Scouting is a What?

Stephen MarshMormon 49 Comments

By the 1980s the Church had clear and convincing statistical evidence that Scouting had no net positive effect on the long term success of LDS youth (using gospel markers such as temple marriage and missions) or on their activity rates. Several efforts were made to look for replacements.

More than twenty years later, the last “counseling” session between a member of the Seventy and local leadership in Oregon finished with one of the brothers asking for the Church to just scrap the Scouts and to use the Young Women’s program until further notice. You might ask, what has happened and just what is Scouting?

When I started Scouts in Alaska, scouting was still paramilitary survival training. With a December birthday, my first camp out involved hiking a couple miles through the snow in the dark, building a fire, and setting up a tentless campsite in relatively cold weather. Everyone learned quickly to pull their own weight and to master real skills.

Years later, I was called to a scouting position in a ward in Texas. I was struck immediately by the fact that I could not count on the Eagle Scouts to pull their own weight or to do any job correctly or reliably. What I had was a group of young boys (not young men) who had been trained to rely on others to carry them and to “achieve” by going through the motions while an adult worked a check list.

The only skill they had learned was how to pass off riding on the work of others with as little effort as possible, as quickly as possible. Learning that was something terrible that had happened to them, something that is endemic to much of the LDS young men’s population, as sure as the mother’s Eagle project is. (In fact, I had a friend who got his Eagle through a non-LDS troop so he could learn actual skills). While there are bright spots with brilliant caring adults, scouting is mostly a faux reality theme park experience rather than a training experience.

The problem is that there is no longer camping as we used to know it. The core skills scouting used to teach can not be applied or used and are not connected to real experiences. The practical, applied in your daily life lessons, no longer translate. Scouting is the Mormon equivalent of fantasy role playing, a Mormonized Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) experience. Perhaps fun, but of little other use.

What we need is a program for modern life. Young men need modern survival skills, not ones meant to teach them in preparation for their becoming airborne rangers (sort of what the boy scouts originally was meant to do), but to teach them to become modern men.

I’d suggest a format of four lessons a month:

One on basic spiritual skills (such as avoiding anger, etc.);
One on modern social survival skills (such as the gentle art of verbal self defense);
One on job awareness and professional skills;
One on service and brotherhood (young men should engage in service projects every month).

Real training for real life. They can play D&D on their own time.

Comments 49

  1. Stephen, I think my experience as an LDS scout aligns with your take. In addition to being deacons quorum president, I was a patrol leader — so I was very active, but not particularly enthusiastic. My overriding goal in LDS scouting was to get my Eagle scout award, so that I could cease participating. To that end, I plowed through and earned Eagle a month after I turned 13. That was more or less the end and I was able to drop out of my troop soon thereafter.

    It wasn’t that I was disinterested in some of the things you could get out of scouting. I later was a counselor (I managed a “trading post”/store) at a large Scout Camp in northern Minnesota (Many Point) three summers in a row — age 15, 16, and 17. It was a great experience to live on my own away from my family 2 months out of the year as a teenager — essentially a pretaste of college. But I never had much more to do with my LDS troop, nor did any other LDS youth activities keep me engaged as a teenager. (When I was priests’ quorum leader, I advocated eliminating activities on the grounds that no one was interested, myself included.)

  2. Stephen,

    Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with your replacement program for Scouting. Where can I sign my two year old up?

  3. I earned my Eagle Scout before I joined the Church, and in a non-LDS troop. We had good leaders and my dad was involved, but I never felt like I got a break on the requirements (whether the requirements were set high enough is another question, on which I am not an expert). When I joined the Church, and got introduced to the Mormon culture surrounding Scouting, I felt like my achievements had somehow been devalued. It seems like every boy gets it and gets it at the earliest possible moment. In North Carolina, there weren’t enough Mormons to make much of a difference in the general Scouting activity of the region. But in the Mormon Corridor, my Eagle Scout would be an expectation, not an achievement.

  4. Amen to this post. You really do have a great point, and I couldn’t agree more. Good suggestions too. I think this is something that really needs to be discussed.

  5. And this is exactly why I have serious doubts about the future of scouting in the church. I always felt like scouting was one of those things that I enjoyed the activities but not the organization. In other words, we had campouts, and hikes and all that, which were fun, and we learned all the survival skills, but we never cared much about the actual badges. Which is about where I am today. I do things, and I learn, but I really don’t much care about the system.

    It drives my wife nuts.

  6. I think it depends on the region as to how prepared one is for “Scouting.” Scouting is a highly dated program that doesn’t account for the skills required today. Who today needs to know how to tie various esoteric knots? In my line of work, and even around the home, I don’t have a need for that knowledge, which, say 50 to 100 years ago, would have been quite relevant and useful, heck even vital.

    I grew up in California and had ample opportunities with my LDS Scouting program to get involved in nature around me. I went on four 50 mile trips in the Sierras and loved them all. I can see how in Alaska Scouting skills can be quite useful. But like here in New York, I don’t see their use at all, unless adapted for an urban environment.

    I’m glad the church is becoming more modernized and further away from 19th century traditions and practices. We need to teach our youth how to survive today’s challenges which a Tote-N-Chip just doesn’t, well, cut it, pun intended.

  7. “By the 1980s the Church had clear and convincing statistical evidence that Scouting had no net positive effect on the long term success of LDS youth (using gospel markers such as temple marriage and missions) or on their activity rates. Several efforts were made to look for replacements.”

