new york times

What the New York Times Could Learn About the Boy Scouts

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In the days since the Boy Scouts announced that they were going to allow Cub Scout packs to form dens for girls, a lot of misinformation has been coming out about the Boy Scout program. For example, I came across an article by Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times, Things Boys Could Learn at Girl Scouts. It’s well-meaning but misses what the Boy Scout program actually is, and what it does.

I’m not in any way putting down the Girl Scout program, which has been successfully helping girls develop into the best women they can be for over a century – but the Boy Scout program already covers pretty much everything she says it should cover – it just does it using different vocabulary. It’s not that boys shouldn’t learn the skills she’s talking about (they should) – it’s that they already do.

So I thought I’d go point-by-point, and show how the Boy Scout program already covers these topics.

I’ll start with this:

“Some Girl Scout badges promote stereotypical notions of femininity. Many are about helping others. Even the flowers badge asks girls to “find out how flowers help people.” There’s also a focus on appearance. The independence badge, for “striding down your path to changing the world,” includes learning how to “make your clothes look great.” The “eating for you” badge — recently called “eating for beauty” — emphasizes how nutrition helps with “smooth skin, shiny hair and strong nails.”

The Scout Law for each group includes similar virtues, like being honest, helpful and friendly. But girls might be better off, too, if more boys earned badges like those from the Girl Scouts for respect and fair play, and for taking responsibility for their actions, not to mention babysitting and making dinner. In that spirit, here are 10 Girl Scout badges that might benefit Boy Scouts:

Are we to assume that she thinks Boy Scout badges don’t include helping others? Who does she think First Aid will be performed on? The mention that the Scout Oath implores Scouts to “Help other people at all times” didn’t come up in her research? How did she miss the fact that Boy Scouts must complete service hours and help others to complete every rank

 

Babysitter

Most of the fastest-growing jobs, like those for health aides and physical therapists, involve caring for others, so boys would benefit from learning these skills. Researchers say caring for younger children or pets is a good way to do so (both groups have pet badges.) Even in two-income families, women still do more child care, another reason to teach boys early.

So the fact that Boy Scouts have a First Aid merit badge didn’t come up in her research? It’s the most-earned merit badge, and it involves caring for others. Somehow Family Life Merit Badge didn’t come up on the radar. She’s put a picture of it in the article, why not Google the requirements? I’m sorry, but “Discuss the following with your counselor your understanding of what makes an effective father and why, and your thoughts on the father’s role in the family” seems relevant to me.

And this is to say nothing of the leadership opportunities that Boy Scouts get in working as a Den Chief – helping out with a den of younger boys. Leading and taking care of others is a requirement for the highest ranks in Scouting.

 

Simple Meals

Women, on average, spend more than twice as much time as men each day preparing food and cleaning up afterward, according to the American Time Use Survey. But everyone needs to eat. The Boy Scouts recently made a badge for cooking a requirement of the Eagle Scout rank.

Um… Cooking Merit Badge was one of the original 57 Merit Badges created by the Boy Scouts in 1911.  It goes over the preparation of simple meals, and more complex ones. It also involves shopping for groceries. That this is somehow missed in her research is unforgivable. Really, how did she miss “Cooking” on the list? It’s the 3rd-most earned merit badge.

Meanwhile, there are cooking requirements for the Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class Ranks. For some reason, the fact that Boy Scouts are in most cases expected to prepare their own meals, and clean up after themselves on most campouts also doesn’t merit mention. And this is to say nothing at all of the cooking requirements for Bear Cub Scouts.

Really, would boys would be benefitted by changing the name of the badge from Cooking to Simple Meals?

I don’t get it.

 

Scribe

“Words are powerful tools,” this badge’s instructions say. “Just writing down your feelings actually makes you feel better!” Girls are taught to have a larger emotional vocabulary than boys. As a result, many boys end up suppressing their emotions or letting them out in destructive ways, researchers say.

Obviously, words are powerful tools. But somehow the fact that the Boy Scouts have multiple writing merit badges eluded her? From Communications to Journalism (how was this one missed by a newspaper writer?) to Movie Making, Theater (where Scouts are required to write a one-act play), and Public Speaking (where writing and delivering a five-minute speech is required.) – Boy Scouts have to do some writing.

As to an emotional vocabulary, and how to deal with emotions, this is again, one of the pillars of the Boy Scout program.

 

Coaching

This badge requires Girl Scouts to “motivate a team to accomplish its goals.” Teamwork is one of the most important skills in the modern economy. Jobs requiring social skills, like lawyer, nurse and financial manager, have grown much more than those that don’t, like machine operator and welder, research shows. Teamwork is a core part of Boy Scout activities too.

Somehow the Patrol Method has eluded our author? That providing leadership to others is also a requirement for Star, Life, and Eagle has also slipped by her observations? Somehow the rather elaborate series of leadership courses that older Scouts are encouraged to complete is also missing. Not a word about National Youth Leadership Training, which includes a lot of coaching training.

Of course, if “teamwork is a core part of Boy Scout activities,” then why does she list it as a thing the Boy Scouts “could benefit from?”

