Cub Scouts - yes or no?
September 22, 2005 4:27 PM   Subscribe

My five year old son wants to join the Cub Scouts...

I was never a Scout so I'm starting from scratch here. I know that in the past the Boy Scout leadership has voiced anti-gay opinions that bother me personally, and as an Agnostic/Atheist-esque I'm quesy about the Scout's adoption of faith and God into their program. I'm also not thrilled about selling $30 bags of popcorn.

But my little guy's really excited about camping and so forth so I'm trying to decide if it would be good for him. Anyone former or current Scouts out there with an opinion, positive or negative?
posted by shino-boy to Society & Culture (64 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I was in the cubs and scouts as a child, it was a great experience. Religion was never part of the experience, although I think there was a faith related badge but the child gets to pick which badges he's trying for. The closest we got to God was in the pledge of allegiance (or God Save the Queen in our case).

It's easy to implicate yourself as a parent and see what sort of things are going on.
posted by furtive at 4:34 PM on September 22, 2005

I think that the quality of your boy's experience will depend a great deal upon the quality of the scout master and troop you encounter. When I was a cub scout, I got pretty bored with what we did, but I don't think it was scouting so much as a lame scoutmaster who was not really committed to it other than so far as her own son wanted to do it. I'd say that it's worth it to investigate the possibility though, but get a good feel about who'd be in charge of your boy's scouting activities to see if it'll be something that'll be worthwhile.

Also, I finally gave up on scouting when I could no longer advance without lying. To get my bear patch required taking a religious oath and I've always been an atheist, even as a little kid. I dropped out right after reading up on the bear requirements after getting my wolf patch. I don't know if your boy has a religious opinion yet, but this is something you may want to talk about with him at some point.
posted by ursus_comiter at 4:40 PM on September 22, 2005

If your son is really interested in the Scouts, I don't think it would hurt him to try it out. I don't think Scouts try to indoctrinate kids, although they do incorporate faith into the promise and what-not. Perhaps you could use this as a discussion point for your son. As for homophobia, perhaps there are other avenues of your son's life where you can provide for tolerance. If you surround your son with a variety of people and viewpoints -- rather than just Scouting -- he'll learn that difference is a good thing and that the best path is tolerance.
posted by acoutu at 4:43 PM on September 22, 2005

My kids did scouting for awhile. I had reservations based on the official Boy Scout positions on gays and atheists, but I found that there are a lot of people -- particularly in urban scouting -- who don't share those views.
posted by maurice at 4:56 PM on September 22, 2005 experience with the Scouting and Guiding movement is in Canada, so I may not be aware of how these issues are fully treated in the US.
posted by acoutu at 4:58 PM on September 22, 2005

Cub scouts always seemed a fairly non-religious experience to me. I don't recall any sort of religious components (this is not to say that they weren't present, just to say I don't recall them). I stopped just short of Webelos (there was a physical fitness requirement that I was loathe to do, which, in hindsight, was a rather bad decision).

Kids who remained in scouts all the way through high school certainly seemed more the religious type to me, however.

I do recall the cub scout handbook being especially bad ass, because it was full of neat how-tos on a wide assortment of stuff. Heck, I'd probably read through it now.
posted by fishfucker at 5:02 PM on September 22, 2005

My brother's going to get his Eagle later this year... I think the religious aspect varies by troop. It's never really overt, but his meetings are held in a church basement, there are oaths and stuff, etc. I think that was more of a "small town, we have no where else to hold them" sort of thing. He painted said basement as part of his Eagle project.

Oh, and I seem to recall there being an Indian headdress involved somewhere. Some of the advancement ceremonies are kind of bizarre, looking back on it.

It's really easy to get involved as a parent, though. I'd say try it out and see how it goes.
posted by strikhedonia at 5:17 PM on September 22, 2005

I was never a scout, save a week or two in Tiger Cubs. Waking up on the weekend wasn't my thing -- so church would have been out, too, though that didn't apply to my family anyway.

So that said, the people who I know now who stayed in Scouts until Eagle (which is apparently a lot, at least at my university) seemed to have enjoyed it. There's definitely a sort of bond too, when they see someone else wearing an Eagle ring, they always talk briefly about it. So that's a positive.

I wouldn't read much into the gay thing -- what happens in some troops and with some national leaders doesn't indicate pervasive intolerance, and a lot depends on where you live. I can't speak to the religious thing much except to say that the three Eagles I know best consist of a semi-observant Jew, and 2 guys who may have once been Christian, but currently are not religious at all. At any rate, not a Bible study crowd or anything.

YMMV significantly of course, so I'll second the earlier suggestions to try it out and involve yourself if possible. Speaking from what I recall of my personal experience (at age 6...), I would have been upset had I not at least had a chance to try it out and decide for myself I wasn't interested. If you have the ability and means to let your son join, I think it's worth a shot.
posted by SuperNova at 5:17 PM on September 22, 2005

When I was a cub scout, we never went camping. It was a lot of car washes and knot tying. If it's camping he wants, he may be disappointed, so check out the group first!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:19 PM on September 22, 2005

I did Scouts. Not for very long but I don't recall ever talking about Gods or Gays (at least not independent of each other, er, I mean, nevermind).

As ursus_comiter said, the experience is mostly dependent on the Scout Master. So go for it. And if you can find time, participate. Go to the meetings. Go on a camping trip. You don't have to make any long-term commitments (at least that was true for my troop, they encouraged fathers to participate whenever possible). But you'll want to meet the men behind the boys to so that you are able to understand how the Scout troop in your area operates.
posted by panoptican at 5:22 PM on September 22, 2005

Scouts taught me leadership and managment skills that have done very well for me in life. As with anything, it varies locality to locality, but if you get in a good den it will be great. Participate if you're concerned.

Theres not much that teaches you teamwork and communication like setting up a dining fly, at night, in the rain, at that age. Go for it.
posted by sled at 5:24 PM on September 22, 2005

Do you like camping? If you don't, the scouts is a real good way to let your kid go camping without you having to sleep on the ground.

