The Boy Scouts of America made waves when it announced that it’s accepting girls into its ranks. This latest identity crisis for the 107-year old organization may be the straw that sinks their original mission to train young boys to become men.
BSA’s Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh cited the need to “evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children.”
No mention was made by Scout leadership about how they will fulfill their commitment to boys.
Interestingly, of all the criticism, the harshest seemed to come from Girl Scouts USA leaders. GSUA national board member Charles Garcia wrote in the Huffington Post “the Boy Scouts’ house is on fire” and charged the move as diverting from internal problems.
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Jan Barker, CEO of the Girl Scouts’ Heart of Michigan Council, criticized the move and believed joining the BSA won’t help most girls. “The Boy Scouts’ approach is very militaristic and top-down, and I don’t know if that’s the best environment for girls to feel nurtured,” said Barker. “Girls and boys are wired differently — you can’t just put out the same curriculum.”
So why the about-face for the Scouts?
Critics argue that the organization whose first U.S. troop started in Burnside, Ky., lost its way four years ago when it jettisoned the oath requiring Scouts to be “morally straight” and extended membership to boys identifying openly as homosexual. In 2015, openly homosexual men got the green light to become Scoutmasters. And this past January, it opened the ranks to girls who identify as boys.
Moral capitulation by Boy Scout leadership has alarmed parents and the BSA has been bleeding members ever since.
According to annual reports, the BSA lost nearly a half-million scouts since 2010. In 2016, 2.2 million scouts remain, down from a peak of some 5 million in the 1970s. The latest move will likely increase membership in the alternative scouting organization, Trail Life USA, which began in 2013.
Mark Hancock, CEO of Trail Life, responded to the BSA’s latest change. “As gender blurring only increases, it is more important than ever that someone provides a safe environment where boys can be boys, and where their natural talents and tendencies can be affirmed, encouraged and developed by men who can offer a positive role model.”
Scouting is all about honor, duty and integrity. It’s about positive role models from adults of the same sex. The Scout Oath says “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” Good things, each of them.
The Scout Law is also steeped in virtue: “A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent.”
It should come as no surprise that with such values, more than two-thirds of Scout troops in 2013 were sponsored by churches — the natural conduit for teaching virtue and transcendent values. If the BSA is making a move for more market share, it’s doomed to fail. That’s because the Boy Scouts identity and purpose is wrapped up in gender differences.
Simply put, boys respond better to training in a male-only environment. Girl Scout’s chief customer officer, Lisa Margosian, said as much for training girls in a female-only environment. “We believe strongly in the importance of the all-girl, girl-led and girl-friendly environment that Girl Scouts provides.”
Gender also matters to the children who are trying to figure out what it means to be a girl or a boy in the first place.
Richard Nelson of Cadiz is executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a nonpartisan, public-policy organization.