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Boy Scouts right to expand to girls, but keep troops single-sex


Five years ago, my good friend and then-president of Midland University, Ben Sasse, told me that shortly after taking the helm as the school’s 15th president, he ordered a study to be conducted to determine which personal characteristics best predicted a high school student’s success at the college.

Surprisingly, strong ACT test scores were poor predictors. Students’ high school GPA’s also showed little correlation with achievement. Among the many other good characteristics often touted by college applicants (e.g., team sport participation, community volunteer efforts, involvement in musical performances, etc), one stood out as a reliably good predictor of future success: the attainment of the Eagle Scout rank.

{mosads}This will not be a surprise to those who are familiar with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) program. From my own experiences I can attest that the Boy Scout program teaches long-lasting skills to help boys become self-sufficient as individuals and respectful of the needs of others in society.  Indeed, there is special emphasis placed on helping communities to grow stronger and more prosperous, and — in the words of the Scouts’ own mission statement — to “make ethical and moral choices” over the course of one’s lifetime.

And there it is: The Boy Scouts has a moral code that guides its policies. The BSA is, in fact, a faith-based organization which requires its youth members and adult leaders to profess a belief in a higher power.

The BSA’s own “Declaration of Religious Principle” explains: “The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of his favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship.” Peer-reviewed social science literature confirms this BSA principles. Faith is an important component for stable societies and communities around the globe.

This focus on faith stands in stark contrast to the model developed by the Girl Scouts of America, an organization specifically founded on secular grounds. As an Eagle scout who is also informed by the social sciences, I have long believed that the Boy Scout model provides broader and longer-lasting benefits than the alternative.

Therefore, rather than instantly criticizing the Boy Scout’s decision to expand its programs to help more girls (it already includes girls in its Venturing program), we should acknowledge the good work the BSA can accomplish in building an even stronger America by reaching more youth.

However, because I believe deeply in the especially strong model of the Boy Scouts, I think it is critical that the organization maintain its core strengths and not compromise the very essence of its success.  An integral part of the Boy Scout program has been its foundation as a single-sex organization, providing a space for boys to ask hard questions, have frank conversations, and learn tough lessons. The skills and experience gleaned from male adult leaders in an environment of other boys is a vital part of their model for developing boys into men who can better contribute to their families, communities, and country.

The Boy Scouts remains the only national organization dedicated to preparing boys and young men to become well-rounded, responsible, and successful citizens and leaders. It has a responsibility to recognize the value in maintaining all-male environments that encourage boys to grow, develop, and mature on their own terms. It would be foolish to end this highly successful approach.

It is unclear whether the BSA intends to create co-ed troops, girl-only troops, or a combination of these approaches, it seems it will be left up to the individual troop, but it is clear to me that girls can benefit from participating in the Boy Scout model. That is a good thing.  But it is also important that the BSA continues to provide single-sex troops for boys as well.

Attaining the rank of Eagle Scout continues to be a difficult challenge. My first son achieved it; my second son is but weeks away from achieving it, too. I see only upside in providing this same opportunity to girls. I assume that girls who achieve the Eagle Scout rank will also be more likely to experience greater success in college, and beyond.

While the BSA should be commended for its decision to help more girls, it must simultaneously maintain its single-sex programs… for both boys and girls. To make the model continue to have its impact, the integrity of the model should not be compromised. It is a time-tested approach that has extended benefits to us all.  Let’s expand it and keep it.

Dan Schneider, Eagle Scout, 1984, is executive director of the American Conservative Union.

Tags Ben Sasse Boy Scouting Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout Girl Scouts of the USA Scouting
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