The Boy Scouts of America: Then and Now — A Comparison of the 1911 and Modern Handbooks and Merit Badges

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 15, 2013 · 160 comments

in A Man's Life

scout

“‘Scout’ used to mean the one on watch for the rest. We have widened the word a little. We have made it fit the town as well as the wilderness and suited it to peace time instead of war. We have made the scout an expert in Life-craft as well as Wood-craft, for he is trained in the things of the heart as well as head and hand. Scouting we have made to cover riding, swimming, tramping, trailing, photography, first aid, camping, handicraft, loyalty, obedience, courtesy, thrift, courage, and kindness.

Do these things appeal to you? Do you love the woods?

Do you wish to learn the trees as the forester knows them? And the stars not as an astronomer, but as a traveler?

Do you wish to have all-round, well-developed muscles, not those of a great athlete, but those of a sound body that will not fail you? Would you like to be an expert camper who can always make himself comfortable out of doors, and a swimmer that fears no waters? Do you desire the knowledge to help the wounded quickly, and to make yourself cool and self-reliant in an emergency?

Do you believe in loyalty, courage, and kindness? Would you like to form habits that will surely make your success in life?

Then, whether you be farm boy or shoe clerk, newsboy or millionaire’s son, your place is in our ranks, for these are the thoughts in scouting; it will help you to do better work with your pigs, your shoes, your papers, or your dollars; it will give you new pleasures in life; it will teach you so much of the outdoor world that you wish to know; and this Handbook, the work of many men, each a leader in his field, is their best effort to show you the way.” — Boy Scouts of America Handbook for Boys, 1911

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Just a few years ago, the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their centennial anniversary. The BSA was founded in 1910 as a military-inspired organization designed to shore up the values of self-reliance, patriotism, courage, morality, outdoor ruggedness, and all-around manliness the country feared was being lost as it became increasingly urbanized. In its century-long history, the Scouts have remained true to many of their founding principles, while also changing along with American culture. Because the Scouts were designed to be a repository of traditionally manly values, tracing those changes offers an interesting prism through which to see how our views on manliness have shifted as well.

One way to illuminate these changes is by comparing the original BSA handbook, published in 1911, with the modern version – the 12th edition was introduced in 2009. In an incisive book review for the Claremont Institute, Kathleen Arnn conducts this type of side-by-side analysis. She points out that while the modern version contains many of the same skills as the original, “its discussions of these things have been pared down and lack the verve, punch, and adventurous spirit—the manliness—of the original handbook.”

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What has been dropped or reduced in the modern handbook is telling. Gone is the section on chivalry, which traced the Boy Scouts’ heritage back through the pioneers and Pilgrims, and to the knights of the Middle Ages. While the 1911 handbook has a lengthy chapter on Patriotism and Citizenship (including a letter from Theodore Roosevelt on “Practical Citizenship”), which outlines the history of the United States, the meaning of the flag, and the purpose of various governmental bodies, the modern handbook has greatly shrunk the discussion of such things in both length and detail. The original is also generously peppered with references to great men in history for young boys to emulate, while the mention of such “heroes” is almost entirely absent from the one published in 2009 (being inspired by history isn’t much in fashion these days).

Perhaps most striking is the different way in which the two guides address the idea of good character. The original didn’t shy away from strong admonitions like, “It is horrible to be a coward. It is weak to yield to fear and heroic to face danger without flinching,” and “The honor of a scout will not permit of anything but the highest and the best and the manliest. The honor of a scout is a sacred thing, and cannot be lightly set aside or trampled on.”

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In contrast, the modern version frames its discussion of character in terms of its inoffensive modern equivalent: leadership and personal development. Instead of being couched in the absolute language of moral virtue, doing the right thing becomes a matter or “making the most of yourself” and “getting along with others.” Arnn further articulates the shift:

“Character formation is still a top priority for the BSA, but the latest handbook has largely replaced the traditional language of virtue with the progressive language of leadership, and this is not an improvement. The chapter on Chivalry has been completely removed, and the chapter on Leadership, which is presumably meant to replace it, has little to say about moral virtue beyond the Scout Oath and Law. Instead, it presents the EDGE method of teaching (explain, demonstrate, guide, and enable), describes the difference between short term and long term goals, and lists tips for using the internet to become a leader in your community…

Boy Scouts are still taught to follow their consciences: do the right thing, even though it may be difficult, which is sensible advice as far as it goes. But it does not go far enough. The old handbook treated the subject as if the conscience needed to be formed before it could be followed. Scouts needed to be habituated to the virtues through study and practice, dutifully doing the right thing until it became second nature. This was a stern discipline. Many would not succeed at it; those who did could be proud.”

It’s notable to see what has been added to the modern handbook as well. For example, while the subject of abstaining from alcohol and tobacco is covered in just five sentences in the original, it comes in for a much fuller discussion in the modern version, with details on how to resist peer pressure. And while the 1911 handbook begins with that arresting introduction we put at the start of this piece, the new one opens to a tear-out pamphlet titled: “How to Protect Your Children from Child Abuse.” “It’s as if,” Arnn writes, “the first thought our boys should have is that they are potential victims.”

BSA Merit Badges: Now and Then

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These observations are interesting food for thought, and I’m sure debate as well. But the other day, I decided to look at the evolution of the BSA from a different angle: comparing the requirements for merit badges now and then. Such a comparison is a little more fun, and a little less serious than contrasting the differences between the handbooks’ respective philosophical bents. And yet it still reveals a lot in how we’ve changed as a culture and what we expect of young men.

The most obvious change is that there are many more merit badges available to earn today than there were back in 1911: 131 versus 57. The expansion in badges to such things as Robotics, Game Design (which involves playing and describing what you like about your favorite video games), Skating, Traffic Safety, Citizenship in the World (as opposed to just the nation), and Disability Awareness reflect the changing interests of boys and sensibilities of modern society. At the same time, some of the original badges have disappeared or been incorporated into broader badges as their requisite skill set became more outdated; not too many modern boys need to know how to shoe a horse (Blacksmithing badge) or send a Semaphore code (Signaler badge).

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What is most interesting to take stock of are the changes in requirements among the badge themes that have largely remained the same over a century’s time. As one might already suspect, in many cases the requirements for the original badges were more demanding than those of their modern counterparts. But even in the few cases where the present-day badges involve a more difficult requirement (for example, in 1911 Scouts had to swim 100 yards; now they must swim 150), what stands out for all the modern badges is how much longer and more involved the guidelines are today than they used to be. In the 1911 handbook, earning each badge involved the completion of a short list of one-sentence requirements. Modern badge requirements, on the other hand, run to as many as ten paragraph-long sections, the first of which is always a discussion of the need to discuss safety considerations with one’s leader. The gardening badge for example, requires the Scout to discuss with his counselor what hazards he might encounter if he happened to unfortunately plant his tomatoes near a beehive.

Modern badge requirements also diverge from the old in their more abstract, mental nature. While the 1911 badge requirements are all direct actions, often of the physical, hands-on variety, the modern badge requirements emphasize more thinking than doing. The hands-on tasks are now tucked into long lists of requirements that ask the scout to thoroughly Review/Describe/Explain/Illustrate/Demonstrate the underlying principles and context of the badge’s subject matter before trying their hand at it.

To illustrate these differences, below are some side-by-side comparisons of the old badges and their modern equivalents:

Camping

Camping is the activity for which the Boy Scouts are best known. In comparing the original camping merit badge to today’s, one can see how the hands-on requirements have been loosened; for example, Scouts formerly had to sleep out for 50 nights, know how to build a fire without matches, and construct a raft. On the flip side, the modern badge has decreased that requirement to 20 nights, and has greatly expanded the more mental requirements — making checklists, creating plans, and describing different camping guidelines and pieces of equipment.

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Invention/Inventing

I love the rigor here. “You can’t just invent something. It doesn’t count unless you patent it, kid!”

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Firemanship/Fire Safety

What’s interesting here is that, as reflected in the change in the badge’s name, the 1911 badge is geared towards preparing the Scout to actually fight the fire and rescue people (as if encouraging boys to rush into a burning building was the most natural thing in the world), while the modern badge focuses on how to prevent and escape fires. It also includes that crucial skill: how to safely light a candle!

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Pioneering

The pioneering badge is one of the coolest in my opinion, and the past and present versions still share some similarities. However, one difference is that instead of having to build a bridge or derrick, modern Scouts are asked to build a model of one. The original Scouts were required to build a shack, too. In fairness, a modern Scout may choose to build something like this for the pioneering project he gets to choose himself; however, in practice, what you end up with are a whole lot of monkey bridges. And the requirement for felling a tree ought to be brought back!

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Cooking

The cooking badge is a good example of where the modern hands-on requirements surpass or at least are commensurate with those of the original, while also being greatly augmented by safety concerns and other guidelines (the camping menu, for example, must follow the guidelines of the food pyramid). As a side note, it’s interesting to see how the respective handbooks’ menus have changed; the 1911 edition offers a recipe for frog legs, the 2009 version for tofu stew.

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Angling/Fishing

The fishing badge might be the clearest example of the watering down (pun intended!) of requirements in the present day. While Scouts at the turn of the century had to make two different rods themselves and catch ten fish of ten different species with them, the young modern angler must only reel in…one. In fairness, the old angling badge combined rod fishing and fly fishing, while today they are separate badges. Still, to earn the fly fishing badge, you again only have to catch one fish, so that if you caught the requisite number for each badge, you’d still only have caught 1/5 the haul required of the Scouts of yore.

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Conclusion

All organizations that have been around for decades change and evolve in order to stay relevant with the current culture. I still think the Boy Scouts are a worthwhile organization in which to enroll one’s son or take part in as a young man. And I don’t think all the changes made to the modern badge requirements are entirely a “bad” thing. Some are sadly inevitable in our highly litigious society, where the BSA is just a bee sting away from a lawsuit. And excelling in modern society does require a higher degree of “soft skills” than it used to; the ability to plan and explain things will greatly help a young man though life as our workplace has become more thought-based and less hands-on.

