Founded in 1907 in England by Lord Robert BadenPowell, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) began in the United States in 1910 and were chartered by Congress in 1911, becoming the only national organization charged by Congress to educate American boys. The Boy Scouts were founded by Baden-Powell as a response to what he saw as a crisis of masculinity in the British Empire.
Boy Scouting teaches masculinity by focusing on five strategies: character building, handicrafts, bodily development, promoting a sense of happiness, and service to others. Baden-Powell emphasized these in Aids to Scoutmaster ship.
Throughout the United States, BSA troops are sponsored by schools, churches, synagogues, and popular social organizations. As the international Boy Scout movement has evolved over time, the BSA has in significant ways parted company with the larger boy scout community. Other boy scout organizations throughout the world have evolved in a more humanistic direction, becoming more inclusive in membership. The BSA has not. This narrower educational philosophy becomes clear in court cases addressing membership issues and changes in educational texts. The BSA requires members to be male, theistic, and heterosexual.
While many national scouting organizations welcome girls as members, the BSA insists that the Congressional charter would be violated by such a choice. Two prominent cases are Schwenk v. Boy Scouts of America, 551 P.2d 465 (Or. 1976) and Quinnipiac Council v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 528 A.2d 352 (Conn. 1987).
The BSA excludes gay adult leaders and boys from membership. In curricula regarding sexuality prepared for boys and adult troop leaders in recent years, they have shifted the context of sexuality education from health to vocation (and theology).
Other boy scout organizations in the world welcome theistic as well as nontheistic boys. Some even drop the customary reference to God from the scout oath. The BSA seems to have narrowed the religious aspect of its teaching. Baden-Powell often explained that the essence of religion was caring for nature and doing good for others, a sort of romantic pantheism. It is doubtful that the BSA would find that acceptable.
While the BSA exposes boys to other viewpoints through interaction with the wider world, the BSA sets boundaries in terms of what can and cannot be addressed and explored inside the organization. Rather than exposing a boy to ways other cultures have lived with similar issues, this educational agency limits exposure.
Baden-Powell built his boy scout movement around service to those values necessary for the British Empire. In the decades since, boy scouts, internationally, have decided to expand the inclusiveness of the organization to girls as well as gay and nontheistic youth.
- Jeal, T. (2001). Baden-Powell. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- MacDonald, R. H. (1993). Sons of the empire: The frontier and the boy scout movement, 1890–1918. Toronto, ON, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
- Rosenthal, M. (1986). The character factor: Baden-Powell and the origins of the boy scout movement. New York: Pantheon Books.
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