What Do Scouts Do?
By: Mike Walton (blackeagle)
Posted On: 2020-04-13
(This was originally written as part of my unpublished book "Eagle Feathers" in 2004.)
A question posed to me -- surprising because of who asked the question -- made me think a lot about what the public thinks that Scouting is about and what little we've told them recently about what we do.
I was standing on a platform at the Crystal City, Virginia stop along the METRO, Washington D.C.'s series of underground trains which run between most of the communities in and around the capital city of our nation. The trains run underground and above-ground as well as they snake their way around many of the suburbs and urban areas of the capital city of the nation and communities in northern Virginia and southern Maryland.
It was a Saturday morning, and many of the people also waiting on the platform were tourists or weekend shoppers like me. I woke up early to do some shopping in a shopping area. I chose to wear my Scout uniform shirt -- no, not the one displayed on my website’s homepage, but an insignia-impaired version because it was a newer cotton shirt -- because I was on my way to Vienna, Virginia to attend a morning breakfast meeting – and then mainly for the pancakes and sausage and the warm coffee.
While standing there, an older man tugged at my left shoulder loop and asked me if I was in the military.
I turned and answered, "Yes, sir, I am, but this is a Boy Scout uniform, not a military uniform." He looked at me as I turned around, showing him the "Boy Scouts of America" strip and the few other patches I made time the previous week and a half in sewing onto the shirt.
"You're a Boy Scout leader?" I nodded as I turned to see if the train was coming. The marquee sign stated it would be there in four minutes.
"I thought Boy Scouts were gone...I never see them. I guess I didn't know what to look for. Say, what does a Scout do nowadays?" The question startled me so much that I made a full turn and faced the man. I didn't know whether to be offended at his question or to answer it directly.
"Well, sir, I don't want to bore you, but Scouting is a lot more than you may have thought it was in the past," I stated, sounding like a 70s-era Scouting commercial which stated pretty much the same things. I then smiled a bit because I remembered that commercial.
He responded, "I don't see them as I said. I never hear about them. I think they were in the news a year ago about something dealing with gay boys or something...What do your guys do now?"
My head was still swimming with the possible responses I could offer this guy. Was he trying to really "torque me" with his questions? Was he really that clueless -- even CNN covered the BSA's decision in the Supreme Court and its ramifications. And just a few weeks ago, CBS led off its popular "Sixty Minutes" program with a 13-minute discussion on the pros and cons of gays involved in Scouting and the impact it had on the program. Newspapers and magazines all over the nation have written stories dealing with the Boy Scouts of America.
But then, I thought about something else, something I have harped upon volunteers and professionals since I started making public speaking addresses. I waited until the train arrived, and until we both sat down in the same section of the train to answer him.
"Well, first, sir, I need to know what you think Scouting is all about." I sat down, my arms and elbows reaching the tops of my knees as I looked across at the man.
The man explained, "well, I don't know what they're all about now, but they used to be about helping people. When I was growing up in the Midwest, we used to see the Scouts doing everything. They were working at shelters and old-folks homes, helping people with getting groceries and things, and they did a lot of camping. They also put up and took down flags all over town. I've never seen anyone dressed like you since I've moved here to Ballston (a suburb of Arlington, Virginia). I've seen some of those boys in blue -- bluebirds? -- standing outside a shopping mall giving out flyers, though."
"Cub Scouts. Those boys in blue and yellow -- they are Cub Scouts," I corrected the man.
I then continued, "I'm not a bit surprised, sir. For some reason, I think most people have put us out of mind since the 70s. We still camp, although not as much as we used to. That's because kids today have so much more going on with their lives."
I nodded in the direction, and the man turned his head to see a young Black kid at the end of the train section, headphones surrounding his bobbing head as he was mouthing the words silently to some song he was listening to, his eyes closed to imagine perhaps the music video which he may have viewed earlier.
"A lot of things we used to do we don't do anymore. Many parents have some idea that while it was okay for them to do those things when they were younger, that their children would "do better" and won't be subjected to such work. Some parents demanded that Scouts get paid for doing "good turns" because otherwise, it would become a form of child labor. Other parents felt that their sons would be used to further the "goals" of some adults. And we've had our share of bad things which happened to some of our kids which made parents scared even to put their kids in Scouting."
I scooted closer to the man in the crowded train car as I continued, "But Scouting really hadn't changed too much since the days when I was a Scout. The programs become a bit more cautious and we have changed some of our uniforms and badges. But it's the same thing. We are still building strong citizens of quality character." I inserted that last line, a line I've used to tell people in summary what Scouting is all about, as I looked at the man. He wasn't convinced.
"So the numbers must be down, then...I don't see how you're getting to kids today. What, you've got those pocket computers, the online, and the beepers and the cell phones now. I don't see Scouts hanging out at the malls or the stores. It just seems to me you guys just let it all go and forgot what you're supposed to be doing."
"Which is? " I asked. I really wanted to hear this but I had to wait until after we moved away from the Pentagon transfer stop and the stares of some of the people getting on the train. I overheard one kid tell his dad, "He's in Scouts. You know that, Dad?" as he walked by the older man and me. "Aren't you guys supposed to care about conservation? Everywhere I go, I see nothing but trash and a bunch of kids playing around it. What about drugs? Weren't you guys working on a drug prevention program?? Do you guys have Eagle Scouts any more??"
I smiled at his last question.
"I'm an Eagle Scout."
"Where's your sash at?? Every Eagle Scout I've seen had one of those sashes that went down in front with all kinds of small round badges on it..." I don't think the guy really believed me. I went on to answer his questions.
"Merit badges. Adults don't wear them. And we do still have a very active conservation and environment program called "Save Our American Resources" and a drug prevention program called "A Dangerous Game," which we loan out to schools and churches all over the nation to use."
I then caught my breath as I stood. "This is my transfer point. I'm on my way to a Scouting breakfast meeting." I turned around, shaking hands with the man,
"Thanks for your questions. I am writing a book about the direction Scouting is going in, and I would love to include your words..."
He returned the handshake and stated, "Just tell them that they need to do more to let us know that you're still around. I'm serious...I didn't know that Scouts were still going on until I saw you...and I really thought you were some kind of military guy or something... Just tell them that they need to do more to tell people like me what you guys are up to."
So, what have you done today to let people know Scouting is still around??