Do Boy Scouts Matter Anymore?

Today is the 100 year anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America.  Wired has a very interesting article asking if the Boy Scouts are still relevant.

That’s a fair question.

I was a Boy Scout.  In fact I am an Eagle Scout, having obtained that rank in November of 1973, at the ripe old age of 13.  Two years later, I went to the Scout World Jamboree in Lillehammer, Norway.  When I got home, I retired from Scouting, at the top of my Scouting game.  Sandy Kofax-style.

I learned a lot from Scouts, and my love of the outdoors was certainly nurtured by the many campouts and other outdoor activities provided by Scouting.  I had some cool Scout Masters, and made some good friends via my troop (long live the Err Bear Patrol!).

image But even then, in the midst of it, I remember feeling just a little like a nerd.  I hate to admit that, given my general tendency to embrace the trappings of my simpler past.  But I’m not going to lie.  My love of the outdoors, my competitive nature that led me to work to become an Eagle and some of the contraband that we smuggled into camp, kept me involved.

But, again, under no one’s definition was I ever a gung-ho Boy Scout.

Only much later did I come to really appreciate the experience.

Me (on the left) at the 1975
Scout World Jamboree

Much like I came to appreciate some (though not all) of the at-the-time-hated so-called great literature that was forced upon me at school- because I came to realize that it was good for me.  So when I try to assess Scouting in 2010, I have to do it from both the perspective of the active Scout (is it fun?) and the adult ex-Scout (was it good for you?).

I’d have to say sort of and yes.

Let’s start with the yes.  Scouting was definitely good for me.  I don’t volunteer the fact that I was a Scout, but when people learn I am an Eagle Scout, they are generally impressed.  Many of my outdoorsman skills were learned through Scouts.

Was it fun?  Yeah, mostly.  More importantly, is it fun now?

Like many parts of life, the Scouting experience has been politicized and watered down to the point that, I suspect, the Scouting experience now is very different from the one I had.  For one thing, as I understand it, entire families now go on Scout campouts.  Sorry, but I think that’s odd.  I go camping all the time with my family.  But Boy Scouts should be a different experience.  How can you really learn to get along outdoors if dad and mom are in the tent with you?

Perhaps these rules are mainly for younger Scouts, but still.  I remember when I was initiated into the Order of the Arrow.  They made us work like dogs for 14 hours clearing trees from a future campsite.  Then they gave us a sleeping bag and an egg, and dropped us off in the woods for the night, each of us alone.  That was the high point of my Scouting experience, even if I never did get that egg cooked.

I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it’s like that now.

I’m going to intentionally leave aside the issue of gays as Scout Masters and atheists being oppressed by the Scout Oath, and whatnot.  I see both sides of the former issue (though if pressed I will always end up on the pro-gay-rights side), and I am bored by the latter.

So is it fun?  Is it relevant?

At the end of the day, I have to say yes.  I come down on the pro-Scouting side largely because I think the Scouting experience, however diluted it may be, is better than just about any of the alternative ways for a boy to spend his weekend.

A campout, even one that everyone and his entire family attends where people tip-toe around on eggshells to avoid offending the ready-to-be-offended, has to be better than sitting in front of a computer or TV.  Learning to build a fire (assuming they still allow fires), has to be better than learning how to frag some other kid in some super-violent online, inside Xbox game.

It ain’t perfect.  Maybe it’s a little nerdy at times.  But it’s an existing framework that allows kids to get outside.  Maybe learn a skill or two.

That’s got to be OK.