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Is Scouting Still Relevant?

An Essay by Ray Capp

Let me tell you about four conversations I have had in the past week.
1. My niece had brought her boyfriend over to the house for a visit and they were noticing some of my Scouting memorabilia. He is a terrific guy, a very purposeful, intelligent, and personable young mechanical engineer with a bright future. He turned to me and said that he has always regretted not being a Scout and concluded, “I guess it’s too late for me”!
2. The next morning, I was leaving for a BSA meeting in Dallas. At the airport, I bumped into one of the young men who had been in my troop years ago. We had a great little Scoutmaster/Eagle Scout reunion, but as we scurried off to our gates, he turned sheepishly to tell me that his wife didn’t want their kids to be Scouts, (even though she knows it was great for him)-citing the whole gay controversy.
3. On the plane, the man next to me asked where I was going. I explained about the BSA headquarters in Dallas, my destination. “Wow, guess there aren’t many old ladies who need help across the street anymore, eh? Is Scouting still relevant?”
4. And the coup de grace:
Two days later, I was flying back home from that BSA meeting and was reading some BSA literature on the plane. The lady next to me saw the fleur-de-lis on the paperwork and said, “Oh, my brother was a Boy Scout. He loved it.” And after a long pause that I could tell pained her, she squeezed out, ” Um, are there STILL Boy Scouts”?
Some pretty hard hits…and all in one week.
While these kinds of comments are not uncommon they certainly are not well-founded We who know how active, vibrant, and relevant the Scouting program remains certainly have a lot of work to do to express who we are, what we do, and the benefits that happen for young families who participate.
Here are some thoughts I expressed to these good people concerning the topics they raised:
First: Is it “too late” for our 25 year old engineer to be involved?
Absolutely not. He can spend the next 50 years as a Scout leader, merit badge counselor, or in any one of a hundred different helpful roles. I showed him all the “new” merit badges, photos of our high adventure programs, cool activities, and explained that my best friends were all people I had met and respect through Scouting. It is a real, warm, welcoming, and vibrant community which accepts everyone. I don’t care if you are the chairman of Exxon Mobil, the former Secretary of Defense, or the newest Cub Scout den leader. When any caring adult dons that BSA uniform, everyone is equal, equally respected, and equally welcome. It is the happiest group of adults you are ever likely to have embrace you.
Second: The whole “gay thing”
Last year, the executive board of the Scouts gave up on its notion of knowing God’s will better than did America’s religious denominations. Today, so long as an adult leader passes the required background check, is trained for their position, and keeps current on its youth protection certifications, the local church, temple, mosque, or fire station which sponsors the troop selects the troop leader. Period. If a church accepts gay members or marriages, it tends to allow gay adults to lead kids, consistent with the youth protection guidelines of the Scouts (which are best-in-class by all who study them). If the house of worship down the road does not embrace gay congregants, it may choose not certify gay adults to lead or teach its kids. C’est la vie. Everyone wins. Pick the troop best for you and your kids and commence to having a ball.
Next: the matter of relevance
” Oh, yes, very relevant, I retorted!” We live in an age of crisis in American boyhood. Girls are much more likely to be graduated from high school AND go to college. Boys have much higher rates of substance abuse, delinquency, and violence. Boys have more difficulty with school and in school. And in this age of pervasive divorce, it is boys who most often are the ones growing up without a parental model of their own sex in the home.
Read back through this list of hurdles for the American boy and realize that Scouting is a big step toward addressing each and every one of these ailments.
Persistence: when a boy becomes a Cub Scout he might be six seven or eight years old. He gets swept up in the activities and fun and starts to identify what he wants to explore and do. Many set their sights on being like the older adolescents they meet in Scouting and take on the goal of becoming an Eagle Scout. If a 9 year old persists in this journey, he may arrive at Scouting’s highest rank just about when he turns 18- a time elapsed of twice his lifetime-since he first determined that this goal would be of value. He will have had 9 school years, multiple coaches and teachers, all kind of teenage angst, and yet will make it through to the brink of adulthood, with the same troop, same kids, same mentors, and same program. Nothing else in our society embraces and motivates a boy and encourages the exact thing so many boys sorely lack: Focus.
Getting along in society: Boy Scouts live to go camping. And the time-tested methodology adopted for cooking and eating in the Boy Scout Troop is called the “patrol method”. Basically, the week before the campout, the eight kids in the Raccoon patrol sit with one another and plan a menu they are excited to enjoy. (The American Congress could learn a lot from imitating a group of 11-15 year old Boy Scouts negotiating what to eat!). Then, someone has to buy the stuff within the agreed budget, someone has to arrange to get it to the site, carry it in, keep it from varmints, collect firewood, cook it, serve it fairly, and yes, clean up to the satisfaction of the Scoutmaster! Oh, and doing all this when it is 38 degrees, dark, and raining can be the quintessential demonstration of teamwork on the planet. And yet it happens every weekend in every corner of America in every patrol…and very happily. As Yoda would marvel: “a miracle it is”!
