Sorry, But the Boy Scouts of America Got This One Wrong

Yesterday BSA announced that the Board of Directors unanimously approved to welcome girls into Cub Scouts and that the organization is making plans for a co-ed Scouting program that will enable girls to earn the rank of Eagle. While I am a huge supporter of the Boy Scouts, I think this is the wrong move to make. I feel strongly that while mixed-gender youth programs have value, I also think that there are developmental reasons for keeping some groups single-sex.

Yes, the character-building values incorporated in the Scout Law apply to girls as well as boys, but honestly, those are the same values presented in the Girl Scout program. I understand that there are some girls who have been unable to find a Girl Scout troop that fits their interests, but honestly, that is an issue of leadership, not program. Many Girl Scout troops actively participate in outdoor adventures. Both organizations are volunteer-based and since the announcement clarifies that Cub Dens will be single gender, it is certain that the problem of finding adults willing and able to lead will not be solved. In fact, it may make the situation worse, for both organizations.

Both scouting groups have similar goals, promises and laws. The earned recognitions vary, but the activities are up to the individual groups (at younger ages, this often means the leader). Girl Scouts can engage in almost every activity that Boy Scouts can (with the notable exception of handling guns) and the girls actually have fewer rules about camping at the younger levels (for example parents are not required to accompany girls on every outing). Anyone who wants their daughter to fully experience the outdoors (a common reason given for girls who want to join Boy Scouts), can sign up to be a leader (yes, dads too) and start a troop that engages in those activities.

Separate but equal?

BSA has decided to let existing packs choose whether to include girls in their packs or to form separate all-girl packs (which would keep their existing all-boy packs intact). How exactly then is this accepting girls into the Boy Scout program? If they join existing packs, they will participate in some activities together, but I am certain they will still be seen as separate. If they are forced to create new all-girl packs, I believe these packs will be short lived.

While it remains to be seen how the program will work for the particularly difficult ages of middle and high school, I believe that those ages in particular benefit from single-gender groups, especially when it comes to activities typically seen in Scouting (for both boys and girls) such as camping and outdoor challenge activities. Studies have repeatedly shown (and I have seen firsthand) that adolescents are awkward and shy around those of the opposite sex and in some cases will be afraid to try new things for fear of failure around those they seek to impress. This behavior starts in the upper elementary grades, which includes the higher levels of Cub Scouts. There is also the very charged issue of adolescent hormones and co-ed camping. As a former leader of girls this age, I believe volunteer burnout would be a serious issue.

A co-ed program already exists

A co-ed program already exists, Venture Scouts, which in my area at least, is underutilized. (However I believe this is due more to scheduling demands of teenagers than interest.) Within this program is an opportunity for leadership and earned ranks, which are also prestigious. By having the Venture program separate from Boy Scouts, it would seem that BSA has acknowledged that there is value in having both co-ed and single-gender programming. After 100+ years, one has to wonder why the change now.

I also feel that dangling the carrot of Eagle is disingenuous. While the Boy Scout rank is better known in many circles than the Girl Scout Gold Award, they carry equal weight. Both require a demonstration of leadership and a project that takes many, many hours, both in planning and execution. Especially at the older levels of Scouting, both programs are youth led, so participants have a say in what activities they engage in, and anyone pursuing the highest awards has complete control as these projects come from the individuals themselves, not the leaders or parent organizations.

Rather than making this move, I wish BSA and GSUSA would have gotten together in a partnership to co-host activities and events. This would have helped both organizations who have seen numbers dwindle in recent years, largely due to lack of adult volunteers. At a local level, I have seen examples of the groups sharing space and planning duties. Boys and girls can learn a great deal from each other and I see value in them participating in scouting activities together, but I think they should stick to doing what they do best. Some changes are not an improvement.