Why Scouting, Part II

Hi Readers! First of all, a thanks to all the people who have commented. It was a good reminder to me — as was part of the speech in the original post (“I suppose there are some things I would change, like make the BSA image more inclusive…”) — that the sad fact is that there is an official policy against gay and/or atheist leadership at the Boy Scouts. I hate that. And if I’d thought about that part more the first time my son went with a friend to a meeting, maybe I would have said, “Don’t go.”

But off he went and he came back exhilarated. Apparently, the boys ran around for about half an hour before the meeting began and it was fun. Real fun — not run by a coach, not dedicated to improving any particular skill, just boys running around, being boys. And after that, it was boys sitting in a circle, working seriously on a badge. (Architecture.)

And even though I hadn’t started Free-Range Kids yet, I did realize: Wow. That’s not a thing that most of the boys I know get. It wasn’t gym class or Little League. It was something more old-fashioned, both the free time and the tinkering time.  And when my son said he’d be going on an overnight in a month — it was like falling into Robinson Crusoe-land. Suddenly there was boyhood beckoning our boy.

Do I want my sons (both have joined) to be part of an anti-gay, anti-atheist organization? No. Do I want them to be part of the troop they love, where they’ve learned how to make a fire, cook outside, hike for miles and sleep on the ground? Yes. Do I want them to learn hate? No. We do try to teach tolerance. Do I want them to be part of a group where, the higher you go in rank the more your job is to help the younger kids? Yes.

For the record, the Greater New York Council has a strong anti-discrimination policy. Apparently troops and their leadership often reflect the local community. We live in New York City. For a while the troop met in a synagogue. Now it meets in a church.

Nonetheless, nothing is uncomplicated. These comments on this blog remind me that part of my job should be agitating the Boy Scouts of America to abolish its homophobic, anti-atheist rules, which are not only wrong, but are also alienating whole swaths of boys who would otherwise join and love the Scouts.

So thank you, as usual, for helping me get some perspective. And I will now go write to the Scouts. – Lenore

Why Scouting?

Hi Readers! At the conference on the importance of play that I went to last week, I met Cindy Wilson, the communications director at Playworks. Playworks helps ensure kids get the chance to play at school every day. Yay! Their “recess coaches” taught some unbelievably fun games at the conference that had me — who literally got a “D” in gym  — running around and laughing and not feeling like the girl who could never touch her toes. (Which I am. But still. Here’s where you can find how to play a lot of their games.)

Anyhow,  Cindy’s husband is a scoutmaster in Oakland, Cal., and here’s the speech he delivered last night at his troop’s “Court of Honor,” where scouts advance to the next level. I loved it, and not just because my boys are Scouts:

Court of Honor Scoutmaster Moment, by Rick Prime

Tonight I thought I would reflect on how Boy Scouts is relevant today, especially in the modern world.  To a certain extent, I am talking to our older scouts tonight. We have five juniors in our troop who are contemplating the challenge of making Eagle rank. I want to address some of the social pressures they will encounter and why staying with the scouts is the right thing to do.

There were three things that made me think of this topic. The first was the story of Steven Fong, a recent Eagle from this troop, on the way to Philmont (which is considered a Mecca of sorts to Boy Scouts).  The second is from a book, Boys Adrift, which I read recently about the wrong way boys are being raised.  And the third is my own personal experience in high school.

I learned the Steven Fong story at our last Eagle court of honor, in January 2009.   We were honoring four Eagles, Steven Fong, Robert Amy, Mark Bennett, and Derrick Breska. Mr. Kelley, who is here tonight, gave a speech about Steven Fong which summarized his accomplishments and touched on his personality. Part of it was a funny story about traveling in uniform to Philmont. We travel in uniform, particularly high adventure, because it is the BSA policy and as such we are covered under their liability insurance. The boys were at the airport on their way to Santa Fe, on their way to high adventure at the Philmont Scout Reservation. Steven kept ducking into the bathroom and Mr. Kelley was wondering if he had an acute case of diarrhea because he kept running into the bathroom. Turned out he was embarrassed to seen by some girl from his high school in his Boy Scout uniform. I am sure Mr. Kelley gave him a speech about being comfortable in his own skin and I am sure Steven is today.

