Saturday, August 23, 2008

The BSA Brand

As I sat at a Boy Scout court of honor a couple of nights ago with three of my sons, I was pleased with the way the awards were presented.

First there were some non-official certificates awarded for various things. One Scout was always cheerful during summer camp. Another had excelled at climbing. One had discovered that he could do some things he had thought were too hard. And so on. This was followed by the awarding of merit badges.

The Scoutmaster then discussed the Tenderfoot rank, what it meant, and what went into earning it. He then called the boys that had earned that rank to come forward. He continued in this pattern through the Life rank. (We had no Eagles that night.)

After coming home, I reflected on the court of honor. It suddenly dawned on me that one of the great strengths of the Boy Scout program is its well defined system of requirements and awards. Another important element is the BSA’s firm stance on character and moral issues. These are among the elements that make up the BSA brand.

This brand is broadly recognized by people of all stripes, whether they agree or disagree with BSA policies or are indifferent. Almost everyone understands what the BSA purports to stand for. Even if they know nothing specific about what it takes to become an Eagle Scout, people generally understand that it is an important and significant achievement.

This does not mean that all Scouts live up to the BSA’s ideals, or even that all Eagle Scouts remain true to Scouting principles. (While there is a good list of famous Eagle Scouts ranging from Hank Aaron to Michael Dukakis to Neil Armstrong to Ross Perot, there are also some that have become infamous criminals.)

Losing this brand recognition would be devastating to the BSA. For that reason, they take significant steps to protect the brand. This has occasionally caused controversy. But it has also produced a system that has caused several generations of boys to aspire to something higher and to serve their fellowmen.

Is Boy Scouting a perfect institution? Not by a long shot. Do I have some issues with the BSA? I have my criticisms of the organization. But they are the sentiments of a loving son that works within the outfit to effect improvements where possible.

This summer marks 33 years that I have been working to fulfill the oath I took when I became an Eagle Scout, to give back more to Scouting than it has given to me. I suspect that it will require a lifetime to accomplish this pledge.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE this post. Thank you!

I am a committed Eagle Scout, but I have friends who have found multitudes of reasons to criticize the Boy Scout program and many justifications for their non-participation. However, I believe most of the reasons they give and the experiences they cite are deviations from the ideals the program espouses. When people criticize the church for some of its rotten members and imperfect systems, they do not realize that the church as an institution would agree with them that their experiences were unfortunate and the members were acting badly. We need those members to stay in the church, or those individuals to join the church, so that they can help fix the problems and bring the church closer to its ideal. I feel the same way about many people's criticisms of the Boy Scouts. Those who find fault with the program should recognize that despite the imperfect participants and the bureaucratic difficulties, the ideals the program endorses are flawless, and their participation will help the program achieve those ideals.

Thanks again for the post!

George said...

Scouting in Utah, in my opinion, is a bloated, tired and very expensive bureaucracy requiring significant investment of dollars to pay the salaries of the officials in Salt Lake and other council headquarters. I believe it also fosters a sense of militarism with its emphasis on uniforms and ranks, and flag saluting.

The LDS YW's program on the other hand runs very well and requires no "Friends of YW" to keep it afloat. Recently I received a request from GSL Headquarters asking me to donate a minimum of a thousand dollars to help upgrade their camps. Organized scout camps are merit badge factories offering mediocre food at prices higher than eating at Chuck a Rama every day. The executive in charge made what, $112,000.00 last year for heading up this volunteer Great Salt lake Council?

Scouts start fires, get lost, ravage the forest to make shelters and leave straw on the ground after winter camps. Are we preparing to invade Russia that we need this winter camp training? I recall making reservations to take my troop to Snow Canyon outside of St. George a few years ago and did not receive a favorable response from the ranger due to the mistreatment the area had received from other scout groups. We scoured the entire camp ground and filled up bags of garbage left by others. He invited us back again, the only troop he had ever wanted to come back.