(I was a scout for many years, and the closest we got to religion was doing community service projects at the local churches. Always optional as far as participation. I suppose it was anti-gay, but that was from the teen and pre-teen boys, not the adults, who would never bring up a subject like that.)
posted by smackfu at 5:34 PM on September 22, 2005

There probably won't be a great deal of overt religious indoctrination, but you will be putting your son in a situation where other adults, who may not share your views and may not consider it inappropriate to promulgate theirs, will have influence and authority over him. Scout leaders become scout leaders because they want to mold young men's minds, and they're obviously going to apply their own values to how they do that.

I remember one cub scout leader, for example, describing some far-off land by saying, in a this-is-going-to-shock-you-boys tone, "and there are people there who don't believe in Jesus Christ!" Five seems a little young to expect him to understand that some adults believe things that you think are wrong.

Perhaps you could seek out a local Sierra Club chapter, to give him the outdoors experiences he wants in a framework that might fit your philosophy better.
posted by bac at 5:38 PM on September 22, 2005

I am an Eagle Scout. I can't stress enough that your son's experience will depend upon the adult leadership. It is to your and his advantage to get involved, though you may find that as he gets older, he'll appreciate you not being the Scoutmaster, el jefe.

My Scoutmaster was different. By different, I mean he colored his hair, got it permed, and manicured and painted his nails. He wasn't gay - he had a wife and kids, one of whom was in our troop. Under no circumstances would I want it any other way - the man was totally fucking gung-ho about the program, and while we were sorta weirded out by him at first, it didn't take long to accept him for who he was. He taught me a ton about being yourself, and he was widely admired in our regional scouting scene.

As for religion, that's an issue your son will have to decide for himself. He may decide that he is an atheist, and forgoe further involvement at some point. In my experience, he will never be pressed to confess to a higher power, aside from reciting the normal oaths that mention God. I do not follow Abrahamic religions, and had no problem with this. I always looked - and still look - at mentions of "God" as metaphors for conceding that which we don't know to the unknown. Nobody asked me what I believed, I never offered it up. It simply was not an issue.

In my "between" years (18-21, when you're not totally an adult in Scouting, and not really a youth anymore; it's tough to explain) I encountered an adult leader who was very strong on witnessing for Jesus, and talked very openly about his faith. He was the kindest, most generous man I've probably ever met, and he believes I'm going to hell because I don't accept Jesus as my saviour. We didn't see eye-to-eye on those sorts of issues, but we got along fine. Why? Because beneath our relationship was the Scouting program, something we both did believe in.

Odds are that if he goes far in the program, he'll be more self-confident and have more life skills. It's likely he will be well-equipped for a life in this world, because he will know honor, how to deal with hardship, and how to get by with his wits. He will be able to deal calmly with emergencies, and he will likely be able to lead men. He will understand how to set goals and achieve them, and he will know how to earn the trust of his peers through hard work and responsibility. But that's not even the best part.

If you find a local unit with decent leadership, you'll find Scouts are extremely tolerant, extremely loyal, and your son will develop the best friends he'll ever have in his life. To this day, I call in favors when in need, and give out favors when my homeboys from Scouts are in need, and it's no questions asked. When he is a young adult and reluctant to turn to you for help (because he'll want to be self-reliant, see), he'll have a strong network to fall back on.

Are there assholes in the program? Of course. There are assholes everywhere, and as long as the asshole isn't the Scoutmaster, he'll have a great time, and lots of great stories for you. You'll be amazed at how he'll grow.

posted by rocketman at 5:48 PM on September 22, 2005

Speaking from the girly side and went to brownies and guides in the UK.....but cubs and scouts are pretty much the same thing but opposite sex.

From what I remember, there was a CofE sway to our unit and we went to church services every other week or month. I'm an atheist and kind of had those tendencies at the time but figured that out along the way by going to services that I otherwise would not have attended with my parents.

Besides the god squad side, I remember a place where I mixed with lots of fun people, having lots of new fun experiences, doing lots of silly things to get badges, playing games, sports days, going camping and having fabulous midnight feasts, singing fun songs.....

All in all I had a really fun time until I realised it was getting a bit geeky by the time I did my first year at Guides and gave it up!

If your son has expressed an interest in the cubs then see if you both can go along for a few meetings and see how you both get along. My guess is that your son would love it and if anyone tries to shove religion down his throat he will probably be able to form his own opinions from all the new social skills he learns :) At the end of the day he spends more time with his parents than he will do at cubs and is more likely to follow your values.
posted by floanna at 5:51 PM on September 22, 2005

bac: "There probably won't be a great deal of overt religious indoctrination,but you will be putting your son in a situation where other adults, who may not share your views and may not consider it inappropriate to promulgate theirs, will have influence and authority over him. Scout leaders become scout leaders because they want to mold young men's minds, and they're obviously going to apply their own values to how they do that."

On the other hand, the Scout master could be a great man who in the future, your son looks up to. My friend was an stuck with the Scouts, and the Scout master played the all-important "man who I can talk to and who is not my father" role for him.

Basically though (if it hasn't become clear), it's the adults involved that will determine your child's experience so unless you know who those people are on some level, it's hard to say for sure weather or not it would be a good idea. I'd tend to think it is though. It's always a Boy Scout who solves the problem.
posted by panoptican at 5:56 PM on September 22, 2005

My friend was an stuck with the Scouts...
posted by panoptican at 6:01 PM on September 22, 2005

Another Eagle here. I was an agnostic through the whole experience, but was never hassled. There are always enough volunteers to do the pre-meal prayers and whatnot (the prayers were harmless non-denominational things that you'd hear at a Rotary meeting). No one was pressured to do anything. Mind, I never wanted to make a "statement" by not standing or whatever. I also knew a couple gay scouts (not a gay couple though, I don't think they knew eachother). They mostly kept the fact to themselves and as far as I know they never had any problems.

