Scouting for Life

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.

Young Pioneers (artist's conception)

Young Pioneers (artist’s conception)

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.

23 comments for “Scouting for Life

  1. Scouting is still alive and well for anyone who wants it, and young men can create personal goals aurrounding their scouting activity.

    Regarding projects, speaking as someone who has chaired a lot of Eagle Boards this year, it’s not about the originality or complexity of the project itself, it’s about the leadership exhibited by the boy and what inevitable challenges he had to overcome to get there, and that’s what we probe here in boards of review (no, I don’t even read the project report).

    I agree 100% that once it’s all signed off, the application and Board of Review should be perfunctory. We have 12 Boards tonight (only a third LDS), and I expect all 13 to pass.

  2. While I completed basic training almost 33 years ago and have tried to support Scouting in our neck of the woods, I can’t say I’m sorry we are leaving BSA. Besides myself (Woodbadge trained) and a handful of others, it was rare for us to have committed and trained Scout leaders in church. Costs were high. As a whole, Scouting really didn’t run the way it should have been run. I think boys still benefitted from exposure to the various merit badges, which is why I was expecting the church to come up with a program that was a little more specific in terms of skills, knowledge and achievement. I’m a little worried Bishoprics (and their advisors), young men and their families, aren’t going to take the challenge of setting goals seriously and therefore end up playing more basketball on activity nights than actually working and learning things. Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong. And yes, boys can still do Scouting in non-member troops. However, I don’t know how they’ll be able to do so fully and attend activity nights and seminary and the host of other things that involve teenagers these days.

  3. Mark B. If we go with “Nelson’s Youth,” can we go with navy-themed uniforms, perhaps from the Napoleonic era? For a theme: “The prophet expects every youth will do his duty”

  4. “I’m a little worried Bishoprics (and their advisors), young men and their families, aren’t going to take the challenge of setting goals seriously and therefore end up playing more basketball on activity nights than actually working and learning things. Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong.”

    I’m a little worried that we have taken the challenge of setting individual goals too seriously. What I mean is that the current program seems to be completely absent of any structure beyond ‘set your goals.’ I think most kids flourish when given freedom within a structure. When children enter school we have a structure based on ages and grade levels, we have some requirements and some electives, we give them freedom within a structured organization that helps them succeed. The new youth program seems to me to be the equivalent of greeting new 9th graders at the door of the high school and saying, “Welcome to High School, there are so many exciting opportunities for you to take advantage of! Let the teachers know which classes you want to take and we are all here to support you in whatever you decide to do. Good luck!”

    “And yes, boys can still do Scouting in non-member troops. However, I don’t know how they’ll be able to do so fully and attend activity nights and seminary and the host of other things that involve teenagers these days.”

    The new youth program seems to be an empty container waiting to be filled with whatever the kids want. But once they fill it with sports and scouts and drama and everything else I wonder if many of them, and their parents, will ask themselves what value does the empty container add? What will be lost if we just pursue the activities on their own and eliminate it? I wonder when that question is asked if many will say that the empty container adds nothing and so they decide it is easily discarded?

  5. Brilliant — revolutionary idea of the month. The Young Pioneers should celebrate this October Revolution every year!

  6. Um, yeah. Takes me back to my mission in Hungary soon after the fall of the Iron Curtain: in one area of Budapest, I savored my little place in history each week when I brought investigators to Sunday meetings in the former “Pioneer House.”

  7. IF run by competent, enthusiastic adults a scout troop large enough and with a wide enough age span to facilitate leadership training, scout troops were very good for some boys (but always still a disaster for others — as was the church sports program). In the last 3 decades no such hypothetical LDS troop has existed in the stake where I have been a member. Good riddance. The disaster is not the fault of BSA, but rather of the Church’s failure/inability to use the BSA program effectively in wards with few boys of relevant age and of the fact that some boys are simply not interested — and were historically treated as outsiders because they were not enthusiastic scouters or ball players.
    To the extent I yet understand the “replacement,” it is a nothing of a program. I hope something good will be made of it. But there is no possible one-size-fits-all youth program for the variety of congregations constituting the world-wide church.

