On What Ails Scouting

Former Eagle Scout Mike Rowe responds to a woman who expressed dismay about the Boy Scouts going “co-ed.” He posted:

As I read it, The Boy Scouts are launching a separate program that serves girls. …

When I left the organization in 1979, there were 5 million active members. Today, there are 2.3 million. With the recent departure of the Mormon community, that number will soon drop to under two million. Clearly, something is wrong. The question is what? Is it the past sexual scandals? Is it the more recent admission of gay and transgender members? I would imagine those are factors. But a 60% decline? That seems very unlikely. …

[R]ight now, there’s a perception that The Boy Scouts have gone soft. That’s the real tragedy, Sharon, because I can’t think of anything more needed in our country today, than a youth organization that offers kids the same experience I underwent in the basement of Kenwood Church [read the full post]. Why? Because our country’s current obsession with “safe spaces” is destroying character faster than the Boy Scouts of today can build it.

Obviously, we want our kids protected from the hazards of a dangerous world. … But safety is not the purpose of our existence, and this whole idea that kids need to be protected from fear, distress, discomfort, and disappointment is far more dangerous to the future of our country than anything I ever encountered in Scouting. You can’t build character in a “safe space.” You can only build dependence and entitlement, and you don’t have to look very far to see the results. Pardon my rant, but the stakes are high. …

We are the ones who gave them trophies just for showing up. We’re the ones who told them that their feelings were more important than their actions…. Now, we are confronted with millions of dissatisfied young adults with no tolerance for beliefs that conflict with their own, and no realistic understanding of how life actually works. …

It’s not enough to simply ignore bad ideas. The safe space movement needs to be confronted, and I’d love nothing more than to see Scouts of both genders lead the charge.

More. Some of the comments from Mike Rowe’s original Facebook post support his description of what’s happened to scouting:

  • I grew up in a troop very much like Mike Rowe’s. But now a Boy Scout can’t build and climb a pioneering project more than six feet off the ground without their plans being reviewed in advance by the “council enterprise risk management committee” (aka lawyers). So you know the BSA has gone soft. s/A former Scoutmaster, District Commissioner, etc.
  • If these kids are anything like my son, the reason the numbers are declining are due to what is being taught. My son joined with the idea that he would learn outdoor activities, responsibilities, camping, archery, and so forth but in reality the whole year he only learned songs, skits, and chants. He was very bored and lost interest.
  • Same issue with Girl Scouts for my daughters. Two different troops in two different years and not one camping trip or outdoor activity. When I was a young Girl Scout, we learned fire building and first aid. Lots of the same things the boys in Boy Scouts were learning. Now it’s lazy indoor arts and crafts and peddling as many cookies as possible.
  • That was my daughter’s Girl Scout experience as well. Not one thing at all done outdoors in the entire year she was in the troop. Two times a month they met in the school cafeteria after school for an hour to glue beads together or color. … It was such a waste of time and I felt nostalgia for my days as a cub scout in the 1970’s when we met once a week and did all kinds of projects, explored the great outdoors, learned to work together as a team and were all proud to wear our scout uniforms all day at school on the meeting days. Especially when we did the pledge of allegiance in the morning before class started. All these things are now relics of a by gone era it would seems.
  • I was shocked when I became a Boy Scout day camp counselor…and they kept canceling camp because the temperatures outside were too high (in the 80s) for the poor little air-conditioned flowers. … This generation of overly dramatic parents has killed Scouting and all it stood for, which is a damned shame. People just can’t stand to be uncomfortable any more, and will give up anything to avoid it.

But others indicate a wide variety among troops and their activities:

  • We run a Cub Scout Pack and do tons of science experiments, games, whittling, knot tying, and during the summer we hike and bike. I am so sad your son had a bad experience!
  • The troop I am a part of has campouts where shooting shotguns and learning about gun safety is the main activity. Our numbers have grown steadily over the past four years because we still believe in what the scouts’ core values are.
  • By the time my son was 12, he had canoed two 50 milers (led two boats down the 2nd time), rowed his own boat, learned to rebuild a boat engine, been hiking up the tallest mountain in SoCal, camped 100 nights, and was preparing for jamboree. Don’t give up!
  • Our Boy Scouts do activities several times a month. They include camping, hiking, mountaineering, fishing, flying airplanes, skiing, whitewater rafting, canoe trips, horseback riding and still volunteer a lot in the community. All thanks go to the great and tireless efforts of the Troop’s leadership and parents.

19 Comments for “On What Ails Scouting”

  1. posted by Jorge on

    Oh dear. It looks like Lori’s comment got squashed under that elephant More.

    I haven’t read the links yet. But I would like to start by saying the study of the trends responsible for the decline of traditional institutions would make a very interesting read.

    My starting theory is that the BSA lost its political skills without realizing it. A non-political organization or leader is vulnerable to political winds without a politically skilled partner guiding its hand or keeping “surprises” away from it. When Dale was decided, a lot of powerful, politically connected institutions (mostly on the left) stepped away from BSA. This created a brain drain. BSA never learned how to reapproach, and it never learned how to keep for the center. It wasn’t for lack of trying, it was for lack of skill.

