Monday, March 4, 2013

Scouts No More

  As the parents of multiple home-schooled children we are always looking for ways to  get our kids some social activity. With that in mind we had considered Cub Scouts for our two oldest.  I had a very positive impression of the organization, and expected lots of fun with campouts and survival skills being taught. And to tell you the truth, it started out great.  We formed up a little Pack made up of other homeschoolers, and in true homeschooler fashion, us dads sat down with the BSA Manual and began to rewrite the curriculum. We decided what to keep, what to toss, and the dad we elected as the Den Leader did a phenomenal job. We even rewrote some of the standard Cub Scout cheers which we thought were a bit ribald for these 1st graders in our care. When time came for fundraising, we rejected the overprized trinket sales model that was recommended and we devised our own program which was smashing success.  The whole family was involved in our Cub Scout pack, even the Den leader’s daughters who volunteered to be the hapless victims in every first-aid scenario we played out. The poor girls choked on a chicken bone, broke their legs, had boulders fall on them. It was great fun.
  Then the phone calls happened. One of the higher-ups in the organization was hearing rumors that we weren’t sticking to the manual. Soon observers from the Council level started showing up at our meeting.   It became harder and harder for our family to attend the meetings since we lived on the other end of the county and some obscure rule dictated where we could and could not meet. The Den Leader announced that he and his family would be relocating. It was the combination of these and other factors that caused us to move to a more established Pack closer to our home.
  But more established came with a cost.   We were the only homeschoolers in this group, and it showed, as the meetings were built off of the insanely arbitrary public school holiday calendar. It was fairly early on that we learned that the siblings were not welcome at the meetings. This caused some tears at our house, but  , my reasoning was, that the  2nd oldest would  be old enough to have his own  Pack at the end of the year, so let’s just  endure and get out of this what we can.  The time for fundraising came and the overprized trinket model was foisted upon us.  This required us to literally spend hours outside of chain stores hawking our wares to random passers-by, with most of the proceeds going to upper levels of professional Boy Scouts. We approached the organization with the idea that had done us so well before and it was flatly rejected.  We were told to sell the overpriced trinkets or do without any funding.  A bit of investigation proved that the organization was top-heavy with salaried employees and that a substantial portion of these sales went to pay their salaries.  Every meeting seemed to focus more and more on the fundraising, with a curtailing of activities for those who did not meet the quotas. At one of the banquet dinners, the higher up who had called me before to investigate the non-compliance rumors presented a program wherein our Scouts would be going door to door asking for donations. This would be done  in addition to the  expensive uniforms, the dues that  went  up every year, the campouts that cost more and offered less, and the  ridiculously expensive  buttons, beads, patches, etc  that adorned the uniforms.  The statement was made “Your friends are neighbors are already benefiting from having Scouts in the area, now it’s time for them to pay for it.”
  I began to have real issues with the organizations definition of ‘patriotism’.  Police were brought in to give speeches on how to be a good citizen, with good citizen defined as ‘somebody who helps the police do their job’.  Cops were heroes, firemen were heroes, the military were heroes,  virtually anyone who wore a state uniform was lauded for their heroism.  The Pledge of Allegiance was a staple in the meetings and there was a constant push towards collectivism and conformity.  One of the  ‘permission forms’ I was expected to fill out to be able to accompany my own child  somewhere requested the  social security numbers and medical history of my entire family.  I refused and challenged the need for this information, and was told that my ‘nobody else has any problem with it.’ When I voiced my objections, we were marked as ‘those people’.  I declined to become a Den leader because it would have required me to sign on to all sorts of things that ran contrary to the culture of our family.   Soon after that, planning meetings were being held without my knowledge, and an agenda trotted out that sent up a fresh litany of red flags for me almost every week.  I began to have a sick feeling in my stomach most meetings.  My children of course, were   blind to all this, as they simply saw this as an opportunity to be around other kids.
