Home/Rod Dreher/Bye-Bye Boy Scouts

Bye-Bye Boy Scouts

It was a good idea, once (Linda Parton/Shutterstock)

The Boy Scouts of America are reportedly considering seeking bankruptcy protection.  The problem? Mounting lawsuits over sex abuse, and a declining membership. More:

Participation in the organization’s programs has fallen in recent years, though the group opened some of its programs to girls and transgender boys. The Boy Scouts currently have more than 2.3 million youth members. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, formerly one of the group’s largest sponsors, has said it will withdraw from Boy Scout programs. The church said it would develop its own program for young men.

The Boy Scouts group has drawn scrutiny over its slow pace to become more inclusive, including by lifting a ban in 2015 on gay men and lesbians serving in leadership roles.

The group has also dealt with fallout from its decision last year to expand its recruitment of girls, putting it in competition with the Girl Scouts of the USA, a separate group that offers similar programming and has also seen membership fall.

Aside from the lawsuits — which might have sunk them anyway — the BSA destroyed its brand. Who, oh who, could have imagined that an organization reeling from lawsuits having to do with male Scoutmasters sexually abusing boys under their care would suffer by opening its ranks to Scoutmasters sexually attracted to males? It is certainly not the case that all gay men are attracted to boys, but come on, the BSA is fighting lawsuits and stigma over rapey closeted gay Scoutmasters, and its leadership honestly thought parents would feel good about putting their sons under the care of BSA leaders who openly find males attractive? Would they send their daughters on campouts with heterosexual male Girl Scout leaders?

Apparently some Girl Scouts troops allow men to be in leadership. I think that’s a bad idea, and it’s not because I believe that most heterosexual men are eager to sexually exploit female children. Over the past 30 or 40 years, we have as a society come to learn a hell of a lot more about adult sexual abuse of children. Until we have a better handle on what has happened and how to prevent it, we would do well to minimize the risks to kids. Obviously having a policy against gay Scoutmasters did not protect abused Boy Scouts; the abusive Scoutmasters hid their sexual desire for boys, and the closet protected their access to those boys. In the case of male leaders of Girl Scout troops, it’s easy to set aside the adult males who sexually desire others of the children’s gender. That does not mean that they desire children, but again, it is better to err on the side of safety.

Anyway, the questions two paragraphs ago don’t make sense to the educated elites who shamed the Boy Scouts into abandoning their traditions, but the questions appear to have driven away a number of boys and their families away.

Plus, the BSA ruined its brand by admitting girls. There is nothing wrong with having all-male or all-female organizations. Boys need a place where they can be boys without feeling pressure to perform for girls. Girls need the same. That’s okay! It’s human nature. But hey, we have to fight sexism by destroying every good place for boys.

What if the BSA had resisted this outside cultural pressure? Or maybe it just wasn’t possible, given that major corporate sponsors would probably have withdrawn from an un-woke BSA. Still, it would have been nice to see the Scouts try.

The BSA is a victim of its own negligence in policing abusers in its ranks, and of its own surrender to cultural forces compelling it to destroy its brand. About the latter, the dissolution of the Boy Scouts is what happens when a society and a culture have destroyed what it means to be a boy, and replaced it with nothing but self-hatred.

I am reminded of a friend of mine who was a Cub Scout leader years ago, when his son was part of a pack. My friend did not want to be involved at that level — he runs his own business, and is very, very busy — but he felt he had no choice. No other dads wanted to step up, and worse, there were very few dads to step up. Most of the boys in the pack were fatherless; many of those were also poor. My friend said that to see how viscerally those little boys craved male attention, and a male presence, melted his heart. What his own son took for granted — a loving father in a stable home — was an impossible luxury for the other boys in the pack. My friend said he couldn’t walk away, even though it just about killed him to add one more thing to his schedule.

Note well: the Cub Scouts (Boy Scouts) did not fail those kids. The absent fathers of those boys failed them. If Scouting goes away — that is, if bankruptcy doesn’t give the BSA what it needs to save itself — what will happen to impoverished kids like that? Will it have been worth it to compel the Scouts to embrace a modern sex-and-gender ethic to please corporate America and the woke suburban middle classes?

