Boy Scouts: a century of promoting virtue

Scouting does so much more than teach boys how to tie knots. It sets a strong foundation for peace in the world.

As the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) turns 100 today, its millions of alumni will nostalgically recall canoe trips, campfires, and hikes along country roads, and wonder what to expect from the future for this iconic American institution.

BSA expects to expand its programs to help young people develop strong characters, good values, and healthy bodies, using the same core value statements – the Scout Oath and Law – it has had for a century.

It expects to attract new members with exciting programs, a renewed commitment to urban youth, and an emphasis on America’s growing Hispanic population.

It is combating childhood obesity and has updated its delivery methods with blogs, cool websites, and a digital version of the Boy Scout Handbook you can download to your iPhone. Parents expect a high-quality activity to make their children happy and independent. The kids expect a great time.

I expect peace.

The Scout oath pledges youth to build things they will need in adult life – physical strength, mental alertness, and good morals. They also need peace – in their homes, their communities, and their world. Department of Justice figures show that between 1998 and 2002 almost 3.5 million violent crimes were committed against family members and that, in 2008, 19 out of every 1,000 Americans experienced violent crime. War and terrorism plague the international scene.

People who are responsible for one another value peace with one another. Family members don’t abuse relatives to whom they’re committed, neighbors don’t destroy the community they’ve built together, and countries that cooperate in solving common problems seek ways other than war to resolve their differences.

Scouting’s outdoor experiences teach young people to be responsible – not only for themselves, but for those around them. A patrol of eight Scouts on a weekend camp out quickly learn life lessons in their minicommunity.

When the new boy lags behind on the hike, the other Scouts have to figure out how to help him lighten his pack, and get to camp. When the Eagle patrol forgets oil for its pancakes, the Bobwhite patrol gets to decide whether it can spare some, even if it means going without oil for its stew.

Sometimes parents in my troop remark about their son’s growth, or a good turn he has done, or how an older Scout helped a younger one. I reply, “This isScouting. This is the way the world could be.”

When the late Judge Edward Coulson ascended to the Texas trial court bench, one of the gifts he asked his friends for was a copy of the Boy Scout Handbook. He set it on his credenza.

Once, when mediating a case in chambers, the defendant told Judge Coulson he thought they could settle the case without the lawyers. He said, “Your Honor, I see you have a copy of the Boy Scout Handbook. I’m an old Scout myself. I bet if we use the Scout Oath and Law, we can come to a fair result in this dispute.”

They settled that afternoon.

This is Scouting. This is way the world could be.

Because the Scout Oath and Law enunciate principles common to all religions and cultures, it is a common bond among peoples throughout the world that promotes peace. Nearly every country on earth has Scouting.

For years, Scouting associations from several Arab nations pressed the World Organization of the Scout Movement to grant membership to the Palestinian Scout Association; the rule that member groups must represent a sovereign country kept it out. The issue was a principal topic of conversation at the World Organization’s 1996 meeting and, by the time of the closing session, everyone expected a vote on the question.

Morris Zilka was the delegate of the Israel Boy and Girl Scouts Federation, an umbrella organization representing the Scout associations of many religions. Delegates from countries friendly to Israel asked Morris how they could help. Morris said, “Let’s just see what happens.”

During the session, secretary-general Jacques Moreillon discussed membership for the Palestinian association. He spoke of the challenges of providing Scouting for Palestinian youth, and how hard Palestinian Scout leaders had worked to do so. He called upon Morris to speak to the issue.

Morris began in Arabic, addressing himself to “My brother and sister Scout leaders” and made some preliminary remarks. He continued, “Mr. Chairman, the Israel Boy and Girl Scouts Federation moves for the immediate recognition of the Palestinian Scout Association as a member of the World Organization.” After an ovation, the resolution was voted upon, and passed.

This is Scouting, a program that teaches children to care for the Earth and the people who live together on it. This is the way the world could be. We must support its important work into its second century.

Nelson R. Block co-chaired the 2008 Johns Hopkins University program, “Scouting: A Centennial History Symposium,” and co-edited the recently published book “Scouting Frontiers: Youth and the Scout Movement’s First Century.”

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