Scouting a New Course

It is a True Scout’s Job to Blaze Uncharted Trails

I was never a boy scout. Actually, that’s not quite true; I was a tiger cub. Which I think is the kindergarten aged boy scout. I remember disliking it. I was disappointed because I thought scouts got to shoot bows and play with knives and make fires. We made jetpacks out of cereal boxes and yarn and met in my school cafeteria. I remember being bored. I look back on my past self, not for the first time, with a degree of frustration. I was impatient, and I wanted to run before I could walk. But I also think that this is the way of boys. Running is more enjoyable, even with its attendant falls and stumbles.

Mike Sabo, on the other hand, was an Eagle Scout, and he clearly laid out the current state of the Boy Scouts (I decline to use their new name). His article was at the same time discouraging and yet still somehow inspiring. What the scouts used to be is shockingly awesome. By the time I came along, a lot of the edge was already ground off by safteyism and the presence of too many moms at the scout meetings, among other things. It seems that the boys scouts have decided that they would rather be considered progressively acceptable than save their ~115-year-old institution from extinction. Many such cases.

In my local community, I have made a muddled and only partially successful attempt at launching a scouting alternative for our aligned families. It is small and meets inconsistently. I can’t honestly show a strong track record of success with this idea, as it is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, I would like to propose some suggestions for anyone interested in charting a path forward now that BSA is shot. They should not die in vain. There are lessons to be learned.

Explicitly Right Wing

Robert Conquest was a British historian who is sometimes credited with what is called Conquest’s Second Law, also known as O’Sullivan’s First Law. There is some debate over who articulated it first, but regardless the law is a good one. It says: Any organization that is not explicitly right wing, will over time become left wing. This is shown to be accurate in the case of the BSA, though it has taken a very long time. The duration of the BSA as a functional and beneficial institution is a testament to the inherit right wing values of its founders and early luminaries, though its goals were too liberal to endure forever without leftward drift. The lesson to draw from this is that if you plan to start a scouting organization, it must be explicitly right wing, and it must be ruthlessly gate kept. Leftists need not apply, and anyone in leadership must be put through a purity test relevant to scouting. Your leadership should be based enough that they are pulling constituent families to the right.

You must explicitly teach right wing values such as family, patriarchalism, patriotism, biblical virtues of all kinds such as the beatitudes. They should be openly attributed to Christ so that there is no confusion that the organization is Christian and teaches Christianity as truth and excludes other claims of truth. Unpopular Christians from history, such as the Crusaders and the Puritans, must be exalted as heroes and their virtues should be taught as positive behaviors. Feminism, homosexuality and transgenderism must be explicitly condemned where age appropriate. Gay affirming leaders and children of gay affirming families should be barred. There must be no compromise if you have any desire for this endeavor to endure.

Men to the Front

The organization must call upon fathers and other heterosexual men to lead it. Moms should be totally sidelined for this organization. Only sons of fatherless homes should be allowed to even have mothers present in lieu of fathers, and they must not participate other than to monitor the safety of their own son in the presence of unfamiliar leadership. Better still, a trusted male adult should bring him. Leaders should be implicitly and explicitly teaching masculine virtues and skills. The organization must maintain a narrow focus in order to do this well. Fathers should lead the singing of songs, prayer, activities, overseeing free-play and moderating disputes and of course, monitoring the troop leaders behavior.

If our society shows us anything, it is that adult men could use this kind of companionship also. The dads in the group may very well benefit as much as the boys. Men bond over mutual interest. Being good dads is enough of a shared goal to get a disparate group of men to work together on something like this. Furthermore, learning the skills that you have a desire to teach the boys is an excellent use of time and a good way to make yourself anti-fragile and more capable. Share any knowledge you have, and borrow the knowledge of other men who know more than you.

It cannot go unsaid that girls cannot join. They cannot attend as guests. They are not allowed. There are no exceptions. Boys need to be around just boys sometimes, and it can’t really be done anywhere else. This does not mean girls are bad. I am only saying what I am saying and not what I am not saying. Sports teams, school, and church all have girls around. Boys need a space to be boys without them. Guard that. The creation of a suitably based and thoughtfully designed girls’ alternative will be helpful here, but that is another discussion.