UPDATE: Oh man, this comment from Corey F.:

“What if the BSA had resisted this outside cultural pressure? Or maybe it just wasn’t possible, given that major corporate sponsors would probably have withdrawn from an un-woke BSA. Still, it would have been nice to see the Scouts try.”

I’m an Eagle Scout, and all I can say to this is: Good riddance to bad rubbish. I spent a season working for the BSA on its professional side. (While the organization is primarily volunteer run and led, there is a corps of paid professionals responsible for maintaining the infrastructure, recruiting members, and raising money.)

The thing is, the professional side of the organization is the Trojan Horse within Scouting. Many of the professionals I worked alongside were actively pushing the BSA to get rid of its traditions and its implicit conservatism. There was no will at all to “resist this outside cultural pressure.” Most of the people I worked alongside (many of whom had no Scouting background) openly derided the volunteers they worked with because these volunteers–the ones who were actually doing all the work with the kids–were insufficiently enlightened.

Most of this stuff also came down from on high. All new hires get shipped down to Dallas so that they can receive the training necessary to be commissioned as BSA professionals. Two salient moments from this training:

1.) We had an exercise in which we practiced responding to volunteers’ questions about controversial issues in the BSA (e.g., the gay issue). One of these controversies was the fact that we didn’t admit girls to the program. Our national office gave us a script explaining the extensive research that shows that boys and girls under 18 learn better and develop better socially when at least some of their activities are single-sex rather than co-ed. And so the BSA wanted to provide opportunities for boys to have access to this sort of environment. Not even eight months later BSA announced the policy change on girls. All of that research apparently didn’t matter at all. It was the height of pure cynicism and venality.

2.) One of the other controversial issues was transgender scouts. We were told that there were actually already transgender youth in Scouting, and that this had the approval of the national office, but that they weren’t making a formal policy change. (Of course, we all knew the reason: the policy change on gays had almost lost them the LDS contingent, and they knew that an official shift on the transgender issue would be the last straw.) That change would occur shortly thereafter. But there was already a de facto change in policy, if not a de jure change. They just didn’t want to deal with the PR meltdown that would ensue. Of course, we were also given a script to explain why, officially, BSA did not admit transgender youth, even when we *knew* that this policy was being violated.

Look, I know this will seem precious to some people; the BSA is a corporation, after all. But these same people who were effectively telling us to lie to people (or who were themselves lying to us–the girls decision had likely already been reached when we were being told about the research we needed to invoke) were the same ones who gave lip-service to integrity and Scouting values. Unless “integrity” might cause some uncomfortable conversations with volunteers, in which case we should just dissemble.

If the BSA does fail, it will be because of the professionals and their machinations. They almost killed the BSA in the ’70s when they changed the advancement structure of Boy Scouting so that a boy could earn Eagle without ever having spent a night outside. Fortunately, they had the good sense at that time to reverse course and re-emphasize outdoor programming.

That’s the only reason any boy ever signed up for Scouts, anyway; it certainly wasn’t to be cool or to get ladies. It was to build fires, shoot guns, sleep out under the stars, and play with sharp things. But in the era of the “Guide to Safe Scouting” and guaranteed litigation, it’s almost impossible to provide an outdoor experience that can actually attract boys. The danger component has been completely removed. The sissification of the BSA happened long before they started admitting girls.

And you’re right about the absentee fathers. I was fortunate in that, although my dad traveled often for work when I was growing up, he made every campout. He went to Philmont with us. Scouting gave me the opportunity to spend time with my dad that I would never have had otherwise.

And that’s why I do think this is a shame. We have arrived at a cultural moment in which our young men *desperately* need Scouting and its historical values. Our boys need a robust BSA that takes them outside, lets them do things that are a bit dangerous, and expects them to develop camaraderie and a healthy sense of self-reliance. Sure, there are other, more traditional Scouting organizations out there. But the BSA is the only one that has a realistic shot of actually reaching a large number of boys (and it can’t even do that well). And the professionals killed it off. Apologies for the novel. But people need to know who is to blame for all of this.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

leave a comment

Latest Articles