Steven Fong, and any Boy Scout, is in incredible demand in today’s world because people with character are a scarce resource.

To a certain extent, our world needs more leaders. Yet I feel the bar has been lowered as far as the job our society is doing in raising them.

I recently read a book, Boys Adrift, recommended by one of our scout moms, Diane Jacobson. The thesis of the book is that we have the wrong formula for raising boys. This is due to starting school before they may be ready, tending to over prescribe them to ADD drugs, and letting them spend too many hours on video games instead of reality.  The thesis about school is that everything has moved up. Kindergarten is now what first grade used to be like. If a boy acts, well, like a boy, teachers begin to have awkward conversations with parents about medicating them. The book describes how being overly politically correct, we may be stifling creativity in boys. If a boy writes a story that would be akin to a chapter out of a Earnest Hemingway book, he is expelled for writing about guns or violence.

The symptom of these problems with education and using video games as an inexpensive baby sitter is the trend of less boys going to college. 40 years ago, the majority of college graduates were men. Now, it has been reported, 60 percent of college graduates are women. For the first time in our history, we have as many women PhDs as men.  Because our culture has glorified escapism and the slacker anti-hero, we are raising a nation of slackers. I feel even worse about the women. The challenge for women who graduate from college is to date a man that is not still living at home with his parents at age 25.

The boys in this room are fighting this trend.  I know it because I have met some of the scouts that graduated from our troop. Dennis Fong, Steven Fong’s dad, would have an annual Christmas Party that I was fortunate to attend. Some of you may know Mr. Fong because he was one of the adult leaders who gave back to the troop tirelessly. In Mr. Fong’s case, he was our recruiting coordinator.

In any case, Steven and his cohorts, who were other Boy Scouts from our troop that had gone to college, were at the party during their winter break.

I was struck by the quality of the girlfriends they brought with them. But I guess I shouldn’t be. What women wouldn’t want a guy sent to college who already knows how to cook and clean? What can be worse during a romantic moment in front of a fireplace than a man that doesn’t know how to start a fire? I don’t have to worry about it in this room.  In all seriousness, our boys are successful because they understand leadership, have character and they know critical life skills.

My own personal story validates this in an indirect way. Unfortunately, I dropped out of scouts early because I didn’t know anyone in the troop my parents put me in. However, my best friend in high school in Wisconsin was a Boy Scout. I remember in my senior year biology class when the class was planning a field trip to go rafting all day on the wolf river, in northern Wisconsin. It is six hours of class 3 and 4 rapids. We were to split into groups of two to a raft. To my astonishment, the two most attractive and popular girls in the class came up to me and my scout friend and asked if they could pair up with us. In my adolescent mind, I thought that god was wiping the slate clean in one magnanimous act for all the perceived injustices I had endured as a middle school and high school boy.

So we got up a 6 am and took yellow school buses 3 hours north on that cool fall day to the Wolf River outside of Green Bay. It was a drizzling rainy grey morning as we rafted in pairs pass Birch trees with fall leaves everywhere. It was fun but we got soaking wet and capsized on many of the rapids.  One of the girls started to get mild hypothermia.  My scout friend knew what to do. We went into the woods and he put together a roaring fire. I was standing there watching these appreciative girls warm up and it finally struck me what was going on.  My experience wasn’t divine intervention. This girls knew the best one to be with was my Boy Scout friend and me by association.

In closing, I believe in our program of developing leadership, character and life skills because it is more relevant than ever. I suppose there are some things I would change, like make the BSA image more inclusive or outsource the design of the uniforms to REI or Nike.