Ad Fontes

I have not been a scout, so how should I know what to teach? Modern scouting manuals are filled with boring gibberish about leadership and some kind of bland after-school-special morality, as Mike alluded to in his article. The BSA used to have some pretty serious edge. Saving people from burning buildings, putting down wounded animals, and other acts of dramatic courage were not held to be oddities. In addition to the merit badge requirements (more on that later) the old scout books created by Lt. Gen. Lord Robert Baden-Powell, K.G., and his closest American equivalent Daniel Carter Beard (Beard did not write the first American BSA handbook but did write several other books on the topic and served on the original board of BSA when it launched), contained a significant amount of virtue education. This was accomplished mostly by reference to great men that have lived before. Ideals of old knightly orders and tribes were a source of teaching material for virtue that allowed the boys to feel a connection to great men of the past. A great deal of emphasis was placed on the ideal citizen, which Baden-Powell and the BSA board both tailored to their home nations. Baden-Powell gets credit for being first off the line and creating this without a template other than his personal experience and opinions. You can get Baden-Powell’s original book, called simply Scouting for Boys, in a facsimile edition from Double Bit Press, and it is a worthy read even if you aren’t starting your own club. The 1911 BSA handbook is also available from Dover Publications in a nice edition that is 205 pages long, or you can get an expanded edition from Double Bit Press, which is 455 pages. This book even features an article on “Practical Citizenship” from Col. Teddy Roosevelt, who somehow simultaneously became the most liberal/conservative/socialist/libertarian president in US history. 

Now is probably a good time to complain about the differences between the original and the modern take on one of Scouting’s most interesting components and a big reason why so many boys stick with it for so long. Merit badges are one of the key marks of progress established by the original scouting founders. An interesting choice in and of itself, the badge progression process is a very fulfilling component. Basing scouts’ seniority on their accumulation of knowledge and demonstrable skills is a very masculine way to determine who should be listened to. Simply put, he who knows the most, let him lead. Each badge is like a little rite of passage, and after a time a scout can achieve the vaunted rank of Eagle. Eagle scout rank used to be quite a noteworthy achievement, and in many cases it still is. But the BSA has muddied the waters by allowing girls to attain the Eagle Scout rank, which is only fair since they are allowed to join the boy scouts in the first place. Furthermore, the dilution of many of the merit badges has caused the rank to lose some of its luster. Eagle Scouts used to be awarded a significant amount of college scholarships, and any Eagle Scout who enlisted in the US Army was eligible to jump to E3 (private first class) once they completed basic training (some of these kinds of considerations still exist but appear to be reduced over the last few decades).

A brief comparison of the old merit badges to the modern ones is typically symptomatic of the common social contagions of our day that are most fatal to a boys’ scouting club and their general breakout from the Longhouse: Safetyism, Egalitarianism, Infantilization, Managerialism, Dullness. Some of the badges aren’t necessarily bad uses of time, but the choice to include them in scouts is very dubious. Badges such as “American Business”, wherein most of the accomplishments needed to achieve the badge start with the word “explain.” This badge requires scouts to research insurance, the FMLA and read financial statements. Keep in the mind that the BSA is still pretty confused about why membership is down. Some badges are outright bad. “American Labor” is nothing but indoctrination about why labor unions are good, and its requirements are to attend union meetings and do a bunch of lame school projects about why they are good. This would be boring even if you agreed with the premise. One of the more egregious examples is the “Citizenship in Society” badge which requires students to research the following terms: identities, inclusion, discrimination, diversity, equity, ethical leadership, equality and upstander. After that, you mostly just talk to people and write stuff. Again, cripplingly dull in a scouting context and hardly worthy of being called a merit badge at all.

Some of the badges from the historical scouts have survived, but have been whittled down to an unimpressive mush. Fishing, for instance, involves mostly discussing things, explaining things and researching government regulations about fishing and generally being able to talk about how to be a good little boy when you go out fishing so you won’t offend anyone. Eventually, towards the bottom of the list, you are required to actually catch a fish (1 (one) fish) and as long as your local health czar doesn’t have a rule against it, you are allowed to even clean it and cook it (but you don’t have to eat it, ick). Compare this to the original fishing badge requirements (formerly titled “Angling”): Catch and ID ten different kinds of fish, make your own rod that is capable of catching fish, make your own fly rod, name and describe 25 fish species from North America, describe the life cycle of a specific fish species. And, this is the TLDR version, there’s actually more to it. The old badge for archery required you to make a bow and arrows and be able to shoot fast and far enough to have 6 arrows in the air at the same time! The Firemanship badge required you to carry someone down a ladder. The taxidermy badge (!) required you to make a fur rug out of an animal you killed. Meanwhile, the modern scouts have a badge for computer “gaming.” The modern scouts probably discourage the use of ladders at all as unsafe.

Safteyism pervades all modern badges. Even the ridiculous gaming badge requires students to “address player safety.” Behold, the modern “Astronomy” badge’s first listed requirements: 

1. Do the following:

  1. Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while participating in astronomy activities, and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, and respond to these hazards.
  2. Explain first aid for injuries or illnesses such as heat and cold reactions, dehydration, bites and stings, and damage to your eyes that could occur during observation.
  3. Describe the proper clothing and other precautions for safely making observations at night and in cold weather.
  4. Explain how to safely observe the Sun, objects near the Sun and solar eclipses.

It’s. Astronomy. The old astronomy and seamanship badges, meanwhile, requires you to be able to navigate by the stars at night, when you could trip and fall down and get a boo boo.