    I’ve never heard of this clear and convincing statistiacal evidence. Do you have any resources where I could reasearch this? This would be helpful in my position to know. Part of the problem is what LDS leaders are using as far as the imput variable–the Eagle badge, which IS quite cheap. For decades, the focus has been on correlating Eagle Scouts to missionaries. There has been some positive correlation, but this doesn’t necessarily imply causation–maybe this is the statistical evidence that in the 1980’s was clear and convincing. This evidence could be dubious because of autocorrelation with disciplined parenting than anything exclusively earned from the Eagle. A better imput variable would be that of a quality unit (defined by advancement, outings/campings, leadership training, and program planning). There is some new evidence that this makes a difference in retention rates as well as missioanary service. My second post on Scouting will outline some of that evidence that I have.

    I was in a fireside two years ago when a brother asked President Dahlquist why the LDS Chuch just didn’t develop their own program. He stated simply put that the BSA does leadership and youth protection training and program better than the Church. He also stated that it’s a missionary tool. I think it is also part of the decades-long mainstreaming process that has shown true results. It has filled the same purpose Free Masonry did in the Nauvoo period.

    He also stated that it wasn’t that the Church couldn’t internalize there programs, but outlined it as an issue of resources. The Church is focused on Perfecting the Saints, Declaring the Gospel, and Redeeming the Dead–not much room for anything else. Granted, they could probably do a bang-up job, mayve even a better job, if in the future resources were dedicated to create a program that could replace Scouting, but for now they would rather outsource-a simple cost/benefit analysis.

    I frankly don’t get your analysis that Scouting is like D&D–clever analogy I’ll give you that and I have seen a few boys (OA for example) that cater to that niche, but I have not seen it that way on an aggregate level. I have seen many lives saved and changed by Scouting. Perhaps your experience was anecdotal and involved some inadequate training on the part of the leaders invovled, perhaps the boys just weren’t interested. It can be a tough sell, and to some extent, the proper implementation of the program should be. It’s not Disneyland. The reason I do what I do was not because of my formative Boy Scouting years. Sure, I fun at camp, but I stalled at getting my Eagle. My testimony of the program was in my Venturing years, when I was given the opportunity to lead our crew. I was awkward, timid, and unpopular. Yet I was able to lead this group of boys and plan a week camp in the Utah mountains where we hiked and fished. My leader allowed me and my crew to develpe, calendar, and lead our own progarm and it worked! I finished my Eagle because of this experience and I felt more prepared to serve a mission. Yes, my experience is also anecdotal, but it provided the testimony I now have of Scouting. We don’t communicate our benefits very well as an organization, but if there is anything D&D about Scouting, it is used as bait to teach character and leadership to boys. Without that, you’re right, we should hang it up and do something different, but whatever we do as a Mormon people, it is about teaching leadership, ethics, citizenship, and character, not just skills and acheivement.

    (2) “In North Carolina, there weren’t enough Mormons to make much of a difference in the general Scouting activity of the region. But in the Mormon Corridor, my Eagle Scout would be an expectation, not an achievement.”

    I think what this proves is that the problem is Mormon culture and its Calvinistic addiction to acheivement, and not to the overall Scouting program. The Eagle means something outside of the Church because the boy has to do it all on his own. There are many successful Scouts outside of the Church that never get their Eagles. Conversely, there are many poor Scouts in the Church with Eagles. They are not ingrained with Scouting values–they just have a meaningless badge.

  8. When I was at USAF Survival School, our instructor told one of the more inept students that he “built fires like a Mormon Eagle Scout”.

  9. I see the scouting program as a dinosaur who needs to be laid to rest. The church is not doing any of the boys any favors by preparing them to become scouters. I have found in my area that the boys who stick with scouting can be divided into two specific categories…

    1. Those whose parents “force” them to participate in the program. They are learning little if nothing and the end result is an eagle award that was earned predominately by one or both parents. This hardly prepares YM to become successful missionaries.

    2. Those who are not involved in any other extracurricular activities. These boys find joy in being part of a group and receive satisfaction from the program. However, I still think the eagle awards are still earned mostly by the parents.

    I agree with many here that the scouting program has turned into a checklist of accomplishments with the “process” of becoming a scout becoming a secondary component.

  10. What is the point of the Duty to God program? Is it one day going to replace the scouting program? Or did the Church realize that scouting doesn’t offer the spiritual training and foundation needed to reach the raised bar for missionaries, so they came up with the Duty to God program as an add-on?

  11. I don’t think the Duty to God program works any better than scouting. When the award is achieved, it is just as much Mom’s as the Eagle.

    In most places I have lived, the local units have not even attempted to implement the scouting programs beyond the 12-13 year olds.

  12. The Dangerous Book for Boys was a big success for a reason, folks. Dismissing such skills doesn’t do us any good. Allowing boys to actually be boys might be the best way to help them become men.

  13. I am completely opposed to this. Scouting is the way my family found and joined the church. When it’s done properly Scouting is a wonderful program. The problem is that Scouting in the Church has become this fantasy you speak of.

    We need to go back to teaching real survival skills, and so forth. These skills are valuable, the fact that they are disappearing from society is worrisome to me. I am constantly shocked at the way people today have no concept of basic first aid, fire safety rules, knife safety, or even basic cooking. Boy Scouts is a way to take all those Dangerous Impulses of boys and give it constructive direction. In a more general sense it teaches you how to organize and and solve problems instead of giving up.

    This may come as a shock, but most boys today still love camping and backpacking and so forth- if they are actually taught how to do it correctly so that it’s not a miserable experience. Far too many Scout leaders in the Church have absolutely no outdoor skills themselves, and no one bothers to teach them how, so how in the world can they teach the boys to do things? It’s no surprise that campouts turn into disasters.

    The problem is not Scouting. The problem are local church leaders who don’t really like Scouting and so just go through the motions instead of expending the effort to make it a success- and then they point to the inevitable failure due to their own shirking of their responsibilities as evidence that Scouting should be tossed on the rubbish heap.

  14. “What I had was a group of young boys (not young men) who had been trained to rely on others to carry them and to ‘achieve’ by going through the motions while an adult worked a check list.

