Boy Scouts would be better with girls

Nearly 1,000 girls participated in the Boy Scouts of America’s first co-ed National Jamboree last month . Each of those girls should have the opportunity to become an official Boy Scout.

The girls at the Jamboree came from the Boy Scouts’ Venture program, which trains male and female members to, among other things, camp, canoe and backpack. I accompanied a Venture crew through the Philmont Scout Ranchin New Mexico several years ago — as a Boy Scout — and noted that the girls who participated succeeded as well as the boys in every regard. Unlike Scouts, however, Venture crews do not organize charity events or lead troop activities, and they are not eligible to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. That difference puts girls at an unfair disadvantage to boys in character and leadership development.

Scouting teaches community values, personal character and leadership skills. Every child needs such development, and every child deserves a shot at becoming an Eagle Scout. Becoming an Eagle Scout prepared me for the rigors of West Point (where 40 percent of the Class of 2013 was involved in Scouting). Being a veteran inspired me to reinvigorate civic training programs at home. Becoming a father of two daughters has committed me to seeking to ensure that the nation’s best youth program welcomes every child.

Knowing the value of Scouting, I want my daughters to become Eagle Scouts as they approach adulthood. The Boy Scouts is an organization with no peer group for girls. Despite the similar name, the Girl Scouts is a separate but not equal group. Girl Scouting teaches youths to be strong individuals, but Boy Scouting teaches youths to be strong leaders. The organizations have different goals, different activities, different resources and different expectations for member development. The true counterparts to Boy Scouts are military scouts — today’s combat reconnaissance units. Robert Baden-Powell, the British founder of Scouting, was a war hero who wrote the book on both military scouting and Boy Scouting. He formed the latter to teach the values and skills of the former. Today, a combat veteran speaking to Scouts would be disappointed that she is the only female in the room.

Women can fly combat aircraft, graduate from wilderness survival schools and lead other warriors through peril and hardship. Women have earned Bronze Stars, Silver Stars and Purple Hearts in war. Women have leadership roles in government, business, academia and entertainment. Imagine what else would be possible with Scout training.

Perhaps the military, in integrating men and women, had it easier than the Scouts would in integrating boys and girls. Nonetheless, Britain’s Scouts successfully went co-ed in 1991. Schools, clubs and churches have trained boys alongside girls for much longer. And the Boy Scouts of America need look no further than its own Venture program for a model of co-ed adventures outdoors.

Scouting membership declined 16 percent from 2002 to 2012, according to the Boy Scouts’ annual report, even as the number of boys ages 12 to 17 has remained steady. Recruiting girls to Scouting could simultaneously recruit their parents and brothers. Parental involvement is often essential to retaining Scouts and producing Eagle Scouts. Parents can better justify investing the thousands of volunteer hours — weeknights, weekends and vacation days — over a half-dozen years to an organization that welcomes and develops each of the family’s children.

Recently, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and City Year have been working to rekindle the American spirit of service and sacrifice. Perhaps their challenge would be less onerous if all youths were exposed to that spirit at an earlier age. That is why Baden-Powell taught that “the spirit is there in every boy; it has to be discovered and brought to light.” Well, the spirit is there in my daughters too. And it is in girls across America. Their spirit, too, ought to be discovered and brought out.

Scouting is a tradition-oriented organization. Our traditions ought to guide us, not bind us. Other changes are underway as the Boy Scouts adhere to Matsuo Basho’s counsel: “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise — seek what they sought!” That is why the organization accepted the help of female adult leaders. That is why it is changing other membership restrictions. And that is why it should change its rules regarding girls. Welcoming all youths into Scouting would fulfill each of the values espoused in the Scout Law. We Eagle Scouts and adult leaders take pride in helping fulfill the 103-year-old Scouting quest to transform youths into leaders. We should ensure that it endures for all.

Amir Arnold Gharbi is an Eagle Scout, Army veteran and Boy Scout merit badge counselor who lives in St. Paul, Minn.

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