  8. Mark B., “Nelson youth” might be too similar to “Hitlerjugend” even without any similarity between Nelson and he-who-should-not-be-named-here. “Youth battalion” is better, but there will be a substantial number who resent the military overtones. I wonder if there’s any short name that would do. Mutual Improvement Association is too long for current sensibilities.

  9. At my Eagle Board of Review, among several ridiculous questions, I was asked, “If you saw another Eagle Scout shoplifting, would you turn him into the scout office so his Eagle status could be taken away.” I replied, “Honestly, no. If you’re stealing then you’ve already lost the honor that comes from being an Eagle, and removing your status won’t make a difference to you.”
    The board asked me twice more if I’d like to change my answer, which I declined. They responded that they weren’t sure if I should be awarded the rank of Eagle (even though I had met all of the requirements). Ultimately, I did get my Eagle, but I’ve been slightly bitter ever since. It was a great way to turn someone who had gone through the program into someone who wants nothing to do with the organization.

  10. The cub scout ranks are very simple. They consist of the four diamond-shaped patches (Bobcat, Wolf, Bear, Webelos) attached to the left shirt pocket that form a larger diamond when all are combined. All the belt loops and activity pins are elective things that are analogous to the merit badges the older scouts earn (some are required for Webelos; most are optional). Arrow of Light is the highest award a cub can get, and the only one they can still wear on their uniform when advancing to the older scouts. With both cub scouts and boy scouts, any badge worn on the left shirt pocket is a “rank,” and any badges worn anywhere else on the uniform are not a rank.

    Using “pioneer” in the name of a Church program might seem too Utah-centric. “Nelson Youth” could have only sounded legitimate if someone else had conceived the whole thing (think Dumbledore’s Army), but names are better when they don’t have to change every time a prophet passes on. And President Nelson would be the first to suggest that we should be emphasizing Christ’s name more than that of any other person.

  11. The truth of the matter is:
    – The global nature of the church drastically simplifies the program to the average capability of all the church.
    – Scouting for teachers in priests was only done well in a handful of areas and even in many strong Utah stakes, it was seriously waning (camping still was effective, but the “scouting program” was dying for years).
    – The new program does indeed have some basic structure – parents, advisers help the youth align goals under the spiritual, intellectual, physical, and social.

    I hope Stake activities and expenditures on the youth will grow substantially. I hope high adventures will still be planned and can be integrated into the youth goals.

    But the pessimist side of me fears this whole thing is a slow decline to the average level of the world wide church for many of the areas of the church with a strong foundation. That being said, God has said the first will be last and the last will be first. If the Brethren are hastening that day within our own ranks, so be it.

    But I can’t help be look at thing with the foolish eyes of man and wonder why we’d take areas of strength where the church has a strong foundation of youth programs, and simplify them as we try to focus on building up youth programs in weak areas. Again, one of the most fruitless things you can do as an executive is try to turn a weakness into a strength — rather than focusing on your strengths. Centralizing management of a world wide program naturally does this, because each region isn’t developing their own programs, but looking to the top level leadership for what to do. And the top level leadership has to keep less developed areas in mind at the same time as strong areas in the USA and elsewhere. But again, that’s the foolishness of man talking.

    Let’s trust in God and give it our all — if we like principles of scouting and have youth or callings with the youth, encourage them to reach for the stars with their goals and not just set a goal to “read my scriptures more”.

  12. I was active in the Scout “program” from age 12 to 18 (1960-66). Lots of campouts, water skiing, swim parties, summer camps and other activities. Lots of fun. Not much emphasis on advancement (though merit badges were stressed). Very few of us became Eagle Scouts. Lots of enthusiastic men as leaders, but not stuck on formality or structure. It was good for me.

    It was all it needed to be: association with good youth, good role models, doing fun things.

    Though my children are 35 to 45 years old and my oldest grandchild is 11 (so I am not experienced), I am fairly certain that most of today’s “youth” would balk at too much structure. On the other hand, no structure (and that seemingly now provided by their parents) is problematic too.

    I think the primary goal of this new “initiative” should be to give the youth lots of opportunities to be together with each other and quality adults doing fun or productive (charity work?) things. …the better to contrast with the wider culture teenagers are immersed in.

  13. Eagle: “I was asked, “If you saw another Eagle Scout shoplifting, would you turn him into the scout office so his Eagle status could be taken away.” I replied, “Honestly, no. If you’re stealing then you’ve already lost the honor that comes from being an Eagle, and removing your status won’t make a difference to you.””