 

Making Friends

Another badge focuses on social skills, this one for Girl Scouts who “show friends you care” and “learn how to disagree” — skills that would surely be useful for boys in their personal lives and their jobs.

Friendly is the fourth point of the Scout Law – which the boys repeat at the beginning of every meeting. Courteous? Kind? Nothing about the Buddy System? Again, it’s not so much that she’s getting things wrong about the Girl Scouts, but rather, wasting a lot of people’s time in imploring the Boy Scouts to do things they’re already doing, and have been doing for over a century.

Yes, making friends is a useful skill for boys to learn in their personal lives and in their jobs. But the BSA has been teaching these skills to boys since William Howard Taft was President. Parents bring have been bringing their boys to Cub Scouts to develop their social skills since 1930.

 

My Great Day

“Life is more fun when it’s running smoothly,” this badge’s instructions say. “Try out some great ways to get organized.” These include sorting, planning and doing homework. Schools reward skills like being organized, waiting one’s turn and following directions. Girls seem to develop self-control earlier, which might be one reason boys have more discipline problems and lower grades in school.

The entire Cub Scout program is dedicated to developing self-control. Has she not heard of the Cub Scout sign? Has “A Scout is Obedient” not come up in her reading?

As to organization, the Boy Scout program teaches this naturally. If you’re going to live in a self-sustaining manner out of a backpack over the course of let’s say, a 50-miler, you’re going to need to develop an organizational system that works for you.

Again, has the Boy Scout Motto, “Be Prepared” not come up in her research?

As to discipline problems, boys and girls learn differently. Girls, as it turns out, are better at younger ages at sitting still for long periods of time. Boys need to move around. This has a lot to do with what schools consider “discipline problems.” These same boys don’t tend to have those problems at their Scout meetings, where they’re allowed to move around. The American educational system is failing our boys and could stand to learn a lot from the Boy Scouts in how to work with boys and young men.

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Respect Myself and Others

Respect for others is at the root of many problems today, whether political polarization or sexual harassment. Teaching it to children seems at least as important as woodworking and archery. The Girl Scouts start in kindergarten: It’s a petal badge, for daisies, who are the youngest members.

Is this supposed to suggest that the Cub Scout program doesn’t teach respect for others? The Boy Scout program is a character-building organization, that sometimes does woodworking and archery, not the other way around. These activities are a means to an end. The word reverent is a synonym for respectful, and “Respectful Relationships” is one of the 10 purposes of Cub Scouting.

Getting back to self-control – that’s one of the main reasons that Boy Scouts work on archery. You cannot be an effective archer without self-control. You need to learn to follow the rules of the range. The level of self-control eventually gets to the fact that in order to be an effective archer, you even need to be able to control your breathing.

 

Responsible for What I Say and Do

Boys tend to have more discipline problems, but the problem, according to educators and researchers, comes when people dismiss them with the excuse that boys will be boys. Taking responsibility for their actions — another petal badge, for kindergarteners and first graders — is a valuable skill for children of either sex. The Boy Scouts emphasize ethical and moral choices in their mission statement.

What was the point of including this one? She admits that the Boy Scouts emphasizes ethical and moral choices – so why include this badge? Boys in the Boy Scout program have fewer discipline problems than other boys, so they’re actually pretty successful in this.

 

Fair Play

This badge is for Girl Scouts who learn to “include everyone” and to “be part of a team,” with the idea that “everyone follows the same rules.” Research has shown that one reason women stall before reaching positions of power is that institutions aren’t inclusive. People tend to hire and promote others who look like them. When women offer ideas, they are often interrupted or considered to be too aggressive.

What does this have to do with the Boy Scouts… at all? The idea that fair play isn’t taught in the Boy Scouts is nonsensical. Sports Merit Badge is all about fair play, as demonstrated in requirement 3d, “Discuss … The attributes (qualities) of a good sport, the importance of sportsmanship, and the traits of a good team leader and player who exhibits Scout spirit on and off the playing field.”

As to interrupting others while speaking, a Scout is Courteous would seem to cover that.

 

Finding Common Ground

The requirements for this badge include “get to know someone different from you,” “make decisions in a group” and “explore civil debate.” The Boy Scouts have citizenship badges that include attending a city council meeting and learning how to express differences of opinion. Often people’s biases are unconscious, researchers have found, so practicing treating others with openness and civility — for both genders — is bound to help.

This is covered by multiple Merit Badges and in the Scout Oath and Law. It’s also a big part of the Patrol Method. I’d also suggest that some unconscious biases are at work in this article.

Is she suggesting that boys in the Boy Scout program aren’t taught to treat people of both genders with civility?

There probably are things the Girl Scouts do that the Boy Scouts could incorporate into their program – I’ve never been involved with the Girl Scout program, so I don’t know. But I don’t see those things here.

I think Clair Cain Miller is well-meaning – but the crux of her article would seem to be that the Boy Scouts have different titles for their merit badges. They teach some of the same skills in different ways.  I’d like to encourage her to get to know the BSA’s programs a little better. I think she’d like them.

 

Note: I’m going to cover the addition of Girls to the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs in a podcast later this week. I’ve been sick, and my voice isn’t back to 100% yet. Thanks for your patience.

 

Photo by alextorrenegra

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