  It’s also worth mentioning the campouts. Twice a year we would go to a BSA approved facility where a list of pre-scheduled activities was offered to us, with no deviations allowed.  These campouts were expensive and charged per person which  made it hard to take the entire family. The Scouts would be taught mindless cheers (borrowed from old gospel hymns) that lifted up the Boy Scouts as a great organization with lots of fun to be had by all. Then they would be marched from activity to activity under the ever-watchful eye of salaried Scout employees who would do everything in their power to reduce the liability of the Scout organization should anyone become injured. Any suggestions outside of the approved schedule would be quietly dismissed, and   this collectivism extended even down to the food choices for the campout.  A list was given us of foods we would be buy which would then be held in common and dispersed by the leadership. I said ‘No thanks, we’ll bring our own food’ to icy stares.
  There were people in the group that seemed pretty dedicated to having a good time, some of them at low levels of leadership and they rode the rules right up to the edge. But every meeting there seemed to be more rules, more things to be signed, more money doled out for patches that celebrated the most mundane of achievements (they have a video game merit badge, for crying out loud) and more calls for fundraising with less actual activities.  The drift was towards safe lawsuit-proof activities which happen to be excruciatingly boring for a young boy.  I’ll give you an example. It came time for my oldest to qualify to be able to carry a pocketknife on camp-outs. The proficiency is supposed to  be demonstrated with  a block of wood  and a  knife.  Somebody somewhere in lunatic-ville decided that having the boys demonstrate actual proficiency with actual pocketknives would be too dangerous, and so  they were issued plastic cutlery and a bar of soap. I wish I was making this up.
  In the middle of all this we discovered a wonderful book written over 100 years ago by the co-founder of scouting. . It’s very pages ooze with rugged individualism and self reliance. This man taught his early Scouts to go into the woods and cut down trees to make their shelters (tents? Bah!), to hunt and kill their supper. There is a whole section on how to perform in-field taxidermy!  By contrast,  the modern Scouts are taught a philosophy of ‘Leave No Trace’ which  sounds  harmless enough, but the implementation of it was that not only would you not leave any trash behind but you wouldn’t even pick up sticks from off the ground lest you ‘disturb nature’. Instead, it was required that we bring all our firewood with us from outside the campsite, and take all the ashes with us once we were done. I, apparently the ever-present troublemaker, questioned the very sanity of some of their policies, and once again was not invited to the meetings. I took this book to one of the higher ups, and was told in no uncertain terms that the world in which Scouts could do activities like the ones described in that book were long gone.
  By now I had  2 children in 2 different Packs that met in 2 different locations, and  Monday nights were becoming my least favorite night of  the week. Another thing I noticed was a lack of fathers involved in Scouts. Since we live in a culture of male-abdication, I usually was the only dad at these events. And because I was unwilling to  be in position of leadership (along with its requirement to endorse all sorts of lunacy) the  leadership vacuum was filled by women. Now women are great, I’m a huge  huge fan of them, but women, as I’m sure you will agree, are not men. And the teaching of boys is best left to men whenever possible. These well-meaning ladies, coupled with our litigious society, created an environment where  risk-taking  was a frightful prospect, and instead it was enough to simply read from the Scout manual about how to do dangerous things and then check the box so that you can get your ridiculously expense little patch
  I made a command decision, that the organization was teaching dangerous things, and at a high cost, and at the end of the year we would be withdrawing from the program.  I cannot recommend the organization to anyone, especially anyone with a penchant for questioning what they are being told. I had endured gut-wrenching meetings for 3 years, and my children had no skills to show for it.  However we still have the book, and our family this spring will be returning to the spirit of Scouting and seeing if we can learn some real skills along the way.


