Summary: Boy Scouts are in the news again. As usual, journalists get the story wrong. The real story shows the trends that are molding a new America.
Membership in Boy Scouts of America peaked in 1973 at 4.8 million. Decades of relentless mismanagement by its HQ in Irving, Texas, reduced that to 2.5 billion by ~2012, and to 2.3 million “members” (boys and girls) today. The 437 thousand Mormon boys are roughly one-fifth of BSA membership, and they’re leaving – following BSA’s decision to admit gays, transgendered Scouts, and now girls (as Boy Scouts). This might leave BSA too small to fund its infrastructure, leading to a death spiral.
Tapping Boy Scouting’s biggest asset
“In a nation so large and so diverse there are few ways of quantifying intelligence or success or ability, so those few that exist are immediately magnified, titles become particularly important.”
— David Halberstam in The Best and the Brightest.
The response of the BSA leadership was genius. Boy Scouts’ primary asset is the reputation of Eagle Scouts. Competition for the few slots at prestigious colleges is fierce, and the words “Eagle Scout” on an application can help. Scout troops have increasingly become “Eagle factories.” Parents complete the boys’ projects. Outdoor treks are done only as needed. The parents run troops like schools; boys grudgingly cooperate, and bounce out after getting the little eagle pin — depriving Troops of what should be their Scout leaders. This is antimatter to Scout Spirit.
The fraction of Scouts becoming Eagles was roughly 1% to 1.5% from 1930 to 1990. Then it began to skyrocket, reaching 6% in 2013 – an assent that continues today.
Girl Scouts’ Gold Award does not have the same prestige. BSA leadership has fully opened Boy Scouts to girls, expecting to receive a flood of credential-hungry girls (girls seeking high adventure have been able to join BSA Venturing since 1969). Many of them would otherwise go to Girl Scouts. They believe these girls will more than offset the loss of Mormon Scouts.
This marketing coup could gut Girl Scouts like a trout. With 1.8 million members (down from 2.9 million in 2003), Girl Scouts could provide a transfusion of members keeping BSA viable for another generation or two. The Girl Scouts’ leaders’ response is the mirror image of BSA’s: we train girls for jobs in STEM fields! That’s an appeal to parents, not girls. It is the same thinking that produces Eagle factories, and will eventually erode away the reputation of the “Eagle” brand.
Looking at a broader market, BSA’s leaders have two surveys showing that many parents not now involved in Boy Scouts wanted their daughters in Boy Scouts. That’s probably false. Surveys often elicit answers that are false but sound good. Almost all other nations Boy Scouts associations have gone coed; few saw a boost in membership (e.g., the UK in 1991).
Scouting in 21st Century America
Fully admitting girls will not “destroy” Boy Scouts – now to be known as “Scouts BSA.” The parent organization adopted the unisex name Scouting/USA – in 1977. Almost all of the world’s 216 nations have coed Scouting.
I predict three kinds of change to the organization formerly known as Boy Scouts. That is after BSA figures out how to integrate girls into units (which they haven’t yet).
First, the fraction of Scouts becoming Eagles will continue to skyrocket as girls join seeking another credential. The long-term effects of that on the reputation of the credential cannot be good.
Second, running high adventure programs will become more difficult. These are already difficult. Making them coed will make them much more so, and hence rarer. (As always in Scouting, the limiting factor is trained adult leaders – not interested youth.) High adventure programs – supported by Scouting’s large infrastructure – make Scouting special and valuable. Without that, Scouting is just another youth program. They are a dime a dozen.
The third likely change goes to the heart of modern feminism. Women are as tough as men. They can take care of themselves. They can do anything that men can do. But when introduced into an all-male organization, new and powerful regulatory machinery must be created to protect them. The US military and corporations are in the midst of this now.
Tighter regulation of boys in Scouting would be unfortunate. Scouting is one of the few remaining “safe spaces” for boys, where boys can be boys. In school and sports, they’re regimented like soldiers. Parents – often under pressure from teachers – drug boys who are too spirited. Now Boy Scouts joins the parade.
It is another step in creation of a new America. Many small steps towards a radical goal.
For More Information
- Women have won the gender revolution.
- Conflict in tomorrow’s offices: strong women clashing with each other.
- The Economist proclaims that men are “The Weaker Sex”.
- Women are moving on top of men in America.
- We might become a low testosterone America. More research needed, stat!
- Women on Top, chapter 10: the growing gender gap in education.
- Victims no more: the revolution puts women on top of men.
The context: boys in America.
I recommend reading The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies are Harming Our Young Men by Christina Hoff Sommers. For an intro to it see her 2000 article in The Atlantic. From the publisher…
“An updated and revised edition of this controversial classic — now more relevant than ever — argues that boys are the ones languishing socially and academically, resulting in staggering social and economic costs.
“Girls and women were once second-class citizens in the nation’s schools. Americans responded with concerted efforts to give girls and women the attention and assistance that was long overdue. Now, after two major waves of feminism and decades of policy reform, women have made massive strides in education. Today they outperform men in nearly every measure of social, academic, and vocational well-being.
“Christina Hoff Sommers contends that it’s time to take a hard look at present-day realities and recognize that boys need help. Called “provocative and controversial …impassioned and articulate” (The Christian Science Monitor), this edition of The War Against Boys offers a new preface and six radically revised chapters, plus updates on the current status of boys throughout the book.
“Sommers argues that the problem of male underachievement is persistent and worsening. Among the new topics Sommers tackles: how the war against boys is harming our economic future, and how boy-averse trends such as the decline of recess and zero-tolerance disciplinary policies have turned our schools into hostile environments for boys. As our schools become more feelings-centered, risk-averse, competition-free, and sedentary, they move further and further from the characteristic needs of boys. She offers realistic, achievable solutions to these problems that include boy-friendly pedagogy, character and vocational education, and the choice of single-sex classrooms.
“The War Against Boys is an incisive, rigorous, and heartfelt argument in favor of recognizing and confronting a new reality: boys are languishing in education and the price of continued neglect is economically and socially prohibitive.”