The LDS Church has a very fine Duty to God program that could make scouting obsolete if it were emphasized.

Show me ten Eagle Scouts and I will show you maybe half who could find the north star, find directions in the daytime, tell the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion, or tie a bowline knot. Too many moms earn the badge or the SM passes too easily the requirements for rank advancement. What Boy Scout needs to earn lashing skills anyway? How relevant is lashing? Boards of Review have not been able to ask any questions of any scout other than feel good kinds of things, along with the Scout Law and Oath for decades. Without this audit process it has become too easy.

Why do I believe these things. I am in my 3rd tour of duty as a scoutmaster. I do it because I love boys but detest the vehicle. I am a former bishop and know well the value of mentoring and helping young men navigate their early teenage years.

A last gripe I have was the bill for two scout shirts, a few patches, and merit badge books and the bill was $104.00. I would not mind so much if the quality of the stuff equaled something I bought at Cabelas for example, The cheap Chinese made shirts are very disappointing.

My troop just completed the Composite Materials Merit badge and we built a 15' boat rather than a fiberglass and cardboard bird house as suggested. We blog at Troop

When they come around asking for dollars for the GSL Council give them half what you did last year and the other half to your scoutmaster to get some piece of equipment for the troop. They need it more. But for the love of boys and my concern for the 14 I work with I would be retired I assure you from scouting.

Anonymous said...

My point exactly.

The Ideals are flawless... the criticisms are that the program doesn't live up to the ideals.

The solution? Help fix the program and make it work the way it should in your corner of the world. Help it live up to its ideals. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Let's stop bashing a very very good thing and help make it great.

George said...

If the TV isn't working and you are trying to find a repairman are you 'bashing' it because it is broken? I don't think so. Scouting is broken here in Utah and elsewhere. Maybe it is time to recycle it into something better, i.e, the Duty to God program. Have you looked at it? Until then we continue to salute the flag in our overpriced, under quality, cheap, Chinese made uniforms, though I admit I have cut my donation to Friends of Scouting in half an encourage others to do so. Give the other to your local troop.

Scott Hinrichs said...

George and WP: Thanks for your comments. Your criticisms are apt. I echoed some of them in my post on mediocre LDS Scouting last October. I too have served many times in various Scouting positions and have my concerns, but I don't agree that the vehicle is ready for the scrap heap.

For those that are interested, here is the link to George's troop blog. The project they did for the Composite Materials merit badge is inspiring. Youth need caring leaders that will help them do this kind of stuff.

My take on winter camping is that it helps boys understand the basics of winter survival. More importantly, it helps them understand that they can do things they thought were impossible. It also accomplishes the adventure goal of Scouting. I have run my district's winter camp. We work closely with the county rec department to coordinate a spring cleanup of the area each year.

Cost is an issue. We spent more to send our son to work on camp staff all summer than he earned. I have plenty invested in my own uniforms. The GSL Council Exec, in fact, makes $214K, as noted in this D-News article. My council's exec makes a paltry $122K by comparison.

I am all in favor of keeping donations localized. But before you badmouth all BSA camps, consider taking your troop to one of my council's camps. They're less expensive and they offer a better program.

George said...

What is your council and tell me more about your camps. We went to a forest service cabin above Vernal this year. The leaders stayed in it, and we had hot showers, stove, fridge with freezer and more. The boys pitched their tents around it. We had 14 boys from ages 12 to 18, no Ventures in our Hispanic Branch. The cost, excluding gas and diesel, was about $80.00 per boy and we ate well. I understand Council camps are twice that. Is that correct?

I guess my question still remains, what is it that scouting does that the Duty to God program could not deliver, and what is the cost to run the YM's program emphasizing the Duty to God program? I still see the requirement for lashings among things to be useless, (First Class requirements).

Concerning winter camps, our boys are challenged to have sufficient clothes for normal activities and lack the snowmobile or skiing apparel for winter camps. We buy and they buy as much as possible from DI.

