Girls in the Boy Scouts

Brian Gongol

Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

When I recall the twelve points of the Scout Law from my own childhood and adolescence, I can't help but think that not one of those twelve points is gender-specific.

Thinking about my own children, I want nothing more than for my daughters to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent -- just as much as I would want boys to be.

So that's why I have nothing but enthusiasm and applause for the news that the Boy Scouts of America are going to offer an equal and parallel program for girls. This is a very big evolutionary step for the organization, but I think it's also a very positive step on behalf of American civics.

People like to complain that "we don't teach civics in schools anymore". That may or may not be true -- but if we've always thought of schools as the solitary place in which civic values are turned over from generation to generation, then we've been relying on one institution far too much.

I tend to disagree. I think that the American values that established and maintain the country are passed on by a variety of institutions, including churches, families, schools, and voluntary organizations like the Scouts. Anything that enhances the likelihood that we will pass along those important values from generation to generation -- particularly in ways that are voluntary -- are to be encouraged in any sensible way we can.

I certainly understand that the Girl Scouts may be apprehensive about this development. But we have learned to mix genders in a variety of walks of American life that were previously gender-specific. Not least of these is the American military, upon which many of the virtues and values of the Scouting movement are modeled. If it's possible for the Marine Corps to permit women, then it certainly is possible for the Boy Scouts to open up to girls, as well as for the Girl Scouts to open up to boys.

Ideally, this change would mean that there will be more people in total who go through the two organizations (Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts), not that one will siphon off from the other. But that is up to both institutions to pursue on their own. One shouldn't be reluctant to evolve and improve out of fear that it might damage the other. Both organizations have survived "competition" from other youth activities, from 4-H to organized sports. Adaptation and change are inevitable.

Truly integrating girls' membership into the mainstream of Boy Scouts is, of course, an experiment. Even if it is a permanent change in policy, it's landing us in some place where we have no previous experience. But that's OK. No society has ever kept up self-government for as long and with as much success as the American experiment. That means it's a perpetual challenge to refine ourselves, make ourselves better, and pass on something better to the generations that follow us.

So it is with great enthusiasm that I welcome this change for the Boy Scouts. I have known many women who would have made outstanding Eagle Scouts. I hope this change means that the next generation will be full of them.

What drawbacks could there be to developing a nation full of people who share a common sets of republican virtues like the ones espoused in the Scout Law. If this means more of those values get passed along...if this means more people have the opportunity to participate...if this means that families that previously had to make choices between competing opportunities can now enroll their children in a coed organization passing along these virtues...then this ought to be celebrated.

It's a good day for America if our civic institutions, especially our voluntary organizations like the Scouts, find themselves in growth mode.

America is dependent upon perpetual change. We are not a static place. Sometimes those changes are dramatic, sometimes they are exciting, and sometimes they come with consequences for related institutions. But if, in the end, we can expand these virtues without depending so heavily up on "the schools" to get the job done all on their own, then America will be vastly better off for it.

Of course, I am not blind to the fact that there are people who will see problems with engaging boys and girls in their adolescent and teenage years -- especially if they envision shenanigans as they might go on campouts together.

But let's be honest about this: Scouting is not strictly about sending people out into the woods to have a good time. That may be one of the most recognizable things that Scouts do, but the essence of the organization is to produce well-rounded, virtuous citizens.

Well-roundedness emerges from the entirety of the Scouting experience, which of course does involve outdoor activities -- but also a variety of athletic, skill-development, leadership, and civic tasks, all of which are intended to produce well-rounded people.

Surely, too, any troubles that may be introduced by co-ed activities are ones that have already been addressed many times before, on such basic activities as school field trips. It's hardly novel to mingle boys and girls together in situations that might challenge them: I remember co-ed overnight retreats in the course of confirmation classes at church and mandatory co-ed swimming classes in the high school gym.

Besides, co-ed Scout troops aren't in the works, anyway. The announcement says clearly that there will be separate programs for boys and girls beyond the Cub Scout program for children in elementary school.

But one has to assume that there will be interaction and broad coordination between the two -- just as in the present day, when members of different troops interact at events like jamborees and service projects.

In the long run, introducing a coed element to Scouting -- even in a limited fashion -- ought to have a meritorious effect on the future adults that it will produce. One of the contributing factors in creating people like Harvey Weinstein is that, as a society, we have spent altogether too much of our energy on celebrating a youth culture that tells teenagers that the sum total of their experience is about chasing the opposite sex. This "Porky's"-like treatment of the pre-adult years impresses upon some people that a perpetual condition of tongue-wagging obsession with sexual gratification is perfectly normal.

That is, of course, a pretty empty way to live, even for a teenager. And even sadder, it seems to become a chronic condition in some adults.

Far better, it would seem, for boys and girls to be inculcated with the idea that adolescence is really about going through milestones in personal development.

As Ben Sasse wrote in his book, "The Vanishing American Adult":

"It's not that Americans don't have coming-of-age rituals, but rather that those rituals have become more automatic, and less purposeful, than achievement-based rituals. Our principal hurdles involve uncomplicated things, like taking pictures before prom or learning to pause the appropriate length of time before walking out to receive a high school diploma -- which is granted to virtually everyone who doesn't quit school."

To its great credit, Boy Scouting has a well-established (and widely recognized) ladder of these achievement-based rituals, culminating in the universally-recognized Eagle Scout Award. If expanding access to the program means that more young people will be guided into that course of ritual steps, then it has the power to do a great deal of social good.