There are some changes coming to one of America’s most revered, and as of late, embattled brands—the Boy Scouts. Women have been welcome in the scouting movement for decades, but never the Boy Scouts, until now. Here's the story.
There are some changes coming to one of America’s most revered, and as of late, embattled brands—the Boy Scouts. But according to one regional executive, the brand bedrock of leadership and character of the Boy Scouts remains solid. And now that the organization has opened up membership to the female gender, they are poised to lean-in with progress. However, to the general public, many may still be scratching their heads, asking ‘Why?,’ primarily since the Girl Scout organization is still going strong and has a presence in the metropolitan areas and many small towns. Since around 7400 scouts participate from this region, in what is called the Ozark Trails Council, the question begs for an answer and a look at where these changes might take them.
Executive John Feick has been with the Boy Scouts 34 years and is an Eagle Scout. “For most of my 30-something years in scouting, parents—or our [scout] leaders have been asking, ‘When are you going to let my daughter in?’” “In the last two years, that tone has changed to ‘I’m a leader of 20 kids every Monday night, but my daughter’s not good enough to be in this program—you need to let my daughter in.’” That’s quite a parental endorsement for the program’s success and calls for society’s gender-specific conventions to be questioned.
Feick said family dynamics have changed, citing the demographic rise in single-working parents as an example. He says the Boy Scout organization has held many listening tours and they have come away from those with a new perspective.
“If they’ve been a leader for their son, it means they’re probably not going to be a leader for their daughter,” he says, exploring the disconnect many parents may be feeling. “It’s really a perspective that has been driven by parents, many of whom are our leaders. We know there is a demand for girls wanting to join our program.”
Feick stresses this will not be a coed program. “There will be a parallel program for girls, but they won’t be Boy Scouts. That may be cause for confusion among the general public, but maybe not for the scout leadership.
There has been the Explorer Scout program since 1972, which has always included girls, the Venturing program has also included girls, as well as “Learning for Life” and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs.
“So, will girls be included in the programming in [Boy] Scouts?” he muses outloud—“Yeah.” “I don’t know what they’ll be called, yet. A lot of what came out in the press is that the Boy Scouts are going coed, but we’re not going coed,” he said. He notes the printed teaching manuals will reflect the inclusion of girls, but the basics of what is learned in scouting, such as the Boy Scout motto, won’t change. Christian principles will remain a central theme within the organization as well.
“The scouting organization has done everything they can do legally to ensure they are able to maintain that —a core principle of the Boy Scouts is the belief in God,” said Feick. “70 percent of our chartering partners (sponsors) in our communities are faith-based partners.”
Executive Feick doesn’t deny that there has been some grumbling within the ranks of scout leadership over the new direction of the Boy Scouts, but says from his vantage point, “things are looking pretty positive.”
Since scouting entails the Cub Scout program for the youngest scouts (1st - 5th grade), Feick isn’t afraid to use the term “coed” when talking about programming. He says the research shows there hasn’t been any learning disadvantage from co-mingling boys and girls at this young age. He said the options are coed groups (“dens” in scout-speak), separate girl and boy groups, or “they could start a “pack” (new organization) just for girls.” Both boys and girl scouts would still be called “Cub Scouts.”
“However, from 11 to 15 [years-old], there’s lots of studies that show single gender development is better for lots of kids,” said Feick. In reality, this means young men and women would still meet together, but it would be advantageous to separate during the meeting into gender-specific groups.
At a scout meeting, there is always an opening where the group is addressed as a whole, and then the group splits off into smaller groups (dens) of typically six to eight scouts—kind of a club within a club. Dens are like small learning pods where scouts learn different skills, such as knot tying, to earn merit badges and are mentored by older scouts. At the end of these learning sessions the dens come together for the meeting closing.
With so many organizations having sexual problems from mixing genders, does this mean the scouts will have issues as well?
“There are already youth protection policies in place for that,” said Feick. “We don’t see anything that we’ve already covered from a youth protection standpoint. We have been dealing with boys and girls together at the age of 14 and up for a long time. At Boy Scout age from 11 to 15, kids are learning how to be leaders and being separate at that age [span] works.”
To bring it all down to earth, Feick says, “If you had a good program for your son and you saw good value there—and it’s not gender specific—if you were one of our leaders, why wouldn’t you want your daughter to be in that program you believe in?”
For an activity time line, in July of 2018, Boy Scout leaders will be able to recruit girls into the program. Scout programming that includes girls will come in 2019. “It will be a youth program for girls run by the Boy Scouts,” he said.
“I have a granddaughter and I certainly hope she can be an Eagle Scout if she decides she wants to be in the program. I don’t see this as anything but positive. We have a good program and I see the results.”