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Scout Dilemma

The other day at the Kite Festival, I noticed that the local cub scouts were the ones selling snacks and the like.  My two younger brothers were cub scouts, and I felt like a den big sister or den second mother.  We hosted a few den meetings at our house, and I can still clearly recall the oath we would recent at the start of every meeting:  "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my coCub_scoutsuntry...."

This email comes from a mama who would love your insight:

My 7 year old son really wants to join Cub Scouts. We went to the initial orientation meeting, and even wrote a check for his membership, but I still can't shake that feeling that I just don't want to be a part of that particular organization. Though my husband was a scout for a short time, and my own brothers were scouts, we don't practice any religion and feel uncomfortable with the amount of "God-speak" involved in the scouts. We'd want to be a part of the den, but feel hypocritical pretending to lead a prayer. Though I was raised Catholic, I haven't wanted to be a part of organized religion since I was about twelve. I can't shake that paranoid feeling about sending my own son off to strangers that hold so many conservative beliefs! Isn't there an alternative scouting-type organization? A more liberal, more focused on camping and less soldier-like, less preachy alternative? Am I being uptight and ridiculous?


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I do not have a son and my daughter is not interested in this type of thing at this point. If I had a boy as a lesbian I would not be able to do Boy Scouts - they may not even let us in. Quite frankly they are to active in their conservativism at the national level - although I am sure there are some local troops in Portland that are great.

I would check out the campfire girls and boys. On their website they have wonderful statements of inclusion. They also have the girls and boys together in part to break down gender stereotypes.

I also personally am glad I don't have a son, as I am opposed to the boy scouts' policies on homosexuality, even not as a lesbian. I can't condone any exclusionary organization, especially one with a history of having leaders who sexually abused children...another group who has a false understanding that pedophilia is related to homosexuality. I do think there are a lot of good values associated with scouting, but that doesn't negate their discriminatory practices. On a note about the "God" issue: Did you all hear about the televangelist who is having his congregation pray that the 2 men who lead the group to ensure the separation of church and state will DIE???? I read a transcript. There is a time and a place for praying. That's why there is church (or temple in my case). Sounds like Campfire may be the way to go.

My husband did the scouts thing with his oldest son (my stepson) when the kid was young (he's 19 now). Our family is also non-practicing anything - as in, my husband was raised that way and his kids are raised that way.

Anyway, he didn't say boo to his kid about all the religious stuff - just faithfully attended meetings and did the campouts because his son was interested. However, after a few months of meetings and one particularly wet campout (we do live in the PNW don't forget and no one really enjoys forced activities in the rain) the kid was ready to quit, much to the relief of my husband.

Long story short: the solution may present itself without you having to do anything and your kid will appreciate the love and support you are giving him for something he wants to try. At the age of 7, and having no formal religious offering already in his life, the god stuff may either completely turn him off or just roll right over him and he'll just really enjoy the camping stuff.

If, like the posters above, you are really against the whole philosophy of the scouts then you should/could discuss WHY with your son while offering alternatives.

My $0.02 anyway!

I have a son still in preschool but I've been preparing to have "that" conversation for a long time. Until all boys and parents are welcome to join then there is no way our family will support that organization. Such blatent discrimination of the people I love is something I can't be a part of - no Christmas tree pick-up, no popcorn, nothing.
To put it in a better context for young people, pick up a copy of The Sneeches by Dr. Seuss.

My gut tells me to avoid the scouts, find alternatives, etc (former Camp Fire Girl myself!) because of the politics. However, my heart aches over having to say "no" to my kids over something that really is over their head. Scouts to a grade school boy isn't about politics, it's about the fun stuff. At what point do my politics really justify bringing heartbreak to my boys and at what point does my turning the other way advance the prejudice? I don't know that I really have the answer.

I have seen this one advertised but know nada about it: http://www.earthscouts.org/. My son is 4 and 1/2 and I like the idea os something Scout-ish but have my reservations about Boy Scouts, too. That said, I LOVED being a girl scout.

i would love it if the boy scouts were better. my son who is seven is fascinated. he comes from a long line of scouts, but i cannot let him to do it. again, for all of the reasons mentioned above.
he went to a campfire camp over the summer and had a blast, but there are no regular meetings in our neighborhood, or even in close in portland. i offered to co lead, but have not heard back from the office....
i will look at the alternatives that other mamas have posted. i want him to have the experience of being in a troop but none of the politics.

