Evolving Opinions and Mixed Feelings about the Boy Scouts
When my son turned 8, I wasn’t excited about him doing Cub Scouts. I didn’t like the amount of money and man/woman power the church put towards the organization, when it didn’t seem to me that girls the same age got nearly as much. I didn’t like the paramilitary undertones of the organization. (I’ll never forget the chili dinner Boy Scout fundraiser at the church that featured soldiers with rifles in our cultural hall.) I didn’t like all the bureaucracy. I didn’t like the awards portions of pack meetings, where sisters clapped and cheered for their achieving and recognized brothers. I didn’t like that girls couldn’t participate in the pinewood derby in a meaningful sense. I didn’t like the organization’s history of homophobia. I had no intention of having my son get his Eagle Scout award. I just wasn’t interested in supporting this organization, which I considered problematic on many fronts.
However, my feelings began to change when my son got close to age 11. By that time he had discovered video games. He was obsessed and was asking to play them constantly. I was often yelling at him to get off the Xbox or Wii. He was and is a good kid – strong student, responsible, generally kind, etc. But the video games really bothered me. What a time suck. I wanted him to be looking at the world around him and doing good things in it, not staring at the screen in front of his face.
And that’s where the Eagle Scout award came in. When I found out that the church was leaving the Boy Scouts and that interested girls were being incorporated into the BSA organization, some of my issues with affiliating with the organization were resolved. Now that so many church resources would not be directed towards the organization and that there was a possibility of more equitable programming for girls and boys in the church, I felt better about the whole thing. And the organization did seem to be doing better with LGBT issues. As I looked into what it took to get an Eagle, I realized that nearly everything the program encouraged boys to do – learn about the world and the environment, camp, cook, be a good participating member of the community and family – these were all good things. Sure, the bureaucracy of finding counselors is and was a nightmare, and the military-esque uniform still made me shudder, but the activities themselves were not bad at all. I’d far rather my kid spend time getting merit badges than try to play video games.
So now it’s my second summer of helping my almost 13-year-old work toward his Eagle. We’re over halfway there—just a few more merit badges and the big project. On the whole, I’m glad we’re doing it. If my son had been passionate about sports or music or some other worthwhile extracurricular that engaged his attention, I probably would have passed on Boy Scouts. But in the absence of those other interests, Boy Scouts has been useful. It’s expanded his vision and gotten him to learn about new things. I was thrilled when I had him watch a high school debate as one of his requirements for the Communications badge and he later told me he wanted to join the speech club in high school. Victory! He found something worthwhile to be interested in! And it has nothing to do with video games!
However, one huge warning to all parents thinking of going down this road: getting these merit badges has taken serious effort on my part and my husband’s. Hours and hours of work on our parts has gone into teaching him how to cook, taking him various places, organizing 15-mile bike rides, cracking the whip over him to fill out various parts of the merit badge workbooks, etc., not to mention the hours it’s taken to even understand the requirements, which are confusing. Honestly, if I were a full-time wage-earner, I don’t see how we could have done this. This reality of the depth of commitment it takes from parents has made me wonder if getting an Eagle is ultimately a mark of privilege—the privilege of having parents or other caring adults around with enough disposable time, energy, and money to devote to all this. That realization of what this Eagle means—the privilege it connotes—gives me pause. I find myself even wondering if having the church involved in Boy Scouts actually helped, in some cases, to even out the access, monetary issues, and privilege that I now see are a part of getting this award. I wrestle continually with my mixed feelings towards this organization and hope we’ve made the right decision to move my son along this path.
I live with contradiction, dissonance, questions, and uncertainty as I spend large portions of my summer helping my kid get these merit badges. As is the case for so many Mormon feminists, I am no stranger to these feelings in my Mormon life. Somehow it seems appropriate that these questions of privilege, power, and access have followed me as I follow the Boy Scouts into its new phase apart from the institutional church.
What are your feelings about Boy Scouts? Has your son found it worthwhile to participate? What are your feelings on the church disaffiliating with BSA?