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Citizenship in Community MB and Free Speech

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A uniformed scout attends a town meeting to fulfill a requirement for Citizenship in Community. The discussion turns to whether the town should spend money on a new jail or education. The council favors the jail.


The scout comes forward and asks to speak.


"If it takes a 12-year-old kid to come up here and tell you we don't need a new jail and we need better education, then that's pretty sad. Here I am, an A, B student in my school, and I have to come up to," he said, pausing to count aloud, "nine people just to say we don't need this new jail. Bye."


And then the Scout Executive got involved




I am very puzzled by the SE's statement

"It's never the BSA's policy for a scout to show up in uniform and take a stance at a meeting, Williams said. He said it's a direct violation to use the uniform to try to wield influence, he said."


I have had quite a few uniformed scouts appear before many town boards to present their Eagle projects. Their presentations were more respectful than this young 12 year old scout but the passion and persuasion were similar. Some of those board members can be hard to win over.


Good learning experience for young Jacob, something he would not get at summer camp.


My $0.02

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I'd say the SE was being too strict and applying the rule too much.

Ity didn't sound like the scout ( based on your post) made any reference to the uniform or scouting.


But at the same time, BSA will readily tell you how many presidents and/or politicians who were scouts and who were Eagles.



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What the SM would have said: "Here I am am a volunteer for the finest young men in our town, and I have to come up to nine people just to tell them the boy's opinion was his own and not that of the the BSA."

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What an idiot. The SE, not the Scout. The boy just got a lesson, all right - he learned that adults can be supreme imbeciles and hypocrites.


I'm sure the SE would have no problem wearing his uniform lobbying state legislators for a grant or local officials for a zoning change for his new council HQ.

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Wait, how is the SE being an imbecile? A Scout addresses an elected body in what certainly seems to be a disrespectful tone. The SE apologized on their behalf, and clarified that they were not representing the BSA when they spoke.


I'm not seeing a problem here...

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The article seems to give the impression that the Scouts were pretty much out of line in their behavior. The council received complaints.


The part that makes the SE sound like he was too aggressive in his statement is "it's a direct violation to use the uniform to try to wield influence". It doesn't seem like you want to come right out and throw the Scouts under the bus. The rest of the SE's comments sound pretty reasonable, and this quote is only paraphrased, so I'm going to give the SE the benefit of the doubt here.


At first I thought it was odd to think that the Scouts would actually be trying to "use the uniform to try to wield influence", but the article specifically says "some people at the hearing thought they were trying to use their uniforms as leverage."


I think I'll go with the SE here. Teenagers...sigh...

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I always like to read the comments at the bottom of articles like this. Interesting insight. A couple of the local folks who were at the meeting posted that they didn't feel the young man was out of line.


So we send the kid in there to learn something about the democratic process, he actually learn something and decides to participate in the process. For this the SE feels the need to apologize? Did any of the commissioners REALLY think the boy was speaking as on behalf of the Boy Scouts? Come on. At best this is political correctness run amok. At worst it's the SE sucking up to the local politicians.


The SE was dead wrong. His job is to help boys become involved citizens, not sit in judgement when they do.

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As I'm reading this while we're working on Citizenship in the Community makes me realize how scouts read the requirement. It seems like thought on the Scouters and MB Counselors to make sure to discuss respectful approach in stating one's opinion is important along with stating why they are at a particular meeting. When one does the Eagle project, the youth Leader usually states why they are there. This practice should hold true in other types of meetings.


There is an underlying lesson here in what that uniform means and how we should act and how we should express our opinions. We have Communications and Public Speaking along with our Citizenship packets to teach and educate our youth leaders on proper, respectful behavior and expression. I found a library book on telephone etiquette that I thought should be something to use in a Troop meeting as we want our youth leaders to make phone calls themselves properly with none of this 'slang' talk so they are taken seriously in trying to reserve or set up an event.

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I read nothing that seemed disrespectful to me. I've been to hundreds of public meetings in my former career as a journalist, and the quote from the young man was nothing compared to the disrespect routinely shown by adults.


Who in the world would think a teenage boy would be delivering an official statement on behalf of the organization, anyway?

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Disagreement is not necessarily disrespect. The fact that the scout was in uniform does not automatically take away his First Amendment rights. So he said what he thought was the right thing to say. And I support that.


I had a student a few years back, who attended an open meeting with a large number of faculty and administrators. The student said things that he/she thought needed to be said and it was taken as offensive by a few of the audience. So I immediately stood and announced that this person was MY student and I supported his/her right to speak his/her mind.


That's what we leaders should do for boys who show this kind of pluck. Make them understand that it's good to speak up if you have something to say. If it stimulates further discussion, so much the better.


As far as the SE goes, pay no attention to the small man behind that curtain....

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1) The boy did not have to wear his uniform to the meeting. Once upon a time, Scouts were expected (and were proud to ) to wear the uniform to "important" events. Even to school (shudder). I love the story of the Cub Scout who was told he was going to attend his cousin's wedding and he should put on his best clothes. He puts on his Cub Scout Uniform.

The fact that he had on his Scout uniform has no bearing on this episode. If reported faithfully, he did not present himself as someone "officially" representing the BSA or his Troop. The fact that he asked to speak and the council welcomed his comments is one of the keys here.

2) As a citizen ( so I presume) of the town, I would think it is the boy's duty and right to make his opinion known to the folks that represent and decide on his behalf. I hope the council realizes that. If they viewed his comment as merely an annoyance, then we have more than one adult problem.

