On February 8th of this year, the Boy Scouts of America celebrated its 106th birthday. Founded in 1907 in England by Robert Baden-Powell, the Scouting movement was established on the belief that boys could be taught character through achievement and outdoor activities conducted under the guidance of a Scoutmaster.
Though the program has expanded over the last century to include Cub Scouts, Varsity, Venture, and Explorer Scouts, the overarching mission and focus of Scouting remains the same: “To prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.”
Life for boys in America was indeed different 100 years ago. In fact, few will debate that life was markedly different for boys just 30 years ago compared to today. If life was so different then versus now, how is Scouting relevant today and how can it remain so in the decades to come?
To answer this important question, let’s look at the boy of 1910 versus the boy of 2016. Are they really any dissimilar? They certainly spent their time differently. Early 20th-century America was more rural than urban and it showed in our gross domestic output. A largely agrarian society, the United States produced more than half of the world’s most important commodities. Yet, urban populations were burgeoning and more leisure time was available to youth than ever before. This trend would continue in each subsequent decade. The boy 100 years ago was likely no different than now. Hence, the axiom “boys will be boys” will forever remain true.
Clearly the opportunities and distractions of 2016 differ significantly from those 106 years ago. The buffetings of worldly influences, both good and bad, are greater now than they were 10, 20, and even 30 years ago. So, if the character-building programs of Scouting established in 1910 were meaningful then, shouldn’t they therefore be considered even more relevant in the lives of our youth today?
Robert-Baden Powell was inspired when he introduced the Scouting movement in England. Undoubtedly, his wartime experiences taught him the battles for our youth may well be far from those fields on which he fought in South Africa in 1899.
He saw a time then and now when Scouting would provide training, outdoor experience, and character to boys and young men everywhere—values that would be enduring and remain salient long after his movement gained traction in American and flourished as a formidable, positive influence in the lives of millions upon millions of boys and girls too everywhere. It is safe to assume that the future was integral to Powell’s vision of Scouting and its impact on the lives of youth in England and America then and now.
According to Scouting’s website, Scouting gives youth an opportunity to try new things, learn to serve others, build self-confidence, and reinforce ethical standards. These opportunities not only help them when they are young but also carry forward into their adult lives, improving their relationships, their work lives, their family lives, and the values by which they live.
But Scouting is not intended to simply serve as a placeholder for other youth activities that are also new and exciting for young people. Its fundamental focus is to prepare them to become something and someone different than they were—to turn ordinary boys into extraordinary men. For those who have experienced Scouting firsthand, regardless of the rank they achieved, they can see how this objective of “becoming” is accomplished through the programs of the Boy Scouts of America. But anecdotal evidences aside, what facts can support Scouting’s relevance in the lives of young men now and tomorrow?
Harris Interactive, a leading national research firm, conducted a comprehensive study, Values of Scouts—A Study Of Ethics and Character, to examine how Scouting has measurably influenced the values of adults over their lifetimes and the lives of youth members. Here are some highlights from that study:
The majority of men who were Scouts as youth say Scouting is a positive influence in their lives. This sentiment is particularly strong among men who remained in Scouting five or more years. In fact, over two-thirds of men who were Scouts attribute some of their self-confidence in their work to having been a Scout.
Likewise, more than two-thirds say there have been real-life situations where having been a Scout helped them be a better leader, and 50% of men who were Scouts say their Scouting experience had a positive effect on their career development and advancement.
Men who were Scouts are more likely than those who have never been Scouts to have higher levels of education, have higher earnings, and to own their own homes. Ninety-one percent of men who were Scouts five or more years completed high school, compared with 87% of men who were never Scouts. They are also more likely than non-Scouts to earn a college degree (35% versus 19%). In addition, men who were Scouts five years or more have average household incomes 24% higher than that reported by men who have never been Scouts. Almost three-fourths (74%) of men who were Scouts own their own homes, compared to 65% of men who were never Scouts.
As youth, Scouts are taught to live by a code of conduct exemplified in the 12 points of the Scout Law, and they continue to live by these laws in adulthood.
Trustworthy: The majority of Scouts agreed that Scouting has taught them always to be honest (75%) and to be a leader (76%).
Loyal: Eighty-eight percent of Scouts are proud to live in the USA, and 83% say spending time with family is important to them.
Helpful: Eight out of 10 Scouts surveyed believed that helping others should come before their own self-interest.
Friendly: Eighty percent of Scouts say that Scouting has taught them to treat others with respect and (78%) to get along with others.
Courteous: Almost nine of 10 Scouts (87%) believe older people should be treated with respect.
Kind: Most Scouts agree (78%) Scouting has taught them to care for other people, while 43% say their skills in helping other people in need are “excellent.”
Obedient: Boys in Scouting five years or more are more likely than boys who have never been in Scouts to reject peer pressure to hang out with youth they know commit delinquent acts (61% vs. 53%).
Cheerful: Overall, Scouts are happy with their schools (78%) and their neighborhoods (79%). However, because Scouting builds such high ideals in youth, Scouts are less satisfied than non-Scouts with the state of the world today (47% vs. 52%).
Thrifty: More than eight out of 10 Scouts (82%) say that saving money for the future is a priority in their lives.
Brave: Eighty percent of Scouts say Scouting has taught them to have confidence in themselves, and 51% rate their self-confidence as “excellent.”
Clean: Nearly the same number of Scouts (79%) agree that Scouting has taught them to take better care of the environment and that Scouting has increased their interest in physical fitness.
Reverent: Scouting experience also influences religious service attendance. Eighty-three percent of men who were Scouts five or more years say attending religious services together as a family is “very important,” versus 77% of men who had never been Scouts.
How has Scouting influenced you and the young men in your life? If you’re reading this, then you’ve already got some skin in the game, so to speak. You know that Scouting’s relevance in the lives of youth today is largely dependent upon Scouters and parents alike to promote enrollment, participation, and involvement in the enduring, character-building programs that Scouting offers.
One does not have to be an historian to see the changes in American culture, values, and standards over the last 106 years, let alone in the last 15-25 years. These changes seem to be moving at an almost exponential rate. Your values, your parents’ values, and your grandparents’ values continue to find a place in Scouting. Our youth need Scouting to help them achieve, to provide opportunities to serve others, and to become more than they could otherwise without Scouting in their lives. Our present America and our future America need Scouting and everything it represents now and has represented for the last century.