RJR_fan said...

Some 30 or so years ago, as I made a good-faith effort to understand how a Christian elder could actually support public education, a
metaphor occurred:

Suppose someone denigrated that "religiously neutral" organization that meant so much to me as a child, the Boy Scouts?

The Scouts offered a surrogate family, and surrogate dads. The clearly-defined skills ladder fit my personality, working with, rather than against, my particular cluster of strengths
and shortcomings. (Yes, I became an Eagle Scout, but was never elected into the Order of the Arrow) I can still remember, vividly, the
bright summer morning I checked off requirements to earn my 2nd class
status! And how much those little record cards meant to me!

I owe much of who I am to the BSA of a half-century ago. Upon reflection, not all good. Like Mormonism, the Scouting creed does
nurture a kind of shiny self-righteousness. The Pledge of Allegiance is, after all, a Unitarian prayer to The State. Yet, the happiest memories of my childhood revolved around scouting school was usually a nightmare of boredom and terror). I had a vision of heaven at a camporee -- sitting around a campfire, chatting with good friends, and, in a moment of silence, heard the same thing happening at hundreds of other campfires around us.

Scouting provided hundreds of hours of great father-son time for me and my lad, as recently as 2001. Apparently, the trends towards
political correctness have accelerated dramatically in the last decade. Yet, given the error in the heart of the thing, the faith in
religious "neutrality," perhaps a gotterdammerung is inevitable. "Those who walk away from Omelas" can do so with grief for all the wealth of good experiences found there.

Who will inherit such treasures as the Blue Ridge Scouting Reservation?

And how can we create godly alternatives to meet the need for pure and challenging initiation societies? To help boys become exuberant men?

CAulds said...

Yes, I grew up with Scouts; one brother an Eagle, my father a Scoutmaster most of his life. We also home-schooled our only child, our daughter who is now 22, through all 12 grades.

As home-schooling parents, you have a major choice in deciding whether you'll teach independent thinking, or group-thinking. You look at every home-schooling family you know: they've chose one or the other.

We taught our daughter to think for herself; it was the right choice, though we've often doubted it.

The alternative is group-think, crowd-think, herd-think ... not a bad thing at all, when the crowd is going in the right direction.

crunchyconmama said...

A few years ago, I decided that I could no longer recite the pledge of allegiance. I'll stand but I politely refuse to put my hand on my heart and say the words. I cannot pledge my allegiance to our state. Why, yes, I am a homeschooling mother who questions just about everything!

crunchyconmama said...

This was our first year in cub scouts. There were some things that made me uncomfortable including the overpriced popcorn fundraiser (I cannot in good conscience sell GMO corn so we did not) and, as I commented above, I cringe at the pledge of allegiance. I will not teach it to my homeschooled children. Some of the sayings that the boys are supposed to learn in the handbook make me a bit uncomfortable as well. Thankfully, my boys are not "in love" with cub scouts and as long as my husband doesn't object we will not continue in scouts. He's usually very understanding of and accepts my crazy ideas (like unschooling, no vaccinations, cod liver oil, grain-free diets, etc.).

ENF said...

Thank you for joining the homosexuals and atheists who attack this fine organization. I can sympathize with your concerns, but I'm running in the opposite direction: away from homeschooling and toward scouting. For my time and money I think that scouting is well-worth it. No organization is perfect, and we homeschoolers tend toward idealism and splintering into a thousand factions. As with all things, I feel it is wise to do a cost benefit analysis. The benefits of scouting are many and it is one of the few organizations that is making a positive impact on our culture. Let's be realistic: I think these benefits far outweigh the likelihood of these boys becoming rats for a police state. If good people insist on things being their way and any organization they participate in fitting them like a glove, the impact of good people will be splintered. While you are about to bail on scouting, I’m about to bail on homeschooling. I don’t see much good coming from it. The home school culture, for all its potential, is anti-social, maladjusted, factional and paranoid. For those reasons, I see homeschooling having little impact on the culture and per capita, the home school kids are not turning out to be real impressive. Sure, you can cite some special case home school kid here and there who is an overachiever (that half the time if you dig deeper you find is fluff and not as great as the overblown stories), but for every outstanding home school kids you tell me about I can tell you about 6 who are on drugs, lost their faith, is a pregnant teenager, as an adult no longer speaks to his parents, is now shacking up with someone, or is completely incapable of relating to their coworkers.