That said you will find the random leader who is all about impressing his faith on other people's childern. He will feel justified in doing so by the BSA's official requirement that scouts have some sort of religion. When I ran into these types (they were rare 8-12 years ago, can't speak to today) I simply informed them that they could believe their way and I would believe mine and left it at that. Like I said, it was never an issue.

Scouts was the best extra-curricular activity I was involved with. I had experiences and learned about things that my non-scout friends have still only heard about, almost 10 years later.
posted by jaysus chris at 6:12 PM on September 22, 2005

A great way to teach your kid is to expose him to various kinds of people. They might be nice people like yourself, or they may be a little crazy. Either way, his experience will give you an opportunity to talk about religious freedom, homophobia, etc.
Sadly, Christianity and homophobia are things your kid will have to learn about in life sooner or later.

I wouldn't worry until he tries to become a boy scout. The eagle scouts were the least interesting and least lovable people in my high school. I had the impression they were pretty repressed and most likely gay.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:19 PM on September 22, 2005

Actually, I have a good friend who stuck with the scouts until high school and he said something very similar to what gesamtkunstwerk said: in the post puberty period, all the cool people gradually dropped out, leaving behind only the total asshole homosexuals-in-denial.
posted by Clay201 at 6:35 PM on September 22, 2005

I disagree wholeheartedly. Um, with everyone.

"I was in KKK youth as a kid and it was really cool -- we got to go camping and stuff. They didn't really force anybody to swear allegiance to the white race, but that depends on the leader."


If excluding homosexuals and atheists is against your personal beliefs, then why would you belong to an organization that does so?

I know it's their right to do it, being a private organization and all. I know it is not really illegal discrimination. And if homosexuality and atheism are things you personally think are wrong -- hey, rock on.

Me, I'm raising my kids to view all religious choices as personal choices that should be respected, and homosexuality as just another way for a person to be.
Intolerance is not a value I would send them to learn, no matter how many knots they got to learn along with it.
posted by Methylviolet at 6:37 PM on September 22, 2005 [1 favorite]


Oh, and with regards to the popcorn, shino-boy, some troops (and probably most cub scout packs) use that as their big fundraiser and so you may get a little arm twisting. Once I started boy scouts, we did other fundraisers where more of the money stayed with the troop.
posted by jaysus chris at 6:38 PM on September 22, 2005

I think it's important to draw a distinction between Gregg Shields and the Boyscouts of America. The Boyscouts do not exclude homosexuals, as much as some insecure old-man in Dallas would like them to (and just because the Supreme Court said they could doesn't mean they will). For the most part, the Boyscouts represent the sort of things that jaysus chris and rocketman talk about. And when it doesn't, you call it an outlier. Using a logical fallacy similar to your KKK one Methylviolet...

"I live in COUNTRY X it is cool -- I've got a job and there is food and stuff. The leaders of COUNTRY X are evil but they don't really force anybody to swear allegiance to their colonialist ambitions, and anyway, that depends on the leader."
posted by panoptican at 6:55 PM on September 22, 2005

I was in scouts from 12 - 18. While I never left the organization, sometime around 16 I realized I no longer cared about advancing in rank as I had figured out that my beliefs completely differed from those of the B.S. I kept going though, as I liked camping and had some good friends in the program. Every campout, the scoutmaster would take us out on Sunday morning into the woods and we'd spend a half hour talking about god and how to be a good person. It wasn't anything over the top, I just sat there respectfully, knowing that I didn't have to listen to him as long as I wasn't being a dick. I would imagine however that it depends entirely on your troop. Your kid probably wants to go to the troop that all his friends are in, but you CAN pick which ever one you want, by the way.

From my experience 90% of scouts drop out after a few years when they find out it isn't all fun and games and there is some work to it. Of the 10% left, 90% wish they could drop out but their dads will not let them. If that holds true with your kid's troop, and you don't push him to keep in it, you probably will not have to worry about this issue for too long.

For what it is worth though, while I did have to deal with some conservative and religious bullshit in my youth, I learned a ton in B.S. and credit it for now allowing me to be incredibly comfortable in the woods and on the trail.

Regarding the homosexuality issue - while the organization doesn't allow homosexual adult scouts, I don't believe there is or was a rule about the actual boy scouts. I don't remember any more homophobia in B.S. than what one would expect at any middle school or high school locker room. I never heard anything homophobic come out of an boy scout leader's mouth. Given all that, I'd be torn too if my son wanted to join as I no longer support the B.S. for it's religious and homophobic issues.

P.S. I urge you (if you're interested) to talk to the scout master and volunteer to join them on a campout or two. It'll be a good experience for you and will open your eyes to what goes on in B.S.
posted by pwb503 at 7:14 PM on September 22, 2005

Former cub scout, then boy scout here. Currently atheist, but one did not cause the other. I say, if your kid wants to camp and stuff, let him join. I really enjoyed the camping trips we did in scouts. Got into the merit badge thing a little, but I just liked camping. The religion & homosexuality thing weren't an issue back then (1970s).
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:23 PM on September 22, 2005

The Boy Scout organization is homophobic and religious. Belief in God is a requirement. That said, there are plenty of leaders who ignore that and plenty who are homophobic and evangelistic.

If the leader is really good, it's likely to be a good experience, so talk to the troop leader(s). And talk to your kid about homophobia and religious freedom. Part of the money raised by everyhting goes to the organization. You may find that CampFire Boys and Girls offers a good alternative.

Any organization full of young boys will attract pedophiles, so pay attention.
posted by Mom at 7:34 PM on September 22, 2005

I may not be qualified to talk about this because I was a member of scouts in Australia, from age 7 to 18 - religion and homophobia never entered into it. Well, religion kinda did - on camps we to had "Scouts Own" on Sunday mornings, but we were just as likely to be told a Hindu creation myth or an Aboriginal legend as a story from the Christian bible. There was certainly no "OMG an ATHIEST get thee behind me SATAN!" kind of attitude.