I wish I could more often do as the boy did on some of todays issues. Publicly declaring a "stand" is often not the choice people make. Grousing to your friends in the coffee shop is usually first. Maybe a letter to the editor (now email?). "Why doesn't somebody do something?" Well, this boy chose to take his opportunity and do something.

3) How is this Scout being disrespectful? He is in his best clothes, speaking his mind. He did not curse, he did not single out any one councilman, he did speak directly to the issue and even give some of his background and reference for his remarks.

He could've shown up in shiny shorts and a hoody. I would think , for a 12 year old, he did quite well.

4) Was a time when council meetings were the best entertainment in town. Folks made sure not to miss them. Now, it is a chore to attend them. Can't miss "Dancing with the Stars". This young Scout has a future in public works or (shudder) politics or any of many doin'-for-others activities.

5) The debate between incarcerate rather than educate is not new. But it is a hard choice, and needs more debate. For a 12 year old , however dressed , to see the necessity of improving the chances of training and educating, thereby making incarceration LESS necessary, is a good thing and should be encouraged.

6) Scouter Williams overreacted to a non-event. In his desire to make sure everybody loves Scouting (his Scouting? not the boy's?), he has made it impossible for the boy to see the benefit of his Scouting. William's Scouting has no courage, has no passion. It is that of the beauracrat and not of the boy.

The encouragement of being "involved" is the message here. How to do this? By apologizing for wearing a uniform?

7) If an adult teacher or corrections officer had stood and spoke, whether in or out of "uniform", it is the message that needs hearing, not the dress of the speaker. Of course, it helps if the speaker is so dressed so as not to detract from the message being presented. I fail to see how the dres of this young man detracted from his message, that education is preferable to incarceration.

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While I did like some of the cheekiness of the lad's tone and am aware of the slippery slope that is wearing the uniform and BSA policy it was an EXCELLENT example of Citizenship in the Community. It was exactly what it was all about.


How many times I have seen some scout checking in at a City Council meeting, sitting there like a log at a Disney show, and expected to get checked off for the MB. Seems like CiC MB becoming just another perfunctory step in the rush to Eagle.


Now I would challenge him to back up his opinion with facts and preface his remarks with "as an individual not a member of BSA" or something like that.


You know the purpose of the MB is to (1)create a good citizen and (2) get a boy turned on to something he might not otherwise be exposed to. He participated and was passionate. So job well done.





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Well, as I bet this Scout is learning, there's more to the democratic process than just "speaking your mind." So while I too applaud the Scout for wanting to participate in the democratic process in his community, there's still appropriate and inappropriate ways to do that. Scouting is, of course, supposed to teach appropriate ways to participate in government.


Part of it is being informed and knowledgeable about the issues at hand prior to sharing opinions.


Another part is being Friendly, Courteous and Kind, which it certainly sounds like these Scouts were not. The fact the other adults have on occasion shown worse behavior does not excuse these Scouts' behavior. Honestly, is that the standard we want to use to replace the Scout Law?: "A Scout is... not any worse than some adults"? Just because a Scout is addressing politicians is not a license to act disrespectfully. Scouting, and Scouts, are better than that.


Perhaps the SE could have worded his comments on the uniform a bit better - but other than that, his response seems entirely reasonable: apologizing for the un-Scoutlike behavior of these Scouts, and thanking the committee for continuing to allow Scouts to attend these meetings and participate in local government. And for an opportunity for Scouts to learn from their mistakes along the way.


And I'm also not sure what the Freedom of Speech has to do with anything. The government was not limiting these Scouts' First Amendment rights.

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So it seems to me that:


1. This isn't about the scout being in uniform. The SE was off-base on that. As I have always understood it, the prohibition is to use the uniform to try to advance a particular view, or to suggest BSA support for a particular view. For example, a political candidate using uniformed scouts in their publicity photo ops to suggest that the BSA backs that candidate. I have never understood it to mean that a scout who happens to be in uniform may not speak his mind when in the midst of a discussion about an important civic issue.


2. The boy was getting, and probably is continuing to get, a good idea of what entering public debate can be like. That's a useful lesson and part of citizenship.


3. The content of his comments aside, there might be reasonable issues with tone to be discussed here. Suggesting that all of the adults in the room are idiots and then ending with "bye." and sailing out of the room, is not a great way to enter into a serious discussion. Even if all of the adults in the room really are idiots. This goes double when it is your first foray into the conversation (how do you want people to know you - as a serious, thoughtful, engaged person, or as someone who throws bombs and then runs?), and especially if you appear not to at least acknowledge the difficult choices involved in the issue.


I used to work for a city council and I know that the citizens who were rude, extremely dismissive, hyperbolic, prone to casting character aspersions, etc., tended to be ineffective speakers for their causes. Yes, they got public notice, but few people (including the elected officers) took their views seriously. Good drama, bad politics.


These are all things that I wouldn't expect a typical 12 year old to fully grasp, but I bet he's learning them, now.


3. As an outcome - I hope this boy will use the experience to become more involved. Let him see how this works out and learn a few lessons about presentation and how one gets others' serious attention. Let him start to develop a more nuanced understanding of the issues and choices so he can flesh out his views based on more evidence than emotion. Encourage him to work on somebody's election campaign for the next city council race, so he gets more exposure to the system.

Combine that with his strong sense of right/wrong, and he'll be a real force to be reckoned with, and perhaps on his way to a solid political career.

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