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Wyatt Emmerich: In praise of Scouting

 

Wyatt Emmerich

 

One of my all-time favorite people is Linda Anglin, a retired teacher who taught grade school in Jackson for decades. She recently told me these words of wisdom: "When I was a fifth-grade teacher, I sent a letter home to every parent of every boy. I told them there were two things a fifth-grade boy needs to do. First, they need to go to Sunday school. And second, they need to be in the Boy Scouts." 

 

For all you parents out there with young boys, heed Linda's words with care. Looking backward, I can tell you truer words were never spoken. 

 

Often there is a narrow window of opportunity to get your boy into Scouting. Watch carefully for it. Don't miss it. 

 

This past week I had the privilege of doing a Dad shift at Warren Hood Scout Reservation west of Hazlehurst. It was like being back in the '50s, when life was much simpler. Watching the young boys engage in wholesome fun rejuvenated my spirit and peeled away a few layers of modern-day cynicism. 

 

Dozens of adults volunteer weeks of their summer to teach the boys skills such as woodcarving, birdwatching and dozens of other skills. 

 

There's a beautiful lake to swim in. At night we slept in an old-style canvas tent under a mosquito net. It was remarkably pleasant. Under a moonless night I saw the most amazing shooting star. 

 

The food in the cafeteria was excellent and our state's incredible variety of huge deciduous trees offered ample shade in the middle of the day. Paradise. 

 

Unfortunately, the modern world did intrude. For instance, before I could supervise the nine boys from Troop 302, I had to take a 30-minute online course on sexual abuse. It was quite depressing. 

 

Scoutmaster and adult helpers are no longer allowed to be with a Scout without another adult or another Scout. No one-on-one permitted. A Scoutmaster can't sleep in a tent with any child other than his own. You can't have a conference or merit badge teaching session alone with another Scout. And so on. 

 

Having completed the training, I had rather mixed feelings about the ordeal. Indeed, sexual abuse is a reality, though I suspect exceedingly rare in the Boy Scouts. I suppose it's good to raise one's awareness. 

 

That being said, the whole thing sort of felt like big bureaucracy legal overkill CYA. It was a downer. 

 

You see this often. A great program like the Boy Scouts becomes so big and successful that it grows a national organization with its own self-perpetuating staff. 

 

The national organization often loses touch with its rank-and-file members and becomes more interested in job preservation than fidelity to the original concept. 

 

Many church battles revolve around this very thing. The national organization becomes very liberal and loses touch with its own churches. 

 

While I was at Hood, the Southern Baptist Convention was hotly debating new rules regarding gay members of the Boy Scouts. 

 

Last month, the national Boy Scouts organization voted to allow openly gay members in the Boy Scouts. Meanwhile church organizations such as the Southern Baptists are objecting. 

 

Boy Scouts of America has deep ties to churches. Seventy percent of Scout troops are linked to churches, so this is a big deal. 

 

How strange. On the one hand, the Boy Scouts required me to take training to prevent sexual abuse among the Scouts. Then on the other hand, they vote to allow openly gay boys to join the troop. Well which is it? Discourage sex in the Scouts or not? 

 

The whole issue is really a tempest in a teapot. Only three percent of the male population is gay. At young Scouting ages, only a tiny percent of that three percent would even realize their sexuality. Then an even smaller percent would be flouting it openly. 

 

This is an ideological battle rather than a real practical problem. It's just not a large number of boys we're talking about here. It seems to me a little individual discretion and common sense would be better than creating a huge fuss and getting everybody riled up. 

 

The Boy Scouts is a private organization. It's their decision to make. I just hope the controversy doesn't hurt the Scouts. 

 

We should all try to live according to the Scout Oath: On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. 

 

And the Scout Law: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

 

 

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