Monday, July 23, 2012

If I had one, I'd send it back...

With the Boy Scouts of America deciding to double down on their decision to exclude gays from scouting there has been a notable backlash, culminating with some Eagle Scouts returning their badges, which is a pretty big thing for them, considering how hard it is go earn that award.

I never made Eagle Scout, far from it. I never wanted to be a Scout at all, let alone an Eagle Scout. Yet somehow as a young man I found myself drafted into the Boy Scouts. That's right, drafted.

When I was in Jr. High my grades were not what one would call "stellar". I was having a hard time for a number of reasons. My parents decided to send to to another school to get help, rather than see me fail a grade. When I arrived, my class was getting ready to head off on a camping trip. We would be canoeing 50 miles down the Mohican river.

This would be a challenge for any young person who wasn't much of an outdoors type. Now lets add in a group of emotionally, developmentally and behaviorally maladjusted kids. Some of these kids had serious problems. And yet we were expected to, as a group,  plan, purchase supplies, pack, unpack, canoe, make camp and cook for a 1 week trip. Needless to say, the trip did not go particularly smoothly. 2 kids smuggled along booze, one brought a gun. Several canoes flipped and got swamped. There were a few fights.

When it was done, I was told we had earned a '50 miler award'.

"From who?"  I asked.

"From the Boy Scouts" our teacher replied.

"I never joined the Boy Scouts."

"You did when you joined this school." he answered.''

And there it was. I had somehow joined the Scouts.

We did the trip again later, as well as camped in a log cabin in February. On another camping trip half the kids got ill from bad food or water. One time while building a bridge a saw popped out of the groove and cut my thumb wide open, necessitating stitches.  I never saw that 50 miler badge, or any other badge. We had no uniforms, not even a beret. The school had no money for that and some of the kids came from poor neighborhoods.

But a weird thing happened amongst all the misery. We worked as a team. Make no mistake, we didn't want to, but we had to. We learned, we overcame challenges. We dealt with other, even if we disliked - even hated each other sometimes.

Unlike the men giving back their medals, I do not claim that Scouting made me the successful man I am today. But it did teach me a lot. And I believe it can have a positive affect on young peoples lives. At a time when 'playing' now consists of sitting in front on a computer for hours on end we need to get kids outside and physically active. In this age where so much interaction is carried on through "social media" we need kids to learn how to get along face-to-face in groups. Positive adult roll models always seem in short supply. We cannot protect our children by insulating them from the world and pretending people with different skin color, religious beliefs or sexuality don't exist. The rest of society is moving past this kind of bigotry. Young people already know gay people and see no reason they should be excluded from enjoying the same rights everyone else does. Our own military no longer discriminates against openly gay members.

Yes, the BSA is a private group and they are allowed to have whatever policies they want. But with attendance down 20% since 1999 I would think they would be interested in doing everything they can to get people involved with scouting. There are signs that change may yet come. I hope it does. If not the BSA will likely go the way of the Dodo. It will exclude itself out of existence.  Which would be a damn shame.

Maybe if enough people, especially Scouts past and present, let the BSA know their feelings on the matter we will see some change. So consider my few badges and awards returned (even though I never got them) until such time as the BSA welcomes everyone into scouting.

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