Monday, December 08, 2008

Scouts' Honor

Since I grew up in the Boy Scouts you can get a pretty good sense of where I was on the cool meter in middle school. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed my scouting experience and still keep in touch with some of my fellow troop members, despite my subsequent disillusionment with the Boy Scouts as an organization. Earlier tonight I attended the first annual Salute to Scouting dinner for the National Capital Area Council of Boy Scouts. Though I haven't been involved with the Scouts for 10 years, I was interested to reconnect for the evening and find out what the world of scouting has been up to.

As I learned, a lot about the Boy Scouts hasn't changed, and it's still an organization that's predominately white and Christian and conservative. My own disillusionment began while I was still in the scouts, when my troop was discriminated against at several Boy Scout camps for being a Jewish troop with kosher dietary restrictions, and only grew during the 1990s when the Boy Scouts made the news for refusing to open their membership to gay and atheist/agnostic scouts and adult leaders. (The courts upheld the organization's policies because it's a private organization.) Since then, the membership policies have faded out of the news headlines, though they continue to remain in place. Despite my reservations about the Scouts, it's hard to dispute their good work in the community and, aside from their social conservatism, the valuable life skills such as leadership and civic mindedness that they teach. They also run several organizations designed to promote scouting among depressed urban communities.

The big questions that I wrestle with are whether I could see myself as an adult leader in the Boy Scouts and whether I would want my children to participate in scouting. Even after tonight, I'm still unsure. My sense is that the programs in the inner city schools focus more on self-improvement and community building than they do on the points of the scout code that codify the Boy Scouts' positions on atheism and homosexuality. ("A scout is...clean and reverent"; "I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to keep myself...morally straight.") So, to that extent, perhaps I could get involved in those troops with a clear conscience. On the other hand, I can see myself having a hard time being part of an organization that espouses values with which I so strongly disagree.

Much is made of a scout's honor; it reflects qualities such as honesty, dedication to hard work and civic duty, and to being a leader in the community. Yet, for me, my own scout's honor conflicts with some of the traditional notions underlying the concept. What in my mind is the more "honorable" thing to do in this case, disavow the Scouts or participate in them as a leader? Becoming involved in order to advocate for change in the organization sounds like the happy medium, but joining an organization solely for the purposes of radically reforming it is a significant undertaking that, if history is any predictor, has little chance of success. For the time being, therefore, my question remains unanswered; it is a dilemma with which I continue to grapple.