I don’t know if a complete break with Scouting was necessary. I would have been content if the church had only eliminated Cub Scouts and the Eagle Scout rank.
The church has long been selective about what parts of the Scouting program it implements, so it seems plausible that it could have simply eliminated Cub Scouts from its repertoire, much as the church never bothered with Tiger Cubs or Varsity crews. Don’t get me wrong – my sons enjoyed Cub Scout activities immensely, and I’d be happy to see similar activities continue. But even after putting three sons through Cub Scouts, I never could figure out how the advancement system worked. I even spent an unhappy two years as a Cubmaster, handing out patches and belt loops and pins and insignia once a month, and I still couldn’t figure what all those patches and belt loops and pins meant for rank advancement. If I’m ever asked to safeguard nuclear codes from terrorists, all it will take for me to crack under pressure is a request to review my son’s progress toward Bear rank. Please, not again. Not ever again.
After Cub Scouts, regular Scouting was great. If you have had a son participate in a well-organized Scout troop with enthusiastic and experienced leaders, you’ve seen what a great experience Scouting can be. The boys gain new skills, learn to appreciate nature, camp and hike, bike and swim, and broaden their horizons as they earn merit badges and progress through the ranks in sensible fashion from Tenderfoot to Life Scout.
If you’ve recently had a son aiming for the rank of Eagle Scout, however, you may have noticed that would-be Eagles learn a different set of life lessons, such as:
- Eagle projects that are too similar to previous projects will not be approved. Projects that are too innovative will also not be approved, however, unless they contain some element of woodworking.
- The interesting parts of Eagle Projects, usually the parts that involve woodworking, are too dangerous to be done by adolescents and must instead be completed by adults.
- Eagle review boards that thwart projects through careless negligence are an important first lesson about faceless bureaucracies.
- Eagle review boards that thwart projects by intentionally strewing obstacles in your path are an important second lesson about faceless bureaucracies.
- After completing a project that has been reviewed and approved at multiple levels of bureaucracy, the would-be Eagle Scout can then apply for approval to submit an application to obtain signatures from various adult strangers, which will then qualify him to forward the approved report for verification in advance of a quarterly board of adjudication. Or something like that. Your Eagle Scout may not ever do any actual woodworking, but he will emerge with a heightened appreciation for Kafka.
I would have been happy to drop Cubs and Eagles, and keep Tenderfoot through Life. But if dropping the whole program is the cost of eliminating belt loops and Eagle projects, so be it. It’s a price I’m willing to pay.
As for the new youth program, I have long thought that it should be something that reflected and built on church history. I rather liked Russell M. Nelson’s invocation of the “youth battalion” in this last General Conference, reminiscent of the Mormon Battalion, and with vigorous paramilitary overtones. I was hoping, though, for “Young Pioneers.” We wouldn’t need the elaborate uniforms of Scouting or other organizations, but a simple but distinctive color scheme would have been nice.
White shirts and red scarves would have stood out. Some people have lamented that Scouting provided Latter-day Saint young men with a chance to interact with peers across denominational boundaries, and there might be something to that. A way to mitigate the loss of Scouting would have been to ask leaders of other faiths who have been open to overtures from church leaders to participate in designing the new program. Richard Mouw, for example, could have been asked to chair the committee that created the guidebook distributed to the youth. I think a real opportunity was lost that we will not be able to give every young man and woman a copy of Chairman Mouw’s Little Red Book.