Boy Scouts lose ‘confident boyishness’

The Boy Scouts will accept gay Scouts — but not gay Scoutmasters. I’d bet parents will be OK with that and critics will not.

Founded in 1910 to promote “self-reliance, patriotism, courage, morality, outdoor ruggedness, and all-around manliness,” Boy Scouts of America has changed along with American culture, write Brett and Kate McKay on The Art of Manliness. 

They cite Kathleen Arnn’s comparison of the 1911 BSA handbook with the modern version published in 2009, which lacks the “verve, punch, and adventurous spirit—the manliness—of the original handbook.”

The Scouts have lost some of the confident American boyishness that loves heroes and makes for heroes.

. . . Whereas the first edition imparts tough-minded common sense, the 12th edition brims with cautionary tales and safety checklists, emphasizing timidity rather than adventure.

Merit badge requirements used to require action, write the McKays. Now they require “more thinking than doing.”

In the 1911 handbook, earning each badge involved the completion of a short list of one-sentence requirements. Modern badge requirements, on the other hand, run to as many as ten paragraph-long sections, the first of which is always a discussion of the need to discuss safety considerations with one’s leader. The gardening badge for example, requires the Scout to discuss with his counselor what hazards he might encounter if he happened to unfortunately plant his tomatoes near a beehive.

. . . The hands-on tasks are now tucked into long lists of requirements that ask the scout to thoroughly Review/Describe/Explain/Illustrate/Demonstrate the underlying principles and context of the badge’s subject matter before trying their hand at it.

The 1911 camping merit badge required Scouts to sleep out for 50 nights, build a fire without matches, pitch a tent without help and construct a raft.  The modern badge requires 20 nights of camping, pitching a tent with another Scout and a great deal of making checklists, creating plans and describing camping guidelines, equipment and, of course, safety procedures.

For the 1911 merit badge, the Scout had to “invent and patent some useful article” and “show a working drawing or model of the same.” Nowadays, the requirements are very, very long — and no patent is required.

The “firemanship” badge is “geared towards preparing the Scout to actually fight the fire and rescue people.” The modern badge — called “fire safety” — focuses on “how to prevent and escape fires.” Scouts learn “how to safely light a candle!”

Of course, today’s Scouts can earn merit badges in “Game Design (which involves playing and describing what you like about your favorite video games), Skating, Traffic Safety, Citizenship in the World (as opposed to just the nation), and Disability Awareness.”

About Joanne


  1. Wimps have taken over.

  2. Very true, and it’s not limited to the Boy Scouts. All the kids in my small-town were what is now termed “free range kids” as soon as we were out of diapers; the neighborhood was our playground and we roamed without adult supervision, although older kids took younger ones under their wing. By school age, it was common for a group of kids to bike miles to fish or pick berries – and finish with a swim in the river (sans lifeguard, of course) before biking home. Now, growing vegetables requires avoiding beehives? Serious gardeners keep beehives near gardens and orchards, to improve pollination – and many gather the honey.
    Even my own kids (now mid-late 20s-30s) roamed the neighborhood on their own. The youngest conducted a science experiment through which they discovered (at about age 5) that crayfish don’t do well in an unheated spa, due to the bromine.

    My DH’s Scout troop operated with minimal-to-nonexistent adult supervision. By HS age, they headed out to the woods on their own, to camp in all weathers – catching and cooking their own food.

  3. I’m betting that parents of gay scouts will not be OK with this. Neither will parents who are aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, friends, or neighbors of decent human beings who happen to be gay. Are conservatives so out of touch that they cannot relate to the basic idea that all citizens should be treated equally?

    I used to consider myself a conservative, but the right wing has gotten so mean spirited that I have left the Republican party.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Not be okay with what? Are gays supposed to be particularly interested in the tough life of the old Scouting practices? Did you get mixed up on the subject?
      I suspect that the push for allowing gay boys in will shortly be followed by the push for gay leaders. Maybe they could find some defrocked Catholic priests. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  4. I think that many people are perfectly ready to tolerate gays or almost any other subgroup, but it has become obvious that many of those groups aren’t content with tolerance and being treated politely; they want their lifestyle/group celebrated and their cause/group advanced. That’s not tolerance; it’s forcibly shoving an agenda down the throats of the general population, and lots of people have problems with that.

    • Gay people don’t want to be celebrated. They just want to be treated with equality. I came to conservatism because I believe in the basic dignity and worth of all human beings, including the unborn as well as those with same gender attractions.. The increasingly hateful rhetoric of the radical right has convinced me that they do not share my values.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        I don’t follow the radical right, so I don’t know if their rhetoric has become increasingly hateful. If so, they will pay a deserved price.

        During the eight years of Bush, I don’t remember much anti-gay rhetoric. GWB seemed to go out of his way to push the message, “Me and my people aren’t haters.” Thus, for example, the many statements that “Islam is a religion of peace.” Dick Cheney’s daughter was openly gay, and I didn’t hear any criticism from Republican leaders–though some groups did complain when she got pregnant.

        • Denying people equality, whether its marriage equality or the ability to serve as scoutmasters, seems to be common in the larger conservative movement, not just among tea party types. I used to hope that I could influence conservatives to a more humane position. I no longer believe that is possible. I may not be entirely comfortable with every liberal position, but I can no longer support the Republican party because of its anti-equality stance.

        • D's Squirrel Food says:

          Of course, there was more than just anti-gay rhetoric. There was a slew of anti-gay state constitutional amendments in 2004 which helped bring conservatives out and drive Bush 43’s victory over Kerry.

          As for Joanne’s post, there’s certainly been a gradual movement toward closer supervision, less freedom, and a greater emphasis on safety for children over the decades. Many, like Momof4 above, lament this loss of freedom, and maybe they are right to do so. Then again, fewer kids are dying of accidental drownings these days, too.

          I also can’t help but notice Joanne’s conflation of BSA’s baby steps toward equality with a loss of manliness. It’s a ridiculous smear. Sexual preference has nothing to do with masculinity or lack thereof.