Tuesday, October 17, 2017

My Beloved BSA Is Now Co-Ed! Or, I'm Happy to Have More Eagles

I don't think I'm supposed to do this, but I'm going to because I want a chance to voice my opinions. And that's what a blog is for, right? But in all honesty, I'm not speaking on behalf of the BSA, so what I'm about to write needs expressly be viewed as my opinion, not sponsored nor representative in any way of the BSA. I'm just writing my take and my reactions to the buzz.
Again, I'm not sponsored by, nor a representative of
the BSA, which is also why I'm not using an official logo.

This past Wednesday (11 Oct 2017), the Boy Scouts of America made an official announcement that the organization would be integrating female youth at all levels of the program. This is going to start with Cub Scouts (the BSA children's program) in 2018, and extend to Boy Scouts (the iconic teenage program) in 2019. A copy of the official release can be found on the BSA website.

Before I launch into any arguments from detractors, I first want to emphasize that this is not the first introduction of co-ed programs in the BSA, much less the Scouting Movement at large. The BSA has organized Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturing, Exploring, and Sea Scouts, and only those first two have been persistently all-male, up until the announcement last week. Venturing was officially formed in 1998 and has been co-ed the whole time. Explorers have existed in various forms since 1935 and have been co-ed since 1971. Sea Scouts has also existed in various forms for over 100 years and is also now a co-ed program.

And these are all just programs offered by the Boy Scout of America. The majority of the worldwide Scouting Movement has been co-ed and we in the US are really only matching them now.

So this is really where I want to start the discussion; recognizing that, for people who are up in arms about female youth being included in Scouts, Scouts has been inclusive for both sexes for a long time. Of course, we can talk about the inclusion of LGBT youth as well, but that's another discussion entirely (though my opinion there is not so different from my opinion here).

At any rate, let's talk about why people are upset with the BSA.

After that kind of intro, another sub-point that I want to make sure that I include in the discussion: the changes that are being rolled out in the Boy Scouts of America are not obligatory. What the Board of Directors did was vote to allow units to welcome girls. This does not mean that every pack and troop will be expected to provide co-ed programming. Heck, I don't even think that we should expect every single unit to provide that programming. Some don't have the size and funding, and some are more interested in fraternity than they are in co-ed adventure opportunities. The point is that, for any of my readers looking to get their daughters or sisters involved, make sure that you're aware that you won't be able to just walk into any pack or troop and expect this to be available. But in the next breath, I am also already aware of many units that are getting ready to roll out and take advantage of these opportunities.

(Okay, I said that I had a sub-point, so this is a sub-sub-point; the changes that came into effect in 2014 regarding LGBT youth in the BSA were phrased in this same way, not that it was an obligation to allow youth of any sexual orientation into the program, but that they were not barred by the national organization. So some units sponsored by organizations opposed to homosexuality still did not welcome LGBT youth, but because of their charter, they were allowed to do that. All commenting about them aside, I appreciate this legislative method from the BSA, that membership for particular units has opportunities, rather than obligations).

The So-Called "Loss of Brotherhood"

I've been on social media lately, reading people's opinions and commentary about these changes (I know, I know, mea culpa). For a lot of people, there seems to be a lot of moaning and groaning about the loss of brotherhood, and that boys won't properly be able to become men in a co-ed environment. Some of them have even gone so far to say that this is a betrayal of the mission of the Boy Scouts of America.

I have a big problem with this attitude, first because a lot of the moaners also criticize the safe spaces that various institutions have set up (isn't it analogous that desiring a place for boys to safely mature into men is like wanting a place to be free of judgement and prejudice?) but also because it seems to imply that boys' maturation process is somehow poisoned by the presence of girls. Which doesn't really make sense to me.

I mean, if you're asking me whether there is any benefit to having an opportunity for ethical/moral instruction and formation (not to mention some guidance on physical changes) for a group of boys, led by men, then yes. Of course I agree that there is benefit to that. I think there is also benefit to the same kind of instruction and formation for girls led by women. Now, do those kinds of learning opportunities need to be facilitated by two completely different organizations? No!

And this is where I go back to the new developments, as described by the BSA. What they intend is that, for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, packs and troops will be co-ed. However, the dens and patrols (the subdivisions of groups within the larger units), will stay single-gender! Really, I think this is the best of both worlds; we can have opportunities for children and teens to experience the adventure of Scouting with peers of their gender, but that will also be within the context of a co-ed group. And really, I think this is healthiest. Because I believe that if boys only interact with boys, and girls only interact with girls, then they will develop misconceptions about the others, and they will have a harder time interacting with their peers as they grow older.

The second part of this objection is that allowing the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs of the American Scouting Movement to become co-ed betrays the mission of the BSA, namely that the mission is to turn boys into men.

This notion genuinely floors me. Because I don't know when it became the mission of the BSA to turn boys into men. Sure, that might be incidental to the Boy Scout program, but as far as I know, neither the BSA, nor the founder of the Scouting Movement, Sir Robert Baden-Powell, ever set about to expressly turn boys into men.

The BSA says of its mission statement:
"It is the mission of the Boy Scouts of America to serve others by helping to instill values in young people and, in other ways, to prepare them to make ethical choices during their lifetime in achieving their full potential. The values we strive to instill are based on those found in the Scout Oath and Law."
Keep in mind that this is the BSA that has hosted co-ed programs for more than 40 years. I will grant you that the original charter of the Boy Scouts does specifically reference the development of the abilities of boys in their service to others, but I don't see that being the same as turning boys into men.