However, I cannot overstress how important an experience it was to me, how it shaped my life. More than just knowing how to survive in the outdoors, or sail a boat, or tie some knots, it really did teach leadership and teamwork and respect. Years later, most of my friends are friends I made in the scouting movement. And they all seem to be creative, intelligent, motivated, down to earth people. The kind of people who never give up trying to achieve what they want. The kind of people who feel civic responsibility, which seems a pretty rare thing these days amoung young people (by which I mean my age, 25).

Don't let fear of religion, or the homophobic attitudes of a few leaders turn you off. Your kid is going to have to confront these things anyway, and it's not like he is going to be indoctinated into them in Scouts. They may be unfortunate aspects of the American organisation, but they don't define it, and it offers so much more.
posted by Jimbob at 7:36 PM on September 22, 2005

Sorry, pantioptican -- not analogous.

Disagree if you want. Hell, I can respect people whose beliefs lead them to not want homosexuals or atheists around their kids. Sort-of related thread.

But don't pretend that this is not the choice you are making.
Don't pretend that the Boy Scouts have not fought all the way to the Supreme Court for their right to include only whom they wish.

I think the bean pies sold by Farrakhan supporters is delicious, but...
posted by Methylviolet at 7:37 PM on September 22, 2005

(Oh Australia, if you wanted religion, you joined Boys Brigade. If you wanted militarism and macho, you joined the Army cadets. If you wanted to avoid these things you joined the Scouts.)
posted by Jimbob at 7:40 PM on September 22, 2005

I was in webelos and boyscouts. It was kinda fun, but nothing too exciting.
posted by delmoi at 7:41 PM on September 22, 2005

'nother eagle scout here, I also have to agree with jaysus and rocketman -- sure we had our meetings in a chuch basement, but so what. we also regularly broke into the church's recreation room to play pool (ah the lock-picking skills we learned...)

when I was in scouts I was plenty atheist, and not a few of my fellow scouts were latently homosexual (if not more so) -- again, so what.

aside from some of the more ritual stuff, it was fairly non-theistic and mostly focused on physical and mental development of young boys. which is kind of the point, no?

I learned more about the civil war in all the many weekend hikes I went on, than I ever did in school. when I was older, for several years I taught swimming at summer camp as a counselor. and canoeing. and lifesaving. because I learned those things, not only well enough to do them myself, but to help others learn them as well.

of course, most amusing to me was some of the native american rituals and spirituality stuff esp. at summer camp, mainly since it was supposedly in the spirit of the actual indian tribe of which I'm descended. but even that was more interesting/entertaining than offensive.

anyway, as people have said, it's something that will depend more on the local leader/community. but hey I grew up in ohio where we are plenty racist and homophobic, but scouting was one of the few things completely opposite of that there.
posted by dorian at 7:43 PM on September 22, 2005

I was in Cub Scouts through Webelos, which is like the transition level between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Your experience will greatly depend on the pack or troop that you're a part of. Some incorporate religious faith as a major part of the experience. For others, it's only a nominal thing. For most, it's a complete non-issue. I've met Scouts and leaders of all stripes -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, etc. I do believe that religious belief is part of the official Scouting ideology, but I can't ever recall being asked about what I believed in all the years I was involved.

I also never saw any anti-gay sentiment either. Most people couldn't have cared less. Again, the official position might be to ban gays, but that hardly permeates the whole organization.

My advice is to get together with the Scoutmaster for the pack or troop that your kid is interested in joining. Have a cup of coffee and find out his perspective. Tell him your reservations. If he freaks out and gets all religious on you, then you know to look elsewhere. If he shrugs it off and emphasizes the real value of the program, then you'll know it's something worth doing.

The biggest upside is that really gives your son a chance to do things and learn things he might not otherwise be able to do. It also will give you some great chances to do those things with your son and create some create memories. I learned a lot of great skills as a scout and had a lot of fun.
posted by marcusb at 7:44 PM on September 22, 2005

Again, the official position might be to ban gays, but that hardly permeates the whole organization.

I think this is a very important point. What's more productive - boycotting the whole organisation as Methylviolet suggests - or supporting those packs / troops that do things properly? I'd go with the later, given the benefits of scouting.
posted by Jimbob at 8:00 PM on September 22, 2005

What rocketman said. I went from Tiger Cub, through Cub Scouts, Webelos, and Boy Scouts, all the way to Eagle. And while I am quietly somewhat religious, I'm uncomfortable with forcing one's religion on others. Our troop was sponsored by a Methodist church, and we met in their Sunday-school space until we moved to an Elks lodge. I never felt any religious pressure whatsoever, and truth be told, there was almost no God-talk, official or unofficial, aside from the oath (which says "to do my duty/to God and my country) and one brief nondenominational, fairly bland benediction at the end of formal events.

Each troop/pack is different, though. But I'd say that my experience is pretty close to the norm. Can there be assholes there? Of course. Can there be lots of really good people? Sure. There were some assholes (kids and adults) in my troop, but the good folks far outweighed the bad. Most Scout leaders basically want to spend time with their kids and be good role models...especially to kids who may not have decent father figures outside of Scouting.

Do I disagree with the BSA's policies on homosexuality and atheism? Sure I do. I contemplated sending my Eagle medal back to the BSA...but then I realized that I still believe in Scouting's ideals, and am still proud that I earned my Eagle Scout award. (Except for when my girlfriend makes fun of me for not knowing how to tie a slipknot.) So instead, I wrote the BSA a long, stinging letter about how I was disappointed in the example they were setting.

Bottom line: I share your concerns. But I'd go to a couple meetings, and if you're still concerned, get involved with the pack so you'll a.) know more about what's going on, and b.) be a progressive role model yourself. I think that Scouting does way more good than harm, and I've never seen anything resembling proselytizing, divisiveness, or respect from any part of the Scouting system, save for the national organization in Irving.
posted by Vidiot at 8:08 PM on September 22, 2005

My nephew's in scouts, and I just went with him on a terrific weekend of caving. I will say that faith is an obvious part of scouting but more in the realm of annoying (or cloying) than forceful indoctrination. The scoutmasters tend to be pretty level-headed overall and there are few who would willingly make life uncomfortable for a scout of a non-Christian religion. Even a vaguely Christianity-accepting agnosticism will go over pretty well.