Yet, I have to say that the spare, stripped-down requirements of the 1911 badges greatly appeal to me. Surely all the modern, preliminary study of the underlying context for a skill is important, but sooner or later you’ve got to get down to actually doing the thing. And the sooner the better in my opinion! There’s something to be said for learning by trial and error. In a world where everything is increasingly abstract, the more the Scouts can be a refuge of hands-on activity – a place where one can actually get their hands dirty with the concrete, tangible things of nature, the better. There’s also something to be said for challenging young men more than we sometimes do. Too often they struggle under the tyranny of low expectations, but they’re eager to rise to the challenge once pushed.

What do you think of the differences between the 1911 BSA handbook and merit badges and the new ones? Do they signal improvement or decay? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

{ 160 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dave April 15, 2013 at 8:52 pm

The cooking badge reminded me, somewhere I have a book titled “Cooking for Scouts (for fun and to avoid starving)” published by Scouts Australia. Besides a lot of quick and easy recipes geared towards campsites, there’s a section on cooking worms! (I haven’t tried that part)

2 Andrew April 15, 2013 at 9:08 pm

My troop loved using the older handbooks for activities and instruction. They were simply more informative and direct in their teaching, and the increased difficulty of some standards helped build teamwork and develop friendships as we all worked together to succeed. We would challenge ourselves by going above and beyond the current requirements. My smaller troop size (6 scouts for some years) allowed us to rapidly advance (all made Eagle, most with palms) while still genuinely learning each skill we chose. I understand that the newer requirements enable the achievement of merit badges with fewer expended resources, but it was frustrating when half more time was spent on paperwork than skill building. That said, there are still some rather interesting requirements left, such as in Nuclear Science: “Obtain a sample of irradiated and non-irradiated foods. Prepare the two foods and compare their taste and texture…”

Regardless of merit badge and handbook differences, I heartily recommend Scouting, and one of the greatest things a parent can do is get involved in the organization as well.

3 Jonathan April 15, 2013 at 9:17 pm

As a Life Rank Boy Scout working on his Eagle Rank, I will say that despite my opinion that the organization has softened up, I have learned many valuable lessons. I learned most of my bushcraft skills and outdoor knowledge in Boy Scouts. My interest in a survivalist mindset was sparked by the Wilderness Survival merit badge. I think the cause for the changes is the change in the world in general.

4 Alan April 15, 2013 at 9:30 pm

As an Eagle Scout, I always deferred to my old (1950s era) Patrol Leader’s Handbook and basically never made any use of my handbook (early/mid 2000s).

I’m not too worried about handbooks or merit badge requirements (although having historic examples of manliness and admonitions of cowardice or laziness are great), but I’m more worried that Scoutmasters and Boards of Review do not exercise enough discretion in denying boys’ promotions for reasons like bad character, bad attitude, lack of maturity, etc. I understand that no one wants to hurt anyone else’s feelings or get in fights with parents, but even a little jerk can complete all of the requirements to become an Eagle if he (or his dad) felt motivated enough to do them. Thats why we have the Scoutmaster’s Conference and Board of Review – a safeguard to only permit those with the requisite manliness of character to gain rank in the Scouting organization.

But since the Scouts are so much more soft, or run too often by women or just men with feminine properties, Scouting has sometimes failed to instill manly qualities the way Baden Powell had intended. As a result, other boys are less inclined to join scouts, because many of the boys they know that are in the local troop hardly inspire.

Anyways, I know its a difficult situation because you also want Scouting to be a place thats safe for boys who aren’t “cool” or “popular”, but at the same time, you eventually have to tell kids to toughen up, tackle their problems, etc.

5 Aquilifer April 15, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Thanks for the great article!

As an Eagle myself (2008) I always enjoyed looking back at old handbooks and fieldbooks my family had acquired throughout the years. They were full of interesting skills that just weren’t addressed in the new manuals.

Check out some of the books written by Daniel Carter Beard, one of the founders of the BSA. He has some great books covering topics such as camping skills (outdoor cooking, boat building, shelter building) as well as other activities for boys (including kite building and aquarium building and stocking). They were some of my favorite books growing up.

6 Carney Hall April 15, 2013 at 9:32 pm

As an Eagle Scout and former Troop Leader for 30 or so years I can vouch for the vast change in the character of boys coming through today. Scouting is Outing and this isn’t a priority today. However, boys who wish to be in the woods and learn can still get the skills to be a betterment to society. I prefer the older merit badge pamphlets and scout handbooks. Todays books are watered down and unchallenging on the whole and as you stated teach nothing of the values that make possible heroism of a 12 year old.

7 Clarke Green April 15, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Lengthy explanations and specifications are an attempt to standardize achievements and introduce academic rigor to what ought to be active, engaging, fun stuff. Instead of experiential learning and challenge many merit badges are reduced to worksheets and many Scouting experiences are more like School exercises.
In 1911 merit badges were:
‘intended to stimulate the boy’s interest in the life about him and are given for general knowledge.’
In 2012 we are told that merit badges will ‘encourage you to sample more than a hundred subjects… You’ll have a great time discovering new skills. You might even find yourself launched on a lifelong
interest that could become a career.’
Which sounds more immediate, interesting and fun?
The spirit of Scouting was direct, simple, and a lot less infected with academics, precautions and preachiness, Not something you learned, it was something you did.

8 Richard Williams April 15, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. I prefer the 1911 version. That one sounds like a Scout’s Grandpa wrote it. The 2012 version reads like someone’s Mama wrote it, but maybe that’s just my take.

9 Paul Williams April 15, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Looking back over my scouting years, I’m wishing we had followed the 1911 handbook instead! I remember feeling like the pioneering merit badge was a bit boring. I wanted to actually build a bridge or tower and several useful things. Instead, I spent my time splicing and fusing rope. Useful, but not nearly as cool as building a two-story tower!

10 Jason A April 15, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Former Boy Scout (Life Scout), Sea Scout (Able Sea Scout), and Venture scout (Silver Award) here. My scout leaders always taught from the older curriculum in addition to the new coursework. We found the older scouting practices to be much less academic, and far more practical. Many of the newer scouting badges are hardly what I’d consider rigorous, and any “C” student could easily meet the requirements with the requisite amount of hand-holding. This is why I preferred the Venture Scouts and Sea Scouts program to Boy Scouts… promotions required a board of review and a teaching-level understanding of the material and the scout must demonstrate the skills independent of instruction to advance to the next rank. These skills are things I still use today as a 28 year old – how to signal a passing ship what your little sailboat is intending to do, how to lash a load onto the roof of a car, how to fix just about any engine (boat or auto), how to troubleshoot most electronics – to name a few. Further, the Venture and Sea Scout programs involved a lot more leadership education than Boy Scouts, at least in my troop. The Sea Scouts program particularly drew heavily from the older self-reliance and “be prepared” principles of classic scouting. One advanced, national-level training course I participated in with Sea Scouts had me in command of a 46 foot sailboat on the Chesapeake bay, managing crew watch rotations like a Navy PT boat, independently plotting navigation using pencil, compass & charts, determining the menu for the day, and taking charge of the ship while the adults supervised and graded my leadership skills. This classic “show me you can do it” method of scout education was tremendously rewarding, and all of the former scouts from my Sea Scout Ship are either still heavily involved in nautical hobbies, are serving or have served in the US Navy and Coast Guard, or are involved as adult leaders in the Sea Scout program. Boy Scouts of America has become too academic in my opinion… but they’re not too far gone!

11 Brett April 15, 2013 at 10:07 pm

As a Life Scout currently working on my Eagle Project, and having just completed my merit badges, I agree completely with Brett’s analysis of the “paperwork merit badges,” as I call them. While completing my last 6, I grew extremely frustrated with all the paperwork that had to be done. It felt more like school than scouting.
On the other hand, it’s worth noting that a lot of scouts earn the vast majority of their merit badges at scout summer camp. Because these classes are taken outside, they tend to be a lot more hands on, although basic safety instruction does occur. For example, at Camp Powhatan two years, scouts in my troop built numerous structures to complete the Pioneering Merit Badge. Wilderness Survival has always been a personal favorite; there’s nothing quite like tearing off into the woods, grabbing a pile of sticks, and throwing together a shelter for a long, mostly sleepless, and (possibly) rainy night.

12 Jeremy April 15, 2013 at 10:16 pm

i made it to Life rank – Eagle never appealed to me, and i spent my last couple of years helping others get theirs, so i know i earned it a couple of times over – but i spent my life in and around Scouting. my parents got involved very heavily, becoming teachers and trainers, and i was usually along for the ride on a lot of those events. (mom and dad have gone on to become Woodbadge trainers, running “Train The Trainers” events, and dad got his Silver Beaver) i become a Junior Asst. Scoutmaster my last two years and helped my father get a new troop in the area get off the ground, then went on and started a brother troop to the local Cub Scout Pack i had grown up in and mom took over after dad moved with me to Boy Scouts. My father and i still do programs and act as merit badge counselors from time to time, though now we aren’t really active anymore. from this perspective, i have to say that the BSA has really gone downhill. they aren’t learning the outdoors skills anymore that i’ve seen, too many are allowed through to Eagle too easily, and they just don’t seem to be visible around town anymore. i am looking forward to one day getting my son into Scouts, if he wants to – he’s going to get the training from me regardless – but i’m afraid there will be much confrontation, as i push for some of the older ways and a return to older traditions. (i said SOME of the older ways – a lot of the new ones have their place, too) i liked the requirements just fine in my time as a scout, during the 1980s. they were much longer than the 1911, but MUCH shorter and more sensible than the 2012…

13 Greg April 15, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Being an Eagle Scout (1979) and a Scout leader for many years, there have been changes over time. Leave No Trace camping is completely different than camping in the days past. Today scouts do not chop down trees to create things in the forest. They have to learn to appreciate the beauty that God created and make sure that it is there for the next person. It may not be as “Manly” as building something out of what you find in the forest. But it helps make sure that there is a forest for their children to visit.

