Sunday, April 25, 2010

Open Scouting

Paul Theroux has an excellent essay on the Boy Scouts and their troubles written from the point of view of someone who grew up in the Scouts and loved the experience. He calls for an end to the ban on gay kids and atheist kids in Scouting.

My own experiences with the Scouts were very mixed. I was not a good one. I was drafted unwillingly by my father, determined that I should become the Eagle Scout he never was. I made it as far as First Class with maybe 3 merit badges. I hated the uniform, the scout manual, the ceremonies, the hierarchies, etc. However, I had a great time, for all the reasons Theroux describes. I loved hiking and all the nature lore. I loved being able to look at trees, flowers, critters, and rocks and know something about them (a real geek pleasure). If my troop was something of a gung-ho Hitlerjugend squad, then in all fairness it was more the fault of the community sponsoring the troop than the Scouts themselves. That part of Dallas wanted Hitlerjugend. Besides, I learned my first real lessons in friendship versus conformism in that troop. The "bad scouts" turned out to be my best friends in the troop who helped me to survive and enjoy the experience.

Since their announced ban on gay kids and atheist kids, the Scouts have drifted sadly into right-wing waters. Now they have a pedophile scandal. It's hard to remember that the Scouts were once a very forward-looking institution that desegregated itself long before the country desegregated. As early as 1967, the Scouts published pamphlets instructing troops on how to fully include the handicapped.

While they didn't mean a lot to this suburban draftee, they perform very valuable services in poor and minority neighborhoods providing a fellowship to kids who would otherwise be isolated from each other and from their communities, and prey to street gangs.


The Scouts taught environmental responsibility and consciousness long before the word "environmentalism" was ever coined. In Texas, that was no small accomplishment. Nature in Texas is very hard to love. It's mean, ornery, and ugly. It's rattlesnakes, fire ants, tornadoes, drought, and mesquite trees with 2 inch long poison thorns. Suburban white kids like me hated it and went to war with it constantly. The Scouts taught us to look at undeveloped Texas as something other than real estate to be sold, property to be developed, or natural resources to be exploited. The Scouts taught us to see all those coyotes, lizards, and black widow spiders as neighbors entitled to respect and to live in peace, that they had much more to fear from us than we did from them. They taught a "live and let live" approach to nature at odds with the "search and destroy" attitude we cherished toward rattlesnakes and armadillos. The Scouts actually did a very good job of this. Our troop prided itself on leaving behind campsites that hardly looked like they were ever inhabited, they were so well cleaned up before we left. Future real-estate developers once happily cleaned trash out of creeks and parks.


Unknown said...

Scouting was a way to pass on core values of respect, kindness, and curiosity while giving kids something to do. Especially kids who came from poorer home in my childhood neighborhood. Sadly they now stand for the extremes of the right.

Wilfried said...

I was gay and an atheist, and made it all the way to Webelos in that august institution. It was having to write an essay about why I love America that finally did me in. I couldn't get past my Communist, anti-patriotic, anti-establishment indoctrination.

Counterlight said...

Wilfried, you're the only one I know who made the whole Cold War trajectory from the Young Pioneers to the Cub Scouts.

How open were you as a gay atheist in both?

I'm a little surprised that your Communist parents would have anything to do with the Scouts.

But then, Scouts and Young Pioneers both wear uniforms, parade around, and sing slogans.