A question of merit

THOUGH the Boy Scouts of America have dropped a 78-year-old rule barring women from leadership roles, most scoutmasters are men, a situation unlikely to change. And doubtless some boys - particularly those who may not have a father at home - benefit from having a man as troop leader. But we'd argue that boys can, and do, absorb leadership qualities from women - and girls from men, for that matter. The roles that most need modeling - those long associated with good character and with Scouting - have little to do with gender.

Catherine N. Pollard had it right: ``It's about time they realized anybody can do anything if your character is good.''

After 14 years of challenging the Scouts' policy regarding women, Mrs. Pollard plans to waste no time now in starting a new troop. The BSA, for its part, says it looks forward to receiving her application.

From 1971 to 1976 Pollard was stand-in scoutmaster for a Milford, Conn., troop when a male leader wasn't available. The Scouts, at that time, wouldn't OK her application to become permanent leader, and Troop 13 folded its tents.

Last year, a Connecticut court ruled against Pollard. It held that an organization with private membership could set its own criteria for leaders. The basic rule in Scouting, over the years, has been that preteen and teen-age boys need strong male role models. The Cub Scouts, boys younger than 10, have been led primarily by women.

Pollard's challenge raised an inevitable question: Isn't strong leadership - embodying such qualities as decisiveness, integrity, patriotism - just as likely to be found in women as in men?

There's only one right answer to that, we think, and the Scouts' executive board arrived at it last week, declaring the time had come ``to recognize the valuable leadership women can provide.''

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