Merit Badges have changed over time. Some seem a little watery. Several are redundant when it comes to the First Aid requirements. I would rather ask a Scout over and over about first aid and safety on Merit Badges to make sure that those skills are there. Additionally, the opportunity for more dialogue with the requirements of Merit Badges seems to help the young Scouts build self confidence. Communication is of greater importance in our communities and jobs today than it was years ago. Doing you chores on a farm may not have required much communication, just a lot of hard work. Today, many jobs require work and a lot of communication.

Overall we see times change, for the better in some ways and worse for others. Chopping down several trees and lashing them together to create a tower is great fun. However, having a discussion on an ethical question that has two different viewpoints causes a young man to think about what is or could be the best choice in life and why. Hopefully, from there, the young man can make good choices. Not just know how to chop trees down and make a tower.

14 Aggie11 April 15, 2013 at 10:29 pm

I recently received my Eagle Scout rank this last year. In the guidelines it specifies that scouts cannot use power tools because it is, “unsafe”. New rules went into effect this year that prohibit scouts from even using power drills or from working while standing on a ladder.

The purpose of an Eagle Scout project is to display the leadership abilities of the scout while doing something meaningful for their community. I never got that feeling when I was working on mine. I was encouraged to, “follow the rules and be sure to fill everything out right”.

An Eagle project is suppose to leave a legacy, today the projects I’ve seen my fellow scouts complete look nothing more than simple community service, the kind that other organizations have on a monthly basis.

In my oppiniion today’s young men are much more likely to learn traditional manliness from an organization such as 4-H

15 Aggie11 April 15, 2013 at 10:33 pm

P.S.
Our local Boy Scout camp was prohibited from using buckets of dirt to help extinguish fire (which we have done for years) because it was banned by OSHA.

16 Dan W. April 15, 2013 at 10:33 pm

When I was in scouting, the fathers of the scouts were the most involved with most of the interactions with us. The mothers apparently were making the money in their families, so the fathers had the time to spend with their sons in scouts. They all had their memories of scouting when they were kids and passed on a lot of the knowledge and skills to us. When I moved I had to quit scouts because in my new hometown, scouting was significantly less masculine, due to everything being managed by the mothers.
The emphasis on virtuous and self- reliant living isn’t expressed in a “Game Design” merit badge. It just emphasizes an individual’s interests.
My dad told me about a “Polar Bear Challenge” that he was put through in scouts. They gave him a tarp, a match, a piece of tin foil, and an egg, and they put him in the woods for two days. He had to make a shelter, and cook the egg. These days they wouldn’t let a 12 year old kid do something like that.
As a future father, I plan to either teach skills like this independently outside of scouts, or try to influence whatever troop my sons end up in to bring back the more important aspects that really build the character of a man, the same way my father and my friends fathers did with me. Much of the strength and virtue that I have found in myself today I owe to my years in scouting, and it makes me sad to see that they have cheapened it so much.
This is sort of a sore and complicated issue for me, so I’ll leave it there.

17 Chad A. Willis April 15, 2013 at 10:34 pm

My youngest son will be awarded his Tiger Cub Badge tomorrow night and he is very excited. I am thrilled for him, in that he loves Scouting and doing the things he has these past several months. But that’s just it, he’s “doing” things and not necessarily “learning” things.

From what I gather from the AoM article, this is precisely what the issue has become. Doing and not Learning. What lacks in the current Tiger Cub curriculum is not necessarily things to Do, but things to actually Learn. Sometimes I just feel that when we go to Den Meeting, it’s just Arts/Crafts/Entertainment night. Granted, he’s only starting out, but still, where is the Citizenship, where is the Honor lesson that helps build these boys into Men of Valor, Men of the People?

I know it’s not the BSA’s job to teach my boy how to become a man, but in today’s society, it’s all some of these kids have when it comes to teaching leadership skills and such. Out of 12 young boys and their parents (adult partner) I am one of only two dads who participate in my son’s Den. I am the only one who has been there every time.

I believe AoM has a valid point.

18 Robert Allen April 15, 2013 at 10:38 pm

“Know how to enter burning buildings.”

That one requirement right there sums up the difference between men today and men 100 years ago. 100 years ago, a man was expected to be able to remove someone from a burning building. It was dangerous. You could die. But sometimes, the only way to make a difference in this world is to be dangerous. We’ve become so safety conscious and lawsuit averse, that we have forgotten how to be daring.

19 Jarod Wilson April 15, 2013 at 10:55 pm

As an Eagle Scout (2011), I want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed looking through this article. I am the Director of the First Year Program Area at Camp Crooked Creek here in Kentucky. In my stock of manuals I have most all the Boy Scout handbooks from the beginning to the present. In creating a program around what the basics of scouting are, all the books have been invaluable to creating a process to teach and help the young Scouts learn everything from fire building to proper/safe hiking to real life applications of the Scout Law.

The skills, requirements and type of boys involved have changed drastically, I will not say for the better or worse, though the ideals of Scouting have not changed nearly at all. I have learned through my experiences in Scouting and through many discussions with various Scouting leaders, that Boy Scouting is the greatest bait and switch ever to grace the youth of America. The Boy Scouts bring boys in to go hiking, learn to camp, swimming, find some like minded friends, and for some to be accepted. These are all great and everything, because the Program would not be the same without all the activities. But once they are in, we bring in qualities and lessons like Honesty, Thriftiness, Acting calm under pressure and countless other principles into their forming view of society and the human spirit. What we use to have the Scouts enjoy the time with the organization doesn’t matter as long as they fall within the Scout Oath and Law. What matters is the qualities and principles that at taught to the Scouts; that is the true reason for Scouting.

20 Audrey April 15, 2013 at 11:02 pm

The new one sounds much more academic. The describing and analyzing stuff is important, but don’t they get enough of that at school? When do they actually have time to go climb trees and build things?

21 Jarod Wilson April 15, 2013 at 11:05 pm

To the comments about less “manly” leaders, I personally call a friend a woman who has raised Eagle Scouts and has done more for the success of my home Camp and the districts and our Council than pretty much any man I know. Manliness doesn’t always have to be taught by a man, per-say, it is just easier and more simplistic for a man to fill that role of teacher.

And I like how the Boy Scouts of America is changing its activities with the times. We still have Camping, but we bring in the ideas of leave no trace, something that would never have been thought of as a serious issue by a majority of the people.

If I am correct, Cub Scouts now have a Video Games Belt Loop. That is incredible and a sign of progress to keep Boys coming back to the program.

22 Nathan April 15, 2013 at 11:09 pm

I’m tempted to gripe, but I’ll just say that the scouts have had an immensely positive effect in my life (Eagle, 1998). I still refer back to my 1990 edition of the Handbook from time to time. Some elements of scouting do seem a little compromised, but I know of no other large organization that still gets boys outdoors, active, learning, and developing. May scouting endure down generations.

23 C.S. Roberts April 15, 2013 at 11:41 pm

As a father of 3 boy scouts, ages 12 to 16, and a very active scout leader, (4x WoodBadge staffer, Roundtable commissioner, cub master, scout master, committee member, etc., etc.) I have had more fun the last several years reliving my Boy Scout memories than I had building them. I blame that on the nostalgia of the “good ol’ days.”
I must admit, sadly, that Mr. McKay is correct in his postulation that scouting is much less manly than it once was. Many things have contributed to it; litigious attitudes, politics, modern convenience, time constraints and scores of other reasons but one of the biggest is Fathers failure to understand and allow Rights of Passage.
I recognized this same failure in my own parenting recently. To correct it, we sent the boys on their own 3 day camping adventure. No parents, no adults, very little pre-packaged food and whatever they thought they might need. Three days later I met some different young men. Most assuredly, they are still teenage boys (they used a sock to clean dishes) but they are more confident and sure of their outdoor survival skills as well as the impending Manhood that is a few short years away.
Perhaps there are enough Men to turn the tide of societal softness and give rise to the former days of Maculinity when a man would proudly consider himself a Son of Baden-Powell.

24 Adam April 15, 2013 at 11:48 pm

“You can’t just invent something. It doesn’t count unless you patent it, kid!”

Who will break this news to Benjamin Franklin?

25 Joe April 16, 2013 at 12:07 am

As a lifelong Scout (Arrow of Light, Eagle, and former DE) I think it’s irresponsible to qualify the evolution of an organization as either “improvement or decay” based on the first and latest versions of the same book. To that point, an interesting article would be the evolution of ranks and their requirements through the history of the BSA.

Is the question of softening noble? Absolutely! However, by that thought process, is a more academic or detail oriented merit badge requirement less manly? What type of organization would the BSA be if we didn’t shift with society to adequately prepare our members for life to come by teaching time management in a detail oriented manner?

Ultimately, (and judging by the comments, I think most readers will agree) the most important lessons are learned through an engaging outdoor program with strong leaders and support staff to ensure that the 2.5 million youth members are best prepared for situations to come. By those shared common experiences with Scout leaders, parents, and guardians, is the survival and future of this organization assured.

26 D. Ryan April 16, 2013 at 1:13 am

I earned my Eagle Scout in 2005 with 37 (If I recall correctly) merit badges. My favorite merit badge was Reptile and Amphibian Study and was the reason I spend my teenage years raising and studying reptiles (I almost went to college for herpetology).
And honestly, a lot of badges do teach modern life skills– such as Financial Management.

My troop was usually decent with not being too un-masculine. We did many things with a local Mountain Man/Muzzle Loader organization and even lashed together a working trebuchet twice for different catapult competitions in our council. The thing stood probably 10 feet at the axle and 30 when the sling was extended– and we won of course.

