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Revisiting Boy Scouts

A month or so ago, I posted a link to an article questioning whether the Boy Scouts were still relevant. Aaron posted an immensely personal response to it that is very much worth a read. The thrust of his argument is that despite concerns over conformity and the social policies of the organization in general, the experience is a highly positive one for his 7 year old son.

A recent post on MAKE magazine’s blog reminded me that I had yet to have responded to Aaron’s post. MAKE’s article focuses on the fact that Boy (and Girl) Scouts are long overdue for an overhaul that will bring them fully into the digital age. In contrast though, I feel (and I believe Aaron would agree) that Scouting’s backward approach to social conformity and creating “upstanding citizens” is at the heart of its real problems and it’s inability to embrace technology is a symptom rather than the disease. Discussion, as well as delving deeper into my own reasons for leaving Boy Scouts when I was a kid, below the jump.

In regards to Aaron’s comment, the one thing I’ve been meaning to respond to for quite some time is some confusion over what I meant when I stated that the values they promoted were backward. Rather than their stances on things such as homosexuality, I was more trying to nod toward the exact nature of conformity that he himself found disconcerting. Furthermore, that the policies that encourage this conformity haven’t really changed in the past 50 years.

When I joined Boy Scouts at the tender (yet far too old) age of 13, I saw a group of soon to be teenage boys in an environment that had far too many surface similarities to Leave It To Beaver, all of which quickly peeled away if you spent any time actually talking to the members of the troop. I quit the week after I was taken aside and chastised for saying “God Dammit,” first because I wasn’t going to sit around and get lectures on the Ten Commandments and second because I was one of the few kids there who didn’t smoke his weight in pot on a weekly basis. I didn’t see myself as being the bad kid, here. Exceedingly angry at the world, yes, but this environment definitely wasn’t helping that.

I think my dad was actually proud of me for quitting as I’m not sure he was comfortable with Scouts to begin with and had only put me there as some kind of post-divorce normalization exercise. I don’t know if he decided I didn’t need normalizing or just didn’t need THAT kind of normalizing, but in any event he required that I go back and explain my reasons for leaving to the Scout Master who had lectured me. I think having to calmly and rationally explain my reasons for quitting wound up building more character than anything else I’d done there. In retrospect, that speaks volumes as to the value of Scouting for me at that point in my life.

Had I joined it when younger (and much less angry), things might have been different. However I find I can agree with nearly every complaint listed on the forum post linked in the MAKE post above. So in short, for a kid looking to learn confidence and self reliance, Boy Scouts definitely still serves a purpose. However insofar as serving for a moral compass for young adults, I’m less than convinced it does any good.



I think having to calmly and rationally explain my reasons for quitting wound up building more character than anything else I’d done there. Love that; your dad sounds awesome.

I’ve two best-case scenarios I imagine for my son Dylan. In one of them, he continues to learn life skills and appreciate nature but quits in his mid-teens when he realizes some of the tenements behind the group make no sense (John Spain / Aaron Curtis style).

In the other scenario, he goes all the way and becomes an Eagle Scout but he’s got such a liberal lifestyle that it’s a quirky bit of trivia about his past (David Lynch style).

Worst case scenario, he gets infected with groupthink, can’t make his own decisions, and ends up volunteering for the armed forces.

Aaron Curtis · Mar 20, 09:07 PM · #

I really should find the people in my troop and find out where in the above spectrum they wound up.

Also it’s worth noting that the senior scouts in my troop all fell into the first category and were all great people but I can picture a few of them definitely falling into the latter one.

john spain · Mar 26, 10:31 AM · #

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