Shutterstock image purchased by Mike Walton
I love hiking. It is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, to travel with my friends and share experiences with them, and to sing silly songs. As a youth, I participated in some 15 or so hiking trails, mostly because there was an excellent looking medal to add to my faux "buckskin display" I made in Cub Scouts, or patch to go onto my jean jacket (couldn't afford a red jac-shirt until I started college). Even without the "rewards" at the end of the hike, was the satisfaction that we did it...and had fun doing it. That is what Scouting really is all about: enjoying the hike.
Since 1990, I have been receiving email sent to various email addresses asking me for information, advice, or just someone to read their rants and emotional experiences (good and bad) dealing with the American Boy Scouting programs. Over the decades, people either did not like the fact that I was "selling the BSA out," telling all of the "secrets" which they and their compatriots kept from everyone else refereeing the Games of Scouting...
...or they were happy and excited that someone "high up" (I still look around when people refer to me as a "higher up" as if to say "you must have me confused with someone else...") pushed through the b.s. that some "officials" were telling them and it ended up to be ways to suppress their or their son's Scouting experiences...some to the point of turning those families away from Scouting and pursuing other means of "having fun with the guys."
On Tuesday, I received a note sent to my America Online (AOL) account, an account I set up primarily to accept those many hundreds of email requests and inquiries. I am only copying the parts here which doesn't address my racial heritage, doesn't address the fact that I'm a "loser," or else I would still be in the Army (no sir, I had to leave like all other officers who come up on that time -- one can only stay in the active side of the Army for 28 years unless you're a general officer, which I am not. If I was promoted to full Colonel, tack on two more years unless I became a general officer. I have no desire in this life to be anything above a full Colonel), or questions concerning my citizenship. He was also confused with the fact that I work in Tennessee but am living in Minnesota and said I was "cheating on my taxes" because Tennessee has no state income tax, but Minnesota does. I received my 2015 Minnesota state refund yesterday.
Tell me something. Why do you think the BSA is losing kids left and right? It's because the BSofA lost their nerves. This is not new -- the Scouts have been dying, and you and your friends are talking over what's left now. Why can't the BSofA pick up and go back to what they were all about -- camping and hiking and swimming. Why do they have to have gadgets now to teach badges and the paperwork? My problem with you is not all of your badges and ribbons and (stuff). It is with how Americans no longer pay attention to Boy Scouts and Boy Scouting. They don't see it as a white kids program anymore, thanks to (people) like you. They see it as a charity program now, which is why nobody supports it anymore. When you and the BSofA get their (stuff) together, maybe you can re-live what they lost. Personally...(he writes that he wants all non-white people, Jews and Mormons to form their own Scout organization and leave the BSA to what he calls "Christ's kids").
I don't get a lot of notes like that one...but this one provoked me to bring out my "Five Reasons Why the BSA is in a Slide...and what they AND YOU can do about it!" I presented this to a conference of Scoutmasters in the early 90s to a standing ovation. Here's the five, updated only to reflect our current programs:
- The Boy Scouts of America has values. Those positive set of values are not prefaced with "only White kids," or "only kids living in the suburbs" or even "only those who believe in the true and Almighty God, his son Jesus and the divine Holy Spirit." When a kid joins a Cub Scout Pack, a Boy Scout Troop, a Varsity Scout Team, a Venturing Crew or a Sea Scout Ship, he (or she) becomes one of US. Sure, we may ask where does his momma or daddy or other parent works; we may ask what school he (or she) goes to and what grade are they in; we may even ask that kid what foods are they allergic or have a distaste for. But regardless -- when they raise their hand in the Sign of the Scout or the other program signs, they aren't alone. And they are not isolated.
As a parent, you need to reinforce the fact that unlike the football team, or the soccer team, or the MathCounts team -- they are a Scout 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year -- and their behavior is not just "checked" by you as their parent, but by OTHER people's parents and people they don't even KNOW. They now have people who seriously "have their backs" as long as they live up to those positive values. When they don't -- they will know it and so will your son.
-Scouting is NOT an after-school dropoff activity, an "indoor playgroup," or a babysitting service. "BSA" does NOT stand for "Baby Sitters of America." Scouting is a social, service, support, and supervised program of ACTION. Scouting is designed to do things outdoors as much as possible. It is not a school, but a local program run by local people. With very few exceptions, those people are NOT paid to be there. When you drop your son off at the Scout meeting location, are you SURE you are dropping him off at a safe place? How do you know? Have you met the Den Leader, the Scoutmaster or Assistant, the Coach or Assistant Coach, the Advisor or Associate Advisor, the Skipper or the Skipper's Mate? What? You don't have time to chit chat yet there you are on your phone chatting away with Arlene or Nick about something stupid you heard at work or on the way to and from.
WHAT IS MORE IMPORTANT -- that "place you gotta be" or YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER (or both)? If you are worried that we Scouters are going to rope tie you and make you sign an adult application when you really don't want to...trust me when I say I would much rather go with the people I have than to have to deal with your whiny butt ON TOP OF your son's whiny butt! But don't drop Timmy off thinking that "everything's fine"...it may NOT BE. We in the BSA pride ourselves on how we get rid of those "undesirables" among us, those who do not belong around kids period. But we need YOU as a parent or guardian to help keep our collective feet to the fire, so to speak, and that can only happen when YOU take an active interest in your son's Scouting activities.