I enjoyed your post. What was the name of the book written over 100 years ago by the co-founder of scouting? Thanks.

Heath Long said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heath Long said...

Your statement reads like a how to manual for logical fallacies. If you are indeed home schooling your kids, please stop. You cannot be good at it.

ENF said...

Thanks for the excellent example of argumentum ad hominem.

Andrew said...

"Thanks for the excellent example of argumentum ad hominem."

and yet this

"Thank you for joining the homosexuals and atheists who attack this fine organization."

was an example of guilt by association, which is also a type of ad hominem argument.

I would also add that if you're homeschooling to have an impact on the culture, then you're doing it for the wrong reasons. Although some would consider homeschooling to be the "one authentically radical social movement of any real significance in the United States"

The problems you associate with homeschooling can be avoided and all dependent on you and how you lead your child. It is well known that individualized learning is vastly superior to the factory-style learning kids are forced to endure to in public and private schools. I'm confident that a cost/benefit analysis of homeschooling would show that the benefits greatly outweigh any risks.

I would suggest reading two books by John Taylor Gatto,
The Underground History of American Education
Dumbing Us Down

Michael Alford said...

Thanks Angela. The name of the book is The American Boys Handy Book by Daniel C. Beard

Michael Alford said...

Sounds like our families have a lot in common

Michael Alford said...

All I can really say is that Scouting wasnt a good fit for our family. If you have had a more positive expereince, by all means, enjoy yourself.

ENF said...

Andrew and Michael:

Thank you for the thoughtful responses.

Andrew: I was accused of authoring a manual of logical fallacies and was then insulted by the same person, thus my comment. I'm familiar with the books you recomend, and familiar with all of the arguments for home school, but the fruit just isn't there.

Crow said...

We, being a family of mixed pagan and christian members who are devoted to the environment, our fellow earth creatures and a questioning of everything, are in the process of starting a small Spiral Scouts Hearth.

You can be as heterosexual and christian as you want to be in this scouting system, but you are expected to allow others to be homosexual and other than christian as well. They have official fund raisers, but if your group wants to raise funds with home-made cakes and tie dyed t-shirts, then you can do that as well.

Uniforms are a brown shirt and red bandana and they encourage you to get them from thrift stores. There are no video game badges. Badges are for helping others, cleaning up environmental issues, collecting socks for your local homeless. If you want to carry knives, lighters or bb guns and have appropriate adult supervision and training, then spiral scouts supports that. And they also support if you want to do none of those things. Hearths have direction but autonomy.

They are also international and it is very inexpensive to join and maintain. They encourage a male and female co-leadership for the positive attributes of both genders.

It really is an excellent alternative for anyone unhappy with the traditional scouting experience for any reason.

John Hogan said...

The stuff we did as Cub Scouts, back in the early 70s, would scare these wussies to death... well stated and congratulations for escaping with your sanity.

ENF said...


RE "...all dependent on you and how you lead your child." Check out this article:

lovemydesignergenes said...

Perhaps some of you in a Scouting region (council area) where it's too top heavy with salaried people...might be able to transfer/join another Scouting area where it's not so top heavy with paid staff--and where they run programs more to your liking.

Am going on memory, but my son's former Scout troop was able to keep a decent percent of our popcorn sales...the scout who sold the popcorn also made some $ to go towards dues/camps.

We had our issues (different than above) and we eventually left. But had we decided to stay with Boy Scouts, we would most likely had transferred to another troop...and we were near enough another area to even leave our current council. Some of you might live in the middle of your council, but some of you might be close enough to a different council which might run more leanly. I do have to say, our troop did lots of camping (most months of the year they went out on a weekend camp), and lots of hand-on activities that sound like the way scouts have traditionally camped.

