USA TODAY: Boy Scouts Should Hang Tough

1970 jpb cropped sharpened only IMG_0001_NEW

“Give us a strained smile,” said the photographer. From my final visit to Boy Scout summer camp, July 1970.

USA TODAY, May 12, 2015

Boy Scouts should stay tough, not pander to gender gap

by James Bovard

Scout leadership is turning Boy Scouts into kale — nutritious, but blech

The Boy Scouts are once again reforming themselves into oblivion. With falling enrollment nationwide, the Scouts are desperate for good publicity. Their latest politically correct gambit involves offering STEM programs for boys and including girls to help close the “gender gap.”

The Boy Scouts are launching STEM Scouts to focus on “the frontiers of science, technology, engineering and math.” After conducting market research that supposedly proved that a “values-based STEM program” would rev up boys and their parents, STEM Scouts are debuting in a dozen Scout councils across the nation this Fall, with further expansion pending.

Are the Boy Scouts behaving like a federal agency – adding a new mission statement goal in lieu of fulfilling their traditional purpose? More than 220 different federal programs now promote STEM education and schools across the nation are pounding the STEM pulpit with religious fervor. Though there is no shortage of STEM efforts, the Boy Scouts have jumped on this bandwagon.

The Scouts, like plenty of government agencies, may be promising far more than they can deliver on STEM. My father was a scoutmaster, and with his Ph.D. in animal genetics from Iowa State, helped spur several troop members to pursue higher education. But it is rare to find a Scout leader equally comfortable with calculus and a compass. Most of the locales for STEM Scouts are in areas with well-known universities. The talent pool for adult leaders for such programs will be far thinner in most of rural America.

The most radical innovation in the new STEM program is to bring in girls to a Boy Scout program in order to close the “gender gap.” Boy Scout chief executive officer Wayne Brock declared that the Scouts “hope to be part of the solution to the disparity between the genders in their representation in STEM fields,” bringing “into better balance” the number of male and female engineers and computer and math professionals.

Should parents of boys in scouts worry that staff and resources will be diverted from traditional Boy Scout programs and into an affirmative action programs for girls? The Girl Scouts aren’t proposing a new program to enlist boys to close their “knitting, baking, and empathy gap,” so why should Boy Scouts worry about the STEM gap?

Besides, the Girl Scouts already have plenty of robust STEM programs around the nation. Two Ohio Girl Scout troops recently attended a manufacturing and STEM workshop at the Scarlet Oaks Career Campus of Cincinnati. In March, the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts held an annual STEM conference and Expo in Framingham, Mass. In December, 300 Girl Scouts participated in the “Cyber Pathways for Middle School Girls” event at Cal State San Bernardino. A West Virginia Girl Scouts council is carrying out a “Imagine Your STEM Future” program.

And the Boy Scouts also have ample STEM programs up and rolling. Scouts can earn merit badges for several STEM-related fields, including robotics. The Scouts launched a national STEM initiative in 2011 that seemed to be doing just fine. Eight hundred scouts attended the National Eagle Scout Association’s STEM Jamboree at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland last year. Last September, a Boy Scout council ran a program for Oklahoma boys to build and launch free model rockets – great fun though this particular expertise may cause Homeland Security and Secret Service agents to sweat.

The skills I most enjoyed learning in the Scouts – building fires, camping in winter, shooting white water rapids in a canoe – involved getting your hands dirty and surviving bumps and bruises. While attending a National Scout Jamboree in Idaho, I also learned how much I dislike marching in step with thousands of other people. Scouting taught me to view minor hardships simply as transaction costs for great adventures.

The Scouts are ill-advised to shift away from their rough-and-tumble heritage. The people who hate the Scouts will not be mollified by the latest STEM gambit, and some kids who might have joined will be put off by expectations of another dreary science class.

“Join the Boy Scouts to help girls close the Gender Gap!” is not the snappiest recruiting slogan yet devised. Is the Scout leadership turning Boy Scouts into the equivalent of kale — something reputedly very nutritious that many people will not stomach?

James Bovard is the author of Public Policy Hooligan.


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5 Responses to USA TODAY: Boy Scouts Should Hang Tough

  1. Scott Lazarowitz May 13, 2015 at 8:59 am #

    A further reason why Boy Scouts enrollment has been decreasing is because today’s youth are less interested in “getting their hands dirty and surviving bumps and bruises,” and more interested in sitting on their fat behinds and staring into their little gadgets, texting, and playing video games, just like the adults in their lives. Zombies are the future in Amerika. And by the way, I like the picture – I wish it were 1970 again, there would be a lot more freedom (such as that was in 1970), not very much political correctness and you can say whatever you want, and if someone feels “offended,” so what? I don’t think that my teacher at the time Miss Henry would have liked that, but whatever. And at that time, little kids could walk down the street and not have a Nazi neighbor call the police on them out of “concern.” Nowadays, the nudniks are concerned about Boy Scouts getting bumps and bruises so they won’t even consider letting their kids join.

  2. Jim May 13, 2015 at 9:02 am #

    Good points, Scott. It is unfortunate that the culture has become so much more averse to physical risk – at the same time ignoring the perils of passitivity and PC paranoia.

    • The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit May 14, 2015 at 10:21 am #

      *I’m* averse to physical risk, and I’m from a culture Back Then. Which doesn’t mean that I haven’t climbed (and rappelled) cliffs, blown things up, learned (sometimes inadvertently) cold weather survival skills, worked around fast moving and heavy equipment, ridden (ride) motorcycles, and driven in Maryland.

      I just do it safely. 😛

      But Scott does have an excellent point, yes. Even a bookaholic like myself, as a child, recognized the joy of getting out into the woods and Doing Stuff.

      • Jim May 14, 2015 at 10:40 am #

        Lawhobbit, your aversion to physical risk did not dissuade you from spending quite a few years in the U.S. Army. Flipside, the fact that you chose not to become a paratrooper may help explain why you have no trouble walking now. (Some of the Army paratroopers I have known suffered a heap of broken legs and backs.)

        The “driven in Maryland” line is a hoot. Sometimes it is difficult to avoid the risk of “proximity to a’holes.”

        • The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit May 14, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

          Yeah, I never could get the hang of why anyone would want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane…..