- The advancement program is designed for YOUR SON -- not you. You are not "working toward Eagle with your son," your SON is working toward Eagle (or the Arrow of Light) (or Summit) (or Denali) (or Quartermaster) with OTHERS in his unit. Unless your son clearly says he needs help dealing with what he feels is unfair, LET HIM WORK THROUGH IT. One of the best pieces of advice came from an 18-year-old Life Scout who wrote me separately from his mom and dad's almost daily emails to me complaining about the "leadership in their son's group" (didn't even know what it was called). The parents wanted me (like I can actually DO something like this) to "get them all kicked out" because they were unfair to their son. I get a lot of letters like this, but their son in this case -- the "victim" -- wrote me separately and asked me to please ignore what his parents are saying and asking me to do.
He said that it is his fault that he hasn't completed all of the requirements toward Eagle by his 18th birthday. He had lots of reminders; even some of his buds from the Troop were continually telling him to "get er done." He said that it was really just a matter of him not really caring about being an Eagle Scout. His parents care because there was money to be "made" by being an Eagle Scout.
He was happy being Life (the rank before Eagle), was active in his Order of the Arrow Lodge, was a volunteer with a community kitchen as a result of his Eagle service project and he had a female friend (he didn't call her a girlfriend) he met while working the kitchen. I asked if he ever told his parents any of this, and he responded back "sure! but all they were interested in was the grants and the scholarships and the college money because they swore that "Eagle Scouts get all of the good stuff..." and they wanted me to be among those getting that "good stuff."
The BSA needs to stop "promoting Eagle as the BSA's best" and instead concentrate on those Scouts, Venturers and Sea Scouts who may or may not be Eagle but are contributors in their communities, schools, churches. That's where the people that Scouting impacts are. It makes it easier to raise money, to provide new programs and to build upon successes. Those young people have a voice -- let THEM do the talking!
-We in Scouting have too many manuals and books. Our Charter and Bylaws, Rules and Regulations, policies dealing with how we will handle abuse and bullying, policies on how we raise money and an exact lay down as to where it goes and why -- locally and nationally --and policies on how to do Scouting safely, healthy and with a good dose of common sense and fair play -- should be in ONE or TWO books, available to the PUBLIC (not "mother may I" to some gatekeeper) and issued to every unit leader, committee chair and Institutional Head (today called the Chartered Organizational Representative). Everyone "refereeing" the Games of Scouting should have copies of all of these, thereby putting people like "the blackeagle" out of the "answering business." I enjoy answering the hundreds of emails daily, but a lot of it is boilerplate and comes to explaining where "the source code" is and what does it say.
There are some 25 or so publications in which I use to perform research in getting answers for parents, volunteers, and yeah, some field professionals. If they had access to the same materials I have, they can look it up themselves and "save."
(an important note is that the BSA has been listening to other volunteers and me since the early 90s. The Guide to Safe Scouting, the Guide to Advancement and the recent release online and in print of both the BSA Rules and Regulations and Charter and Bylaws are essential steps forward and prevents people from saying "you're hiding your key publications from your volunteers..." There's a lot more to go, however...)
-The Boy Scouts of America is not for sale. At any price. It is not something we should even consider "bartering for." In a few years, the BSA will become 100 years old. Many people are going to ask the same questions many of you have been asked: with the onset of computers and high tech, will Scouting still be around? Or will it become something special for those who remember it as a part of Americana? We need to upmost keep our values positive and reflective of ALL of America's youth; we need to make Scouting more than a "catchphrase" but an ACTION phrase in our communities, and we need to stop pretending it is a secret club for just the "cool kids" and their families. People are scared of computers in their workplaces, homes, and religious places. More importantly, parents are scared to death that computers will become the next "drug of choice" for their children. Worse than video games, with the power to, well, they did not know.
This is why Scouting continues to be relevant today. One cannot smell the outdoors through a Mac or PC. They can hear sounds and perhaps someday see an Eagle flying high off a cliff into a valley. They may be able some time to even send images of the great outdoors to their friends.
It is NOT the same as actually BEING OUTDOORS and experiencing those and many other things. Scouting allows your son the opportunity to visually, aurally, and emotionally enjoy areas of this nation and world they would otherwise have to read about. As technology moves forward, so will Scouting -- for the program will adapt to the changes in American society, indeed the world. It has since 1910. The BSA will continue to provide ways for Scouts to enjoy the outdoors and to protect it. As parents, I am asking you to support your son (and daughter) as they expand the limits of their personal knowledge and experience through outdoor adventures and encampments at our national High Adventure Bases.
Five things. The BSA is working to do their part. As parents, I am asking you to do your part: emphasize the values found in our Scouting Promise or Oath and Law; treat those meetings as something the FAMILY should be involved in and assist when you feel ready to do so; remember that the advancement tracks were designed for your Scout -- not for you to "tag along" or "browbeat" him into doing. Every Scout progresses at their own rate and time; get access to and read through the "source code" of how Scouting is done and "refereed" for your son and others' health and safety, and stop treating Scouting as a secret word or something "only the chosen few" can do.
We want every young person of Scouting age to be a part of our programs. More importantly, we want every family to be a part of Scouting's family also. The tent is large enough to hold us all if we're willing to stop being petty, insular, and guarded and simply "enjoy the hike."