The Scouting Movement

October 3, 2010

A while ago, I had a rather vivid argument with a colleague over, of all things, the Boy Scouts.

I have no idea how it got going. I wondered in passing something about enrolling my son in the Scouts and she teed off.

She was quite vigorous in condemning the Boy Scouts as an institution and everybody involved in scouting. She almost spat when she said the word scouting.

Her argument ran along the following lines: Scouting is essentially an organized process designed with evil purpose to instill in young boys, ideas of militarism, sexism, xenophobia and pretty much all the wrongs that flow from white North American neo-colonial exceptionalism.

I reeled back from the barrage, muttering something about, "but you learn to tie these really interesting knots."

Out shopping this past week, I was reminded of the argument as I dropped a buck into the tag box of a young Air Cadet.

Fall is "Tag Day" season for cadets and scouts. The young boys and girls of the Air Cadets were out in front of liquor stores, supermarkets, churches and on street corners.

They smiled and looked their best in their spit-shined shoes and best dress uniforms.

Soon the Navy Cadets will be out and, later this month, the Boy Scouts selling their Macintosh apples.

There is a kind of snobbish ambivalence about such children's organizations as the Girls Guides, the Scouts and the Service Cadets.

They are, after all, so 1950s.

The world and its young people have moved so far and so fast that teenagers today would no more think of joining the Cadets or the Scouts than would take up quilting.

X-Boxes and I-Phones have replaced the camping, the weekly meetings, the pledges, the sports and yes, even the knots.

Yet there are more than 75,000 Canadian kids involved in the Scouting movement - which is what it is I guess.

My scouting career was something less than exemplary.

vI never progressed past Tenderfoot in the 114th Woodchucks Troop.

I was, however, Colour Bearer for the Troop on big events like 'Rosary Sunday' until I was summarily drummed out of the corps over a misunderstanding involving a mickey of rye.

I loved the overnight camping trips and the sports and the sense of adhering to a code of conduct and belonging to something outside and bigger than myself.

Those of us mired in the memory of the short pants and the funny hat, have some catching up to do with regard to youth organizations.

For instance, as I watched the young Air Cadets ineffably polite and smiling at potential donors, I was struck by the number of immigrants or children or grandchildren of immigrants were wearing the uniform.

These were kids of every colour and clearly every ethnic background. In fact, in some places, they outnumbered the white kids.

It was all nice top see, but niggling in the back of my mind is the uneasy feeling that comes with seeing young children in military uniforms no matter how innocuous their intent.

When I see young men and women and teens marching in a civic parade in army uniforms or nay dress, I can't help but wonder what values we are trying to instill in them.

We are, after all, a country at war. We regularly honour the fallen in private moments or public motorcades along the Highway of Heroes.

Are we teaching these boys and girls that the profession of arms is a noble and rewarding life, something to be part of? Or are we merely trying, as parents to teach them a sense of personal discipline and duty to others; the often mocked 'Scout's Promise'.

I haven't sorted it out yet.

In the meantime, I'll throw a buck or two in for one of their apples.

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