    . . . While there are bright spots with brilliant caring adults, scouting is mostly a faux reality theme park experience rather than a training experience.”

    Amen. But it’s actually gotten worse, Stephen. When I was in YM, I had a couple parents constantly nagging me to twist their kid’s arm to get his Eagle Project completed. What it amounted to was that the parents didn’t want to do the Eagle project for their son; they now expected the Scout leaders to do the project for their son.

    I don’t mean to do a threadjack, but issues like these raise a very important question for me. It seems active and faithful members go along with the program out of a sense of duty, but that secretly many of us wish some things were different (e.g., Scouting program). What can and should faithful LDS members do to help bring those desired changes to pass? Is there something more we can do than simply blog about it?

  15. Re: I’d suggest a format of four lessons a month:

    One on basic spiritual skills (such as avoiding anger, etc.);
    One on modern social survival skills (such as the gentle art of verbal self defense);
    One on job awareness and professional skills;
    One on service and brotherhood (young men should engage in service projects every month).

    Isn’t learning to tie a know a lesson in itself on avoiding anger? Isn’t going to a scout camp with a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds a lesson on the art of verbal self defense? Wouldn’t learning the skills from a plumber teaching you what you need to know to earn the plumbing merit badge teach you job awareness and professional skills? Do I need to even mention a scenario where the scouting program encompasses service and brotherhood? The format of “four lessons a month” sounds like a snoozer for me. I was a self motivated scout and earned the Eagle without mom, then quickly forgot all about scouting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for ways of improving scouting to fit with changing cultures, but the principle of learning confidence by experiencing new challenges is still important. My coworkers were looking at participating in a ‘ropes course’ to learn team building. Why should time be taken out of productive work to do something like a ropes course? (the need to practice teambuilding continues throughout life). Was my experience in scouting less valuable than that of roadshow participation? Was getting my butt kicked in competitive church sports leagues a better preparation for life then scouting? I think the individual time I spent with scout leaders was a better preparation for my life, and that time wasn’t necessarily spent discussing merit badges. There are times when kids need “encouragement” to buy into any activity they are not familiar with. Those who have been encouraged and choose not to participate should certainly not be forced. I would like to see the 1920’s style scout uniform ditched and something better redesigned by REI or Columbia. Ditto the merit badge “bandelo’s”. With the rates of obesity and inactivity increasing, programs that get kids outdoors and away from “screen time” should be fostered. I recently saw a young girl make a significant breakthrough with a behavior disorder by attending a horsemanship program for special needs children. She will probably not have a career in horsemanship, but the skills she learned in dealing with her behavior will help her with any career.

  16. “Is there something more we can do than simply blog about it?”

    There is something you can do about it. If you are a parent who sees value in the scouting program then get involved and make it relevant and meaningful to your son. Stop relying on the church to make sure that your son or daughter is prepared. If you do not agree with a certain program, then don’t do it and find other meaningful relevant activities for your children.

    We do not enjoy hiking and camping in our family (except for RV camping). I honestly do not see any relevance in the scouting program. It is an antiquated program that does not appeal to many young men….especially mine.

    “This may come as a shock, but most boys today still love camping and backpacking and so forth.”

    Our son does not enjoy it in the least. He finds is boring and irrelevant.

    Frankly, I find most of the programs that the church sponsors do nothing more than take vibrant, interesting, funny, irreverent, young men and turn them into boring mechanical robots.

    I think the best way to solve the scouting dilemma is to take the church out of it and encourage the boys to participate in their community scouting programs.

  17. One thing Scouting has in common with the church: it isn’t for everybody. There are kids who thoroughly enjoy the boy scout experience. We have a nice big troop at the big Methodist church across the street. If boys want to be cub scouts, or boy scouts, let them! THE CHURCH DOESN’T HAVE TO DO IT FOR THEM!

    It makes sense for the church to sponsor packs and troops in the corridor. Here in “the field,” the parents who are involved in scouts could add a lot to the packs and troops in the community. Instead, they’re busting their butts (or not) working with tiny, ineffective programs and the boys aren’t getting an experience ANYTHING like they could be getting in a community based pack or troop. It’s sad.

  18. Ann,
    I agree with you 100%! Out here in the blessed “mission field” our ward struggles to find people to do the callings. I was the den leader for our youngest son in scouting at his elementary school last year. The pack ran so much better than the church sponsored pack. All the den leaders were parents and the scoutmaster was awesome!

    Sadly, our son did not want to continue with it and choose to be involved with football, soccer, basketball, wrestling and baseball.

    Scouting is not for everyone.

  19. Post

    Peter “I’ve never heard of this clear and convincing statistiacal evidence. Do you have any resources where I could reasearch this? This would be helpful in my position to know.” — I was Stake Executive Secretary, we had a visiting General Authority with transparencies and lots and lots and lots of statistical data. I was writing as fast as I could, trying to keep up with my notes and he looked over and said “don’t worry, it will all be published in a couple months.”

    Never has surfaced. But I learned things, including some things about tithing that I’ll probably post about some day. All I can say is that I’m even more encouraged to pay mine.

    Capt “When I was at USAF Survival School, our instructor told one of the more inept students that he “built fires like a Mormon Eagle Scout”.” Ok, made me laugh and cry at the same time.

    Isn’t learning to tie a know a lesson in itself on avoiding anger? Isn’t going to a scout camp with a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds a lesson on the art of verbal self defense?

    Not really. Have you read the material in the link? Did you know it? Can you identify blaming behavior or placating behavior and can you defuse it? Can you match sensory modes with someone who is not rational?

    There are real lessons with real skills and real survival knowledge that young men need. I’d like to see them get that knowledge.

  20. Anecdotal:

    My husbands family had a rule that the boys couldn’t drive until they achieved an Eagle Scout.

