“Consider for a moment the benefits of camaraderie, confidence, resilience, trustworthiness, courage and kindness. If we hope to see these attributes in our children and in the future generation of leaders, it is important that we strengthen efforts to instill those values,” said Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh. In a new interview with CNN, Surbaugh explains why welcoming girls into Cub Scouting will strengthen the fundamental values of future leaders.
“First thing’s first,” Surbaugh explains. “We did it because our members requested it. For years, they’ve been asking us to bring our unique approach to character and leadership development to all members of their families. After all, the cornerstone qualities of the Boy Scouts are invaluable to all, regardless of gender. So we decided it was time to make our iconic programs available for boys and girls.”
Still, this decision has, not surprisingly, stirred up a fair amount of controversy. “My hope is that the conversations taking place will bring more attention to the powerful work all youth-serving organizations do — but I also want to explain as clearly as I can how and why we made this decision.”
Girls have been participating in Scouting far longer than most people realize, Surbaugh explained. It started in 1971 when girls were invited to join the BSA’s Exploring program. Then, in 1998 Venturing was introduced as an adventure program that both boys and girls could participate in. For years, too, we’ve been hearing stories about sisters unofficially participating in Cub Scouting by “shadowing” their brothers. “So officially or unofficially, we’ve been including girls for a long time. And that led us to formally evaluate the matter this year to determine how best to serve today’s families,” Surbaugh says.
When it came to making this decision, the BSA really took the time to evaluate the matter. Surbaugh explains that this past spring, the BSA began formally discussing program offerings. They started by sharing an idea of expanding current programs to girls with professional staff. Overwhelmingly, they felt it was time to open up the discussion of formalizing enrollment for girls in our programs to our volunteers.
“That led us to gauge interest from about 1,000 top volunteer leaders from nearly every council in America. We asked them to vote on whether they’d like to open the discussion to the rest of the volunteers in our organization. Ninety-three percent approved.”
Surbaugh explains this detailed process in which the BSA worked to hear and understand the opinions of everyone who would be affected and other professionals. The discussion was first taken to the volunteer staff. “That led us to gauge interest from about 1,000 top volunteer leaders from nearly every council in America. We asked them to vote on whether they’d like to open the discussion to the rest of the volunteers in our organization. Ninety-three percent approved.”
During the summer, local councils also began hosting town hall meetings with families across the country. “We asked them for their input, and we got more than 11,000 responses. Just like those original 1,000 volunteers, the vast majority said they were in favor of inviting girls and young women to join,” Surbaugh explains.
However, for the BSA, knowing that so much of the existing membership supported the idea still wasn’t enough. “Through market research, we learned that about 90% of families not currently involved in Scouting are highly interested in a program designed like the one we plan to offer.” Many of these families echoed a common theme, Surbaugh explains – “They are busier than ever, and they need activities they can do as a family.”
But in addition to all of this, Surbaugh highlights how the BSA wanted to know whether the current curriculum and program content is relevant for young women. To that end, they asked a panel of educators to make an assessment. They determined it was “100% applicable to girls.”
All of these factors led the board to unanimously vote that it was the right time to act. “We acknowledge and celebrate that boys and girls develop differently, and there are times that single-gender learning is most appropriate.” That is why the BSA has outlined a structure that enables them to continue providing single-gender environments — like dens within Cub Scout packs and a single-gender Scouting program for older girls — within a broader structure that will allow the BSA to serve the whole family.
This new structure allows that it will be up to local Cub Scout Packs, parents and chartered partners to choose whether to include boys and girls in family packs or only serve boys or girls; “we anticipate a similar structure at the Boy Scouts level,” says Surbaugh.
The Scout Executive clarifies once more that “there are many other fantastic youth organizations — 4H, the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, Girl Scouts and more — that provide character development opportunities for American children. Parents deserve the ability to choose which option is best for their children. For many girls, Girl Scouts will remain the preferable option. We celebrate and support that decision. Why? Because it is a strong, time-tested program that builds character.”
Although the BSA celebrates other character building programs, they also recognize that most families in this country are not currently engaged with any character-building youth development program. “There are over 70 million children in America that could benefit from our programs, and today, organizations like ours and others only serve a fraction of them,” says Surbaugh. “That is a huge unmet need, but one we can help address. Our country needs and deserves more young people focused on the values that serve as the bedrock of our movement: duty to God and country, with a desire to help other people at all times.”
In a powerful statement, Surbaugh replies to skeptics that ask if the decision was made to boost membership. “Consider what membership means,” he says. “It means that more children can benefit from the Scouting program, which has been proven to build character and leadership. It means that more young people will learn life skills that will empower them to take on challenges with greater resilience. I fervently believe in the strength of our programs, and their ability to change lives. If this decision allows us to bring the transformational power of our programs to more young people, then, yes, that is our motivation.”
Closing, the Scout Executive celebrates the new decision. “We are exhilarated at the possibilities this decision offers, not simply for the Boy Scouts of America, but for the future of our youth members and future generations of leaders.”