However, I also see is that the desire for quality men is the same today as it was 35 years ago. What has changed is it is harder to develop good men because there are so many distractions in our world that did not exist like the Internet, electronic devices, and 24 hour media. The world is more complicated because we live more complicated lives. And yet, the demand for leaders is greater because of the challenges we have in the modern world.

It is the same earth, but we have grown in this short time from 3.5 billion to 7 billion people.  The outdoor code, to be conservation minded is no longer quaint — it is part of the solution. To do your best, To be prepared, To have character and leadership… This is what we need.  And this is what I expect. Thank you. — R.P.

Saving Boy Scouts (And Everyone Else) From Joy

Rest in peace, possibly, oh ye International Boy Scout Jamboree. As you may recall, readers, England’s excessive new rules require everyone who has ever even BEEN a child (or at least, everyone who may ever come in contact with one) to undergo a pedophilia background check. That being the case, the yearly jamborees that have been a staple of English scouting since the 1920s are now threatened.

Why? Well figure if you get 40,000 scouts together from a whole lot of countries, you need a whole lot of volunteers helping out. And if each of those volunteers needs to undergo a background check approved by Less-Than-Jolly Old England, we are talking about a bureaucratic nightmare.

In fact, we’ve been talking about bureaucratic nightmares alot, haven’t we? A bureaucratic ruling that throws a 6-year-old out of school for bringing a beloved eating utensil to lunch. A town that outlaws Halloween in order to save children from the non-existent danger of poisoned candy. And now a Boy Scout tradition on the rocks because the people who want to make it happen are being bureaucratically disuaded from helping out.

All these rules were ostensibly made to keep children safe. So what are they now safe from? Show and Tell. Trick or Treating. And Boy Scouts.

That’ progress! — Lenore

Mini Free-Range Outrage Involving a Kitchen Utensil

Hi Folks — This just in from a town outside of Georgia. (That’s the American Georgia, for all our international readers!) A “Webelo Scout” is a youngster on the cusp between Cub and Boy Scout.

My son is Webelo scout and earned his whittling chit last year.  This year I volunteered at the district day camp and led the Bear den.  When it came time for the boys to earn their whittling chit, the instructor showed them all the proper ways to handle the knife and then — he handed them each a potato peeler! 

It was pathetic.  So all of the boys who were there earned the whittling chit without ever once touching a pocket knife.  I am so glad my son earned his the old fashioned way!  We are also lucky to belong to a pack that believes in Free-Range scouts!  If you can find a pack or troop like this, then scouting can be a great experience!

Agreed. And I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to whittle with a potato peeler. It’s like knitting with a fork. — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Boy Scouts Forbidden to Carry Pen Knives!!

Readers — This one is so utterly insane I’ve been saving it all week as just the thing to shake us up all weekend. (Why we should spend all weekend shook up by the insanity of pop culture, I don’t know. But somehow, it just feels right.)

Anyway, here it is, from Times Online in England:

Penknives may have formed as much part of the scouting experience as badges and campfires, but according to advice from the Scout Association they must no longer be brought on camping trips, except when there is a “specific” need.

The reason is a growing “knife culture” in England — despite the fact that no one seems to have been stabbed to death by a Boy Scout on his way to a campfire. While apparently carrying a fold-up knife whose blade is shorter than 3 inches is still actually legal, the Scout Assocation nonetheless recommends that “knives should be carried to and from meetings by an adult and must not be carried around campsites.”

Maybe Scouts should be carried to and from meetings by an adult, too?

Both my sons are Boy Scouts. I love the Scouts and thank God they take kids out into the wilderness (albeit, here in New York City, by subway, ferry and taxi. For real.) Without knives would my boys feel half as loyal, brave, reverent, thrifty and, more to the point, COOL? No way. Knives are one of the biggest lures of Scouts, beckoning boys into a  culture that inculcates all sorts of great stuff, like resourcefulness, responsibility, and the ability to suck venom from a snake bite.

Free-Range Kids’ message to Britian’s Scout Association is simple: Grow up. — Lenore