    My father had a rule that you couldn’t drive until you could demonstrate that you could change the oil and tires yourself.

    Which do you think helps more in the long run?

    Like many of you, I have seen so many young boys dragged through the scouting program kicking and screaming, with parents and leaders doing the work for them in the end. The church needs to come up with some sort of young men’s program and make scouting completly optional.

    I was an explorer scout in high school (branch of the BSA) through a local methodist church and spent summers building houses on the border for immgigrants who literally had nothing. I don’t think my husband had any real meaningful experiance like that his entire scouthing career. It’s sad.

  21. I do suggest that if you struggle or think the Church needs to leave Scouting, try going to Wood Badge. You may feel differently after you go. Most Stake Presidents that attend who also want Scouting to quietly disappear find that they come back on fire for the program. I think many people’s experience with Scouting again, is colored by a poor implementation of the program, or that its totally advancement based. If the Church went to DTG only there would be a similar problem. The problem is Mormon acheivement checkbox culture, not the Scouts. I will go on record to say that I destest forcing people to do anything in Scouting, be it a calling or forcing FOS down throats. It doesn’t do anyone any good.

  22. Scouting is a highly dated program that doesn’t account for the skills required today. Who today needs to know how to tie various esoteric knots?

    This is the common perception held by a person who really has no idea what the BSA has to offer. If one were to take a 5 min. stroll around wikipedia for “Boy Scouts of America” or read the materials at, one might change one’s tune.
    If the Church actually *implemented the BSA programs* for a change, better men could be built from boys, and more people might have greater appreciation of Scouting.

    When I was at USAF Survival School, our instructor told one of the more inept students that he “built fires like a Mormon Eagle Scout”.

    This is both hilarious *and* awesome.

  23. First off, let me state that I was never a Boy Scout per se. I dropped out of Cub Scouts in 6th grade, and by the time I joined the Church (at age 14), I found myself in the Explorers. And I’ve had serious questions over the years at the Church’s use of the Scouting program for young men.

    That said, I will say that not all LDS Scouting programs are as lame as you describe. In both my previous ward (DC Branch/Chevy Chase Ward) and my current one (Parker Ward, Colorado), there is a heavy emphasis on camping, including winter camping. The Eagle projects I’ve observed appear to be significant service projects driven by the Scout in question, not the Scout’s mother (though it’s hard to tell for sure). And there seems to be a fundamental focus on skills; for example, in our current ward, I know that the Scouts have (among other things) been taught how to build bows and arrows from scratch using native materials. My own (Explorer) Scouting experience as a teenager included multiple camping trips to the San Jacinto Mountains and a wonderful week-long hike through the Sierras from Yosemite Valley to Reds Meadows.

    But I suspect that the Scouting problems described in the comments above likely stem from the fact that LDS involvement in Scouting is, in effect, mandatory, whereas non-LDS Scout troops (both the boys and the leaders) are by and large self-selected for interest. In other words, the leaders and boys in a non-LDS Scout troop are there because they really want to be (and those that don’t want to be, leave). In the Church, by contrast, the Scout leaders are called to those positions, while the boys find themselves in Scouting by simple virtue of their age, not their choice. Under those conditions, it seem a natural result that most LDS Scout troops as a rule would be far less, well, Scout-y than non-LDS Scout troops. Here and there in the Church, you get great Scout leaders who run great troops and get the boys really fired up, but those are likely to be the exception, not the rule.

    In short, the only way that LDS Scout troops will ever be as effective as non-LDS Scout troops would be if they were completely voluntary for both the leaders and the boys themselves. Under such circumstances, I suspect that a large majority of LDS Scout troops would disappear or consolidate with other troops. ..bruce..

  24. Thanks for raising and discussing this topic. Fundamentally, helping people learn to do things right, on their own, and for the right reasons is challenging and always will be, regardless of age or station. I have seen scouting implemented in different ways in many places over the years, and I’ve seen the good that some of you have described, and I’ve seen the bad. The implementations span the spectrum, as do many human endeavors. I’m a scoutmaster now, not because I think that scouting is perfect or because I think that the Church’s implementation is perfect (I have a lot to say on that, and I’ll spare you), but because I like helping the young men (incl. my own sons) get outdoors once a month, do service at least once a month, haggle with each other over little things (like who will bring the bacon on the campout), hurt each other’s feelings and get over it, and on and on. What makes scouts work is people, both adults and boys, who want young men to learn and grow and be successful adults.

    Do a good turn daily.

  25. I was convinced there was a pulpit letter some time ago about no longer associating with Scouting or holding Scouting events in our buildings, but it appears I’m sadly mistaken.

    My biggest problem with scouting is that it is a Church-sanctioned and even -demanded commercial endeavor. My second biggest problem is that it obviously does not teach similar family-oriented skills as the Young Women’s program. It may teach a man to be a better part of the community (one of the most oft-quoted reasons stated for the Church to stick with Scouting), but it does not teach them to be good husbands and fathers the way YW emphasizes being a good wife and mother. That reason is followed closely by the attitude difference between the boys’ and girls’ programs. “Scouting is a great program in addition to YM that helps our boys become better men, but YW is enough for the girls.” Bah! I think few men really know what it feels like to walk down the hall to the room where you’ll make “scripture chase cookies” or learn to sew handkerchiefs for your hope chest, and pass by the cultural hall where the boys are learning to build fires and tie knots or are playing basketball for their “YM activity” and are just having a grand, fun time. It certainly gives a sense of relative value which is hard to overcome, even when you want to and are working hard at it.