Ouch...sore subject for me. My son is ready for all things scouts, but I can not knowingly have him participate in an exclusionary institution such as the Boy Scouts. I wanted to do Spiral Scouts with him, but (8 mos. ago when I asked around) there is no active Spiral Scouts in our area, and I don't have the time to start one myself. Earth Scouts does seem pretty cool as well; they have a Yahoo group and have been active lately. I can't seem to get in, though, and I've been trying for longer than I'm willing to admit! Why is it that the right-wing organizations always have the corner on organization? I've been looking for a "Sunday School" alternative lately too. Seems like it's pretty much "just join the mainstream offerings and Deal With It, or do-it-yourself," like everything else is, but I would have to be insane to take anything else on right now. I would love nothing more than to call 1-800-SpiralScouts and join our local chapter...busy working mama with a baby, that's about all I have time for.

You could also check out the YMCA Adventure Guides. It is for K-5th grade. I am not real sure about how they work etc. My child is not quite old enough for this stuff and I have only just begun to explore options.

Well...this IS Portland...can we organize our own Spiral Scouts chapter, or Earth Scouts? I notice that there is a preschool component to Spiral Scouts and would love to get my daughter involved. Both types of scouts mentioned are earth and environment oriented, perfect for our little corner of the USA. I would be willing to do some organizing if people wanted to jump on board with me. It's hard to deny your child certain things if there are no other viable options. We could always plan a little Urbanmama get together to brainstorm this issue. Anyone on board?

This is such a timely post for our family! My husband and I just discussed the Scouts issue for our own children. Like the other posts, I feel very uncomfortable supporting an organization that excludes gays and lesbians. Thankfully, my sons are not yet old enough to know about the Scouts but when they are old enough, I am glad to hear about so many alternatives.

Although my daughter is way too young for this (she's just over 1), I know that the topic will come up for us as well. And like all the mamas who posted before me, I simply cannot support exclusionary organizations like the boy/girl scouts. I can't even agree to give my dead Christmas trees over to them as one of their fundraisers. I would love for some of these alternative groups (I'm not sure what Spiral Scouts are) to grow in Portland. I am sure that one day we will be looking to become a part of one of them...

Was it the New York Times ethicist who advocated that people boycott Boy Scouts? He had gotten a letter from someone who said he was hoping to change the group from the inside. The ethicist replied that he was just going on camping trips and cookouts from the inside.

But I don't mean to make light of the issues. Some properly run Boy Scout troops do great things, and give boys amazing opportunities to learn and grow that might be irreplaceable - like the explorer posts at local police departments.

It's like a lot of other institutions that I might want to be a part of - lots of good people, doing great work, fenced off by a handful of policies that make it impossible to join. I hope someday they change.

This is timely. My 7yo son just asked what the Boy Scouts were and if he would ever be one. I explained that they wouldn't let people like our neighbors belong, so we didn't support them. He totally got it.

I've never heard of the Earth Scouts, but it seems like if a group like that would flourish anywhere, it would be here.

YES! Let's make it happen! My daughter is 3.5 and would love a scouting experience.

I could write an entire article on this issue. First a little background, I am a far left liberal who spent three years working (not volunteering, but working full-time) for the Boy Scouts.

Many of the "beliefs" you share about the Scouts are true, but those beliefs are also being twisted to a point that just isn't true.

I do not have the space to properly address all the points made, and I do have several issues with the Scouts policies, but I would like to clear up a couple of issues raised.

The religious aspect of BSA only asks that the Scout believes in a higher, divine, power. That power can be God, Allah, Mother Earth, or any other being. Does it often express itself in Christina values, sure, and this may still be an issue for many of you, but it does not exclude non-Christians.

As for gay and lesbian parents, the policy does not allow those parents to serve in leadership roles, but does not exclude them from participating with your son.

With over a million registered adult leaders throughout the country, you can count on one hand issues with sexual abuse from Scout leaders over the past decade or more. Each adult leader is required to pass a background check, and each Scout event requires two deep leadership to avoid ever being alone with a boy.

The interesting thing to me about many of these posts is the underlying assumption in them. If say, Fox News protested against the ACLU for supporting some fringe extremist group (can you say, NAMBLA), most of you would realize that Fox is spinning the story for it's own personal reason, and only giving you the part of the story they want you to hear. It seems to me the same thing is happening here.

Regardless, the value I see in Scouting is that ultimately it asks the boy to do "his best" (not the best, but the best HE can do), and it also teaches values, leadership, & lessons that might not otherwise be learned by the boys. These are not teaching to the test lessons, but life lessons. Scouting has problems, but there is more good than bad that comes from being a Cub or Boy Scout.

Funny thing is that I came to this site to find out about publicizing my store--SandboxThreads.com, and now I'm potentially on the wrong side of an entirely different discussion. I do think you'd like our shirts though.

