After 100 Years, Are The Boy Scouts Still Relevant? (GeekDad Wayback Machine)

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At the 2000 Democratic National Convention, hundreds of delegates booed a group of Boy Scouts as they led the convention in the Pledge of Allegiance. While this show of disapproval must have been heart-felt, it was misguided. The frustration that some have with the Boy Scouts is understandable, but a group of 14 and 16 year old boys doesn’t dictate organizational policy. The argument the delegates had was with the BSA administration.

This is the heart of the argument about Scouting’s relevancy. While the Scouting program provides plenty of opportunity to boys to develop important and unique skills, hone leadership traits that will pay off outside scouting and help boys to live up to their potential, most of the complaints people lodge against Scouting’s relevancy are tied to decisions that the BSA’s adult leadership makes. And so we’re faced with a decision: should we withhold the potentially outstanding experience of Boy Scouts from our sons because of the unbending rules of the organization’s administration?

To make matters more complicated, on the local level, there is often a flexible interpretation of the laws. Homosexual parents and scouts serve Boy Scouts without fear of reprisal (even in America’s Bible belt), and atheists simply keep their mouths shut during the scout pledge to God and claims of reverence. Like many issues, at the local level, we’re all just people and local administration understands that. At its core, Scouting is a program they believe in and want to share with others, no matter who they are or what they believe. And ultimately, the biggest knocks to Scouting’s relevancy don’t make much sense. As a parent, I wouldn’t expect a heterosexual Catholic leader to proselytize to my son about his religion or his sexuality, any more than I’d think a homosexual atheist would be discussing those subjects with my kids.

I was a Cub Scout, a Boy Scout and I attained the rank of Eagle Scout just days before my eighteenth birthday. I have traveled and camped extensively with the Boy Scouts, including a two-week trek at BSA’s high adventure camp, Philmont. I am a member of both Order of the Arrow and Mic-O-Say, a regional honor society. My son is in Cub Scouts and I recently finished my first year as a den leader. The friendships I developed during my years in scouts have become incredibly strong lifelong bonds. To me, Scouting remains one of the more important accomplishments in my life – probably because of its impact to me at such a young age.

As a dad, I see how excited my son gets putting on his uniform and being a part of something bigger than himself. He enjoys learning about the outdoors and things he doesn’t get in school. He enjoys the fraternity of it all and looks forward to camping and everything Scouts has to offer. But I struggle with the national organization’s inflexibility. Just as in my youth, I’m not much for church and, like many Americans, I have relatives who are gay – for me, a member of my immediate family. But, for now, I have made my choice and believe strongly in Scouting’s relevancy.

You? You have to weigh the benefits and drawbacks and make your own choice.

I asked some of my friends from my Scouting experience if they still believed in the Boy Scouts’ mission. “Kids are surrounded by plenty of opportunities to make the wrong decisions; to experience the negative. Scouting stacks the deck for a positive experience – adults who are interested in providing kids a safe environment to learn and have fun, exposure to new things, to the outdoors & hopefully a set of experiences that they’ll use for the rest of their lives whether that manifests itself in good friends, valuable skills, a first shot at leading a team or just a good memory or two,” says Troy Trybom, an Eagle Scout and father in Stilwell, Kansas. “Probably most important to me was that my Dad was there with me through my entire time in Scouting. We spoke about and reminisced about Scouts until the day he passed away. I wouldn’t trade my time & memories of scouting for anything.”

A better case for relevancy is difficult to make.

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