The BSA also has Aims and Methods that are a part of the official structure. None of these hinge on the capacity to turn a boy into a man. In fact, chief among the Aims and Methods is the Patrol Method. That is, "The patrol method gives Boy Scouts an experience in group living and participating citizenship... The patrol method allows Scouts to interact in small groups where they can easily relate to each other (emphasis mine)." And in this, I return to my previous point; the large units will become co-ed, but the subdivisions, patrols and the dens, will still be single-gender, and in this we still be successful with the Patrol Method, like we have been for a long time.

Meanwhile, if someone wanted to say that co-ed Scouting was not what Baden-Powell (the founder) wanted, I would respond and say that I don't think that person really knows Baden-Powell. BP was a British military officer who wrote a book entitled Aids to Scouting. It was intended to help his military scouts be more effective. It was published while he was still on campaign in Kenya. But when he came back to Britain, he found that all kinds of people, girls as well as boys, had taken the principles of his book and started to put them into action. And he was encouraged to adapt his book for youth. What he then published was called Scouting for Boys, and before anyone starts going "Ehh! Boys!" let me also remind you that BP was a military commander who had originally written a training manual. He had a militaristic mindset and, unless I am mistaken again, the British Army did not enlist women in 1908. So let me take this a step further; at the first Scout gathering, there were girls who showed up in uniform to BP's gathering of boys. So, instead of sending them home, he guided his sister to organize the Girl Guides. 

Where Does the New Membership Come From?

Like I said earlier, a lot of my frustration here comes from the detractors on social media. And another one of their objections to a co-ed American Scouting Movement is people saying something to the effect of "The Boy Scouts just want to bolster their numbers by stealing girls from the Girl Scouts."

This is frustrating just in its sheer pettiness. And I refute it straight from the text of the BSA's release (this is the same link as above):
"Recent surveys of parents not involved with Scouting showed high interest in getting their daughters signed up for programs like Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, with 90 percent expressing interest in a program like Cub Scouts and 87 percent expressing interest in a program like Boy Scouts"
Does this mean that the parents surveyed are pulling their daughters out of Girl Scouts and bringing them to Boy Scouts? I don't know. I hope not. There's nothing that says that girls can't be members in both organizations. All I know is that one of the Methods of the BSA is Outdoor Experience. In fact, the BSA is known for camping. Meanwhile, the Girl Scouts have downplayed the camping and increased the time and energy they have put forth for topics like entrepreneurship and public speaking. Now, I'm just conjecturing since I don't have more of the data from the survey, but I anticipate that it's the Outdoor Experience that parents are wanting for their children. And I hope that parents who want the Boy Scout camping experience, as well as the Girl Scouts entrepreneurship experience, will keep their girls enrolled in both.

However, a more important (in my eyes) point from the press release is this:
"[M]any groups currently underserved by Scouting, including the Hispanic and Asian communities, prefer to participate in activities as a family."
So yes, I will of course concede that the enrollment numbers in the BSA have been falling. And there are lots of alarmists who say that it will be the death of the Boy Scouts unless we do something. But in terms of what has been done (allowing girls to join Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts), I think that this is where the biggest growth will come from. Suddenly the BSA can serve whole families, rather that just their boys. And I think that this is something that the BSA has been looking to do for a while; offering an opportunity for families to get involved in the program.

Additionally, I don't think that anyone would deny that the BSA has not done well in serving minorities, especially Hispanic/Latino and various Asian communities that do prize family activity over sending their boys off to weekly meetings, or needing to split the family in order for one parent to bring a boy, or their boys, to a meeting, while everyone else stays home. I've even heard about families coming to meetings as a whole, and then everyone else sits around, trying to pass the time while the Scouts do what Scouts do.

What Scouts do, week to week, the planning and the volunteering, there is no reason why families can't get involved in the BSA's way of doing those things. And then, when it comes time to send kids off to summer camp, I hope that parents are able to send their kids off to those experiences to develop values, ethics, and to develop as citizens. And I hope that male and female patrols are able to foster that development.

In conclusion...

A big part of what this move by the BSA means is that girls will be eligible to earn the Eagle Award. In fact, that's what the title of the news release says: "... to welcome girls from Cub Scouts to the highest rank of Eagle Scout." What has more name recognition? The Girl Scout's Gold Award, the Venturing Summit Award? Or the Boy Scout's rank of Eagle? There's a huge amount of name recognition to the Eagle; after people find out that I was in Boy Scouts for so many years, the first thing they ask is "Well, were you an Eagle?" And I respond with something like "Yes. I am an Eagle... once and Eagle, always an Eagle."

But I don't say this out of any kind of condescension or false pride. I am proud of what I accomplished as a 17 year old. I am glad that I was able to join the Brotherhood of Eagles. But I also have no qualms about sharing that brotherhood with sisters, too.

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Thanks for making it to the end of my blog post! I know it was a long one, but I would welcome your thoughts about the topic, in all its complexity. However, please know that I hope you can phrase your comments in a respectful, honest way. If anyone resorts to person attacks, slander, or any such nonsense, I will simply delete your comments.