Coming from a family with five Eagle Scouts and three generations of adult volunteers working with the Boy Scouts, I can’t help but be intrigued by the recently announced changes in its membership requirements. And almost equally intriguing is the debate swirling around these impending changes, as announced in the national news coverage of this iconic institution.
The changes themselves include admission of girls to Cub Scout packs, as well as the development of programs by which girls can work to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest award offered by the Boy Scouts and one of the most prestigious awards available to young Americans today. The announcements of these proposed changes have elicited much favorable comment from those who think the Boy Scouts should be more “progressive” and “inclusive,” and much criticism from those who believe the Boy Scouts has sold out its ideals or been destroyed by the forces of political correctness.
One of the more dramatic stories accompanying the impending changes has been the announcement by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—the Mormons—to sever its ties with the Boys Scouts at the end of next year, when it ceases to sponsor Boy Scout troops. This is especially significant because the troops it currently sponsors include more than 400,000 of the 2.3 million boys currently in the Boy Scouts’ signature program. Moreover, commentators are seeing the withdrawal of Mormon backing of the Boy Scouts as part of a bigger trend whereby the Boy Scouts is losing support from traditional institutions as it tries to grapple with pressure from supporters of feminism and gay rights.
But how serious are the impending changes? In some respects, they simply build on heretofore uncontroversial program features maintained by the Boy Scouts for years. For example, the Cub Scout program has long featured female leadership supplied by “Den Mothers,” and some Cub Scout packs (collections of dens) and Boy Scout troops are likewise led by women. Boy Scout programs for older youth, including Venture, Explorer, and Sea Scout programs, have long been open to girls. So admitting girls to the Cub Scouts as well as to the central program for boys aged 11 to 14 doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch.
But critics of the impending changes also argue that there should be programs exclusively for boys and that these changes will undermine them. This may not necessarily be the case. The Boy Scout leadership is proposing that Cub Scout dens remain segregated by sex—either all-boy or all-girl. Programs by which girls can ultimately become Eagle Scouts can likewise be segregated by gender. Personally, as a volunteer whose main task is to convene boards of review to question and examine Eagle Scout candidates, I will have no objection to reviewing the work of girls as well, and certifying their completion of the requirements—provided, of course, they’re held to the same standards as are held boys.
Many mourn the impending changes in the Boy Scouts, coming as they do following decisions to admit openly gay and transgendered boys to its programs, as well as to permit openly gay scoutmasters. They see these changes as cumulatively destroying a century-old institution dedicated to God, country, and old-fashioned values. But so far, these values—that boys be prepared for whatever may arise; that they help others at all times, that they be physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight (a term meant to convey integrity and adopted by the Boy Scouts long before it had any connotations of sexual orientation; and that they be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent—remain intact. It’s when proposals are made to change them that those who revere the Boy Scouts should become most concerned.
But those who are currently concerned about the Boy Scouts should also be concerned about the future of another great youth group—the Girl Scouts of America. Its leadership has most understandably opposed the impending changes in the Boy Scouts, to the point of explicitly requesting the Boy Scouts to shelve them. The Girl Scouts presents itself as the organization best able to develop the character and leadership potential of America’s girls and believes the Boy Scouts is “poaching” on its territory, so to speak.
Perhaps. In the best of all possible worlds (certainly not this one!) the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts could develop ways and means to cooperate in the provision of programs which allow every participant to achieve his or her full potential, with each organization nonetheless maintaining its own structural and philosophical integrity (I’m too low on the food chain to play a role in this should ever an effort in this direction be made, although I would suggest that the Girl Scouts should include more camping options and work out an arrangement with the Boy Scouts by which girls could become Eagle Scouts without leaving the Girl Scouts). In the absence of that happening, the Girl Scouts’ best course of action is to develop more programs by which it can compete with the Boy Scouts for members.
The loss of either the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts as an effective agent for the development of America’s youth would be a tragedy. Each organization and its respective programs deserve best wishes for future success.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.