Andy, I'm sure there are good aspects about the Boy Scouts, but I don't get how my understanding of the organization's position against gays and lesbians is being "spun" into anything more than what it is: blatant discrimination.

Can you not see how hypocritical it would be for me to sign my son up with a group that refuses to allow people like our own neighbors to hold leadership positions? You say the Scouts teach values, but discriminating against folks that way is directly contrary to the values we're trying to instill in him.

Zinemama-I understand completely, and I agree. The position is contrary to my personal beliefs, and I didn't post so I could hold the torch for Scouting. On the same note, I have a difficult time supporting some of the positions by the ACLU, but that does not mean the organization as a whole is bad. I feel the same way about Scouting, and each person must decide for his or herself whether the good outweighs the bad.

Andy, I'm curious from your insider's perspective if you've seen any movement inside Boy Scouts to change their exclusionary policies? Are the Scouts responsive to public pressure on this issue? Why do they exclude gays and lesbians? Is it the very wrongheaded idea that there's a link between sexual abuse and homosexuality or is it the biblical notion of homosexuality as a sin?

My husband dearly loved scouting and is very proud to be an Eagle Scout (the highest honor a scout can earn, I'm told). We will certainly struggle with this issue with our two boys when the day comes.

SuzanneLynn, I just read your post. I don't think the Girl Scouts has any exclusionary policies that I know of - maybe you've heard of something I haven't. It is a completely separate organization with its own history. I believe Girl Scouts is a great organization, with a lot of amazing opportunities especially for girls who stick with it through junior high and high school.
Andy, I really appreciate what you're saying about the value of boy scouting. But one of the main lessons children - and parents - currently learn while joining Boy Scouts is that its okay to join a discriminatory group because of what they get out of it personally.
You've also implied that people's knowledge is based on media-twisted "assumptions." A couple of people here may not be sure how far the scout's policies go, but the basics aren't assumptions. They are facts - major court cases upholding the group's right to kick out atheists and gay people, who were actually, in fact, kicked out.
On a separate note, I also imagine most of the moms in this group wouldn't enjoy devoting their time and energy to scouting now, and ten years later have their teenage sons or sons' friends kicked out because they eventually decided they did not believe in God, or because they discovered they were gay.

See...I should really be filling orders right now (remember, I came to this site to publicize SandboxThreads.com), but as I feared I'm replying to posts and not working.

Sarah--I do not have a feel about the policy changing, but I believe ill conceived notions about homosexuality and religion is the reason for the policy.

Catmom--I believe we are all jaded by media twisting (what ever happened about Bird Flu, Summer of the Shark, etc?), but that is a different topic all together . I am by no means an expert, but there are court cases involving Scouting's policies, and at the crux of each case is a central question:

Do you want to maintain a group's right to set and uphold its own policy? Or to have the government/courts dictate the group's policy?

So far, the courts have maintained the organizations rights to set policy.

But this kid must go workie, workie, busy bee...

My grandfather was a scout til the day he died. It was amazing to me what a boys' club he belonged to. My brother was working toward his eagle scout and he had some issues with the committee. He went to my grandfather to see if he could help, and my grandfatehr shrugged and said, "well, if they have issues, they must know what they are talking about..." Now this may seem like I have an issue with my grandfather (I did, in some ways, although I loved him dearly despite this...) but I have heard very similar stories from other people where their ideas were different than the group, and they were excluded for those reasons. My brother worked very hard on his eagle project and was, in the end, denied because the end result was different from what the committee thought it should be 9my brother had organized a HUGE clean up effort in my hometown which made a difference to the community). So I see that there needs to be a whole lot of conformity in order to make your way to the top in Boy Scouts, and I see what may be a media spin, but also based on true policies, pure discrimination. I know of a lot of gay people who discovered they were gay LONG before they were too old to be in Boy Scouts. What a dilema that must be....be true to yourself or hide your identity in order to stay in your peer group. Sounds a lot like "don't ask, don't tell" to me, only without the "don't ask" part. Thank you very much, I will still explore other options for my children.

Dear Andy,
I actually know the central question in the cases. I actually support the court's answer. Framed more particularly, it is whether private organizations have the right to set their own discriminatory policies. Sure they do!

The Boy Scouts require a pledge to a god and the the Spiral Scouts have preschoolers promise to "serve the Wise Ones." As atheists/secular humanists/freethinkers neither of these groups work for our family.
I have terrible memories of Campfire Girls (http://www.portlandcampfire.org/) but that was a long time ago and probably just the specific group I was in -- I have requested information on 3-5yr old groups in N/NE Portland. The Earth Scouts seem perfect for us and I have a request in to join their yahoo group to find out about groups in Portland.