27 John Boom April 16, 2013 at 2:36 am

(Eagle Scout 01 Venturing Ranger 09)
I agree that our society is hyperlitigious, tooth picks come with safety labels. But consider the number 99% or 99 out of 100. Most people would be happy to get a 99% on a test or to accomplish 99 out of the 100 things they wanted to do in life. But if that 99% represents a safety record it would mean in 1911 about 440 scouts would die. If we kept the same safety record in 1911 today 99% it would mean 60,000 scouts would die. Considering that from 2005-2010 only 32 scouts died means scouting presently operates at a safety level around 99.9998%. Does this make us whimpier today than our forebears of long ago possibly, does it make parents happier certainly. Watch “Are You Tougher Than A Boy Scout.” See if the current incarnation of scouts fits with the flabby bookworms you might be envisioning. The requirements are the guidelines, but its how they are taught that determines if a scout gets anything out of them. I am sure there were erudite scout instructions in 1911 just as there is actively involved hands on teaching now. The handbook has become the list of scouting regulations, the core of scouting skills and ideas can be found in the fieldbook. Compare this to the original to see what scouting is really like.

28 Morghan April 16, 2013 at 2:40 am

I dropped the scouts as a kid in the 80s because it was already going this way. Moved over to Pathfinders and learned more there, plus they actually let us do things without the “somebody will sue us if Bobby stubs his toe” paranoia that had already invaded the BSA.

29 BrandeX April 16, 2013 at 2:48 am

“And the requirement for felling a tree ought to be brought back!”

Fortunately, environmentalism is a big part of modern scouting, and no one chops random trees down for now other reason that to just to prove they can do it.

30 Nick April 16, 2013 at 3:18 am

Great article. Very telling that we’ve gone from giving boys simple plans for action to having them instead contemplate complex plans of inaction. Says a lot about our society. Teddy must be rolling in his grave.

I think the biggest changes in Scouting can be blamed on the thing we see in all aspects of the raising of boys. Too many women (and/or feminized men) are directing the education and not to blame then entirely since this also means that too many men are shirking their duty to raising boys.

As a scout in Canada in the 80s I witnesses this change first-hand. I think part of the blame can be put on groups in society who seem to have spent the last half-century removing any male-only institution from our society. For example, when I was a boy, scouts was for boys while girls had girl guides. No one complained. There was no sense of inequality or superiority of either. Considering every other aspect of my childhood such as school, sports, etc were being turned into co-ed, it was a great place for me as a child to learn from other boys and men. But by the time I was outgrowing scouts there was moves to allow girls in. For some reason, the idea that scouts was gender-specific was somehow all of a sudden discriminant and wrong. I’m guessing that the Canadian scout book is probably more watered-down than the US to accommodate the co-ed troops. The other fact I blame is men. When I was a boy we had father-son dinners occasionally. And for the odd boy lacking a father there would always be a grandfather or another male who was present in that boy’s life present to accompany him. By the 90s when I was leaving scouts I noticed it was changed to parent-child dinners and a significant number of the adults attending were mothers. Mind you, many of these boys had fathers at home but sadly, they were not involved in their boy’s lives.

31 Alex April 16, 2013 at 6:38 am

I don’t mean to suggest that my experience with a few scouts is generalizable to the whole of the scouting community, but having mostly grown up on this side of the century mark, the scouts I knew growing up were the least self-reliant people I knew.

The three or four scouts I knew were constantly wanting to run and get an adult before we did anything. And, of the two eagle scouts I’ve known one was more or less what you would expect an eagle scout to be, but the other was the least “cool under pressure” person I’ve ever met. The guy was in a panic every other day at work over the most mundane things.

So, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that the scouting handbook that they grew up with his super cautious and touchy-feely.

32 Ken April 16, 2013 at 7:02 am

I remember in Elementary school, 15 years ago now, that the scouts came in and gave us a pitch. It looked pretty great. Archery, canoeing, camping, all those things a boy is interested in. But after the first meeting, I was very disappointed and quit. It was just a bunch of Martha Stewart inspired arts and crafts. The biggest disappointment of my young life.

33 Brandon Pierce April 16, 2013 at 7:04 am

This article confirms my own experience with my son in scouting. I was a cub scout and a boy scout, and have a lot of good memories of it. I thought my son would enjoy getting involved, too, since we already enjoy doing many outdoor activities as a family apart from scouting. Unfortunately, he grew fairly disinterested in it as he progressed, and when I attended a scout camp with him over the summer I found out why. It simply wasn’t fun. There were so many rules and regulations (the boys weren’t even allowed to run at camp, because you know, you could fall and get hurt), it was ridiculous. As we sat and listened to a lecture and the crazy procedures required to qualify to swim in different depths of the camp pool, my son looked up at me and asked if everything in scouting was this stupid.

Reading through the merit badge comparisons, it’s obvious that scouting has lost its way. Teaching our boys should be done with mentoring, not by making lists and creating complex rules to be followed.

I understand that a lot of what makes a troop fun is the leadership, and it’s likely our local troop is a poorly lead exception. But seeing the new book vs. the old points to why the leadership could get so misguided.

34 kirk April 16, 2013 at 7:31 am

I have a 70′s scout guide and its a bit more “self sufficient” is how I’d put it.

They use to have them make geiger counters and now just explain the theory of nuclear energy. I like them making thing not just know the basic principle of stuff.

Are they still allowed to have pocket knives?.

35 S. Anderson April 16, 2013 at 7:35 am

I earned the rank of Life Scout in the late 90′s. Things were already changing at that point, but there were still many practical skills studied. My troop was very in to planning and executing a week long “50 Miler” each summer. Those trips are some of my best memories from boyhood.

From stories I’ve heard from parents of scouts today the organization has continued to erode at the “doing” portion. You hit it on the head that the trial and error is vital to learning many skills.

It is easy to discuss the principle of fire from friction. I assure you if you’ve never tried; it is another matter to build your first fire bow and start a fire with it.

While evolution is inevitable, I think BSA could use some reflection on their earlier principles.

36 whoa nellie April 16, 2013 at 7:46 am

I enjoyed scouting in the late 60′s-early 70′s. Camping with guns, pitching our own tents. I made the mistake of living in a hip/artsy subrub when my boys were scouting age. Of course, a couple of years into their scouting adventrue the city decided to not support the BSA anymore so all of the troops became “Campfire Boys” (or some such nonsense). You think today’s scouts are touchy-feely? Try Campfire…jeez. We dropped when they handed them their light blue Campfire vest uniforms. bye bye. Focused on soccer and now I have a college soccer player. He would have been a hell of a scout but never a campfire boy. Love the site! Forever Clubman!

37 Billy Williams April 16, 2013 at 8:17 am

I think the approach has simply changed to reflect our new role in North America as consumers rather than producers. Looking at the fishing badge a scout would have ended up with 2 new fishing rods that he made himself, with no further instructions given by the handbook, and the ability to fly cast 60 feet. this woudl be impressive these days for an adult, but these were young men. And I think the young men were better for it. I will be the first man in my family to not build his house. Both of my grandfathers and my father built houses, not as professionals, but from plans. Now with a loss of how-to knowledge and new building codes, I am not able to build my own home. I don’t blame scouts, or my father, but it is just the way life has changed in North America.

38 Alex Hencher April 16, 2013 at 8:28 am

I have been a boy scout since I was in first grade, and I’ve become a Eagle Scout over the years. Over the years I have many times thought about my time in the Scouts and many times it makes me sad. I’ve been to the Jamboree and I’ve seen a lot of bad things in my time. I’ve seen drugs, drink, and debauchery in my time. The Boy Scouts definitely isn’t what it used to be. However just the other day I was out walking in the woods. It was getting dark and I was getting a little bit tired so I stopped to rest. Looking around I saw a dead tree and I began making a fire. Before long I had a roaring Bon fire and I was munching on some food I’d brought along. Looking around I could recognize several kinds of plants and a rabbit trail. My time in Scouts taught me a lot of good things, I can now go outside and survive. That’s something that I will never lose and I am very grateful to the Scouts for giving me that ability. So they may not be the most reputable organization, but they accomplish what they set out to do.

39 Eric April 16, 2013 at 8:45 am

Great read. I am an eagle scout and was very active in scouting as kid (late 90s). In my last year of scouting I worked at a scout camp for a summer where I stumbled on a collection old scout handbooks. I poured over those old handbooks and gained a lot of useful skills from them. I do remember being pretty shocked at the difference at the time.

40 Mark Ruddick April 16, 2013 at 8:50 am

As a cub leader, I would agree that the requirements of the scouting program have changed over the last 100 years, but so has society. Our job as leaders is to help prepare the youth for life today. That said I am very excited that Scouts Canada is reworking our program to emphasise adventure skills. Our cub group does knife training, archery, boating, camping, hiking, fire lighting, knots, lashings. Scouting is still a very good program.

41 Bevan April 16, 2013 at 9:09 am

I was a scout in the 80s and fell away from the organization after I moved. The troop I was involved with was pretty manly. The boys were expected to chop wood, build structures, be self sufficient and for the most part we could do stuff without being micromanaged by our troop leader. The new regs of paperwork started to creep in to make it less fun and I only realized years later when I started to help the local troop as an adult how much it really changed. My college fraternity was tapped to teach a merit badge university to help the scouts get some of their badges. I had picked up a lot of handyman skills since scouts as part of my summer time jobs and growing up on a farm so I jumped at the chance to help some scouts have the same fun experience I had as a scout. Boy was that a let down. As a professional welder I proposed we take the boys out to learn Arc welding. That was nixed due to paperwork and danger (my father had me welding at age 11 for 4-H incidentally, it was fully encouraged there). I suggested metalworking and that was nixed for everything except etching copper plates and folding them. There was very little focus placed on getting the project done right and lots of focus on doing all the discussions and write up. Nobody learned hands on skills, just became extremely bored with discussions. The kids had far more fun sitting around afterwards asking me questions and hearing stories about some of the stuff I had done working summers as a fabricator and welder. They really wanted to “do” something but that was out of the question.

42 Caleb April 16, 2013 at 9:26 am

Life Scout – Order of the Arrow member; Bugler; Bat-Fish Patrol out of Troop 1 Tulsa, OK.

