Boy Scouts to Accept Girls; Is This Such a Bad Idea?

Last week, the Boy Scouts of America announced that it will begin to allow girls to join its organization and pursue the rank of Eagle Scout. Unsurprisingly, the decision was met with strong feelings  — particularly from the political Right.

Largely panning the move, conservatives framed this significant policy shift as the latest in a series of high-profile concessions put forth to appease the politically-correct sensibilities of the progressive movement. With the BSA lifting bans on openly gay scouts and scout leaders in recent years, the decision to entirely remove gender-identity from its enrollment policy feels — to many — like the last straw.

As an Eagle Scout myself, I certainly understand the sentiment.

When I first heard about the announcement, my instinct was to roll my eyes and let out a deep sigh. Young boys and young girls are different, after all. They bond differently. They mature differently. They experience things differently. The BSA has traditionally understood this, and for those of us who grew up in the organization, it’s not terribly easy to wrap our minds around the idea. We think about things like coed camp-outs and shower situations, and we wonder about the increased pressure and responsibilities that would be placed on adult leaders.

There’s also the distraction factor.

When my son crossed over from a cub scout to a boy scout, one of the first bits of advice offered by one of his new leaders was, “Finish up your Eagle requirements sooner rather than later. Because once girls start catching your eye, your priorities change.”

The leader was an elderly man, and he delivered the line with a certain degree of charming, old-school humor, but his point was a serious one. Raging hormones are a productivity-killer for adolescents, especially outside of the confines of a structured school classroom. And most scouting events aren’t terribly structured, nor are they designed to be. The kids aren’t just there to acquire skills.  They’re following a personal growth curriculum. They’re building relationships. They’re developing important characters traits (the Scout Law includes 12 big ones). They’re learning how to become leaders themselves, and they are given a good amount of leeway to do so by the supervising adults.

What I’m describing is a cultural experience.

But for those of you who may have nodded in agreement while reading those last couple of paragraphs, let me now throw a wrench in the works by posing this question: Wouldn’t girls benefit from being part of this same culture?

The rise to the rank of Eagle Scout is a deep, meaningful, accomplished journey. It is a notable achievement that catches the eye of prospective employers — many of whom understand quite well the amount of work that goes into it, and the kind of people that the program produces.

Currently, there isn’t a comparable curriculum available to girls in this country, at least not at the organizational level of the Boy Scouts. And to answer the obvious question probably running through many of your minds right about now: Yes, I have heard of the Girl Scouts; my daughter is one of them.

The Girl Scouts, however, provides a categorically different experience than the Boy Scouts, as anyone who’s been involved with both of these organizations knows. The culture is different. The requirements are different. The scope is different. Much of the reason has to do with the their contrasting histories. While the Boy Scouts was founded on pioneer principles of survival and innovation, the Girl Scouts was more of an urban or domestic movement. And though both institutions have evolved over the years, the Boy Scouts provides advanced experiences and opportunities that just aren’t available through the Girl Scouts.

I’ve heard the complaint a number of times over the years from other parents of scouts who’ve wished their daughters could be part of a curriculum as significant and fulfilling as what their sons have had easy access to. This desire was prevalent enough that one has to wonder why the Girl Scouts (or perhaps a different girls organization) hasn’t made more of an effort to emulate the Eagle program. Whatever the reason, it just hasn’t happened…and that’s a shame.

And while many people seem content with attributing the BSA’s acceptance of girls solely to the pressures of political correctness, it seems to me that what the institution has done is fill a market demand. The BSA listened to what families (including mothers who’ve been filling active leadership roles in their organization for a long time) said they wanted, and that call was answered.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t an element of desperation included. BSA membership and revenue have been on the decline for years, and the organization assuredly saw an opportunity to change that by doubling their enrollment prospects. Putting aside the concerns of traditionalists for a moment, conservatives should at least admire the BSA’s adherence to free market principles in addressing the problem. Yes, their organization is a non-profit, but it is also a large institution that requires resources.

And in the spirit of competition, this move might wake up the Girl Scouts (who didn’t react very kindly to the BSA’s decision) by compelling them to make some changes to better accommodate families who’ve wanted for their daughters what the BSA has long offered to their sons.

Still, I don’t want to minimize the concerns of those upset about the BSA’s decision on rudimentary grounds. It’s a big change that will assuredly have its drawbacks and institutional (and logistical) challenges. Some respect and understanding from both sides of this argument are in order. I doubt that even the top brass at the BSA thinks they have all of the answers at this point, so I’m not sure anyone else can claim to.

What I can say with confidence is that the pursuit of the rank of Eagle Scout is a worthwhile endeavor — one that benefits young people and later helps them in their adult lives. I want girls to have that same or comparable opportunity and experience, regardless of which organization is offering it.