    It’s not so much that Scouting is evil as that the way it is implemented teaches boys that they don’t really have to work to be “successful” and as long as they seem to do great things for the community, they will look good. It also teaches that having fun is the most important reason to do something. If there truly is spirituality and depth of character taught by the Scouting program, where is it in our so-called Eagle Scouts? Those few Eagle Scouts I’ve seen with those qualities have it as part of their personality or were convinced into it by their families. It’s like being a returned missionary. It means nothing if the mission meant nothing to the missionary. Those who testify to the importance of scouting usually do so in terms of “it was fun” or “it was not fun” not “it taught me a deeper relationship with my Savior” or “I’m a better husband and father now.” To me, that’s telling evidence. I’d like to see the arguments in defense of scouting (such as in #15 above) applied to the girls and what they’d like to do and would find fun. “Doesn’t shopping teach patience and endurance and how to manage money?” “Wouldn’t learning electrical skills teach the girls what they need to know in life?” Funny how it just doesn’t seem to matter for the women.

    Those who know me and know my commenting style know I don’t usually take the feminist, controversial or complaining bent, but this subject has elicited a little outrage from me. Sorry about that.

  26. Post

    try going to Wood Badge

    I’ve had some training as an adult, and enjoyed it.

    I’m not arguing against what Scouting can be, I’m talking (sadly) about what it is. I do think that if we had more wilderness things would be a lot different. Rough campsites and wilderness camping, swimming in lakes and hiking through the snow really can’t be beat.

    get outdoors once a month, do service at least once a month, haggle with each other over little things (like who will bring the bacon on the campout), hurt each other’s feelings and get over it, and on and on — if scouting delivered that more often than not, I think it would be grand.

    We need a program that delivers time and attention, while letting the kids practice leading each other and engagement rather than checklisting.

  27. “I’m not arguing against what Scouting can be, I’m talking (sadly) about what it is.”

    Well said Stephen, and that really is the problem with scouting in the church. I agree with Peter Brown that the BSA program has much to offer many boys, the problem is that the church has taken the BSA program and castrated it.

    Our stake wanted its scout leaders to be trained. So I spent one complete Saturday at the church while local council leaders presented the real BSA program. The stake was expecting this training to jump start our enthusiasm for our callings, ironically for me it did just the opposite. In that training I saw what Boy Scouts aspires to be and how the structural changes we have made to scouting in the church have destroyed that vision.

    The BSA model is based on developing leadership in boys through the patrol method. Older scouts, meaning 16, 17 year old teenagers, lead the patrols. They are the voice of experience in the troop. They are elected by their peers. The LDS model is based on the Deacons quorum. There are no older, experienced scouts in most LDS troops. Scouting is purely an activity for 12 and 13 year olds. The Sr. Patrol leader is by definition the Deacon’s quorum president. How much more leadership and experience does a 13 year old boy have than a 12 year old? How much does a 12 year old look up to that 13 year old? How many patrols can a single ward sustain? In the case of my own ward the answer is one. How can you teach leadership through patrols when the numbers and the seniority aren’t there by definition?

    The BSA model teaches troops to dream big and then plan and set goals to reach those dreams. One leader from a non LDS troop who attended the training mentioned that a few years ago his troop decided they wanted to meet Scouts from somewhere else in the world. They raised money and attended a scout camp in Switzerland. That kind of activity is impossible in an LDS troop. We cannot raise money outside of strict guidelines established by the church. We cannont go on super activities anymore. In my stake we have been told that one week of summer camp each year is our one long term overnight experience, and we cannot even go to a new and different camp, we have to stay within the state. All of these restrictions put an end to the dream big vision of the BSA training.

    The trainer emphasized that rank advancement is just one method of accomplishing the aims of scouting, “It’s not a patch collecting society”. But because of the structural limitations of LDS scouting we really are a patch collecting society. Rank advancement has become the mark of success in LDS scouting, in a large part because we are denied so many other avenues available to non LDS troops.

    A real BSA troop functions as an independent non profit organization staffed by willing and dedicated volunteers. An LDS scout troop for the most part functions as a classroom activity on Tuesday night.

  28. I’ve enjoyed reading these comments and other postings on the BSA and the church. It seems that people are all over the map on Scouting. Of course, people are all over the map on Joseph Smith, too. (Please, please, don’t respond to that last bit, I know there’s no comparison in magnitude)

    My experience has been all over the map also. All I can say is that Scouting is a good experience for MOST boys when the adults buy into the program AND the boys are allowed to do what they are supposed to do. Plan and carry out the program. In our troop, basically the SM and his assistant provide transportation. That’s it. The Scouts plan their patrol meetings, their outings, their curriculum (if you want to call it that). If a boy forgets his sleeping bag, the boys solve the problem. If he forgets a frying pan, the boys solve the problem. Sometimes they come to the adults for help, but they have to ask for it. If a new scout asks the SM or another adult a question, he’s referred to the patrol leader, and then the SPL. Of course, it doesn’t always work that smoothly, but by and large it does.

    My big beef, is of course, that it pretty much goes out the window when they hit Varsity Scouts. I’ve seen it happen with all four of my boys. Rather than change Scouts, let’s change the Church! At least make Varsity Scouts the leadership cadre and let ’em put to good use the experience they gained.

    Knots and stuff: It’s not only about knots, it’s about confidence and problem solving ability. Believe me, the look on a kid’s face the first time he ties a woggle (modified Turk’s Head) is something to behold. When they figure out how to make a monkey bridge and use it, when they are faced with an unexpected obstacle on a hike or campout and overcome it. I really think most of our problems could be solved it adults would practice shadow leadership, not just preach it.

    One of my most cherished memories in Scouting (or in my life, for that matter) occured late one evening on an isolated part of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. That night I watched my son, newly installed as SPL, make a late night check of each group of boys. There was one young man, new to the troop, who had no friends in the group, and who had set up his sleeping bag in an area apart from any of the others. Later I saw Matt, my son, drag his stuff away from his particular bunch of frieds and set up by the loner. I asked Matt the next morning why he had done that. “He had no one, dad.”
    Well, to shorten this up, the “loner” turned out to be an asset to the troop, and made friends with about everyone. He never made Eagle, or even Life, for that matter, but he leaves in a couple of months for his mission. Was it that one moment on a camping trip? Probably not. But a young man, doing his duty, without prompting, affected another life for good, when just as easily it could’ve went the other way.

