weeks once upon a time), they’re definitely focused on one particular image of womanhood, very closely resembling the hard-charging entrepreneurial working girl/CEO, to the point that it sometimes feels like Girl Scouting, at least at the upper ranks, with the focus on that sort of thing (there are numerous merit-badge equivalents that directly apply to cookie sales – at least as many as the outdoor stuff), that it sometimes feels like a saleswomanship training program at best, cheap labor**** for the cookie business masquerading as a youth achievement program at worst.

**** – Seriously, while Girl Scout Cookies are in all ways the preferable option for fundraising over the Trail’s End Popcorn the BSA tries to sling (oh, how we hated it…), the actual fundraising potential for the local units is abysimal, I think it’s less than a quarter (that’s the 25¢ coin flavor of the word) of the $5 a box sales price gets directly back to the girls. Also, yay! double-nesting footnotes!

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