Michael Alford said...

We tried multiple packs with multiple charter organizations with very similar problems throughout.

ValpoMeccia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cederq said...

Mr. Alford,
I have recently came across your blog and have enjoyed reading it. I came from a heavy scouting family growing up in the 60's and 70's. Four sisters in Girls Scouting, my brother and me in Boy Scouts. I can tell you I saw the change coming back then, and I knew it would not be good. I saw towards a more politically correct agenda. The Troop my brother and me belonged to was encouraged to do less rugged camp-outs and to do away with rugged, primitive 50 mile hikes (due to insurance/liability issues). New scouting manuals were coming out and we as Scouts refused to use them, new requirements for the different ranks were being implemented and again we refused to use them. The Troop was visited by the County Scout Executive one evening meeting and we were told to conform to the new regs and requirements or we could face our Troop being disbanded (Troop 273, Santa Clara County Council, California, 40 years in existence in 1979.) My older brother was a Life Scout was within 2 months to be an Eagle, myself a Star Scout walked up to the Executive tore off our rank badges, handed it to him and declared we quit and walked out. Our Dad could not be more proud. Within a month the Troop disbanded because most of the boys also quit. We wanted to be boys, and do rugged boy things, we saw it as a prelude to being men, and used it as an initiation to manhood. We wanted it to remain a Christian, God filled group and TPTB wanted a PC pansy organization.

Lisa Ann Homic, M.Ed. D.C. said...

I would have loved joining your version of the Scouts.

Cederq said...

Dr. Homic,
My sisters troop quite frequently joined our troop camping and outings as well as us joining them. It was an experience having my sisters with us, they were tough! One year at the local county camper-ere they joined us and a few tongues wagged at that. What was fun was the sisters troop bested a few boys and men doing practical boy scouting skills. I will always savor our times with my sisters.

Anonymous said...

The food at the meetings was awful. The pack leader made everyone take turns bringing "dessert" for the whole group.

The food became the center of the meeting. A typical dessert was chocolate cake with chocolate frosting topped with nuts

My son was allergic to wheat and could not eat this. Yet we had to bring cake for the "group"

I quit for other reasons as well.

Anonymous said...

Two good features of Michael's post are 1) that he is honest about sharing his experiences, and 2) that he lists several specific problems he sees with Scouts (while simultaneously evaluating those issues in light of his expectations/worldview).

Unfortunately, you, ENF, are short on specifics. You mention cost-benefit analysis, but lay out nothing in terms of the costs and only offer generalities in terms of benefits (e.g., "The benefits of scouting are many and it is one of the few organizations that is making a positive impact on our culture.")

Meanwhile, your negative points regarding homeschooling, while perhaps reflecting a piece of reality, are also vague and are really just overly broad generalizations (" The home school culture, for all its potential, is anti-social, maladjusted, factional and paranoid.") In my experience, there really is no such thing as "the home school culture." There are just too many ways to approach it and too many subcultures within it. Some functional critique is good, but your offerings just don't seem helpful in this context. Not without more specificity.

Again: "The benefits of scouting are many and it is one of the few organizations that is making a positive impact on our culture." My goodness, isn't that begging the whole question here? How is it making this positive impact? Is this impact of Scouting because of its inherent vision and philosophy, or in spite of them? Most importantly, in light of Michael's insights, what are the criteria to determine just what qualities would make for such a "positive impact on our culture"?

Michael's post raises and invites such reflections. I don't see that your post is in the same spirit. By offering a few concrete examples, combined with at least two worldview-related comments, it would have added more to the discussion.