Broadening of one’s world view: Kids have over 135 merit badges to explore. In the past 105 years, many a career was discovered by matching a boy’s starry-eyed interests with the tutelage of a quality adult expert. The world knows that Steven Spielberg made his first movie for photography merit badge. In our troop, caring men stood around the same fire and told stories while baking a turkey in a garbage can. The doctors and lawyers joined the stone masons and electricians in hearty laughs and stories while the boys checked out the progress of the turkey. Guess what? The boys had never heard of such a thing, but showed up with their own garbage can turkey for the next campout. (It was good, too!) I do not know of a Boy Scout who hasn’t met and spent quality time with good adults of a different race, religion, occupation, and socio economic status. I am 62 years old now, and I still know of no greater equalizer than the “campout” for building bridges across whatever divide you might mention that exists in society in general. Someone has to scrub the dirty pans for the next meal and your turn is coming!
Learning to accept women as equals: It may surprise you that there are many quality women who are adult Scout leaders. Historically, they have planned the fundraisers, organized the ceremonies, kept the records, managed the transportation/logistics, and kept their boys inching forward on their advancement through the ranks. Today, they share all of those roles with men, but they do more! Increasingly women strap on hiking boots, sling on a backpack, and go with the troop, themselves. A few years ago, we had about 65 people in our troop who wanted to travel to the Sangre de Christo range of the southern Rockies to backpack in Scouting’s paradise: Philmont Scout Ranch. We split up in groups of 10 boys with 2 adults each. But we needed two more adults to spread ourselves and still be sure we had two trained adults with each group of boys. Enter the heroines of the story: My wife, a retired teacher and another troop mom, a school nurse. One night, I overheard The boys assigned to these leaders talking as adolescent boys are apt to do. “Man, we are going to be slowed down by THEM”! Gee, we are going to have to carry some of their weight for THEM!” Man, all the other boys are going to make fun of us because of THEM”. I told them wait and see! Ha! Within two days of hitting the trail, the teacher and the nurse had earned heaping amounts of street cred with this ragtag bunch of boys and were backpacking better, longer, and stronger than even the most robust jock kids in the crew. No boy who has ever gone backpacking with a group of scout trained adult women ever thinks of THEM in the same ways again.
Quality Male Role Models: As for the men, with so many boys growing up in single parent homes, Scouting may be the one place where a young man gets to have quality time in the care of interested and interesting men. Our society values the sports coach. Coaches can change lives, and they do. But they have only a season or two with a boy. They have a few weeks with a boy each year. Every Scoutmaster has multiple years, every week to integrate in the life of a family and slowly eke out the lessons and values he is entrusted to develop in his Scouts. A Scoutmaster will spend YEARS mentoring a boy by the time that young man becomes an Eagle Scout. I have taught a number of young men to shave, because, hey, their Moms asked me to do just that. Scouting forms a real, active and collaborative relationship with a family in the development and growth of their sons.
Youth leadership: In Scouting, the adults are there to maintain health and safety. That’s it. The kids pick the activities, plan the program, develop the calendar, and carry out the events. This includes large scale gatherings alternatively known as camporees, jamborees, or conclaves. I have been to quite large encampments involving several hundred boys. And yet, one boy with adult help, planned the menu, another organized the medical corps under the careful watch of a skilled physician while other boys planned a campfire or show. Still others executed the program of activity, recruited the cooks, publicized the event, sold tickets, facilitated parking, offered merchandise for sale, set a budget, counted the money, welcomed the guests, established a registration station, and surveyed the attendees to improve on the experience for the next group of boys to carry out. I know of nowhere else that a teenage boy would be given such leeway to develop and grow, and yes, even to fail, while learning and growing as with the Boy Scouts of America
And finally: are there even still Boy Scouts in 2016?
Yes, Virginia, there are still Boy Scouts, who since 1910 are and have been quietly serving others. Part of what each Boy Scout raises his hand to promise is that he will help others…and to strive to do so consistently as a habit of cheerful service. We do not encourage showboating. We quietly do our good deeds in the background.
I can tell you that in every town and neighborhood in this great country, Scouts are a dynamic engine for picking up litter, building handicap ramps, putting roofs on churches, perfecting wildlife habitats, carving trails for foresters, and yes, helping old ladies. While most of those don’t need help getting across streets anymore, the Scouts sure help by reading to them, singing for them, and teaching them how to communicate with their great grandchildren through social media.
Yep, we are still here, more important than we were to a successful society than your Grandfather’s Boy Scouts, 4.5 million and growing, doing good work with and through today’s generation of tomorrow’s leaders.
Oh, and remember, it is not too late to join the largest movement of uniformed youth in the world, and make a difference, yourself!

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