    And I’ve seen kids that hated camping got thru scouts and still hate it. One size does not fit all. But that can apply to any program or calling in the church. Sometimes in our zeal for the greater good we neglect the “lost sheep”. The boy who doesn’t quite fit in or has other interests. And that’s a whole other post.

    Well, this has gone on long enough. In case you’re still wondering, yes, I support Scouting (as it should be, not as it often is). If you take it away, what do you do to replace it? I think it would have to be replaced, not just dropped, or video games and pizza will replace it!



  29. There was indeed a study in the 80s. It was reported in the Ensign. I don’t remember which issue, but I do remember the following. The number one predictor of young men going on missions and marrying in the temple was the religiosity of his mother. the second most predictive variable was having a significant, worthy and influention priesthood holder who cared about him. This could be a Dad, Bishop, coach, advisor, scoutmaster. The specific role didn’t seem to matter much. Scouting as a specific variable was very insignificant.

  30. KLC #27, the 13-year-old SPL issue is a big one for me as well.

    YAJ #29, that you are able to maintain shadow leadership with 12- and 13- year olds is a testament to your character. I am striving for what you describe. More power to you.

    In non-LDS troops, boys choose to stop participating all the time. Very few (I suppose I should find real numbers) stick around to become SPL and lead the younger scouts. In LDS troops, they become teachers / Varsity scouts and drop a lot of the trappings of scouting, but we try to keep them engaged in one way or another.

  31. Eric #31
    It’s not so much my doing as it the continuity of the program and the example that the younger boys see from the older ones. It also helps that the last two bishops, altho not particularly avid scouters themselves, were inspired to leave the SM well enough alone!

  32. Forgive my perspective if it seems detached from Scouting. My church’s “Wild at Heart” program (“Wild at Heart”, John Edridge) reflects much of the perspective of our Men’s Ministry and Bible Study program, which is acknowledging that society waters down, diverts, and underprepares men for passionate, Godly, manly, intentional leadership at home, at church, and in society. We try help each other to embrace with confidence and passion the role God would have for men, understanding that such masculinity is something bestowed, not earned through worldly achievements. This happens best when a father, or father-like leader, experiences life, challenges, study, adventure, and matters of the heart, in an intentional and involved way, including with his son or a young man/men he mentors/leads. We as men, and with our sons, work together to learn and know that we have what it takes where it most matters at the core of our hearts! It’s with this perspective (at least from the male perspective part of the ministries program) that our Youth Ministries pastor runs a vibrant program for our young men and women.

    Scouting worked for me as a kid because I had an amazing scoutmaster, who loved us like sons, sometimes was tough on us, and let us experience adventure. I disliked all the advancement, which was heavily pushed among all ward leadership, even though I (read: my parents) earned Eagle. I just love those memories of summer nights where he told us about his adventures in ‘Nam, and all the cool stuff we did. My dad was also positively and frequently involved in it all–which unfortunately also included pushing on me all the stuff that I realy didn’t like doing, too. Still, it was a mostly positive experience.

    Scouts just doesn’t often work that way anymore. My son still participates with an LDS troop, here and there, but I’m more enthused about our Christian church’s youth program. It’s fun; let’s kids be kids; intentionally makes worship both upbeat and meaningful; is co-ed; sermons and Bible study are life skills oriented; has regular service opportunities in the community and, during the summer, elsewhere in the US or the world (for kids 15+). As others in the thread have mentioned, the LDS Scouting program can work to really change hearts and raise good young men in spite of many parts of the program. It’s rare, though, you get those kind of leaders, that kind of program. The status quo is usually a program largely disconnected to providing real world benefits (including real word spiritual benefit). At worst it is just rag-tag basketball. One of several motivating factors for us changing faith traditions is that we wanted a family church experience that seemed more practically focused (and more meaningful, uplifting and enjoyable) that had more intentional programs –including for us parents– for reaching goals more like what Stephen Marsh outlines at the beginning of this thread.

    I hope this just doesn’t come off as critical. i just wanted to share our experience that we have found this kind of youth opportunity for our son outside of LDS Scouting, and to give a big kudos to what Marsh is advocating for LDS Young Men.

  33. I was an active Scout leader and commissioner while I was an inactive member of the Church, and have remained active in Scouting since reactivating in the Church. I serve on the council Venturing committee, the council and district advancement committees, the commissioner staff, training staff, and am our ward’s Varsity coach while serving in the bishopric. My father is the council advancement chair, and my brother is advancement chair in another district. My wife is a district Cub trainer. So yes, I’m a rabid proponent of Scouting. I have four sons in the program, and my daughter can’t wait to turn 14 so she can join the community Venturing crew.

    The Church’s version of Scouting is checklist/leader driven/worthless only if the leaders choose to make it so. I have youth in the ward who are blazing through the requirements, and youth who haven’t made Second Class in 4 years. We’ve chosen to make the young men EARN anything they get in Scouting. I earned my Eagle the hard way — no breaks, no gimmes, no shortcuts, and I expect the same of our young men. If it’s just bestowed, nothing is learned and there’s no value. That means that less than half our young men make it to Life, but those who make Life or Eagle actually earn it.

    We also have non-members from community troops conduct Eagle boards of review, so we’re sure that there’s no favoritism in the boards.

