If you’re on one of your council’s committees, you might have seen the announcement from Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh last week summarizing the discussions held at the Boy Scouts of America National Annual Meeting over the Memorial Day weekend. One of the topics of discussion was about broadening the constituency of our traditional programs in Scouting. Essentially, they’re considering the topic of bringing girls in, particularly to Cub Scouts.
There are many arguments for and against, of course. Many will hold that boys need to interact with other boys with similar interests; that single-sex programs have been the traditional hallmark of our Scouting programs in the United States since their inception; and that many activities meant for boys just don’t apply to girls.
However, the realities of today’s busy families, especially non-traditional ones, mean that parents are spread thin trying to accommodate their children’s activities and interests. It is with that dilemma in mind (along with the elephant in the room – declining membership) that the BSA decided to begin looking into ways to make Scouting more accessible to families in contemporary society.
No conclusion was reached, or even expected, at the national meeting. However, top officials of the BSA listened to stakeholders – primarily chartered organizations and their representatives – to gather ideas on ways that the BSA can continue to serve our traditional constituencies while making an effort to find programs that would help extend the benefits of Scouting to more youth.
To most observers, this, of course, means deciding whether to bring girls into more of our programs. Our society is becoming more gender-blurred. Aside from recent advances in the rights of transgendered persons (and their acceptance in the BSA), the question of whether girls should have access to the same opportunities as boys has come to the forefront. The national brass have reiterated their intention to keep Scouting just for boys at the Boy Scout level, but have opened the door a bit to co-ed Cub Scouts down the road. And in addition to their longstanding participation in Venturing, Exploring and Sea Scouts, girls are tiptoeing in through the BSA’s STEM Scouts programs that are now operating in several councils.
There is ample precedent for younger-youth programs to have both boy and girl membership. The Scouting organizations in almost every other country have both male and female participants – many all the way through adolescence and into adulthood – and it seems to work out all right. In the United States, other Scout-like organizations such as Camp Fire have been co-ed for decades. When you look at our Cub Scout program, there isn’t much that wouldn’t appeal to both boys and girls, and the program wouldn’t have to be changed much in order to make it happen.
The problem comes in with continuity. What happens to girls once they reach the end of Cub Scouting? Sure, we have the traditional Venturing program, which can be male, female or co-ed, but with a minimum age of fourteen, a three or four year age gap would result. In order to keep our Boy Scout program just for boys, which is the stated intention, there would have to be some kind of program that bridges that gap. A pilot BSA program for girls from eleven through fourteen is underway in Illinois, and the results of that program may reveal whether it’s practical or possible to merge girls into the Cub Scout program down the road.
While no decision on how to move forward was reached at the annual meeting, Chief Surbaugh did say that if there is continued support, after hearing from chartered partners, parents from the Scouting community and youth-development experts, the study groups would share potential recommendations with the national board for their consideration. It won’t happen this year, and probably not next year, but don’t rule out changes to the structure of our membership down the road.
Image courtesy of Scouts Canada