Friday, August 16, 2013

Progressive Scouting

Feminism lives at Philmont Scout Ranch, Cimarron, New Mexico
No one would ever say "Liberal" Scouting. The Boy Scouts of America is a solidly conservative organization based on middle-class values transported from Victorian England (Lord Baden Powell, ¿no?) I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. In fact, most of it is quite good. My purpose here is to point out some important, if sometimes glacially slow, movement that Scouting has made in a good, progressive direction, IMHO.

In spite of some historical and even rare, current, child abuse issues, Scouting is one of the best organizations in youth protection. There are background checks for all registered leaders and required training every two years. Two-deep leadership (two adults for any activity) is strongly enforced.

Hazing and bullying are also against Scout policy which is almost always observed in official activities. We still have a bit of work to do on this one in changing the culture. Continual training and two-deep leadership also helps.

The big elephant in the room, the new policy accepting Gay Scouts, will not be addressed here other than to say I'm just fine with it.

What I do want to discuss is the difficult tension that does seem to be besetting not just Scouting, but all America now, although it is nothing new. What is the essence of America and our values? If it is the basics of duty to God and Country and service to others, how do we support and promote that without all the other cultural baggage of white, Protestant (mostly), middle-class America? (Arrogance, greed, discrimination, jingoism, racism, sexism, etc. - basic human nature, of course, not just belonging to Anglo-Americans, but still.) Do I have the answers? Some even resent me for thinking there is an issue. But I'll keep searching for answers.

BSA is a good place to start. And we do progress. There are even a few outlier-Councils like Chief Seattle where I was a Scout and where a good, Mormon-bishop friend of mine sits on the executive board with his slightly and moderately left-of-center views just like most of them up there.

Scouting has long overcome segregation that existed (in my lifetime!) predominately in its southern councils - but not much different elsewhere. Just as in the wider culture, that progress is mainly in official policy not in the practice of the self-segregation of society. Yet, there are more of various peoples and cultures represented in Scouting now than there were before.

A very positive example is how hard Philmont works to respect Native Americans and to incorporate the surrounding New Mexican culture. It was very interesting to hear the tour presentation at Villa Philmonte yesterday. It seems to me that the script very carefully refers to the local culture as Spanish not even Hispanic which from my experience in Santa Fe, matches the concern of those from ancient Spanish families. I actually use the term New Mexican* around here, but that can get confusing at times.

My grandson went yesterday to Abreu, a Philmont back-country camp. I don't know how much of it sunk in to a nine-year-old, but having already visited the living-history representation of a Spanish homestead of the 19th Century, it's more than I ever saw as a kid.

We must remember that the Spanish were the first Europeans here. They weren't even a part of Mexico except for about 25 years (1822-47). They were here before the Anglo-Pilgrims were in Massachusetts by a few years, and well over two hundred years before any Anglo-Tejanos!

The various locals of Spanish and Anglo heritage seem well integrated into Philmont staff. And I can talk (and spell) green chile with them like a native (even Google spell-check doesn't get it!). That is one of the important aspects. Cross-cultural immersion does not require a rejection of who you are and an adoption into something you will never be. But you can learn to appreciate and accept many positive aspects of someone else's existence. What is that phrase? "Search all things, hold fast to that which is good?" Something like that. Green chile is good.

Many conservatives fail to understand why some find former US Congressman Allen West so offensive. In my view, it doesn't help to adopt just the bad aspects of a culture (or political party), i.e., arrogance, jingoism, anti-feminism, and discrimination. So Allen West's opponents are then called the racist ones. ¡Ay, ay, ay!

On gender, I think BSA does pretty well. Youth programs can be co-ed from 14 years on up (except for LDS units). That's pretty much the whole operation at Philmont with Mountain Treks. There are women leaders now at all levels of Scouting even if more prominent with Cubs and less so with regular Scouts at 11-14 years. In my day, there were only "Den Mothers." That term is gone. The Philmont staff seems to be pretty close to a gender parity which is a good thing.

There is a funny aspect that LDS young women have to register "at-large" as Ventures with their local council to be able to participate on a regular Philmont trek or as staff (they can get away with a PTC participant's shorter trek). In our Farmington Bay District back home, there is only one non-LDS sponsored unit. It is a Venture Crew established with the community for public safety interests, but specifically for the purpose of registering LDS young women to enable them to participate at Philmont and at other Council camps as staff, etc.

As the sign above demonstrates, women at Philmont appropriately assert themselves. Or, if we're really lucky, a feminist male put that sticker on.

We're on the upward trail.

*This was part of the Spanish Colonial Province of Nuevo México which is why I try to use the New Mexican descriptor when appropriate.

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