Scouting has, on the whole, been good to me. I've learned any number of valuable skills, and I think I am a better person for the messages and lessons of the Scout Law and Oath.
I got into both fishing and firearms through scouting, one through the riflery merit badge, the other through getting a fishing pole in reward for selling popcorn. I do both competitively now, though I haven't been able to shoot such for quite some time. I write this blog, started because of my interest in firearms. Even my major, Mechanical Engineering, has some factors from scouting. It's everywhere in my life.
Scouting teaches young boys how to be men. Done right, it teaches the assorted skills necessary to be self sufficient in life, from finances to cooking to communicating. It also teaches the proper uses of those skills. Communication skills can just as easily be turned to deception and ill as honest purposes. Scouting seems a near perfect learning tool, far better than modern public education.
Why then do only one in four boys across the nation ever join the scouts? Those numbers are down far from their former highs. I can't pick out any single cause for this shift. Contributing factors probably include the plethora of other activities available to people, the increase in schoolwork, and the modern style of parenting. Shorter version, Scouting is not the cool thing to do.
The other baffling thing to me is why so many scouts never finish the road and become Eagles. 99 scouts out of a hundred will not make Eagle. I think that this is probably also multifaceted, maybe even moreso than enrollment. On the one hand, all the assorted reasons to not join in the first place still apply. Adding to that the true difficulty of the rank, and some institutional problems, and I can understand a high rate of attrition. 1% completion is not a good sign though. (Yes, this assumes that Eagle is 'completion' but really, it is. It's the last stage in the natural course of scouting)
Scouting is worthwhile. Scouting looks good on resumes because it legitimately means that the applicant has marketable skills. The army automatically promotes Eagle Scouts to Private First Class on enlistment. Over 75% of men at the Military Academies are Eagle Scouts. Scouting helps people.
If you have kids, or are yourself of scouting age, I recommend scouting.
That being said, I have some bones to pick.
First, to just get this out of the way, the BSA stance on homosexual leaders is just silly. Homosexuality does not equate with pedophilia. Gay leaders are no more a threat than woman leaders, which are widely accepted. It also rings a little disingenuous with the spirit of scouting, which leaves no room for unjust discrimination.
Second, certain sectors of the scouting administration seem to have lost sight of what said spirit is. My troop has been criticized and examined because we have had an extraordinarily high retention and Eagle rate. More boys in our troop make Eagle than not by a healthy margin, due to truly exemplary leadership. Instead of greeting this record with praise, appreciation, or good will, it is treated with suspicion, because perhaps we are cutting corners and doing things the easy way out. We're not.
Also, I have seen firsthand and heard countless other counts of Eagle Projects hijacked. National requires an adult coach, and my council required a mentor. In many cases, the coach and mentor overstep their role as advisors and helpers into planners and doers. The project becomes more theirs than the scout's. That is screwed up. If Eagle is supposed to be a sign of true leadership potential, then why are these leaders taking away that role? Also, the projects that the scouts put forward may not be professional quality work, but that's proper. The scouts aren't professionals. It should be a good project, well done and useful, but it doesn't need to be professional grade. Similarly, contracting out the building or design to professionals seems counterproductive.
Scouting is hurting right now. There are things that can be fixed, on a national, council, troop and individual level to help. The councils and national both seem to be getting bureaucratic to an unhealthy level, and unconcerned with the ideals and spirit of scouting. I hope the 100th anniversary can serve as a rejuvenation period, and stop some of the problems that are cropping up. I have my doubts
All that being said, the balance is still towards scouting by a huge margin. The problems are small. Society would be well served with more scouts, and scouting itself would be likely to benefit, with some of the problems adjusting for the new impressions, scouts, expectations, and pressures. If you're involved in scouting at all, I commend you.