I need to put a couple of disclaimers here:
I really am lumping The Boy Scouts with the Cub Scouts. My dad was a scout master for ten years and I have two brothers who are Eagle Scouts, but my oldest son has just barely started the Scouting program. Much of my belief in scouting comes from my leader-experience with Cubs, and from a mother-side of things.
From a leader side of things, I would say it is a difficult calling. The boys are demanding and are much better at doing than sitting. It requires creativity--or at least doing the homework to steal ideas from others. It requires a weekly commitment. The best scout leaders also follow up at home with the boys and parents to help them progress through the program. Good scout leaders plan ahead and keep track of what their boys have accomplished. The best scout leaders know the scouting program, carry a deep commitment to children, and have a testimony of the gospel. I guess it is no secret why the same people get pulled into Scouting all the time. The best scout leaders have very little pride, a great love for children, are organized and motivational.
Scouting's background is interesting and was born during the great Progressive era in the United States. Though progressives in our era tend to be more like liberals, the Teddy-Roosevelt-Progressives were very much into setting goals and improving oneself and their families, and believed that the government should pass laws to advance these goals as well. Scouting was a way for a young man to start off as a man-cub (and the Cub program borrows heavily from Jungle Book imagery) and eventually becomes a mighty Eagle. The accomplishments, taken one at a time, are highly doable, but when accumulated seems very grand indeed. The Progressives also emphasized the importance of the outdoors for its ability to spiritually and mentally improve humanity.
As a fanatical goal-setter by nature, the organized nature of Scouting is very appealing to me. (I also like the Personal Progress Program for the same reason. But I will address issues with young women later in this--or in another--post.) I like checking things off in the book and knowing what to work on with my kids next. I like the direction it lends to our parent-child, and even to our family, time here at home.
My oldest son is not a particularly athletic boy. And unfortunately, much of a boy's worth in our society, ends up wrapped up in those types of ability. It is really a body image issue all over again, just wrapped in a different package. But in Scouting, he has found a place that he can be enormously successful. He can work hard, both by doing and by study, and his "do your best" efforts are the thing that counts for the most. In our Pack we very strongly encourage the wearing of the Scout uniform and Jedi Knight was always so proud to wear it, covered with the accouterments of his hard work. This little scout shirt, covered in awards, pins, beads and, yes, even a little paint, is a scrapbook for the previous three years of his life at Church. When he put on his new, empty scout shirt for a Court of Honor a couple of weeks ago he looked at it and said to me, "I can hardly wait until I get to cover it with some of those merit badges." But I don't think that for him it is just about the stuff. He has learned that getting those badges and patches and beads and so forth is not easy. In fact, it is hard. But it is the hard that makes it good.
I also love the practical spirituality presented in scouting. I think that spiritual conversion is imperative too, but scouting teaches a boy that the highest honor of a man is to do real good for others--at home, in your Church, in you neighborhood, school, but especially in the community. In our selfish world, is there any better thing to teach a boy?
My last love of scouting stems from its emphasis on outdoor experiences. As our boys grow more technologically adept, but at the same time more distant from real relationships, removing them from the white noise and immersing them in God's creation becomes exceptionally important. Essential, even, if they are to gain any kind of spiritual or moral maturity.
Of course, most of this, the part about my son excepted, is an idealized vision of what scouting can look like, and what it can do. I am also a realist. (If you think idealism and realism cannot exist together I will send you an excellent treatise from Bruce Hafen to the contrary.) I have spent the last three years more or less immersed in the Cub program and two years working side-by-side with the Young Men scouting leaders. Problems abound. If the problems are too strong, it will likely make it difficult for the boys to be successful in scouting, or for parents to feel like it is important to participate.
Here are some difficulties:
* Leaders who don't plan ahead either for the individual activities, or for the boys' long term growth. Too many leaders tell the boys they love them, but then don't come prepared. Wasn't it President Uchtdorf who said that love was spelled T-I-M-E?
* Leaders who don't follow the program--I don't necessarily mean to the letter, or course. I think that Cub Scout leaders are as entitled to revelation as people in any other calling. What I mean is that leaders who want so badly for the boys to earn the stuff that they don't really make them fully accountable for what they are working on. This mocks the program for the boys that are really doing the whole thing, and teaches boys a habit of . . . whatever the OPPOSITE of integrity is. Again, I don't believe that every single boy in every den should be held to exactly the same standard because of extenuating circumstances, but I truly believe in the Cub motto of "Do your best." Too many boys are being allowed to slide through (scouting and everything else) with half-hearted and sloppy effort in some misguided attempt to build self-esteem. It isn't the award or whatever that builds esteem, it is a child knowing they have made an honest effort and good choices and believing that they exert a large measure of control over their own achievement. LDS Packs in our area have an unfortunate reputation for letting our kids slide through.
* Families not committed to helping their child succeed. The handbook is pretty clear about why Cub Scouting remains a part of the church--it has a very strong emphasis on family. As for why we keep Boy Scouting--Church leaders have often pointed out the high correlation between boys that go on missions and earn their Eagle. I think Cub Scouting can be a very positive part of any LDS family, but it has to be done routinely. I have too often seen situations where the boy has a month to go before his birthday and he suddenly does a huge surge of pass-offs. In that month I get six frantic phone calls from mom wondering how she, I mean junior, can earn his Bear badge or whatever.
*Striking just the right balance between spiritual growth, awards and fun activities. I think this is a problem in the Young Women program too.
If the scouting program in your ward looks anything like this, PLEASE address it with your leaders first, and then with the bishopric member over scouting or primary so that adjustments can be made. Just don't be surprised if they ask YOU what you would like to do in the organization. Consider carefully saying yes. There is no better way to get converted to Scouting than to be a part of it.
In an earlier comment about the Scouting program, it was mentioned that Scouting is unfairly resourced compared to Young Women. I absolutely agree with that statement, and plan on treating it more thoroughly in my next post, but I think this fact is a bad argument for not being involved in Scouting. It is a great argument for beefing up the Young Women programs. It is true that a fully functioning scout program is not cheap. But it doesn't cost any more per year for a family than putting a boy in seasonal sports or other types of lessons. I would contend that, when done properly, Scouting is as valuable as any other activity your son can be involved in.