    I fully agree that the Church abuses Scouting rather than using it. I’ve preached that so loud and long that people visibly cringe if I come to a Relationships meeting in our council. However, I’ve also seen young men turn into leaders, rise past problems in thir homes, and turn their lives around as they work through Scouting. We could surely do better, but our council hasn’t given up on getting LDS leaders properly trained, and we’re seeing more wards and stakes running Scouting like it should be run as time goes on.

    If you want Scouting to be effective, run it as the BSA trains you to run it. We follow the program as the BSA outlines, though we do progress young men from Boys Scouts in the Deacons to Varsity in the Teachers to Venturing in the Teachers/Priests (we dual register in the team and crew to open up more possibilities). If you have leaders who aren’t doing the job, release them and find better personnel. If you find leaders who love it and do well, leave them alone for 5-10 years before even thinking about putting them in another call. Accept volunteers if they wish to participate. The Scouting guidebook allows for use of member and non-member volunteers in Church Scouting. We have non-member parents who are assistant scoutmasters in our troop, and they do a great job. I volunteer while serving in the bishopric, and a member of the stake presidency volunteered in the troop even after his official release when he was called into the stake presidency.

    Scouting is neither dated nor irrelevant. The Church may abuse the program where leadership doesn’t learn to do it correctly, but local leaders ultimately influence how the program is implemented. Train them properly, and teach them to love the boys and the program. You’ll see success if you do.

  34. SilverRain,
    Here is one thought for you post that is ironic. One thing I find that “rumbles in the bushes” is the many girls/women are envious of the scouting program. All the YM does is prepare a girl to be a wife/mother. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that, but one major point my family shares is that scouting opens up so many avenues to boys that they normally would not see. My son is doing a merit badge camp next week where he will be exposed to dentistry, medicine, first aid, emergency preparedness, fingerprinting, weather, citizenship in the community/nation, and communication. He’s also done geology, electronics, oceanography, and swimming. Where else would a 12 year old, heck a 18 year old be exposed to all that???? EVERYONE could benefit to such horizon exposure. Girls included.

    Also for what it is worth many of the aspects of scouting teaches the boys how to do things at home. Cleanliness, cooking, and we have a talk each camp out on how to treat girls.

  35. Every guy I’ve known who was involved with lds scouting loathed it. I had no idea why. After reading this I have some idea.

    One of the most resourceful guys I know was an Eagle Scout (he’s never been lds). Not only can he build things and start fires, he can sew curtains and cooks a kickass marina sauce. He’s also gay. He credits the scouts for his introduction to cooking and sewing. lol I find this humorous given their policies. Maybe someone should start a more accepting group that includes stuff like a Project Runway badge. 🙂

  36. I’d like the church to drop scouting so my kid can go to a troop where people choose to participate and therefore put more effort into it. I want the scoutmaster to believe in the program and care that my kid progresses toward Eagle and learns the skills necessary. On my mission there were a lot of missionaries who had never done anything tough in their life, so when they had challenges in the field they gave up and went home. Going on a fifty mile hike and experiencing a little pain and then with some encouragement make it through does something for the kids character. In my ward they won’t even give you all the awards you earn because they aren’t in the budget. Some awards are viewed as extra and you can go buy it yourself if you earn it. When I was a scout at summer camp I was envious of the troops that operated as a team, marched in step to breakfast in the morning, and were able to do fund raisers that earned enough money to do things like go to Philmont. In my ward they just forbid parents from taking their kids to a scout run day camp because it wouldn’t be fair for the kids whose parents didn’t pay for them to go to one. The stake run camp that isn’t at the same standard as the one that is organized by people who do it every year for several weeks. If I want to pay money to help my kid achieve some scouting awards somewhere else, I think I should be applauded for taking an active interest. We shouldn’t be held back from earning awards because the ones who earn fewer awards will feel bad. In my experience duty to god and scouting don’t fit very cohesively together. You either focus on scouting or you focus on duty to god, but it is very difficult to focus on both. I want the church to get rid of scouting so my kid can be a part of a real troop that has high standards. Instead I feel like I am forced into a less quality program due to restrictive church policies and leaders who are assigned for months instead of dedicated volunteers who spend years in the program.

  37. Stumbled on this post, and have never posted before…but will give this a shot.

    I have been Scoutmaster in two separate Troops/Councils (in separate states). While I think the arguements posted here are accurate at first glance, I think something is being missed. While tying knots, and learning “survival” skills (in preparation to be an Army “Ranger), is not terribly germane to today’s life for most, I believe the skills have a relevance, if approached in the right manner.

    My focus is generally not on advancement—that takes care of itself (or not, depending on how the Scout does or does not take personal initiative in that regard). I focus on leadership, teamwork, self-discipline, brotherhood, and citizenship/service. An insightful adult can (with some effort, learning, and practice), tie even the most “useless” Scouting requirements (whether they are knots, knives, or how to build a fire with wet wood using only a shoelace and pencil…into 1) a meaningful/memorable experience for the Scout, and 2) a potential life lesson which can be applied not to the “survival” skill’s utility, but to the overall intangible goals of Scouting—character, leadership, citizenship. A Troop that focuses on being an Eagle mill will lose focus, and likely fail. Keep in mind also that the Scouting program does NOT replace the Priesthood quorum, but only acts as the activity arm!

  38. Here is the study reported in the Ensign that Marjorie referred to in #30 and Stephen referred to in the original post.

    A quote:

    The associations that advisers are able to establish with young men “are far more important than the content and implementation of the current young men’s programs,” the report noted.

    Just to be clear, this quote is from the Ensign article, which is itself quoting from two original reports, which I think are not themselves published.

    And one more quote from the article:

    Some factors have little effect on whether a young man marries in the temple or goes on a mission: the distance he lives away from the meetinghouse, the number of young people in his school who are LDS, whether his parents were converts, his father’s occupation, or whether his mother is employed. Characteristics of the ward’s activity program—whether the ward sponsors athletic teams and events, schedules “special” activities for youth, or implements Scout programs—while contributing to the general spirit of the ward, seem to have little effect in and of themselves.

