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Parents and Scouts Weigh In on the New Mixed-Gender Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts of America announced on Wednesday that starting in 2018, it will welcome girls into the Cub Scout program and eventually allow older girls to earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout.

The group’s chief scout executive, Michael Surbaugh, said, “We strive to bring what our organization does best — developing character and leadership for young people — to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.” (Also worth noting: It’s not totally new territory — the Boy Scouts already have some co-ed programs in place, including the Sea Scouts, essentially Boy Scouts on the ocean blue.)

To get some reactions from around the campfire, I spoke with Tim Mueller, an Eagle Scout in Jacksonville, Florida; Robert Morgan Fisher, a father of two Boy Scouts in California; and Tannis Vallely, mother of Anna, a 7-year-old Girl Scout in Los Angeles.

Mueller: I’m an Eagle Scout. My brother is an Eagle Scout. My nephew is an Eagle Scout. My father was a scoutmaster for 30 years, and my grandfather received the Silver Beaver Award in recognition of his 50 years of service. I think this is a welcome announcement.

Morgan Fisher: Change happens top-down in the Boy Scouts, so when they issue an edict like this, the rank-and-file usually complies with very little grumbling. A few conservative troops associated with religious organizations may threaten to break away, but ours is happy to follow orders. My younger son will probably think it’s weird at first, but will quickly realize it’s not a big deal.

Vallely: I’ve been a co-leader of my daughter’s Girl Scout troop for three years, and I’m thrilled the Boy Scouts have take steps toward inclusivity. But I haven’t supported the Boy Scouts for a long time due to their positions on gay scout leaders. Also, they’ll kick out boys — and now girls — who identify as atheist or agnostic, like my daughter.

Mueller: My female friends have said over the years, “You’re lucky you can be in the Boy Scouts because the Girl Scouts are pretty weak.” It’s a domestication training program, they said, and they were envious of the adventuring and practical life skills that Boy Scouts received. I’ve always thought, The Girl Scouts need to step up their program.

Vallely: I’m not sure how this is all going to fit together, frankly — the Girl Scouts came about because girls weren’t allowed in the Boy Scouts.

Mueller: I never even considered that girls would be admitted into the Boy Scouts. But I mulled it over after the announcement, and it began making sense — especially when I learned they’d be keeping boys and girls separate once they reach adolescence and try to become Eagle Scouts, which I think is a reasonable precaution to take.

Either way, women need to learn practical life skills as much as men. If the Girl Scout program primarily focuses on home economic skill such as sewing and baking, they’re not given the opportunity to learn how to change the oil in their car for example. Nothing the Scouts teach is gendered (I also learned how to sew and bake in the Boy Scouts). It’s all about practical life and survival skills, which women would benefit from as well.

I, for instance, took basic mechanics in the Boy Scouts. I want my daughter to know how to change her oil and not be swindled when she takes her car to the dealership. I want her to learn how to tie a knot when she buys a cabinet at the thrift store and needs to secure it in the back of her truck to get it home. You don’t learn that stuff in high school; you learn it in the Boy Scouts.

Vallely: Girl Scouts don’t aspire to be Eagle Scouts. We have our own grade levels anyway: Daisies, Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, Seniors and Ambassadors.

Mueller: I’ve been a fan of survivalist education since I joined the Scouts. I have a small library of wilderness survival books. There’s nothing inherently masculine or gender-specific about anything in those books. Just practical life skills. Can you sustain yourself if the status quo goes away?

Morgan Fisher: The Boy Scouts are closely aligned with the Armed Forces and are a feeder for military service. You’re more likely to be considered for Officer Candidate School if you’ve spent time in the Boy Scouts. Contrary to what we hear from President Trump, the military is actually very progressive. They were onboard with transgender and LGBT issues long before certain segments of the civilian population were, largely because LGBT people have proven themselves time and again.

Vallely: Again, the Girl Scouts were originally meant to be the answer to the Boy Scouts, who prided themselves on a “no-girls” policy. I don’t know what’s going to happen now. Does this mean a girl could be a member of both the Boys Scouts and the Girl Scouts? I’m not worried. We’re definitely not going to lose any girls to the Boy Scouts. Maybe in other parts of the country, but not in our troop.

Mueller: The most common concern I’ve seen from Scouts online is attracting volunteer help. The Boy Scouts are a very big commitment — more so than sports, hunting or church. You have a weekend camping trip once a month and activities every other weekend. Attracting adults to commit can be difficult. The concern is how troops will be able to support all of these additional scouts with adult volunteers.

Morgan Fisher: You cannot stop social progress. This will be a good thing for the Scouts.

Vallely: I’ve never heard a regret from Anna about not being able to join the Boy Scouts. I told her the news last night, and she said “Wow, cool!” I asked if she’d ever want to join the Boy Scouts. She said, “Why would I? I’m a Girl Scout.”