I could go on with this for a long time. The point is that the badges have lost a lot of their impressive quality. Boys in scouts used to have to make maps of their town, grow an acre of corn, swim 50 yards with clothes and shoes on (scary!), shoe a horse, and build a fireplace to cook on. To be fair, some old badges may not need to be brought back, for instance boys probably don’t need to know how to read semaphore codes anymore. The lesson to be learned here is that boys like to be challenged, even though some of them have forgotten it. To receive a merit badge for a truly difficult task that requires effort and time is a rite of passage that is worth striving for. Set these kinds of goals before your boys and they will stay interested. Our experience with trying this with our own boys reveals that it is a long term project getting modern boys off the couch and interested in doing actual hard things, primarily because they have been well-trained by society to behave like domestic cattle and that they get thrown out of school for biting pop tarts into the shape of pistols and get arrested for bringing a Victorinox knife with them to school.

Locally Autonomous

There are good alternatives to boy scouts that already exist, such as Trail Life, USA. I don’t have a problem with Trail Life as far as I know, but I would caution that, as a large organization that has some degree of top-down control over the member chapters, should that institution be taken by progressives, the rest of it will fall eventually. I hope that never happens, and Trail Life continues to be a strong beacon for the virtue of boys. Perhaps Trail Life has understood O’Sullivan’s Law and planned accordingly.

Another lesson that BSA has taught is that local autonomy is preferable to a massive organization. There are advantages to having a large organization to support your club. The existence of uniforms, standardized badges, a team of people working to make things better based on the collective experience of hundreds of clubs are all forgone in the name of strict independence. At our little club, we are making up badges, borrowing requirements from the old scout books, and I am using a button maker to create little pins for the boys to try to reach for our version of merit badges. They are not as cool as the embroidered real badges of the BSA, but they are also not gay. The goodies that come with a massive institution are not worth the cost of associating with the squishiness and moral failures of a board of directors you probably have no input on and have never met and may not even know who they are. As far as I know, local troops of the BSA are not directly threatened with the revocation of their charter if they refuse to comply with left wing policy changes instituted by central office. The BSA still considers itself mostly decentralized. But that time will come. Resistance to the agenda will be crushed.

If you start a scouting club, I don’t think there is anything wrong with pooling resources or borrowing ideas from other local groups, but maintaining autonomy allows your club to weather any storm taking place in distant lands or corporate headquarters. Our club is not much more formal than a group of dads organizing a “play date” (gross) that happens to involve instruction in how to safely use a pocket knife or build a fire. We could definitely stand to be more formalized, but this is a good start. While losing the BSA is a hard blow to the goodness of this nation and to its values, it has been lost for a while, and we need to move on. It isn’t reasonable to think that the BSA can be successfully retaken as a culture war stronghold. Small, locally operated scouting organizations, however, can be frontier fortresses for many locally oriented groups to make real progress. Men uniting over the love of the values of the old ways, love of their sons, friendship. Is there anything more dangerous to forces of darkness than a group of good men working toward the same virtuous goal and raising up another generation of mighty warriors?

Image Credit: Unsplash

Editors note: If you are interested in getting more details, however scanty, on the scouting group we have launched in my area or to offer your own experience for us to learn from, reach out to me on Twitter/X @scriptmanuscr1

Recommended reading for anyone interested in starting your own club:

Boy Scouts Handbook – The First Edition, 1911

Scouting for Boys – Lt. Gen. Lord Robert Baden-Powell, K.G.

The American Boys Handy Book – D.C. Beard

The Field and Forest Handy Book – D.C. Beard

The Handbook for Scout Master’s – 1914 Ed. 

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Terry Gant

Terry Gant is a Great Books teacher and amateur strength coach at Highland Rim Academy, program administrator for Daniel 1 Academy, co-host of the podcast Script v. Manuscript and the Managing Editor at American Reformer. He lives with his wife and children in the Highland Rim of Tennessee. He is on Twitter/X @scriptmanuscr1

2 thoughts on “Scouting a New Course

  1. Great article! I started something similar at my church a while back and would love to discuss the idea further–iron sharpening iron, &c–but, alas, I don’t/won’t use Xitter.

    I’ve had a lot of thoughts on the topic, but I’ll leave what I consider the two most-important ones here.
    1. The group ought not teach subjects that the Bible says are the responsibility of fathers to teach their sons, i.e. and e.g. spiritual discipline. As men our biggest temptation is abdication of our duties and the last thing we need is an excuse to neglect spiritual instruction for our kids under the rationalization that they’ll get it in Sunday school/youth group/scouts.
    2. Focusing on outdoor pursuits like camping and hiking isn’t bad, but it’s limiting in urban settings and unnecessarily narrow. If you’re starting your own local group where fathers are the primary instructors it may not even be feasible as your curriculum is defined by the skills your instructors are qualified to teach. The events you conduct will necessarily be tailored to the skills and experiences of the men you have involved.
    3. Extra bonus thought: after decades of feminism many women have never learned the first thing about feminity and home economics… a group for girls recovering the lost arts of womanhood is a great complement to the boys group…

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