I saw the change occurring many years ago. I quit the organization as a life scout 17 years ago. I didn’t understand at the time what was changing but I could feel it.

There were politics at play that went beyond merit and accomplishment. Popularity within the troop played a bigger role than skill or commitment.

I will say that the Boy Scouts were formative in my manhood and maturity. But, only after many years. It wasn’t until I was well into my twenties I began to realize I was not the man I wanted to be. The man I wanted to be it turned out, espoused the core values of a Scout. I now strive everyday to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind , obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. These characteristics bring about success and favor in ones endeavors.

The organization may have changed, it may have flaws, but as long as it’s training boys to, by their honor, do their best and serve God and country, to obey the scout law, to help other people at all times and to maintain physical strength, mental wakefulness, moral straightness It will continue to mold and develop the leaders and builders of tomorrow.

43 David April 16, 2013 at 9:28 am

I am currently a Cub Scout leader for my son’s Bear den. While some things have changed since I was a Scout back in the 70′s, I find it is still a very worthwhile and effective organization to be a part of, and I’m glad my son wants to participate. That said, I’ve also found, like most things, you get out of it what you put in it. There is a lot of benefit that boys and young men can gain by being a part of Scouting. Also, like always, unfortunately some Cub Packs and Scout Troops are better than others..And it’s ok to shop around to find the right one if you can. For me, the value of this post is that I now plan to carefully review the new Scout handbooks and compare them with the old ones, and see what the new ones are lacking. It might be beneficial to photocopy some of the older sections (on honor and citizenship, for example) and hand them out to the boys to at least expose them to some of the older, and perhaps manlier, and still useful ideas that have been left out of their new manuals.

44 Paul Williams April 16, 2013 at 9:30 am

Anyone up for starting Man Scouts of America?

45 Alex Bensky April 16, 2013 at 9:40 am

As a side note, there was at least in my time a companion merit badge to Citizenship in the World, namely Citizenship in the Nation. I held it, too, back in my days in Troop 23, Detroit.

I took Cooking merit badge at Scout camp with another chap in my troop. The counselor came over to see that we had done the preliminaries properly and everything had been prepared. “Eat it,” he told us. “I’ll come back in an hour. If you’ve cleaned up properly and you’re not sick, I’ll pass you.”

I am as proud of my Scout Lifeguard award as I am of the Water Safety Instructor card.

46 A Dumas April 16, 2013 at 9:43 am

One thing the new writing may take into account is how to talk to a young boy. A lot more is known about child psychology now, and perhaps the short list was found to be lacking in comprehension for a younger mind.
The shorter list appeals to me also, but now I’m much older and able to quantify what the brevity of each item means in greater detail in my own head.
I love stark simplicity, and it becomes more valuable as I get older and life becomes more complicated. I like the older style, but understand how the new style has come about for a younger audience.

47 Pat Bohm April 16, 2013 at 10:10 am

Scouting has definitely changed, and not necessarily for the better I say. It seems like the original values are being watered down more and more. The video game merit badge is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of, what happened to learning to shoot, make fires, and tie knots? It seems that more and more the actual skills are getting lost in meaningless requirements.

Even the new generation of Scouts is telling. While there are the few who want to learn the skills, the majority don’t care, refuse to engage, and just screw around. Not many kids in my troop know how to start a fire efficiently anymore, and don’t even get me started on the physical fitness of them all.

The values of patriotism is being lost too overall I say, most kids from other troops I meet don’t know the proper ways to display flags even! The Scout Master for my years in the troop was former Special Forces. And he made sure the whole troop knew how to march, present colors, and the meaning of respecting the flag and service to your country.

In the end, I can’t complain too much overall. The program is still a very worthwhile one, but some looking back at the beginning would be a good thing. Yes, it is important to prepare young men for today’s world. But, I feel that I am a better man today after being taught how to save a person’s life, track and hunt, and basics of navigation. Every man should know these skills, and be able to draw confidence from having skills that most don’t possess in today’s world.

I am an Eagle Scout and I still count that as my greatest achievement.

48 Opensourcerer2.0 April 16, 2013 at 10:22 am

Scouting was great for me in the 70s. Other than the politics involved anytime you get competitiveness and “things” of perceived worth coupled with nepotism, scouting was overall a positive experience for me. And probably gave my parents some much-needed rest one weekend a month when we camped. Now, however, BSA is an exclusive, Mormon-run entity condoning hate and intolerance while taking public funds for support. For more information, go to YouTube and search “Penn and Teller Boy Scouts.” It’s an eye-opener. Sadly, as an anti-theist, I wouldn’t be allowed to participate, nor would our atheist son. As they say at the end of the program, the Scouts need to save themselves and get back to their original goals as envisioned by Baden Powell–preparing young men for a moral, useful life.

49 bloke_from_ohio April 16, 2013 at 10:30 am

Pioneering merit badge was my favorite becuase the councilor made my borther and I build a tower in a swamp. It had to be robust enough for him to sit on top of without wobbling. He was a rotund fellow so we over built it. Parts of it survived 3 years bofore the poles finaly rotted.

If I remember correctly the BSA “resurected” a few old badges as a part of anniversary celabrations.

A few scouts in my troop were able to earn the old signaling merit badge at camp one summer. I was a scouter at the time and spent the week life guarding otherwise I would have tagged along.

I am going to have to track down a copy of that merit badge book and go through it myself now. Thanks for the reminder. Thanks for adding to my stuff to learn list.

50 Erik April 16, 2013 at 10:33 am

I think this analysis is interesting, but a little misguided. A couple of points: 1) TAOM should see the BSA as a great ally to what you seek to achieve in our culture. The BSA has really been under seige, and pedantic “friendly fire” is not really needed or productive. 2) Following the wisdom of the Patron Saint of Statesmen, Sir/Saint Thomas More the BSA has to “Take what is not perfect and make it as little imperfect as possible.” They have to take the culture as it is, not as they would like it to be. If the BSA were the idealistic reactionary organization some would like it to be, they would accomplish nothing. 3) one of the biggest limiting factors to the success of the BSA is parental involvement and a lot of weight in teaching these boys is carried by a small handful of dedicated parents who sacrifice on behalf of thier kids and other people’s kids. If anyone does not think the BSA is up to par, they should leave their Tuesday morning quarterback sofas and get out there and volunteer to help. Walking in the shoes of Scout leaders who donate many days of thier year, sacrifice many nights of restful sleep on campouts, and patently teach rowdy boys with what little spare time thier job and family leaves, kind of sucks the wind out of this kind of commentary.

51 Kevin W. Cooley April 16, 2013 at 11:06 am

This is great example of why I never earned my Eagle and stopped at Life. Scouting quit being fun and engaging. It become more work on top of a plate already piled high. I felt I had learned everything of interest and value from Scouting. Earning the Eagle and the recognition wasn’t something that interested me. And I certainly wasn’t going to be like so many other boys whose mothers did most of the work for them. If my Scouting experience had been more like the 1911 focus, I’m sure I would have eagerly completed the requirements for the Eagle.

52 Piper April 16, 2013 at 11:13 am

Only one or two mentions of the Fieldbook, the BEST source for scouting skills, I use it with my Rover crew( Baden Powell Service Association) and we learn a bunch of stuff. It was my troops favorite book in the 70s (Eagle 1976).

53 Bruce April 16, 2013 at 11:23 am

I’m an Eagle (1996) as is my father (1964). He was a leader in my Troop from my Webelos days up until he resigned from the Committee a few years back, though he still volunteers at fundraisers. I’ve got nothing but fond memories of my time in the Scouts but when I’ve asked my father about his time he’s less unilateral in his praise. It’s important to remember a local organization like a BSA Troop takes on the characteristics of the community it inhabits and when my father was in the Scouts his community was much less welcoming than mine. My grandfather died when my father was young and my grandmother raised my father and his siblings in relative poverty. In the wealthy Indiana town in which he grew up there was a lot of class and race-based stratification, not exactly different from America at that time, and that carried through to the Troop. When I’ve asked my father about his experiences he’s said that the leaders were decent men and good father figures but most of his fellow Scouts would bully him for coming from the trailer park outside of town. He never was much for nostalgia for the Good Old Days because those days weren’t too good to him.

54 Austin April 16, 2013 at 12:08 pm

I work at a scout camp in Texas, and have taught the pioneering merit badge for a few seasons. We do build models at Lost Pines… on a 1:1 scale!

55 Brian April 16, 2013 at 1:00 pm

As a Scout leader and Eagle scout, I will say from experience a lot of what boys get from Scouts comes from their leaders. When I was a Scout I had 2 scoutmaster, one, who was fantastic, and another, who was lackluster. I learned a tremendous amount from my first scoutmaster because he challenged us, encouraged us to go above and beyond, and charged us $5 per square of toilet paper while on camping trips (I only forgot that first time!). So I will say that even though the BSA has changed some over the course of time, if we have real men investing in these boys the old virtues will come out!

56 Matt April 16, 2013 at 1:38 pm

As someone who become an Eagle Scout in 2007, I can say that the handbook was rarely consulted for most things. Certainly the back where you’d find the rank requirements etc. were dog-eared as well as the knots and first aid sections, but short of that most of what I learned I learned not directly from the book but from the older boys (and when I got older, the younger boys!). The fact that there’s no itemized list of things that I had to do doesn’t mean I haven’t done them, many of the 1911 merit badge requirements I have completed, or would feel confident attempting if you asked me today. Boys get as much out the scouts as they put in. Most of us used outside research, we still learned a great deal. I don’t know what the EDGE system is because I learned to lead by being put in charge and then figuring out through experience that the answer is leading by example. While I don’t think the article is saying that scouts today are all softer, I think that’s what many people will take away and that is unfortunate. Dozens of my scout friends went straight into the military and I live in an area where very few choose to serve, I don’t think that the high rate coming out of my scout troop is a coincidence. I use my scout skills daily; my handiness and know-how is a running joke amongst my roommates (but of course saves them a lot of money in the long run). There are certain things that I strongly dislike about the corporate organization of the scouts – their watering down of traditional qualities, their oversized bureaucracy, their stance on homosexuality, but ultimately the organization has little to do with the individual scout’s experience. I interfaced once with the corporate structure of the scouts and it was to push my Eagle paperwork through. Beyond that, the soul of the scouts is found at the troop level. If your leaders, particularly your youth leaders, are dedicated then the scouts will be an amazing and unparalleled formative experience for a young person that will make you better than you possibly could have been without it.