If my family, or my son in particular, were a committed atheist it might be an altogether more uncomfortable experience.

The scout troop was just booted this year from the Nazarene Church that had housed them for decades. They got 30 days notice to vacate, with no warning. That's Christianity for ya! They were taken in by my family's UCC Congregational church, which is avowedly (and I mean that, by creed) tolerant and accepting of gays. They managed to work things out with the Scout council, in a sort of Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell kind of way. You could tell there were people at the council level who were uncomfortable with the idea, but when faced with a willing sponsor church they weren't going to press the matter.

In principle I would prefer to "let the marketplace decide" and find an alternative organization. In this case my nephew really needs scouting or something like it -- he's an ED kid and it really has helped him find confidence and goal-setting skills. (It wasn't my choice, anyway.) It's clear that scouting is having trouble with restrictions on sponsorship, to the point where they're considering federal protection so that all military bases can host scout troops despite federal anti-discrimination law. (Cute. And that would only reinforce the paranoid, separate-from-society angle the scouts already have.) If that means anything to you, you may consider that it's worthwhile finding an alternative just to make sure that the discrimination the scouts still believe they must practice shall not prosper.
posted by dhartung at 8:19 PM on September 22, 2005

Dhanyavad dhartung.

What he said.

"It's no secret, of course, that some corners of America no longer look so favorably on the Boy Scouts. The American Civil Liberties Union has hit the Boy Scouts with an endless barrage of attacks in court. Local United Ways have withdrawn funding in many cities. City councils, school boards, and even some churches, have voted to expel the Boy Scouts from use of their facilities. It's all because the Boy Scouts stand by their time-tested policy of excluding atheists and homosexuals, in accordance with the Scout Oath and Law."
posted by Methylviolet at 8:29 PM on September 22, 2005

It's my understanding that the Girl Scouts(Guides) are more tolerant in the US than Boy Scouts (based on something I read at least 10 years ago when a Boy Scout was making efforts to make the program more tolerant--I don't remember whether it was Ms., the local alternative or a newsweekly; I've never been much of a TV watcher).
posted by brujita at 10:53 PM on September 22, 2005 the point where they're considering federal protection so that all military bases can host scout troops despite federal anti-discrimination law. (Cute. And that would only reinforce the paranoid, separate-from-society angle the scouts already have.)

Interesting. It appeared to me at the time that Scouting attracted many ex- and future military types. Get 'em while they're young, I guess. I didn't have a problem with the religious stuff; I was one religion, one of the troops I was with was another. The military angle was interesting but even then I could see that the military owns its members in a way that a normal job does not.

I would recommend it; I learned a lot as many did. It was actually very interesting in that the folks in the main troop I was with were generally much poorer than our family and most of my friends (it was a somewhat poorer section of town). The diversity was good for me, too.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:53 PM on September 22, 2005

I had a lot of fun in the Cub Scouts.
We didn't do a whole lot in retrospect, but it was a chance to play with my school friends outside of school.
We did the Pinewood Derby and the rocket ship one, played games, had cookouts.
Honestly, it was just something to do inside during the winter when we couldn't play baseball/football/soccer.

I'd recommend it to any kid, but do make sure you get into a pack/den with a good leader and not someone who is there just because their kid wants to do it.

I had less fun as a Boy Scout, mainly because my troop didn't do a damn thing but play football at meetings.
I finally quit when they cancelled our only camping trip because of a little snow. Wimps.

Also, don't make the mistake of conflating the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts.
In my experience, the whole homosexual/atheist nonsense is much more prevalent with the Scouts. Most Cub Scout packs have a much more pragmatic view. I mean, there are 8 year olds we're talking about here.

Bottom line, make sure you have a good Den Mother and give it a shot, your boy can always quit if he doesn't like it.
posted by madajb at 10:55 PM on September 22, 2005

My experience (as a UK Brownie and later Guide) is identical to floanna's. Made good friends (despite being utterly antisocial), had some awesome trips (although now I look back and question the wisdom of letting a bunch of 9-11 year old girls loose in sex shops in Holland), learnt a lot (can still make a draining board out of string and stakes), ignored the church services (but was geeked when I got to carry the flag to the altar).

Before that I spent a while in Girls' Brigade which was hella fire and brimstone - my mum pulled me out of that after I started having nightmares, apparently (I don't remember - I was about 6 at the time)
posted by corvine at 5:51 AM on September 23, 2005

So now being a Cub Scouts is equal to being in the KKK? Sheesh... I was in it up thru Webelos when I was a youngling. All I really remember was a lot of cookies and kool-aid, learning to tie knots, build a campfire, row a canoe, and other stuff like that. And of course, the Pinewood Derby was a good time. Nobody to my knowledge was ever gettin' all Jesus-y or going out after the meetings to bash gays and burn crosses. WTF people? It's the freakin' Cub Scouts!
posted by spilon at 6:01 AM on September 23, 2005

Rikitikitavi makes a good point. While the scoutmaster will set the environment and the agenda for the troop, your son's peers will probably be the ones who have the most influence on him. Most of us posting in this thread probably have at least one, "This one time, at Boy Scout camp..." story we're not sharing, involving illicit cigarettes, fireworks, skinny dipping or adolescent homosexual experimentation. yes, it happens. duh.

The good news is that the Boy Scouts is a relatively safe environment in which a kid can have a lot of fun rebelling against authority. You're given plenty of access to small weapons and incindiery devices, but you're taught how to use them correctly and to keep them away from your face and digits. The bad news is that with all the bad PR in the last few years, parents raising their kids with liberal, tolerant values are more likely to keep their kids out of scouting, and abandon it to the more religious, conservative elements.

I spent 13+ years in Scouting, and any intolerance I encountered never rubbed off on me because my parents always taught me to be open-minded and accepting. The Scouts can't brainwash your son any more than a baseball team or a chess club. If you stay active and aware, like others have said, your son can have a chance to get into all kinds of fun trouble he'll likely never tell you about.

