When I was a scout in the 1980s, I was a member of a troop that was not diverse, not because of anything that the Scouts had done, but because I grew up in an area where African American families were redlined out of their ability to live for an extended period of time. I didn't know that as a young scout, though as I got somewhat older and learned some of the complicated history of race and politics in the area I came to understand that the way things were when I was a kid depended on things that had been done many years before. It wasn't a value judgement about my troop or its actions, it wasn't a judgement about me, but the fact that it wasn't my fault didn't make it any less the reality and didn't make it any less unfair. I heard stories about issues of racism in Scouting, and I certainly witnessed events that made clear to me that the legacy of what had been done intentionally before -- and the reality of things that were still happening then -- meant that there were still forces and realities that affected some members of society in ways that I was not affected as a white learning-to-be-a-man.
As a result, I can say I was proud when I received that email from BSA a few days ago, and -- though some have said that creating a new merit badge isn't substantial -- I thought that was actually a valuable step BSA could take in accordance with what Scouting is supposed to do, educate youth into valuable members of society. The requirements that are put in place are a statement by the organization of what is important. Swimming requirements have been in place for a long time. Sustainability became a merit badge when that was viewed as important. And now something focused on diversity and inclusion is being added as important. The goal of the program is to teach, and -- if the new badge is designed well, which given the references to American Cultures and American Heritage, I expect it to be -- I believe that it could make a real contribution to the youth that earn it understanding the complicated history of race in this country, since ignorance of that complexity is not a help in finding a path forward. I know that some of the merit badges I took as a scout had a lasting impact on my thinking, and I have watched my daughter grow through some of the citizenship and other merit badges she has been working on as well.
In other places this has been characterized as a knee jerk reaction, but I am not sure that I see that. Having returned to scouting not too long ago since BSA opened to my daughter and because I agreed with the organization's changes to become more tolerant with respect to sexual orientation, I was planning on going to the Wood Badge session before coronavirus disrupted it -- since I felt that it was important that I learned what the organization thought I needed to know to do a good job. One of my mentors related to our current troop, a very long tenured Scouter, gave me a heads up that an element of diversity and inclusion had been part of the Wood Badge curriculum for some time now, and that I should think about how that would be part of my ticket -- though since I was working with a female troop, my ticket might be viewed as having that already as a part of it. So I don't see this as knee jerk, even if it is responding to events that are happening in real time.
I also would push back on the characterizations of the content of that statement being anti-police and so somehow BSA not being "pro-police," and -- furthermore -- push back on setting up discussion as a conflict between people protesting for their rights and law enforcement. The history of policing in this country is also complicated, with extreme good and extreme ill. Use of force does fall more heavily on some than others, and the outcomes of interactions between law enforcement and individuals can differ based on more than just their behavior when that interaction happens. And the legacy of what law enforcement has been used for in our country's history, like the past events that led my troop to be all white, still have effects that persist to the present day. And before you tell me I don't understand police, I do. I work with police officers as part of my job. In watching through even the imperfect window that posted cell phone video has given into what has happened in the recent protests, I have seen much to be amazingly proud of in the officers who have successfully both protected public order and protected citizens' exercise of their Constitutional rights. That doesn't surprise me given some of the men and women I know who are officers and since the oath most of those officers took was to uphold the Constitution, so they have a responsibility to do both. But I have also seen behavior by officers that I cannot defend, even as someone who has much more knowledge about police tactics, equipment, and procedures than the average person and is less likely to jump to conclusions based on always incomplete evidence.
I also am surprised to have seen in these postings over the last few days a thread of argument that it should be ok for things to be different in troops across the country, and that top down intervention to impose something like this new merit badge is somehow inappropriate. That has surprised me because, in so many other discussions, the argument seems to always be that there should be uniformity and fundamental standards, with statements like "the program is the program," "units that aren't doing the Patrol Method properly are doing it wrong," and "things must be done with the spirit of Scouting in mind." Some of that push back was in response to some posts of mine where I was asking questions that were interpreted as pushing boundaries beyond what scouting should be. But now, when this is the issue, local variation is now presented as the ideal rather than undermining the program. That troubles me and that, as much as anything, was why I came back to post -- since some of the push back I'd gotten before had led me to the conclusion that perhaps I wasn't as welcome at this campfire as I thought it was and should limit myself to lurking in search of tidbits of information that National hadn't yet gotten around to disseminating broadly to volunteers.
When I came back to Scouting, I had been impressed by how things were changing. When my daughter said she wanted to join Scouts BSA -- since she'd been more interested in the stories I told about when I was a scout than what she'd heard about what our local girl scout troops were doing -- I actually sat down to have a sober talk with her about what she might be getting into. I prepared her for, frankly, discrimination because of how people might react to the change of co-ed Scouting based on what I remembered from my time as a scout years ago. Interesting that in an organization supposedly fully centered in the Scout Oath and Law, that was my concern going in. But she wasn't worried, and - at least so far - it turns out she was right. Even at a camporee far afield from our largely suburban area, the few small female troops who were there didn't get any more flak than the boy troops did, and when some came their way they -- and the scouts from their "brother troop" -- stood side by side and, in both a friendly and courteous way, explained to the source that they weren't living up to the Scout Oath and Law. And subsequently, when she started working on Scouting Heritage merit badge and was interviewing some of the people who were involved in the forming of their troop, I got more insight into why: when it was being discussed, there was actually some opposition among some adults to the idea of starting a female troop, so the committee decided to ask some members of the existing boy troop what they thought about the idea. And they advocated for doing it because they thought it was important. So, in this case, the "progressiveness" that I have heard criticized elsewhere on this board, with the implication it was coming from adults like me, was scout led. Which I have also heard here is how it should be done.
Do I think a new merit badge will solve the complexities of race in America? No, but it is a step to provide an opportunity for some of the next generation to at least be exposed to some of the complicated history about it and think it through for themselves. My daughter learned more from one of the citizenship merit badge requirements that required her to rewrite a passage from one of our Founding documents in her own words than a week of some of her classes in school. In the scouts I have had the privilege to help support over the last few months, I have seen extremely intelligent and impressive individuals. I doubt that all will reach the same conclusions as they do the requirements of such a merit badge as I might, and I doubt that -- whatever the political persuasion of the author of the pamphlet -- the conclusions they will reach can be predetermined. But, it can expose them to some history that they might not encounter elsewhere, and then they will decide what they think for themselves. And, just as I think regarding the requirements of many other merit badges, we will all be better for that.