    That is an odd question, indicating the board of review had no idea about Scout regulations. When I became an Eagle Scout, a similar question came up, and it turns out the official policy of the BSA is to never revoke Eagle status. The official policy was (at least back then), summed up by one high ranking leader “for better or worse, once an Eagle, always an Eagle. If an Eagle Scout commits a crime, not matter how terrible, they don’t lose their status as an Eagle. It just means an Eagle Scout committed a crime.”

    Perhaps things have changed since then, but I don’t think they have.

  14. For what it’s worth, I’m fairly certain that the official new program from the Church has significantly more structure than what has been introduced so far (but at the same time, significantly less rigid structure than scouting or even Duty to God or Young Women’s recognition). Having said that, flexibility and localization appears to be the name of the game, which Has its drawbacks but is better than any alternative I can think of.

  15. I think revoking Eagles is a road that BSA wants nothing to do with. Once you revoke one person’s Eagle for crime X, then you have to worry about everyone else who did something that may or may not be worse. If they have to hold a tribunal for every allegation of shoplifting… Yikes! Then if you revoke the Eagle, does that leave the person still a Life Scout, or do you have to revoke all the other ranks too? And if you have to revoke all those ranks for every shoplifter, then do you need to determine every Tenderfoot who shoplifted so that rank can be revoked? BSA has enough to worry about with currently registered members, without having them passing judgement on private citizens who once were members.

    In theory, every ward was supposed to charter a Varsity Team and a Venturing Crew (not a “varsity crew”). The deacons were supposed to be registered in the Troop, the teachers in the Team, and the priests in the Crew. In theory, there might be legends of wards somewhere that could do that, but in the real world (even in Utah, I suspect), there just aren’t enough youth to do that. Most wards barely have enough young men to charter a Troop. And then we were supposed to segregate the 11-year-olds for reasons that make no sense, making the troop barely functional.

  16. There’s a certain militant faction within the LGBT community that would have demanded that boy scouts have to see drag queen shows. Ridiculous? what about the drag queen reading hour that’s happening in libraries across the country? still think it’s ridiculous?

  17. I hope that the new program involves lots of long expensive trips to distant locations of spiritual significance; lots of fundraising and planning that is supposed to be done by the youth but actually done by their leaders. We all know that youth can feel the spirit better when we spend more money on them and the farther they are from home. I also hope we get into subtle passive aggressive contests with other units in our stakes to see who can have the most impressive activities.

  18. I think it’s good that the Church is severing itself from Scouts. Scouts is all about youth leadership, and even if the church’s lips are occasionally towards youth leadership, it’s heart is far from it. Scouts works when you have a group of boys who want to be Scouts, not a group of boys who want to be members of the church and are doing whatever their youth leader is asking them to do.
    In the church the “youth” leadership tended to be the newly wed husbands, who didn’t have any scout age kids, who was willing the take the calling. They probably did Scouts, but didn’t get much leadership experience with it, and so this is their leadership experience. But since they had yet to have teenagers themselves, they never took it as seriously as an adult with the motivation of seeing their own children’s development.
    The ideal Scout Master is a High Priest with a truck who needs to prove that he’s still young.

  19. Stewart, I desperately wish that my ward and stake had had some money to actually do something fun with us. Our Youth Conferences generally consisted of a service project (usually picking up trash), then wearing Sunday dress at the stake center to sit in classes and be lectured, then a dance. Rinse and repeat for four years. Meanwhile the various Baptist churches had extremely high quality youth programs with trained clergy, music, Bible study, and travel all included. Guess which kids were excited to talk about church at school?

    I understand that entertainment and the Spirit aren’t one and the same, but neither are they mutually exclusive. I look back at my ward at the number of kids who wound up inactive and can’t help wondering if a few interesting activities would have incentivized them to show up and maybe feel something that would have kept them coming.

  20. I personally am very glad that the church is exiting scouting. There’s a certain militant demographic of the LGBT movement that would have demanded that the Boy Scouts have to see drag queen shows. Does this seem ridiculous? Think about all the drag queen story hours that are happening at libraries across the country. Doesn’t seem so ridiculous anymore does it?

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