Yes, I am a girl. From ages 14-17 I was active in a Boy Scout High Adventure program, in addition to being a Girl Scout.
posted by junkbox at 6:35 AM on September 23, 2005

Methylviolet, I'd be interested to know if you were a member, and perhaps why you equate Scouting with a hate group.

Do you honestly believe that the Boy Scouts of America is a hate group?
posted by rocketman at 6:52 AM on September 23, 2005

While it may be an enjoyable experience for your son, and provide a convenient opportunity for you to have him involved in activities you might not want to be greatly involved in (such as camping yourself), you will have to live with the knowledge that monies raised and dues paid will go in part to support an officially homophobic and religiously intolerant organization. Would you be comfortable with that?

Also, do you want your sons peers and the parents of his peers to believe that your son and his family support those viewpoints, as it will appear by his wearing the uniform?
posted by Morrigan at 7:00 AM on September 23, 2005

I was a Cub in the late 70s/early 80s and don't recall any faith issues and I grew up in a religion-free household. Like many other said, it seems to depend on the troop. If you're in the buckle of the bible belt you'll likely hit a lot more of it than if you're in San Fran.

I am of two minds on the matter of the organization's crap policy and determination to be allowed to discriminate. I dislike the idea of any of my support going to such a group but I also think the Scouts overall are worthwhile and perhaps it's best to work to change the organization from the inside, assuming that is possible.

I was going to comment at length on the intellectual laziness of comparing an organization with segregationist policies to a violent hate group but I left my porcine voice lesson syllabus at home. I'll simply say I think it's an argument of the same quality as declaring the QEII identical to a tugboat with "they're both boats" as the basis.
posted by phearlez at 7:00 AM on September 23, 2005

Working to change the organization from the inside is a worthwhile concept but a heavy burden to put on a five year old's shoulders.
posted by Morrigan at 7:05 AM on September 23, 2005

No, Rocketman. I was a Girl Scout from Brownies to Cadets, but that is a completely separate organization.

My only relevant experience here is as the mother of a son who wanted to join the Cub Scouts, and so faced the same decision Shino-boy is facing.

Hate group -- I don't know.
Do I think that the Boy Scouts actively seek out homosexuals and atheists and spit in their chocolate milk?
If an organization exactly like the Boy Scouts in every way excluded black people and say, Democrats, would it be a hate group?
I don't know.
But if you would have a problem belonging to an organization that did that -- why are the Boy Scouts OK with you?
And if you feel that such an organization should not be allowed to use facilities paid for by everyone, including black people and Democrats -- why should the Boy Scouts get to use facilities the homosexuals and atheists they exclude have to pay for?
It's wrong.

I know the Boy Scouts have been a positive experience in many people's lives. I know several moms who did not come to the conclusion I did, and have happy Scouts.

And as I say, if excluding homosexuals and atheists is consonant with your beliefs, great. Live it.

But if you claim to harbor no prejudice against homosexuals and atheists, and you put your kid in the Boy Scouts...

Well, you've shown yourself to be a liar, that's all.
posted by Methylviolet at 7:17 AM on September 23, 2005

Uh yeah, I kinda meant Dad would get involved.
posted by phearlez at 7:24 AM on September 23, 2005

Would Dad be willing to get involved? Beyond just being a nice guy who is part of the organization by being a parent and hoping that that helps? Would he write letters to the parent organization, etc? If that is the price to feel comfortable and that would be too much trouble, is it worth it?
posted by Morrigan at 7:48 AM on September 23, 2005

Some excellent posts.

My opinion: let your son join, but you join too.

For me, scouting was an important, formative experience from 11-16. I was lucky to have a terrific leader and the participation of my own father and many others.

And I was damn lucky in one other respect. I didn't know it until many years later, but yes, just like the horror stories, we did have a predator pedophile in our midst. A "cool" single guy that liked to help out with the scouts. My group was lucky and as far as I know none of the scouts were molested, because of the close supervision of the scoutmaster and parents. So beware, but don't let the fears stop you.
posted by cptnrandy at 7:50 AM on September 23, 2005

My rambling observations…

My daughter is in girl scouts, and she does all sorts of fun things. The organization is officially inclusive, which makes it a bit different from boy scouts, for sure. However, our family is pretty ragingly atheist, and every event I've gone to has included some sort of prayer. Sure, it's not an all-out Jesusy thing, but it is a prayer. Also, a lot of traditional campfire songs (you know, Kumbaya, etc.) do have references to god. Yes, it makes me uncomfortable.

My boy scout experience was good. Went to camp a few times, got to play with fire, learned to shoot a bow and a shotgun, learned CPR, went canoeing on the New River, learned to row a boat and pitch a tent and tie knots and splice rope and set a rabbit trap and save someone from drowning, all that. My dad was pretty much the 60-hour-work-week-put-food-on-the-table-chill-and-watch-football-on-the-weekend kinda guy, so I would not have been able to go camping or do any of the other fun, outdoorsy stuff had it not been for scouts. I dropped out at 14 or so, but I had fun while it lasted, and have some fabulous memories of waking up in sub-freezing weather and making steak for breakfast next to a frozen waterfall, stuff like that.

My earliest anti-homophobia experience was in scouts, too, when the guy we always ragged on about being gay was the one who pulled me out of a freezing, rushing river when I fell in, just dropped everything and jerked me out without hesitation. Now, I don’t know if he actually was gay, but we all thought so then, and you can freakin’ bet I never called him a fag again after that, nor allowed anyone else to. I still, 25 years later, can remember the shame I felt when I saw Craig reaching down to pull me out, knowing what I’d said to him before, how mean I’d been, and how it didn’t matter to him in that moment. I can see his face. I can remember thinking “this guy is the one to save me?” 25 years later, I’m still ashamed of that. Thanks, scouting.