Not too long ago, we received information from Camp Fire USA. From their website, http://www.portlandcampfire.org/ "Camp Fire’s mission is to build caring confident youth and future leaders."

From a recent email about upcoming programs:
"Starting in September Camp Fire will begin our Camp Fire Small Group Program or “Clubs”. Clubs are for boys and girls ages 3 to 18. Youth participate in fun activities, projects and events that promote the development of caring, confident youth and future leaders. Girls and boys will explore arts and crafts, service learning, outdoor skills, and sports and games. Groups meet at least once a month at various places around the Portland area. Our first event is on September 15, we will be walking in the Beaverton Parade. Our second event in September is Oak’s Park Day on September 29 where we will offer discounted ride tickets. Interested participants can contact Sara Stephens at 503-224-7800 X161 or by email at sstephens@portlandcampfire.org .

Adults can get involved by volunteering to lead Camp Fire Clubs. Its easy! Camp Fire supplies you with the tools to run a successful club including a detailed curriculum, support staff, and monthly leader meetings. Interested volunteers can contact Sara Stephens at 503-224-7800 X161 or by email at sstephens@portlandcampfire.org .

A new and exciting opportunity for families and kids is our Community Family Club. Community Family Club is a family-focused program that encourages parents to participate in small group programs with their children. These programs can take place through schools, church, corporations and after school programs. Interested participants can contact: Sara Stephens at 503-224-7800 X161 or by email at sstephens@portlandcampfire.org"

Andy said:

"Regardless, the value I see in Scouting is that ultimately it asks the boy to do 'his best' (not the best, but the best HE can do), and it also teaches values, leadership, & lessons that might not otherwise be learned by the boys."

Excluding gays from leadership positions is not doing our best. If the Scouts think that's the best they can do, I don't want them influencing my children.

I would not put my children in Scouts hoping that there would be an easy way for me to get out if it, like they happen to decide they don't like to get wet. How do I explain that to my children when they figure out that Scouts believe people they love aren't good enough to be leaders? Do I say I wasn't committed enough to equal rights to have a difficult conversation? I think any child that's old enough for Scouts understands how it hurts to be excluded. They *do* get the politics.

I also think ahead 20 years and realize I have no idea where my kids will end up on the spectrum of sexual orientation. How could I encourage them to commit to an organization that may turn its back on them?

CampFire USA is your answer. CampFire is an all inclusive youth development organization. CampFire offers progression of skills, clubs (like the scouts), and we produce future leaders of Portland. CampFire does not discriminate against anyone or anything. At its core it is a youth driven outcome based program. If you want your kids to be involved in something like the Scouts contact CampFire today!!!

Kim! And any other interested parents please call CampFire today! We have a lot of kids interested in Clubs but we need parent volunteers to lead clubs! You could be the caring parent volunteer that makes a difference in the life of your child and others! Call today! 503-224-7800 X161

Thanks, catmom, for the correct info. I thought the girl and boy scouts came out of the same organization. Also, thanks to all for the CampFire info.

Hi SuzanneLynn,
Your comment prompted me to visit their website, where I found this:

"The Girl Scout Promise

On my honor, I will try:
To serve God* and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

* The word "God" can be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on one's spiritual beliefs. When reciting the Girl Scout Promise, it is okay to replace the word "God" with whatever word your spiritual beliefs dictate."

That seemed pretty open, although I don't really know if an atheist parent would feel comfortable with their children having to say a different word while everyone else said

I also saw more about how the founder of Girl Scouts tried to ensure racial and ethnic diversity - she founded this group in 1912! - and how the current CEO is trying to "ensure that girls of every background, racial/ethnic group, socioeconomic group and geography have access to the numerous benefits of Girl Scouting."

They even have something called "Daisy Scouts" now. It says it is for kids five to six - even younger than Brownies! Who knew?

But - I didn't see anything for boys. Does that make Girl Scouts discriminatory in its own way?

In any case, Girl Scouts is camping and outdoor stuff but so very much more, particularly as kids get older. I learned all kinds of stuff, from weaving to tying knots to building fires and cooking on them to canoeing and doing first aid and CPR when I was younger.
Then, as a teenager, I took my first airplane trip to visit our sister council in Japan. It was life changing. There are good troops and bad troops and outstanding troops. I just worked with a young intern whose troop leader helped them write resumes and organize college trips when they were in high school. Every time she returns home from college on breaks or in the summer, her troop has a reunion.

The sad part is, I know there are really amazing Boy Scout troops out there, too.

