Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On Location: Scouting on the Green

When I was in junior high school, I faced a dilemma: Do I attend school dances on Friday nights, or do I skip the opportunity to sit on the outskirts of Wescott's gym and pray for one slow dance in order to attend Boy Scouts meetings? Considering I readily admit I'm all ax, no lumber, I'll let you venture a guess about my choice.

Flipping through my 1990 edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook, I now realize that I regret that decision. I regret not soaking up the practical skills and experiences the organization has to offer. Moreover, I've acquired a new appreciation for the Boy Scouts' emphasis on a brand of conservation and environmentalism that dovetails nicely with Rooseveltian (as in Theodore) ethics. So it's sad to write about the sparsely-attended exposition of one of Westbrook's two Boy Scout Troops. And even sadder to read about the depth to which the Boy Scouts of America have been thrown (or have thrown themselves) into the fires of America's culture wars.

On Saturday morning, Boy Scouts Troop 81 gathered at Westbrook's civic capital, Riverbank Park, and hosted a "Scouting on the Green" exposition. The troop, which has made it a habit to camp out at the park and prepare a pancake breakfast during Westbrook Together Days, is now starting a tradition of hosting an annual display in which various skills are shown off and adventurous experiences are talked about in an effort to attract interest and therefore bolster the troop's membership rolls.

On Saturday morning, for example, the Boy Scouts showed off their tent-pitching skills by erecting a canvas shelter while blindfolded. And they used a century-old two-man saw to display the old-fashioned method of teething the wood for winter. They even appealed to their own tastebuds by making homemade vanilla ice cream to complement the root beer they'd whipped up and bottled using vintage Coke bottles.

Unfortunately, though, when I dropped by around 10:30a, the expo, which started at 9a, had not yet attracted one visitor.

According to Dick Chretien, Troop 81's Scout Leader for thirty-four years, active recruitment for the troop is necessary, as there are ten teenagers in his Boy Scout troop and only eight boys in his Cub Scout troop. When pressed for possible reasons for his troop's relatively low numbers, Chretien supplied two theories: Busy kids and politics. Now, busyness and an assortment of other reasons for a reduction in an association's membership are familiar fare for this Robert Putnam reader. But I pressed Chretien on the politics angle, and he mentioned the Boy Scouts' exclusionary policy regarding homosexuals, agnostics, and athiests as being possible factors. Chetien cited only one personal experience in which the Boy Scouts' politics explicitly affected whether a boy would become a member of the Boy Scouts or not (Chretien said he'd tried to recruit a young man living in his neighborhood, but the boy's mother balked because of the Boy Scouts' policies), so I was taken aback by the prevalence to which the Boy Scouts is now linked with homophobia and religious intolerance.

In an ultimately fruitless attempt to research the membership trends of the Boy Scouts of America, I Yahoo'd various combinations of "membership" and "Boy Scouts". But each time I was bombarded with webpages full of court cases, lawsuits, and all the other goodies associated with a good, old-fashioned battle in America's culture war.

Which is too bad, because my Handbook contains some really great advice about winter camping.

- John C.L. Morgan

Full Disclosure: My father has been involved with Troop 81 since I was a Cub Scout back in the day, and my youngest brother is currently working toward his Eagle Scout as a member of the troop.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In your exhaustive research did you contact Tony Bessey at Ordinary Maine? His profile indicates he is a professional administrator with the Boy Scouts of America. I follow both sites so I figure he might be able to help.