    My second theory is that “character” itself is now a discredited value. BSA and many other traditional organizations embody a social ordering by merit. Those who choose to be the best they can be, at the end of the day, are better than those who do not develop such character and discipline. But this comes at the expense of valuing the worth of each individual.

    There are forces in this country that believe that even a moment of light in a depraved life must not be extinguished; they have become more powerful as progressives have exposed where meritocracy becomes hypocritical and stacked, and sought to raise more egalitarian values in its place.

    Here’s an interesting quote in the FB post:

    The Scoutmaster, a retired Army Colonel named Mr. Huntington – often said, “I know you’re uncomfortable, Mike. Might as well find a way to enjoy it.”

    In a country that has become more and more conscious of the disaffected, there is a narrow window where mindsets such those promoted by BSA truly serve its best interests. As this country has become more divided, that window has become harder to find. Much the same is true on the left, I am sure.

    • posted by Jorge on

      Oh dear. It looks like Lori’s comment got squashed under that elephant More.

      (Or was it someone else’s? Oh, what-ever.)

      • posted by Lori Heine on

        What do you mean?

        • posted by Jorge on

          I remember another comment being posted before mine earlier yesterday.

          • posted by CultureWatch team on

            From the team: we’re volunteers that maintain this and other sites. We never edit but if we see that a comment has been saved to the wrong blog item we’ll simply move it to the appropriate blog post. That’s what happened here.

          • posted by Jorge on



  2. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    Entirely predictable.

  3. posted by JohnInCA on

    Don’t have much to say about this. I was briefly a Boy Scout back in the 90s, but left ’cause it was pretty boring. All I distinctly remember was one of those boxcar derbies† and bowling. And even then the prayer thing was off-putting, and it would be years before I realized why I didn’t like religion.

    Girl Scouts (which my sisters were in, and stuck with much longer then I stuck with Boy Scouts) was actually interesting. I remember one year my sisters went away to camp and my mother was going to be one of the “camp mommies” or whatever they were called. As my father was at-sea, I got to go. Actual camping.

    So I can’t speak to why the Boy Scouts are declining. But it sure sounds like “inconsistency of programming” might be a large part of it.
    †You know, where you’re given a balsa wood block, some wheels on nails, and told to make it into a shiny looking car. Weren’t even given the ones that would be CO2 powered, ours were just gravity driven.

  4. posted by Lori Heine on

    Gay Patriot is gone. It has completely folded up shop.

    I asked Dan Blatt why they did this. He no longer has any connection with that blog, but he ways that they thought the blogger was too extreme. That he painted with too broad a brush.

    Gee, sort of like IGF…

    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      No loss. Gay Patriot has been off the rails for years.

    • posted by JohnInCA on

      Out of curiosity, Lori, do you have any right-wing and/or libertarian blogs/news aggregators that you would recommend? I do *try* to read blogs and whatnot from outside my “bubble”, but frankly a lot of right-wing places I have tried often skip right over “outside my bubble” and go straight to “senselessly insulting” (seriously, try saying anything contrary at the Federalist. They aren’t even creative insults.). So if you have food alternatives if probably add them to my rotation.

      • posted by Lori Heine on

        Other than Reason magazine–which its commenters are always complaining is drifting too far to the Left (but I really like), and the magazine I write for most regularly, Liberty (Liberty Unbound), there doesn’t seem to be much out there. Oh, and Classical Values, though those bloggers seem lately to be obsessed with weed.

      • posted by Jorge on

        Of late one runs into the same problem at Fox News, though I try to give the New Face of the Month a chance.

        The Trump presidency seems to have had a worse effect on the right than it has had on the left. The left has been the left for a while, only getting worse. The right has almost split into two competing types of histrionics, and neither side is getting much flak over it (am I wrong?); it’s stable. Only the old, crotchedly swamp politicians seem to be immune.

  5. posted by Rusty on

    Thx for the update Lori

    • posted by Lori Heine on

      I haven’t posted any comments at GP for years, but I do feel sort of homeless from a blog perspective. Maybe this is our prompting to make something new.

  6. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    I have no experience with the Scouts (farm kids joined FFA, Scouts was for townies), so I don’t have an opinion about the value of scouting.

    But from reading the comments to Mike Rowe’s long lament, it seems to me that the success/failure of Scouting in local communities is largely a matter of effort that the adults in charge of packs/troops are willing to put into the program. You get out what you put in.

  7. posted by Lori Heine on

    The implications from the sort of people who blame LGBT’s and “liberals” aside, I really don’t see how any of this has a thing in the world to do with sexual orientation or gender identity.

  8. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    An aside from this thread, but in news that does have to do with sexual orientation, Gallup’s annual Values and Morals poll reports that 67% of Americans (83% Democrats, 71% Independents, 44% Republicans) now support marriage equality.

  9. posted by Lori Heine on

    So the roughly 3% of the population that was previously unable to marry for love is supposedly making the sky fall.

    There has never been a bigger destabilizing force in society than permitting the other 97% of the population to marry for love. So, when can we expect those heterosexuals who are supposedly so consumed with concern about the family and the stability of society to give up the privilege of marrying for love?

    This will happen in 3…2.;..1…or wait. Of course not.

    Frauds. Every living one of them.

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