First off.. if you are a Scout or Scouter read this post with caution. You may not agree with some of what I am going to say. Know that I love the Boy Scouts of America. I am always trying to tell our story in the best light of Scouting. I think it is the greatest youth program around. But in the discussion of membership it is fair that we take a look at ourselves and ask the question, Why is it Not cool to be a Scout? Please, if you disagree, read to the end and then leave a comment.
One of the most common things that I hear as a Scoutmaster during conferences is that sometimes our youth don’t feel that it is cool to be a Scout. Peer pressure at School and in their neighborhoods, comments made, and the fact that in most cases the uniform causes a boy to shy away from the program and certainly not invite his friends to join something that is not cool.
So why is that?
In my opinion one of the reasons is that we and the National Council do a terrible job at telling Scouting’s story. In our focus to deliver the “Main thing” we have lost sight on what Scouting has traditionally been about.
When I was a Scout, and I cringe at starting a sentence that way, but none the less, when I was a Scout I joined the Boy Scouts because it looked cool. I was drawn to the adventure. I was longing for to be in a group that Norman Rockwell painted climbing to the Tooth of Time or heading out for a weekend of canoeing. I watched as older boys embraced leadership and taught me skills in the outdoors. Older guys that played on the high school football team that we all looked up to but were not afraid to lead a song or skit at camp. Members of the Order of the Arrow that dressed like plains Indians and stood in canoes with torches blazing, landing on the shore and presenting dramatic ceremonies that left me wanting to be a part of their group.
While I am a believer that we need to take Scouting where the Scouts are… I am also a believer that we can take the Scout on an adventure that will challenge him and leave him wanting more. Instead, the Scouting story is that of catering to the lowest common denominator. We dumb things down because of parents that are over protective and do not understand Scouting.
We take away from the challenge and make it “Accessible”. I want every boy to have the opportunity to be a Scout, but I want every boy to accept the challenges that lead to self-reliance, life long skills, good character, and being fit. There is plenty in Scouting for all, but we have made it so restrictive that leaders no longer feel that they can seek and provide adventures in their units.
Bad press is the only press. That’s the story we get. It does not impact our youth that much, but it keeps Mom and Dad from bringing their son to us. When all we see is bad press, we judge the program based on it. Suddenly all Scout leaders are fat bone heads that push over billion year old rock formations. We are all looking to abuse youth. We are all.. well you get the point.
But what of good press. National does nothing. No ads on TV. Yes, I know that costs money, but what does the BSA waste each year fighting in the courts? How much does the BSA waste in preaching to the choir? They target the membership campaigns to those who are already in Scouting and fail to tell our story to those that need to hear it.
We have been systematically removed from the Schools, the Churches are bailing, and parents see this as an organization that can’t keep it’s poop in a group. It’s all bad press and yet we do nothing to turn the tide of the bad publicity.
We tend to circle our wagons and rally the troops from within the organization, but that’s it.
I watched a great video the other day on YouTube. Rex Tillerson, the former BSA President talking at the National Meetings of the BSA about the new changes that are taking effect. Of course I am talking about the new Non discrimination policy. What Rex had to say was fantastic, but you know, I bet only Scouters saw it. Why was it not on TV? Why did the BSA not contact the major media outlets and networks and have that 10 minute video or parts of it in the main stream media? 10,358 views on Youtube.. and I bet they are all Scout people. A google search produced hits on the video all associated with Scouting websites, blogs, and of course the National office.
Scouting is for nerds. Just ask your Scouts. That’s what they will tell you their classmates think. I recently sat with one of my Scouts at his Eagle Board of Review. One of the board members asked him if he thought Scouting was not cool. He answered that he thought it was cool, but it was not cool to those guys at his high School. The discussion kept going, “Why do you think that?” the Board member asked. “Because of what they think we do in Scouts” the Eagle candidate answered. “What do they think we do?” “Well, for the most part they think we go camping, but it’s mostly about crafts and artsy stuff.”