Andy, thanks for contributing. I appreciated your input and it's nice to be reminded that these, along with most parenting choices, are complex. Usually there's no "right" answer, and I fear we do our children more of a disservice by handing down a one-dimensional directive rather than having them participate in our complex culture. I believe children are sophisticated enough to communicate and make decisions about these types of issues. Why not discuss it and let him decide whether to join? We are making life-long decisions - are we going to teach our children that if they disagree with something, they should turn their backs immediately and never explore it further? What kinds of impacts will that have on them when they're managers hiring an employee, for example?

Blair, I totally agree that our children need and deserve a degree of autonomy in their lives in order to be strong and decisive adults, but we also have to look at the stages of child development and make decisions for our children based on the level they are at. A 12 year old may be able to decide to boycott or join a group that we disagree with, but a 6 year old may not have the capacity to understand, especially when they see their friends doing something they want to do that looks "cool." They may change their minds later. Also, we make many decisions based on our own values on a daily basis: what religious institution to attend, whether our children will attend public or private schools, or whether to home school, what part of the country we are going to live in, whether or not to support certain businesses...if we strongly disagree with the policy or view of a business, we do not normally solicit that business. The Boy Scouts is a business. What makes this any different from any other decision we make for our young children?

I got an email in response to my request for info on CampFire groups in N/NE Portland for 3-5yr olds. No groups exist but they are recruiting. Let them know if you are interested in joining or leading -- I cringe at the thought of even trying to get my daughter to meetings so I'm definitely not leader material :)

Camp Fire Contact:
Sara Stephens, Director of Clubs
503-224-7800 X161

Parent Volunteers for CampFire are needed SO badly espically in the SE and NE areas of Portland. I have a lot of interested kids but no leaders. Remember it takes a leader to make a leader. Be proactive and start a club today!

I was a Girl Scout through High School. And a Boy Scout for part of that time as well, since Sea Explorers were a part of Boy Scouts.

I didn't see anything exclusionary about Girl Scouts, my daughter was one until this year. She started as a Daisy in kindergarten. I don't know if I would have a boy join the Boy Scouts, the way I signed her up for Daisys. On the other hand I think that if a child expresses interest, that's the time to have the discussion about discrimination and bias, rather than sheilding them from the fact that Boy Scouts exist. A 6 year old is going to know that that Spiral Scouts aren't Cub Scouts, trust me. I think it's excellent that children find out that groups with biased, bigoted beliefs can also do fun stuff. And that sticking up for your moral convictions may mean missing out on something you might've enjoyed otherwise.

I think that is important to not keep children in a homogenized "everyone believes what we believe" world. For those of us who don't look like the "regular" family, our kids deal with those issues earlier.

There is an interesting article by Dale McGowen of Atheist Alliance International: "Scouting for All" in which he describes how he let his 2nd grade son join the Boy Scouts. http://www.atheistalliance.org/family/essay-mcgowan6.php And a follow up article from the next year is at http://www.atheistalliance.org/family/essay-mcgowan8.php
Dale is the editor of Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion. As an atheist parent, I find his parenting refreshing.

I totally agree with ProtestMama, we talk about what other people believe all the time!

I keep thinking about this ancient thread lately when all my friends talk about the fun their kids are having at the various Trackers camps. I realize it's not a volunteer led, long-time membership thing like Boy Scouts. I realize it's not cheap. But the people teaching these camps are passing on some amazing skills in a way that seems very fun for the kids. If Boy Scouts are going to persist in their discriminatory ways, maybe this is what anti-discrimination families will end up choosing. (And they are persisting - Boy Scouts reaffirmed their anti-gay policy last month after a two year executive review, because, they say, it's what parents want. http://philanthropy.com/blogs/philanthropytoday/boy-scouts-of-america-reaffirms-ban-on-gays/50559)

You are not alone in having concerns about having youth in organizations that may have values that do not mirror the values of ones own family. Camp Fire Columbia is a 501c3 nonprofit that operates Camp Namanu and a number of before and after school programs around the greater Portland area. I work with their Classic Club program this is the program that was previously Camp Fire Girls or Blue Birds/Blue Jays. The program went co-edd in the seventies and offers all the kind fo service learning opportunties and outdoor adventures you would expect from a scouting program, but is open to people of all faiths and atheists and boys and girls. The program serves boys and girls ages 3-18 and focuses on allowing the youth a voice in their clubs and opportunities for youth to exercise their leadership skills. You can read more at campfirecolumbia.org by searching Classic Club. I first volunteered as a leader 4 years ago when my son entered kindergarten and now both of my sons are Camp Fire Kids. In Camp Fire they have participated in many service projects, made friends with kids from across our 4 county service area, and developed some great mentoring relationships with older youth and adults they never would have met otherwise.

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