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.