Something that has come up recently is the hyper-competiveness that many members of my daughter’s troop, including the leader, exhibit. I think it's part of the whole yuppie ostentatious display of achievement thing that's pretty prevalent in our area, but, wow, these kids are doing stuff every weekend, sometimes several times a weekend. It’s generally good stuff, service projects and camping and learning, but, man, give these kids a break! I remember when I was in boy scouts, there were a couple of super gung-ho troops that I wanted no part of. Yes, they had more than their share of Eagle scouts, and those kids got to do more fun stuff than we did, but it was just too much for me. There’s also definitely a mass-indoctrination vibe in both girl scouts and boy scouts, so any religious undertones that might exist in a particular troop are going to be difficult to resist.

I weigh the positives against the negatives, and continue to let my daughter participate. I do watch for signs of indoctrination, and have spoken with my daughter’s mother about the possibility of pulling her out. For now, things are fine, but it definitely does pay to be involved and watch for warning signs. I don’t have a son, so I don’t have to make the decision about scouting for him. I’d probably let him, though, but be watchful.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:50 AM on September 23, 2005

I learnt a lot (can still make a draining board out of string and stakes),

*LOL*, corvine, me too :O) Trust the brownies to transform hard core camping into a chance to learn some wifely domestic skills!

On the religion front, I'm pretty much agnostic and always have been, with atheist parents, who I'm sure let me go to brownies mostly because my friends went and they got a couple of hours' peace and quiet. (They also sent me and my brother to the Children's Seaside Mission on our summer holidays, so we could make banners and sing hymns on the seafront while they had a peaceful sunbathe).

The only time in my life I've been to CofE church services were maybe half a dozen times with the brownies and then I decided I didn't want to go any more. I'm really glad I went as they are now my only reference of what such things are like. My mum says I did go through a short phase of suggesting we should all go to church together, but I grew out of it as quickly as it started (probably when I got bored of the hard pews).

YMMV but I say go for it and as long as they're not shoving it down his throat, tell him he doesn't have to believe it all and leave it to him.
posted by penguin pie at 8:00 AM on September 23, 2005

Do you have any gay friends or relatives? Would you be sending a message to them by your actions?
posted by Morrigan at 8:14 AM on September 23, 2005

And as I say, if excluding homosexuals and atheists is consonant with your beliefs, great. Live it.

But if you claim to harbor no prejudice against homosexuals and atheists, and you put your kid in the Boy Scouts...

Well, you've shown yourself to be a liar, that's all.

This is a false dilemma. One can believe in including homosexuals and atheists and still be a member of the Boy Scouts. I don't have to choose one or the other, and it doesn't make me a liar to belong to the one while believing in the other.

The university I went to excludes stupid and lazy people, but I still believe in including them. Does that make me a liar too? The country I am a citizen of routinely discriminates against blacks, gays, atheists, women, Muslims, etc., yet I retain my citizenship. Does that make me a liar too?

Your outrage seems manufactured to me: you see an easy target in the scouting program, and rather than get involved and add your voice, you take the easy way out and condemn it without working to change anything.

I am still a proud member of scouting. The national policy on homosexuals is unfortunate and regrettable, but I don't confuse my membership with support of it and I would appreciate it if you didn't either.

As a member of scouting I have cleaned up litter along highways, worked to conserve wetlands, rebuilt playgrounds at schools that couldn't afford new play equipment, helped feed the hungry, and taught communities about sustainable living and farming. As a member of scouting I have caught boys shoplifting and helped them to understand why they were hurting themselves. As a member of scouting I have proudly defended my gay and atheist friends - some of them members of the organization.

I have served the communities I have lived in, and done it proudly, all while making clear that I accept everyone - those who worship Jesus, those who don't, homosexuals and straights, and the people that can or can't accept them.

Because of scouting, I believe I can be an example for others, but a part of that is sticking to my beliefs while accepting others who do not share them. Fraternizing with those who would discriminate agains homosexuals may get me accused of being a liar, but it also gives me a chance to change minds and hearts, and that's a fair trade.

posted by rocketman at 8:18 AM on September 23, 2005

I really enjoyed Scouting, both the Cubs and, later, being a Boy Scout. It was mostly camping and outdoorsy stuff in our troop, (USA Troop 5) with a liberal dash of public service. I don't recall any religion at all.

I think the main thing is to make sure that the other kids and the adults in the group are people you'd want you and your kid hanging out with, even if there wasn't Scouting going on. As I said, I had a great experience; I found out years later that my mom felt sort of socially outclassed in that group of folks, and she was worried they'd be looking down on her or me. Unfounded worry, though, as it turns out.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:39 AM on September 23, 2005

Well, OK.
After posting, I realized that the liar bit was a little harsh, so if I get accused of manufactured outrage, I guess that's a fair trade. I know you are but what am I.

Logically your argument is weak, though, I am afraid. Discrimination on the basis of ability, as with stupid or lazy people, is not at issue -- unless, hmm, you believe homosexuality or atheism is equivalent to a lack of ability?

Surely not.

And a group that avows what you claim not to believe, but yet choose to join, is a little different that our country, which, last I heard, did not avow prejudice as a core value.

On MeFi, people advocate eating babies.

Hey, do what you want.
But know what you're choosing.
posted by Methylviolet at 9:01 AM on September 23, 2005

Well said, rocketman.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:05 AM on September 23, 2005

Now, if you want a religious scouting activity there's always the Royal Rangers. I remember belonging to that as a child. Lot's of camping/camp meeting going on.
I was in the boy scouts for a few years - we met on wednesday nights, so for our troop, it was something to do instead of going to the bible study upstairs. We were the extremely religious troop that ran the sunday chapel services at a jamboree. The rest of the time we traded pornography from tent to tent, awkwardly pretended to sleep while our tent mates played "truth or dare" with each other and played Rambo in the woods (Rambo was a game we made up that mostly consisted of hiding in tree and jumping down on kids from other troops and beating the hell out of them. Or each other.)
Yes, so Boy Scouts in my experience was a deeply religious activity interspersed with random violence and homosexual experimentation.
Be Prepared!
posted by muddylemon at 9:09 AM on September 23, 2005

Another atheist/agnostic Eagle chipping in. The Scouts saved my life, repeatedly. I don't want to go into the sorry details, but they were the family my true family never was. I learned a great deal from them about loyalty, leadership, self-confidence, self-reliance, patriotism, civility, public conduct and general human decency. They made me who I am today.

