Don’t run Scouts out of schools

Published 10:12 pm Thursday, October 1, 2009

If ever there were a sign of the changes in modern American society, it would be the plight of the Boy Scouts of America.

Once admired for the positive effect it had on the development of boys, in recent years the Boy Scouts of America has found itself under attack by those who question everything from the spiritual values it espouses to its membership qualifications to its right to scrutinize the sexual proclivities of the leaders who will interact with the young boys who are members.

The controversies that have surrounded those questions surely have had an impact on membership in the clubs that are covered by the BSA umbrella. In fact, according to the organization’s annual membership surveys, between 1999 and 2008 Boy Scouting experienced a drop in membership of 23 percent in the Cub Scout age group and fell by 11 percent in the Boy Scout age group.

It’s likely that other factors also have been involved in Scouting’s falling popularity. Surely the economy has had a recent effect, as parents are finding it harder each year to pay for the registration fees, travel and other costs associated with participating in the Boy Scouts.

Another important factor in the falling enrollment in Scouting has been the changing relationship between the Scouting organization and public schools. Until just a couple of years ago, Scout leaders were invited to visit elementary-school classrooms in September to tell kids about the program and recruit new members. That extraordinary access to students has been replaced by a more antiseptic approach that allows organizations to leave flyers that can be picked up by parents visiting school offices and allows Scout leaders access to parents during a PTA meeting or similar gathering at the beginning of the school year.

The point of the change, according to Suffolk Public Schools spokesperson Bethanne Bradshaw, was to “protect institutional time and the whole idea of the student not being the decision maker.” There were also some concerns among School Board members that students were a “trapped audience” for recruiting Scout leaders and that the school system could be perceived as a “marketing agent” for the organization.

One thing that should be clear to school and community leaders, however, is the desperate need for organizations that will work to positively influence the lives of boys in Suffolk. To be sure, the school system faces many competing needs and more than a few mandated programs that consume the limited time that kids are in school.

But Suffolk’s students don’t seem to have benefitted academically during the past couple of years from being spared the 45 minutes or so they used to spend listening to Scoutmasters talk about the neat things they could do as Scouts. On the other hand, the evidence of character problems amongst those leaving the school system is evident in every crime report and court docket that is printed.

Organizations such as the Boy Scouts that work to shape the character of young people, especially boys, should be encouraged to be involved in the schools, not denied access.