  39. Thank you so much for this blog. We have a son in an LDS den finishing his Weblos. We have noticed a lot of which you speak of, and thought that maybe it was just us. A few weeks ago, we visited with another (Methodist) den, and the differences were astounding. The LDS church is wonderful, but the scouting program is not. We want our son to be a REAL Boy Scout, not just an imitation of the real thing. He will soon make an important choice, and we will support him if he chooses the Methodist den.

  40. As a young Scout (non-member) I heard that Mormon Scouts were the best ones.

    The comment about training was so true. Scouting programs will never deliver anything to Young Men if the adults ignore our Prophets and choose to do things their own way.

    It is challenging to turn around a weak Scouting program and convince parents unfamiliar with the aims and values of Scouting that it is a worthy activity for Young Men.

    If Mormon Scouts don’t experience fun and adventure in Scouting and have everything done for them by adults, they will, of course, hate the program.

    Uninspired leaders can always make a bigger effort and find inspiration. Untrained leaders can choose to change their direction, humble themselves, and get trained, attend Roundtable, and network with Scout leaders who are succeeding. The results will be astounding, Young Men quorums will be tighter-knit, and the Young Men who complete their requirements for Eagle Scout will be far better prepared for the tremendous challenges that lie ahead.

    Bottom line… Even knot tying, fire building, and other basic skills will help if the boys are recognized appropriately and they later find self-actualization as they teach and serve younger Scouts who need to pass-off requirements for their First Class rank. My sons who earned their Eagle can still start a fire and are responsible adults — that is enough proof for me that our Prophets are inspired men who are supportive of Aaronic Priesthood Scouting.

  41. As an LDS Scoutmaster of a non LDS Troop, having earned my Eagle Scout award in and LDS troop, I can certainly understand the point of your article. I concur there are some LDS troops missing the boat.

    Part of that is poor training of leaders, turn-over of leaders too frequently in scouting callings, and lack of volunteer involvement in the scouting program. (You don’t have to be “called” in order to serve in Scouting).

    One key to my success in scouting in my LDS Troop was my Dad’s involvement in my activities. We never cut corners. I never got a break. I fulfilled every requirement, and took the leadership role in my advancement as well as my Eagle project.

    As a Scoutmaster today, I see some LDS troops we interact with running sub-par programs. But that’s not the rule. I also have a high-bar for my scouts and their completion of their requirements.

    I also contend that scouting is STILL a very vital part of the YM program. We as leaders need to raise the bar. We need to be better trained. We need more parental involvement. We need to provide a better program. We need to let the boys lead the troop, and their quorums.

    It’s not the scouts fault that the program is failing them. But the program is still sound, and still very valuable.

    If you (speaking generally) haven’t been to wood badge, been trained, and committed yourself to scouting. It’s easy to see how you’re disenchanted with it’s potential.

  42. Pingback: Boy Scouts vs. Girl Scouts? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  43. So, somewhere along the line here, someone asked what we can even do about it? When I asked my local leader some of the questions about scouting, all he could tell me is “because the brethren say so.” I understand that we follow the prophet and that we support and follow our leaders, but I also understand that revelation always comes in response to a problem…is there anyway to voice my concerns without being branded completely apostate? In our branch, we are required to run this program, and we can’t even scrape up enough people to run the program the way it should be. It’s become a serious problem, and all the kids are getting is a cheap imitation of what scouts should be…Also, in our branch we are required to pay half of the registration fee (which turns out to be around $85)…I thought church activities were not supposed to have any fees…but when you have a large family, that will be a sizeable bill for us every year…HELP!

  44. Lyn – I am cub committee chair in my current ward and was also a den leader for 3 years in a previous ward. I have two suggestions for your situation:
    1 – merge your ward’s boys with other dens; ideally, you could merge within your stake, but if the distance is too great, you could either a) merge with non-LDS dens (some are also run by religious groups) or 2) do monthly or bi-monthly den meetings instead of weekly.
    2 – on the cost, some wards help cover these costs for the boys (if the ward budget allows), but in most cases, it is up to the boys or families. However, if a family asks the bishop for assistance on this, it is usually given.

  45. It’s the active kids that get the rank advancements and Eagle. We leave behind the inactives – who might be active if they enjoyed the required activities. Let leaders focus on needs and desires of the inactive, or almost inactive, rather than worrying about rank advancments. Each kid is different — and the required badges do not meet all needs. Active parents will get their kids to church. Inactive parents won’t — and a focus on merit badges may be the wrong formula to intice inactives to become involved.

    Let’s get out of scouting.. incorporate what’s important into the Duty to God. I don’t discount the scouting activities — many of the activies are still important. However, we need a program that is separate from the required badge mentality. Leaders need to be able to mold activities around the dynamics of group members.. rather than being forced to meet requirements that may exclude the non-interested or inactive members.

    (former Eagle Scout, current YM counselor)

  46. Quite honestly, the scouting program is designed to challenge adult leadership to manage and support the basic structure–boy-run org. Are you able to foster an interest? Do you throw everything out because you get frustrated? I work in St. Paul, and teach fatherless and fathered kids ranging 11-17, they are all city folk. Change it up people. Of course scouting is different and challenging for the adult leadership to figure out and make work. Try your best and adjust to your circumstance. It is about learning to adjust to the needs of the group and help the youth lead by motivating them, not making them.

  47. I would just liketo say how pleasant it is to read a forum in which those of opposing viewpoints express themselves in a civil and eloquent manner. I have always been apalled by the level of vitrol expressed in fora with topics ranging from politics to computer hardware. As I investigate the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints let me congratulate all of you for representing yourselves well in the last place on earth I would expect to find civility: an internet forum.

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