Michael S. Alford
March 5, 2013
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 overpriced trinket sales model that was recommended and we devised our own program which was a 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 organization’s 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 ‘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 to 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 campouts. 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. . Its 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.