57 Scott April 16, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I was a scout , both cub scout and boy scout. late 60′s thru ’74. Back then it was a bit rough. You were made to stress and test yourself. Sure once in awhile someone had a broken finger etc. Which is why at least in some respects why it has changed. Lawsuits! I have been a coach at several colleges and have had a bunch of eagle scouts. I can say that they were well rounded and mildly educated on a wide range of subjects.But, even as eagles, they had not had the great stories and lifelong hard learned lessons I and my friends experienced. They told me that virtually everyone who stayed 4 years became eagles! In the 60′s/70′s the average was one per troop per 4 yrs! Yet the scouts who made 1st class in my opinion had experienced far more outdoor life and self reliance in emergency situations. Boy scouts was , for me almost a pre-cursor to boot camp. Yet, I know of 2 recent eagles that went away to boot camp and a few weeks later got discharged at their request because it was too hard on them.

58 Tate April 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I wish that even more thought were necessary of Boy Scouts, at least in terms of the “Invention” Badge. The modern version requires to explain why intellectual property is necessary, which already states a conclusion, instead of asking whether intellectual property is necessary at all.

59 oldsouth April 16, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Reading the old handbook shows me what I missed. The new one is still better than what I got in the scouts, but if that is what scouting has become, I really wouldn’t want any art of it – it is frankly, uninspiring and wussy. I dropped out of the scouts around jr. high age. It just wan’t worthwhile (and while some of that may have been due to my attitude); the fault laid mainly with the scout-leaders. In cub scouts, we went camping, fishing and had fun. By the time I was a “real scout”, we were lead by a group of fat/skinny, balding, middle aged, upper-middle class men. They were not what one would call rugged outdoorsmen. They rarely took us to the woods or taught us anything. They gave us community service projects, that usually involved picking up trash along the road. When we did camp, they slept on air mattresses and had battery powered refrigerators and televisions. When they ran out of “busy work” for us, they told us to play basketball. I hated basketball, so they essentially forced me to play through insults and belittling. I finally said “to hell with it.” I could read books to learn wilderness skills. I lived near the woods and swamps… I learned to fish, hunt, camp, dress my own wounds, gather wild foods. I eventually dropped out of high school and spent nearly a year on the Appalachian Trail. I love the woods and am glad that I took the initiative to learn on my own. I can’t help but resent that I had to do it on my own. I had no dad or brothers, so I was really alone a lot of the time…. and somewhat anti-social… certainly lonely. If I had had the support a boy needs, things could have been very different and much more positive. So, my gripes aside, I congratulate anyone who had a good scouting experience, and applaud even more so those who may choose to eschew the politically correct BS that the BSA has become, who take the time to teach true wilderness skills, leadership and self reliance to boys.

60 Aaron April 16, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I was in a thrift store a few years back and found a 1945 copy of the Boy Scout Handbook. I read through part of it thinking there would be differences and I think I’ll have to pick it up again.

61 Riley Padron April 16, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Another great article. Boy Scouts was always something I wanted to do and regretted not begging my parents more to cough up the money, and for the most part I had resolved to suggest to my own boys, God willing I have at least five, to join the Boy Scouts. Now I’ll have to look into it more, as I was expecting something more along the liens of the 1911 rules and regulations. Perhaps I’ll start a neighborhood Boy Scouts of The Good Ol’ Days of America using only the 1911 handbook.
Cheers!

62 Caleb April 16, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Great article! I have been in scouts for the past couple of years and have recently (March 7) achieved the rank of Eagle. I agree with a lot of what has been said in the article and with many of the comments. There is a lot that can be said about scouting and how it should/could be done. I don’t want to try to say it all here. I want to give those who were in scouts the idea that the program still has the propensity for good. I also want to encourage those thinking about trying scouting to give it a try! Here is a bit about what I experienced.
I started scouting because several close friends were in it and wanted me to join the fun. When I began attending, my expectation of what was to come was that of the ideal. I had an ideal of boys helping each other through the ranks, backpacking through the mountainous, and generally learning how to live in the outdoors.
When I began, there were many things that did not match with the perfect picture in my head. Most of the meetings were spent talking with friends, which is fun but seemed distinctly lacking. The goal of camp outs were to set up tents, sleep, tear down, and go home. When I worked hard on a rank requirement, I was only tested on the very basics and not for excellence. I could see the possibility of greatness in the program but it wasn’t there.
Thankfully I have parents that expect me to put my best effort into a task, whether or not I’m called upon to show it. This took a lot of hard work and dedication but it made completing a rank, merit badge, patch, whatever, much more satisfying. With a personal goal of excellence I was able to help change the troop. When I would set the standard high, the other boys would rise to the occasion. With my dad involved, more of the adults began to participate with their boys. I got to see boys grow in knowledge and maturity. There was work and difficulties to overcome but this made the experience so much more meaningful.
In the end, I think Scouts is a lot like other parts of life. You’ll get out what you put in. Scouting is much better if the troop as a whole is seeking to be top notch but it has to start with the individual. Not that everyone has to excellent outdoors people or great at first aid but that everyone work hard and tries their best!

63 Lance April 16, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Man you beat me to the punch again in your conclusion. The whole time I was reading your article I was thinking that all the changes probably came about due to litigation.

64 Palifox April 16, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Most of the requirements, both from 1911 and today are impossible without extensive resources which few troops, families or boys can supply. The 1911 inventor badge could not be gained today, if a 16 year old invented something that was actually patentable, he’d be close to 21 by the time the patent was granted and it would have cost him thousands which few teenagers can spare or even have. I doubt it could have been gained in 1911 either.

As for the cooking badge, I doubt my mother could have told salmonella from E. coli yet she provided three meals a day for decades, without any regard to the food pyramid.

A friend of mine, Dave G is a high level leader, I have no idea of what the US equivalent would be. He tells me they take boys and girls to restaurants to give them exposure to the correct ways to use soup spoons, knife, fork, dessert spoons & forks as these are not being taught in the home.

I fail to see how building a bridge, trestles or whatever from poles tied with rope is relevant to anyone today. Great fun of course but it is useless if you really want to replace an electrical fuse, fix a TV antenna, net connection, a dripping water tap, paint a room or do basic maintenance on a car.

My short experience in the scouts ended when my parents moved to a new town and the troops in the new town were full. Prior to that, I would never have gained either 1911 or modern camping badges as the scouts went camping once a year on one weekend. I don’t think anyone I knew owned a tent, still less a canoe or boat of any kind. There was no surface water except for the river which was too thick to drink, too thin to plow and was stagnant when it wasn’t flooded. Anything aquatic is out of the question in semi-arid regions.

One thing I did learn then though was the basics of hand sewing leather, which has sometimes been useful. But I leaned that in elementary school!

65 Abhorsen April 16, 2013 at 5:31 pm

However, not all old manlyness awards are lost. In england were I am there is a program known as DofE which in order to get even the ‘silver’ award you have to go hiking in the peaks district and so forth for 3 days and 2 nights. While in my case walking about 23 Miles each day and learning the virute of a good pair of boots…the hard way

This walk also happens to also be done under minimal supervision with you having to leave notes behind to let whoever you do the award with, for my actual school so that they simply know you are still alive, as well as cook for yourself and camp out.

So even if the scouts has been watered down to rather soft levels, there are still things out there for 15-20 yr olds involving more rugged manlyness, even if you bunch in the states miss out

66 Charlie Whiskey April 16, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Eagle Scout here, awarded May 1999. I was the youngest of 5 kids, and all of my older brothers went through the Scouts in the early 1980s. I think one of them reached First Class. I overheard multiple comments about how easy I had it in the mid-1990s. I also inferred from their stories that their Scoutmaster added or modified requirements that were not explicitly laid out in the handbook or merit badge book, for example requiring a larger tree be chopped down for Pioneering or double the catch be landed for Fishing. I also know for decades the Order of the Arrow within the BSA employed techniques easily described as hazing, treatments which has entirely evaporated by the time I went through my Ordeal. While I think the modern Scout has a much broader set of skills to learn and badges to earn, I’ll agree that I think I got a lot fewer bruises than my predecessors.

Regardless of the increased coddling, I think that the adolescents of 2013 face many different challenges than those a century before them. Those first Scouts stood for an America with 10 fewer amendments to its Constitution, most notably one allowing women to vote. They had never heard of a world war, they would probably think an atomic bomb would be a comically tiny threat, and Band-Aids were still years off. Today’s Scouts carry more a thousand times more processing power in their smartphone in their pocket than the Apollo missions used to send Eagle Scouts to the Moon. Today’s Scouts have witnessed extremists commit horrible acts repeated on cable news for years. Today’s Scouts enter a world much more grey and complex than their predecessors. So if the emphasis of the program changes away from daring feats and challenges to critical thinking and community leadership, I think it could be a step in the right direction. These Scouts are always Boy Scouts of America, and this America is no longer in 1911.

67 Mike April 16, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Great article. I was in Scouts for a little while, but I eventually discovered that I did more (both quantity and quality) with my parents than we ever did in Scouts. My dislike of Scouts was cemented when, a few years later, a group of guys (probably 18 y.o. or so) went into a local state park, which is mountainous, on bikes. They ignored a “no bikes” sign, crossed a creek, and started up a trail over a pass. Once over this pass, they ran into trouble (I don’t recall the details about how) and one of them had to be airlifted out. Who was airlifted out? You guessed it… the Eagle Scout. (This isn’t just a story; in fact, I knew the guy personally and learned about what happened not from the newspaper but from his mom.) Thanks for reaffirming that there are far better places for our boys to learn to be men (and responsible adults in general) than in Scouts.