I was a part of 2 troops during my scouting career. One was in a small (pop. 1500) town in the bible belt, and the second was in a small university city (60,000) out west. The religious component of these 2 troops was exactly zero. The first one had their own camp a mile outside of our little town, and all of our meetings were there. We may have done some service projects for local churches, but I can't remember any. Our adults never brought faith, prayer or anything else to our troop. The second troop met in the gym of a local elementary school. We had nothing to do with any local church, and we never heard anything about religion from the leadership.

All of this is important because I was a pretty loud 'n proud atheist from the time I was 13. Every one of the adults in the first troop had to know about it - certainly all the boys did. I took some mid-level harassment over it, but never from adults. It just never came up. I used to say the "under God" portions of the pledge and Scout oath just to keep from making waves. I wrestled with my conscience over that one for a long time, but this organization did so much good for me that I had to keep participating. At some point I looked up the history of the pledge of allegiance, and I found out the "under God" portion was tacked on in the 50's during the red scare. Afterwards, I said "under God" without any qualms, because I knew that it meant nothing.

By the time I moved and joined the second troop, I had calmed down about the atheism. I didn't hide it, but I didn't advertise it either. I am sure some of the boys knew about it, and maybe some of the adults did, but nobody ever said anything about it.

As far as homophobia goes, there was a lot small-town redneck homophobia amongst the boys of my first troop. I never heard anything like that from the adults, but a lot from the boys. The 2nd troop had far less overt homophobia in it, in part as a result of the cosmopolitan influences of the university. I don't think it ever really came up for discussion.

Now, all of this was Scouts, not Cub Scouts. Cub Scouts sucked in the little town I grew up in - I wanted to be doing the cool stuff and they never did. Cookies and punch in somebody's back yard wasn't my idea of a good time. However, as so many people have already said, it depends entirely on the adult leaders of the given group. My son's cub scout pack is way too into advancement and badges for my taste ("the whole yuppie ostentatious display of achievement thing" mentioned above), but he has a good time with it. It's a way for him to get out and play with his buddies, and to see some things that he might not otherwise have seen (we've toured the police station, the fire station, a bakery, a veterinary hospital and so forth). There's no religious component at all.

When we signed up, we had to sign a pledge stating that we believed in "God", which pained me to no end. But, I use the same dodge now that I did when I was a teen. It means nothing on the local level. I am sure that Methylviolet will be happy to call me a hypocrite and a liar over this, and to one degree, she'd be right. But the good I got from the organization and the good I see my son getting from it at the local level outweighs their stupid national policies. I don't know many people who aren't hypocrites about one thing on another, and this is one I can live with.

My wife and I continue to teach him about tolerance and acceptance of all people, and when he gets old enough, we'll have a couple of long conversations about the problems at the national level. Then he can decide whether or not my compromise works for him. Methylviolet: I know what I chose then, and I know what I choose now, and I know exactly why.

I have lots more to say on this subject, but this is already huge. My email addy on my user page if you want more.
posted by Irontom at 10:43 AM on September 23, 2005

Methylviolet will be happy to call me a hypocrite and a liar over this

Not I. Because...

Methylviolet: I know what I chose then, and I know what I choose now, and I know exactly why.

Right. I can respect your position.
I wish everyone gave the issue so much careful thought.
posted by Methylviolet at 11:11 AM on September 23, 2005

Another Eagle here. I think I was one of the last batches of Cub Scouts before they came up with Tiger Cubs, but I went through the whole enchilada. Same with my younger brother.

What I remember most about Cub Scouts was good stuff. All of my friends were in my den, and my mom was our den mother, so that made things pretty easy. I really don't remember religion being part of it. While there are religious medals you can earn for exploring your own faith, I don't remember anyone pushing anything on us. Granted, we met at our school and were sponsored by the PTA; I'm pretty sure the Mormon pack up the street was a bit more hardcore.

I agree with everyone who's said that you, as a parent, need to be involved if you want to have any say about what goes on. I also agree that it depends on who the Scoutmaster is. I was a member of 2 different Boy Scout troops, one PTA-sponsored and the other by the local Episcopalian church. No problems with either on the God front, and the Scoutmasters were all good, solid guys who took the important parts (community service, camping skills, doing a good turn) seriously and went along with the hokier bits (like the courts of honor. Though I realize that running one of those things was my first experience with getting in front of a big group of people and addressing them and running something. So, hey). There were some loons in the adult committee that ran things, and they would've made us loons too if it weren't for the reality-based parents getting involved and voting them down. Talk with the Scoutmaster (or whatever the Cub equivalent is), and you'll get a feel for what your kid's in for.

I will point out that what I learned for my Emergency Preparedness merit badge may have literally saved my life once. I got caught in an avalanche, and my brain clicked back to what the badge pamphlet said. That, as far as I'm concerned, made it worthwhile.
posted by RakDaddy at 11:40 AM on September 23, 2005

its all in the mackup of the pack/troop. join which ever one feels the most comfortable.
posted by at 11:43 AM on September 23, 2005

I am still a proud member of scouting. The national policy on homosexuals is unfortunate and regrettable, but I don't confuse my membership with support of it and I would appreciate it if you didn't either.

You know, a coworker of mine once said something strikingly similar about his membership in a country club that wouldn't let my husband and me sully their golf course or dining room with our offensively Jewish presence.

Didn't ring convincing or reasonable then, doesn't now.
posted by Dreama at 11:12 PM on September 23, 2005

Camp Fire is an alternative. They are not as widespread as Boy/Girl Scouts, and are co-ed. They say:

We are inclusive, open to every person in the communities we serve, welcoming children, youth and adults regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation or other aspect of diversity.
posted by candyland at 10:35 AM on September 26, 2005

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