Thank you for having a listening ear though. Most scouting people take stronger exception to my heretical ideas and feelings.

Scott Hinrichs said...

I live in the Trapper Trails Council. Our camps website is here. My favorite is Camp Loll, where I worked on staff as a youth and where two of my sons have worked on staff. It's far into the wilderness area a couple of miles south of Yellowstone.

Still, camps are expensive. The cost per boy this year at Camp Loll was $135 with commissary. (They do their own cooking.) But the varied experiences offered at camps like Loll are, I believe, worth the cost. Boys in my troop were able to hike in the Yellowstone back country, shoot rifles, shoot archery, climb, rappel, canoe, kayak, and engage in a number of other activities, besides earning three merit badges each.

I have tried to offer experiences like this at a troop level in a one-week event. It is extremely difficult and very costly. It requires lots of volunteers. Unless somebody with means covers a goodly portion of the cost, it still costs as much per boy but it requires a lot more work.

There is also something about being together with a couple of hundred other boys that are trying to do the same thing that provides common ground as well as a good microcosm for learning citizenship.

The value of interacting with a good camp staff cannot be overrated. Boys see models just a few years older than themselves that they can aspire to be like.

As far as what Scouting has over Duty to God; believe me, I have considered this a lot. I have been deeply involved in both programs. Outside of North America the Church uses only DtG and does not sponsor Scouting.

The DtG program is very good in many facets -- especially spiritual, but DtG lacks the recognition elements of Scouting. I'm sorry, but getting a certificate every two years with a medallion at the end just doesn't cut it. Some of the flexible elements are so flexible that it is difficult for a boy to derive any sense of accomplishment from them.

You can say that earning recognition doesn't matter, but studies show that it does matter to youth, and especially to boys. I suspect that this is among the reasons that the Prophet continues to support the BSA.

As I noted in my previous post, there are real reasons that Scouting in most LDS units is mediocre (or worse). Short tenure of leaders, lack of commitment, and the need to oversee boys with varying levels of commitment (due to universal enrollment), etc.

Cost is an issue, especially in lower income areas. We are inviting some inner city units to come to our fall camporee cost free, but somebody has to foot that bill.

Still, imperfection is, I believe, insufficient reason for scrapping something good. Instead, I am working at the district and council level to affect changes where possible.

George said...

I cannot disagree with your perspectives and experiences. Scouting can work with good leaders. It is still expensive. I had good leaders as a youth and I hope some of my boys one day will be leaders in YM as well.

We did just about all you have described at our camp. My boys previously had attained their archery and rifle shooting badges so we only had an archery tournament this year.

We cannot charge our boys anything for camp so we do pretty well to keep it under $80.00 per boy.

Sean said...

A lot of worthwhile comments and perspectives here. What enters in with scouting is that it is more of an "upfront" stand alone cost while church activities "cost more" than they might appear (your tithing dollars at work!) It may appear "cheaper" to run an LDS YM or YW program, but it's not that much cheaper. A scout uniform costs, sure-- but so does a decent outfit of church clothes (suit, shirt, shoes). to participate on Sundays. The big difference is that scouting utilizes some paid people while the church has more unpaid volunteers. But think again. A great number of higher ups in our church, G.A.'s etc. do receive a living stipend-- again monies from tithing etc. Nobody's rich working for the church but it does add up. Owning and maintaining private camps...stakes have to shell out monies if they own their own YW camps, etc. So on a par...

Scott Hinrichs said...

Re Sean: You make some very good points. Church programs are not free. Costs are more hidden than in Scouting. But I think that many active church members consider those sunk costs. They'd pay them anyway as an outgrowth of their faith.

It seems to me that far more active church members look at Scouting as more of an optional thing, kind of like whether to enroll your child in AYSO soccer. Or else they look at it as if a lax approach to the program is perfectly acceptable.

So, while activity programs in the church have hidden costs that are likely as great as Scouting, it really doesn't matter to the active church members that take a less devoted approach to Scouting.