68 Craig April 16, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Hello. I am also an Eagle Scout (2010) and I feel that yes there was way too much coddling in Boy Scouts.
While it is true that there are differences in the challenges that my generation faces, I believe that Boy Scouts has become less about the experience of learning outdoor skills and inspiring good independent ethical decision making among the people there. I believe that Boy Scouts of America has deviated too much from what its original intentions were. They focus more on the safety aspect of everything now. In speaking with the two Scoutmasters I had had(both Eagle Scouts), they both admitted that the Scouting experience seemed more dull than when they were scouts.
This to me is the greatest indication that Scouts, for all of its rich traditions, has inevitably become hit by both feminism and general public fear from media scares. Scouts has become more about teaching and recitation (school), and less about learning through exploration and discovery (life) with are core principles of Boy Scouts of America.

69 Rowan April 16, 2013 at 8:03 pm

I aged out of my troop last spring and was able to make to a meeting earlier this year. On of the scout masters brought a handbook from around the 1940′s in it there was a list of Good Turns, some of which included “helping a one-armed man turn a car”, “moving a live wire from the street”, and “fighting a fire”.

70 Clevertrousers April 16, 2013 at 8:48 pm

While it is fine to discuss the then and now of the Boy Scouts of America I think it is ridiculous to completely ignore the fact that the organization openly bars participation based on sexuality.
If part of the discussion in this article is to talk about all the great things young men can learn from BOA, it makes me very uncomfortable that Art of Manliness would choose to ignore the fact that while values like people skills, respect for others, and all sorts of different qualities of an upstanding citizen are essentially taught to be done away with by the ingrained bigotry of excluding people because they happen to go home to another man at night.
One of my closest friends, a guy who I would consider like a brother is an Eagle Scout, so I’m not hear to just blindly bash BOA. However the fact that I somehow unqualified to serve as a Scout Leader based solely on the fact that I am bisexual is, especially in the year 2013, is not only unacceptable but saddening as well.

71 brojoho84 April 16, 2013 at 9:28 pm

I am an Eagle Scout (2002). Scouting was a huge factor in my character development. Even today as a pastor, my Eagle badge hangs in my office right next to my ordination. I am just as proud of it today as I was when I got it. I had began to sense the winds of change in the early 2000s when we switched books. The 90s handbook was a decent read but the 2000s edition was blocky and not as easy to use. It seemed more pedantic and than a work on manliness. I did recently get my hands on a 1911 handbook and was greatly impressed with it. It is amazing how even though many of the merit badges increased their requirements by leaps and bounds, their substance suffered.

72 Tony April 16, 2013 at 9:31 pm

What do I think? I think that the new requirements are lame, bureaucratic, dull, meddlesome, wearying, stifling, hand-holding, unhelpful, timid, effeminate, and very badly written. But they are probably worse than that.

73 Shane-San April 16, 2013 at 9:47 pm

It is very sad to see how much political correctness and liability issues have crept into our society, even in this case. Back one hundred years ago all of these politically correct precautions designed to cover people’s rears weren’t an issue, because people better understood personal responsibility! You didn’t have to spell out the dangers associated with cooking, because people thought “Gee, if I touch my campfire, I’ll get burned.” Back then. people didn’t sue an organization because their kid failed to use common sense! Absolutes like cowardice and heroism were often clearly defined; but nowadays the main concern is not offending others. This has changed many of the citizens of our great American nation into wussies. See this video by popular gear reviewer and avid outdoorsman Nutnfancy for more on this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dfx73Z6fhbc

I am thankful for sites like AOM and those many people involved in organizations like BSA who yearn to see society in general and young men in particular return to these principles of self-reliance and clear thinking, without the distortion of political correctness.

74 Theo Madrid April 16, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Thank you so much for this article! I am currently a life scout, soon to earn the rank of eagle, and I am also the senior patrol leader of my troop. For all of my scouting career and in the recent months of my soon-to-be-over tenure I have felt that the program can be watered down at times. All too often leaders focus on the requirements and the badge and the honor that we are given by ‘earning’ the eagle badge. But in all honesty I see the badge as meaning less and less as time goes on. I fear that we are simply basking in the glory of those who came before us and made the eagle merit badge an accomplishment of worth and pride whereas for us it can just become something that looks good on a college application or resume. I do not mean to bash the program in any way for I deeply appreciate how it has shaped my life. I find this article particularly enlightening and wish to incorparate many of the old scouting themes back into my troops program and to really allow the boys endure my supervision to grow into good men of strong character, moral standing, physical health, and mental ability. Again, thank you for your brilliant post!!

75 Keith April 16, 2013 at 10:25 pm

As an Eagle Scout (’75), and retired Army Colonel, the Troop I was in used all the old books and manuals. All the Scout Masters were old school Eagles and pushed hands on learning and earning. They also stressed true leadership training and skill development. I was also a Asst Scout Master with my son’s Troop. The Scout Master tried his best to work from both old and new manuals to meet the need of the boys as well as the requirements of today. Scouting is needed today more than ever to encourage and help Fathers train their sons to be the leaders of tomorrow. It’s just not as easy in the busy world we live in today.

76 amadis April 16, 2013 at 10:34 pm

I am french and i have not been scout. but it seems that french scoutism has become softer as well. at least for the main organisation “scouts et guides de france”.

some families has told me that they prefer to put their children on more traditional scout organisations like the “scouts d’europe” who is stricter and closer to the spirit of baden powel.

comparing the uniforms of both organisations also reflect this difference.
the scouts d’europe i have seen also have more mature eyes and a better build/rugged/athletic body.

still, i have also heard good critics of the scouts and guide de france, while softer, still bring good values for children.

77 Héctor Muñoz April 17, 2013 at 12:33 am

Scouting has slowly been softening and diluting it’s own character through time in order to fit into modern conceptions of safety and political correctness.

National organizations around the world must increasingly worry about a boy breaking a fingernail or offending feminists by speaking of chivalry and thus wind up prefering hands out activities such as reports and classroom chats along with soft liberal ethics.

I understand that boys require to learn some different skills today than 100 years ago but how far can scouting distance itself from it’s own identity?

78 Melika April 17, 2013 at 7:55 am

I think this is a clear example of what we have lost in society and why we are having so many problems with our youth. The 1911 handbook was designed to train boys to become men. The modern version is training boys to pretend they are men(Game Badge?! Really?). The clearest example is the Fire Badge. Boys 16 or older we considered “young men” and expected to start behaving as men – taking on responsibilities that would label us abusers of children if demanded today. In 1911, that may mean they would have to run into a burning building where help (adults) is not easily at hand. Even if help was readily available, boys are a scant few years from becoming men. Teaching that skill at a young age would prepare them for adulthood. While I would certainly include fire prevention in a merit badge today, teaching boys how to combat a brush fire, how to determine when a burn pile is too big or getting out of hand, or how and when firefighters enter a building should be taught right alongside the “how to use a fire extinguisher” and “don’t light a candle over an open bowl of gas” section.

79 jweaks April 17, 2013 at 8:10 am

I’m sure we can find things in the current book that are better and some things that are worse. The expansion of merit badges is I think a good thing and well fitting to the times. If there is any area that is really slipping, it is this:

“Character formation is still a top priority for the BSA, but the latest handbook has largely replaced the traditional language of virtue with the progressive language of leadership, and this is not an improvement.”

The writer is spot-on there. There is much good remaining in Scouting. The kindred virtues are still in there just harder to see. I’m hopeful there is still a chance to regain some lost ground on ethics and morals.

The current edition will always be my sentimental favorite because my son’s picture is in there. -jw

80 Michael Minshew April 17, 2013 at 11:52 am

Ah the boy scouts, i remember 7ish years ago going through some of those badges. Physical fitness forced me to run a mile. I still have the scars from my canoing merit badge and i’ve used the things i learned and later taught in the first ai and wilderness survival merit badge to even save someones life. I learned about good leadership and responsibility and i learned how not to lead. Sad to see the focus less on learning the skill and more on learning about the skill. But i still am Glad to have been a scout and Mark it as a highlight of my youth!

81 Matt April 17, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Any idea where we can pick up a 1911 version of the handbook? The one they are selling on Amazon is criticized for the fact in reprinting the 1911 version they removed all the images from the text. Project Gutenberg has it for free but I don’t relish the idea of reprinting it.

82 Keet Redden April 17, 2013 at 1:34 pm

The new requirements for merit badges seems boring and tedious. The old ones appeal to the rugged adventurer in me.

83 Yates April 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm

I thought this was one of your greatest posts! thanks for your work and keep it up!

84 CRB April 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Another Eagle Scout, camp instructor etc. here with a, hopefully, quick observation. While I am happy to see the merit badges expand with our new technology and I understand wanting to give everyone the oppurtunity to gain knowledge; However there is sometimes no other way to do things but hands on. The one item I have not seen discussed yet is community involvement with the local troops. When completing my pioneering badge one of the local land owners allowed my troop to come out on his land, chop down trees(he needed a fire break and we were free labor), and build a roughly thirty foot signal tower. Mr. Gnann had no official ties to our troop but understood the need for youngmen to work hard and take pride in the result of our labor. My troop was given many similar oppurtunities by members of our community who were neither scouts formally nor had any family members in scouts. These kind people took pride in us as potential members of the community and wanted to help mold us into proper citizenship. Since I know this is quickly turning into a rant I will close with this request. Let’s do something about this! In our increasingly “global” society we are losing focus on the people around us. Let’s get together on the local level and help out these organizations. More involvement can mean more oppurtunities for these youngmen.