Crafts and artsy stuff. Yep, that is what we have become.
As a Cub Scout I remember doing craftsy stuff. Soap box derby races, pinewood derby and rockets led the list of cool things that we did as a den. The craftsy stuff when we got to Boy Scouts was Monkey bridges that actually crossed water. Signal towers that you could actually climb. Earning the Paul Bunyan Ax man award and actually chopping down trees.
But that’s all gone now. In the name of Safety? Really? No, in the name of insurance fear. I am not advocating getting Scouts hurt, but we didn’t then so what’s changed. We moved away from adventure and got wrapped up in the lowest impact don’t let Tommy Tenderfoot get dirty family camp.
Look at our merit badge program. Last summer at camp we had more Scouts earn the finger printing merit badge than the canoeing merit badge. It is what we have become.
We as parents have forgotten that our boys need to be boys. We as parents have forgotten that getting dirty is part of childhood. Playing in the woods and coming home when the street lights come on is part of the adventure of being a boy.
We are so afraid that every boy is a victim. Every boy is fragile and a broken bone is the end of the world. I once broke two bones in my arm when I was 10. What was I doing? Trying to fly. Not smart, but you know what, I am no worse for ware.
I watched a Patrol mate burn his eye brows off blowing on a camp fire. A great laugh and no harm done. I can remember coming home from camp outs and my mom not letting me in the house till I first took all my clothing off and hosed down in the backyard. I learned, I grew, and I am a better person for it.
I never earned Basketry or the Art merit badge, and if it were around in 1980 I would not have earned the game design merit badge. I did earn Backpacking, hiking, first aid, wilderness survival and those badges. Heck I joined Scouts for fun and adventure.. not more School work.
The Boy Scouts of America has a rich tradition and yes it has undergone many changes since 1910, but our story is the same. Our Story is still about Character building and Citizenship. Our Story is still about challenge and finding our limits and growing from experience. Our Story is still about great outdoor programs. Our Story is still about adventure and life long learning. Our Story is cool. But we don’t tell our story the way we want it heard. We don’t take the opportunity not to be just another YMCA or after school program, but to be the Boy Scouts of America full of the cool stuff that boys want and need.
We tell the story of numbers and membership, but forget that not everyone wants to be or should be a Scout. We tell the story of abuse and scandal without telling the story of the million great things going on every week at meetings and on monthly camp outs.
We get excited when we have a mediocre district event and wonder why our Scouts are not better recruiters. We miss out on telling our story in the media when things are going good. We miss the boat on getting ahead of bad press and showing the Boy Scouts for what we really are. We are cool, we are making a difference, we are what we say we are. But, for a group that prides itself of spinning a great campfire yarn, we don’t do a great job of telling our story.
Some thoughts. We clean up and get ourselves right. When we have guests come to our house, we straighten up, vacuum, and maybe even light a candle to make the place smell good.
Scouting needs to do that. We need to get our leaders to wear their uniform right and agree to deliver the promise of Scouting using the methods. Leaders need to be trained.
We need to get our Scouts in full uniforms out in the community doing something other than selling popcorn or marching in a parade. We need to show Scouts doing service and other cool stuff that really makes a difference.
We need to budget for local advertising. We need to get in the media in a positive light every opportunity we can.
We need to sell adventure… Not just another chess club. (I have nothing against chess, but we are talking adventure here) Boys want and need adventure.
We need to get with current outdoor practices and try new methods of camping. It is fun for the boys and increases the challenge for the whole unit.
We need to develop better relationships with the Forest service and Park Rangers. They are a great resource for Scouting.
Do you want Scouting to be cool? Then you need to act cool. You need to be cool. You need to look cool. Hey, we are cool… right?
I am tired of the BSA getting beat up for nonsense. I see so much potential in how we can move ahead to tell our story so we can change the perception of Scouting. And then, our numbers will go up, boys will stay longer, and we will be cool, not just to us, but to everyone.
Have a Great Scouting Day!