So, in that spirit, I suggest that the decision to homeschool in general, and especially for thought-pioneers like Michael and others, offers the ultimate venue for cost-benefit analysis. One example is the discovery of "unschooling" that many homeschoolers make at some point in their journey. "Unschooling" (and labels are dangerous), which begins with the premise - "OK, if you remove from education all the stuff that is really there simply because you have to devise systems to manage classrooms of students in an institutional setting; if you remove them and look solely to the process of learning itself, what do you find?" - is a radical invitation to look at parenting, schooling, character formation, pedagogy, society, Church, and State in such a way as to count all costs very deeply while simultaneously questioning the benefits of these same institutions.

Michael very clearly is into cost-benefit analysis in profound ways.

You may or may not be. There's just no indication of it in this comment - other than the verbiage of cost and benefit.

I know some good people in scouting. They struggle in their way with the issues Michael raises. I have a basic level of respect for anyone who looks at his family and the Scouts and then does a sincere cost-benefit analysis in terms of his values, his family's needs, and institutional realities.

Anonymous said...

I'm still posting anonymously because I don't to manage yet another "identity" in my life. So, to follow up on my just-posted long response to ENF and Michael...

Re: Article from Fahey. Thanks for sharing this. Good article in its way (I'm an Orthodox Christian, so there's a little resonance in some ways on a spiritual level).

In fact, I personally don't know of a single homeschooling family who wouldn't agree (with or without substituting Catholic names for others). I.e., I know of many families who would sympathize with Michael's struggles while simultaneously agreeing with some of the potential pitfalls Fahey deals with.

The biggest problem I see with Fahey's article is that he doesn't deal with the history adequately. Yes, homeschooling, in the modern sense, isn't exactly a mainstay of "Western Civ." But a form of homeschooling has been around for all of Western Civ. Formal schooling did not typically begin until the teen years or just prior - including in the Byzantine Empire.

One reason homeschooling has its more modern form is because it's forced to operate within cultures with legally compulsory educational requirements. These date by and large to the late eighteenth century! I.e., many of us homeschoolers would be doing less formal education, except that the modern state has effectively made it seem strange not to subject children to arbitrary "education" that largely undermines the whole process of... well, of education. Thus, Fahey's commentary is, in the main, too superficial to be helpful here. I suspect he's the kind of guy who could lay out some good stuff in more detail, but he suffers in such a short article format.

In any case, homeschooling (in a less intense fashion) has precisely been the norm for most western history. And there are other thoughtful Roman Catholic writers who would agree.

Of course, as an Orthodox Christian, it's easy for me to look askance at the encyclicals Pope Pius XI or the decrees of Vatican II; but it is significant that both of the statements noted in Fahey's article are coming out of a time when these modern, collectivist, state-centered ideas were coming into their own. I think it's better to question whether the RC Church managed to rise above the times in these instances - or whether some of her leaders simply capitulated. (One thinks of the RC Church's original condemnation of modernism and applying modern historical-critical studies to the Scriptures - and her subsequent backpeddling a few decades later! I.e., she joined, in effect, with the Fundamentalists in condemning "modernism," but then embraced it later.)

Fahey is right - much of modern schooling arose via Protestantism. But - the RC Church (and later the Orthodox who flocked to western countries) jumped on the bandwagon and emulated them with parochial schools and Sunday school programs and all the rest. A deeper and more historical examination of RC and Orthodox - and pre-Christian pagan - attitudes towards education would show far more affinities with homeschooling than modern approaches in general.

Likewise, it's no simple issue to speak thoughtfully (certainly from a traditional RC or Orthodox perspective) of the family's relationship to "society" at large since the collapse of Old Europe and of Holy Russia by the beginning of the twentieth century. The rise of the modern and secular state had been growing for a long time; it can be asked whether Christians have yet to develop a deep understanding of how to relate to the State in a post-Christian age (it wasn't easy in Christian ages). What we do know is the modern state is a poor substitute for allegiance to one's church. How the two fit together - that calls for questions such as Michael raises.

Anonymous said...

I thank God I am not your child.