85 Steve Murtha April 17, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I found myself fascinated with the left (old) version of badge requirements, as opposed to the “planning-heavy” current badge descriptions and activities needed to get a badge today. I never was in Scouting as a boy–but have an older brother who was, and as most younger brothers do—I also wanted to do those very cool and manly things he got to do. Yes, the times have changed, and the need for mastery of semaphore and horse-shoeing may not exist-however, in this uncertain world we live in—a young man, or woman—would be well-served to have the skills to cope with any potential disasters and physical challenges that might prove the difference between life and death. If the proverbial SHTF moment might arrive for some or all—the coddled and comfortable will likely come unraveled when the basic infrastructure and the things people take for granted, rapidly or instantly disappear. Having food in the refrigerator, electricity to keep it viable, water from the tap, sanitary facilities, heating and air conditioning—all these things might vanish….but a well-trained Scout or someone who possesses those same Scouting (especially the “original’) skills, will find a way to deal with emergencies, a lot more successfully than one who does not. Great article and look at the contrast between the expectations that existed then, of young men in society—-and what is to be expected of a young man who becomes involved in Scouting, today.

86 Alvin April 17, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed this article.

I am a Scoutmaster and was given the 1911 Handbook a few years back for Christmas. I marvelled at the rigor that was required for many of the merit badges (planting an acre of corn for farming or installing a roof for carpentry).
More than the differences, though, I was struck by the similarities that have endured. The First Class Badge is the same. The Motto (Be Prepared), Slogan (Do a Good Turn Daily, Law and Oath are the same. While some requirements may change, the core values and mission remain the same.

I do have one suggestion. There is a tradition known as the “Scoutnaster’s Minute” where a Scoutmaster gives a brief inspirational talk at the end of a meeting. While no longer included in the BSA Handbook, adult leaders may use the Scoutmaster’s Minute to discuss topics like chivalry that were included in the former additions of the Handbook. While there has been some criticism of the content of the Handbook, Scoutmasters are free to (and may I add-encouraged to) seek additonal resources and expand the instruction beyond the Handbook.

The Scoutmaster’s Minute may be a good topic for a Manvotional. AoM provides countless ideas for Boy Scout Programs and Scoutmaster’s Minutes.

87 Enoch Heise April 18, 2013 at 1:13 am

Mr. Mckay,

Thank you for the article on Scouting! I am a recent Eagle Scout and owner of the Blog on Scouting: ScoutingRediscovered.com

I recently wrote a post on how the earning of merit badges has changed over time. I think you might find it interesting: http://scoutingrediscovered.com/scoutcraft/rediscovering-the-merit-badge/

I would love to see more posts related to Scouting on the ArtofManliness. Scouting as a movement has so much to teach us not only about cultural changes, but also about how boys become men.

Your blog was part of the inspiration for me to start my own blog, and we cover similar topics, although mine is geared toward young men like myself. If you have time to look at it I’d love to hear what you think.

Yours in Scouting,
-Enoch H.

88 Rick Meints April 18, 2013 at 9:21 am

I enjoyed reading this thought provoking article. I was a little surprised to see that the Invention merit badge was used as an example.

The 1911 Invention merit badge was discontinued in July of 1914. During its short existence it was only earned by about 10 scouts, which probably included at least a few adults. (Up until about 1960 adult leaders were allowed to earn merit badges and ranks, including Eagle.) The October 1916 issue of Boy’s Life magazine explained that it was discontinued because of the great expense (application fee of $35) involved in earning it. It is so rare that no physical examples of the badge, which was probably made, actually exist. Even the BSA doesn’t have one in its National Museum.

89 Nick April 18, 2013 at 10:41 am

The success of a scouting program has always been at the level of parental involvement and local leaders. Scouting is what the local leaders and parents make it. Strong leadership and involvement leads to a strong program that is great for the boys. Weak leadership and weak involvement produces a weak program.

I grow weary of the “holier than thou” type comments that scouting is not what it used to be. No it isn’t. Neither is society. Our society has changed and evolved, and scouting has changed and evolved as well. It is neither good nor bad, it just is. Scouting still has the same ideals and philosophy. It may look a bit different, but that is ok. Underneath, it is still the same.

Boys will not remember the skills they learned to complete a merit badge 20 years from now. I know I don’t remember the skills I learned as a scout 20 years ago. What remains is character. What remains is the ability to go out, read, learn, and perform what is needed to complete a task.

So quit being old fuddy duds reminiscing about what scouts used to be and no longer is. It is still largely the same. It always has, and always will depend on the local leaders. The relationships that are built is what will last.

90 ryancathey April 18, 2013 at 3:41 pm

The idea of boys having to “thoroughly Review/Describe/Explain/Illustrate/Demonstrate the underlying principles and context of the badge’s subject matter before trying their hand at it.” is ridiculous and emasculating. Girls are usually more naturally comfortable with all of this talking about things and boys just need to do it. We’re doers, and I’m afraid our buys are being taught that we should all talk about things, weigh the outcomes, question whether it’s safe and then not do it if we psych ourselves out. Not everything needs to be dissected and analyzed. Sometimes you just need to jump in the water, hope for the best and learn by doing.

91 Tom April 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Nick,

Maybe you don’t remember the skills you learned as a Scout – but I certainly remember a lot of them, over 20 years later. I’m still a darn good shot. I can cook an egg on a twig. Personal finance skills are excellent. First aid is well remembered, One-match fires are no problem, et cetera.

Admittedly, my knots and lashing skills have suffered, I can still tie a one-handed “self rescue” style bolin pretty darn fast, but most of the rest are iffy. My hiking is probably slower these days, though I can still make wooden tent pegs with a hatchet once we make it to camp.

Hm, maybe I should show my wife the “egg on a twig” trick this weekend.

While changing topics and events is fine to change with the times, If Scouts has shifted so much toward the “read/see/document” instead of actually DOING, I think that it is certainly a loss.

92 HH April 18, 2013 at 6:07 pm

“Leave no trace” came to Scouting through elitist campers, who want to pretend they are the first to trod over a piece of virgin earth. Don’t know exactly when it came to Scouting, but the old ideal was better. Leave no trash behind- but if you find a good camping spot- inprove it. Build a fire ring to show others where a good spot to have the fire is. If you come a across a site with existing fire ring, improve it- build it up. If you cut or gather more wood then you need, leave it neatly stacked for the next people to come along, don’t be stupid and scatter it.

Leave no trace needs to go. Leave no trash needs to come back.

Except for that, I currently,as a Scoutmaster, have no problem with the modern program. We do cover basics- each meeting we go over a single point of the Scout law, and have each Scout contribute something to what it means.

93 Kevin April 18, 2013 at 6:42 pm

My uncle’s old scout book had a master’s of arms merit badge. Quarterstaff, single stick, boxing and wrestling, maybe fencing. I need to dig it out and check. Now all of those are banned and the only martial art allowed is tai chi.

Some of them are still pretty basic. Look at painting.

94 Publius April 18, 2013 at 6:50 pm

As a Scout in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I enjoyed just reading the pages and the merit badge requirements at the back. I also recall the firearms ads found in the back of the handbook — terrific! (I still have the book, along with the Scout Fieldbook, which is more detailed on bushcraft and another joy to read and re-read.)

Say, does the current Scout program even have a Marksmanship merit badge? It should, but I bet it’s been weenied and lawyered away.

95 Tom April 18, 2013 at 7:38 pm

For Cooking merit badge, the “stuff” modern scouts must cook may be “commensurate with the original” but today most scout troops use propane stoves, not wood fires like the scouts of old. Even if propane stoves had existed in 1910, using anything but a wood fire would have been unheard of. The object was to become proficient in woodcraft after all. And that included building and using a fire for cooking. At least as late as the 60s when I was a scout, we were still using wood fires. Admittedly, wood for cooking is scarce in many camping areas today. But while I was an Asst. Scoutmaster and Scoutmaster from about 1993 till 2007, our troop used nothing but charcoal, not propane stoves.

96 Tom April 18, 2013 at 7:39 pm

To Publius: Marksmanship merit badge is now Rifle Shooting. There is also a Shotgun Shooting badge.

97 Richard April 18, 2013 at 8:28 pm

I saw the original handbook once and it told you what to do if you found a body (not a animal, a human body). It also had a little cartoon panel of a boy helping a girl use a door knocker by grabbing the doorknob with his hand, walking up the jamb and manipulating the door knocker with his feet.
Needless to say, these are not recommended practices today.

98 TRO April 18, 2013 at 8:45 pm

As the proud father of three Scouts – two Life Scouts and one Eagle – I am not much worried about the differences between the old requirements and the new, mostly because it’s really up to the individual troop as to how strict or “old-school” they are with the Scouts. My son’s troop has all the new gear (new tents, propane cookers, etc.) but usually camp in canvas tents and build their own fires and do everything the old ways. They look at it as point of pride when they came with other troops.

99 Garret April 18, 2013 at 9:03 pm

When I was of scouting age (about 10 years ago) I was in Scouts for a few years, got up to 2nd Class and left for a number of reasons. I’d say the primary reason I left was myself – at the time I didn’t feel very interested in what they had to offer. I don’t blame this on anyone but myself; however after reading this article and some of the comments I suppose it is feasible that, had I been in the troop in 1911 instead of 2001, Scouting would have appealed to me much more. At the very least, I do remember working on the paperwork for badges that so many here are describing.

I regret it terribly that I never ended up truly learning so many of the skills that Scouts nominally has to offer. Is there any organization like scouts, but for adults instead of children, which teaches these skills? I want very much to learn wilderness survival, camping and fishing, and all the other skills and personal improvements that Scouts once had to offer – and I am currently trying to teach these things to myself. However, I would jump at the chance to join an organization which teaches these things. Does anyone here know if such a thing exists?

100 Austin April 18, 2013 at 9:10 pm

In 2010, I earned the Pathfinding Merit badge when they were offering some of the discontinued merit badges during the centennial year. Now, I have the scout book published before the 2009, and it is certainly different. But if you want to see some more of the scout skills, look for the Fieldbook. It has much more in it than the Handbook.

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