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swilliams

Informal Observations on LDS Scouts

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Background... I was raised in a long-standing Mormon household.  As in, I have a great grandfather's journal about living in Illinois during the Mormon persecution, another grandfather who was part of the Mormon Battalion, and other ancestors who travelled with the handcarts from NY to UT. 

I was talking to my mom recently.  My parents live in a very tiny town smack in the middle of Utah, with a population that's 99.5% Mormon.   (My guesstimate.  Point is, very little religious diversity.)  Mom is on the city council.  She said they're looking into who could be a CO for a BSA troop because there are more than a few scouts who won't be able to make Eagle in time to beat the LDS withdrawal, and others who are going to be 'new' scouts who had brothers or cousins who earned Eagle and want the same thing.

When the church first announced it was going to start its own program, I had thought this would be the case, but I just wasn't hearing anything from any of my relatives.  Or anyone else for that matter.  I decided I had it completely wrong, and LDS youth were going away for good.  Now that things are wrapping up for the LDS scouts, I'm seeing what I thought I would be seeing last year.  Families who value scouting and still want their sons involved. 

Of course, it still remains to be seen what percentage of LDS families end up sticking with scouting, but if that tiny, very Mormon, population in Utah is an indication of what other towns are thinking, my theory (guess, wild estimate?) would be that we'll see 1/4 to 1/3 of the LDS scouts return and/or join up.

 

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As an LDS commissioner, I think 1/4 is being optimistic. Honestly, I'll be floored if as many as one in ten LDS Scouts throughout the country stay in Scouting. Details about the church's new program are finally rolling in and it seems most boys won't look back as they develop and begin the new activities. Here in Southern Orange County, CA, there is only one LDS-focused unit being formed that will likely cover every town from San Clemente to Newport Beach and all the way north throughout Irvine - it's a huge area with LOTS of LDS youth, yet only about 30 families are showing any real interest in pursuing Scouting so far. I think with the new youth program beginning in earnest next year, the number of kids from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still involved in Scouting will dwindle more than some like to think. We have a new program now, and while Scouting was wonderful for the 100+ years we were together, it's the dawn of a new era for LDS kids and we have an entirely new, equally involving initiative that's going to consume as much attention and focus and dedication as Scouting ever did. Scouting needs to brace itself for a more total departure than they realize.

Edited by The Latin Scot

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Here in Indiana, I would tend to agree with Latin Scot about the numbers. One out of ten would be very optimistic. I don't see the youth in my area expressing any interest in continuing. Perhaps things are different in Utah and elsewhere.

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Rough numbers.  We have about 25,000,000 boys in scouting age in USA and about 2,000,000 members today... so about 8%. If 10% of LDS remain that would roughly be consistent with other groups.   

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 I was seriously surprised that a troop is trying to be formed in my parents’ town.  My initial thought was much more aligned with what others have posted above.  With what my mom was saying, I got the impression that even with a robust church program, there were still enough families that want their kid to potentially earn Eagle, that it was worth the effort.

(Of course, that brings up the issue of earning rank v. experiencing scouting, but that’s another topic, to some degree.)

 

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I've noticed that earning the rank of Eagle doesn't have the same prestige it once did. Nowadays there are so many leaders who didn't earn Eagle that there's almost a greater effort to downplay the achievement in an effort to ameliorate the feelings of all the boys who fail to accomplish it. Which is a travesty in my eyes; when you lessen the value of something good in a vain effort to protect the feelings of those who won't work hard enough to obtain it, you only create a standard of mediocrity that does harm to ALL the youth by taking away the higher goals they could be striving towards. But in my area, there are far too many leaders who couldn't care less about earning Eagle and have passed that apathy on to the next generation, LDS or not. As committed Scouters, it's all we can do to counteract that attitude amongst the boys we serve.

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I was talking to some LDS scouters in my district about what they have for youth compared to scouts and they said, other than merit badges, it's very similar. It's outdoors and youth led. I haven't looked at it though. If the only difference is Eagle then, sorry to say it, but that's no reason to stick around.

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Fine, call me a downplayer. Even my hand-held won't play music at full volume anymore ...

2 hours ago, The Latin Scot said:

... ameliorate the feelings of all the boys who fail to accomplish it. Which is a travesty in my eyes; ...

I'm not ameliorating anybody. I just don't consider earning a rank besides Eagle to be a failure. There are 1st class scouts (concept not patch) who chose to do other things besides earning Eagle. Some contented themselves with an earlier rank.

Those who chose to do so are a unique breed indeed. But those who do not are far from failures. They are what make it fun for the rest of us.

And maybe that's why I cringe a little at the thought of a troop forming just so LDS scouts can get their bird. Maybe if the Eagle-bound are also encouraged to do their advancement in a way that bolsters their church's youth program, it will balance out. But earning that award while enhancing the scouting experience for those not interested in it is part of the glitter of the reward.

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3 hours ago, The Latin Scot said:

I've noticed that earning the rank of Eagle doesn't have the same prestige it once did. Nowadays there are so many leaders who didn't earn Eagle that there's almost a greater effort to downplay the achievement in an effort to ameliorate the feelings of all the boys who fail to accomplish it.

Respectfully disagree. IMHO National, in their quest to have more Eagles have lowered the standards, which in turn has lowered the Eagle Scout Prestige. I remember reading in many copies of the BSHB that to advance you must "Master the skills" Even when that was taken out of the handbook in the 1990s, the Guide to Advancement stated that " The Badge represents what a Scout CAN DO, not what he has done (sic)."  to 2019's "The badge signifies that a young person—through participation in a series of educational activities—has provided service to others, practiced personal responsibility, and set the examples critical to the development of leadership; all the while working to live by the Scout Oath and Scout Law." 

Further evidence of National lowering standards is their willingness to overrule district EBORs and council appeal decisions. Sadly I saw the results of that; an "Eagle" who couldn't have a conversation about anything in his Scouting career. Yes the District realized that the unit, specifically grandfather SM, ASM dad, and CC mom, pencilwhipped his advancement, denied the Eagle, and came up with a plan for him to earn it legitimately. Appeal to council got the same results. National overruled the district and council, stating "you do not penalize the youth for the mistakes of the adults." back in my day it was 'my advancement, my responsibility." This has led to a "just give it to them" mentality. 

And I just read that Time extensions for Eagle are now allowed if National approves them.

Then their is the rise of summer camp as a merit badge factory and MBUs. How many Scouts have gotten MBs they didn't truly earn? I know my oldest got one at a MBU that I as a father made him do the missing requirements so that he could say he truly earned it? Heck we had one Scout this summer "earn" Swimming MB. The SM decided not to submit it on an advancement report, or award him the MB, since there is no way he could  have earned it: he is classified as a Beginner.

 

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Regarding retention ...

In our LDS troop of 30 Scouts, I know of only 2 boys who plan to continue on with a different troop. So I agree with the opinion that less than 10 percent will stick with Scouting beyond 2019.

 

Regarding lower standards ...

We all see the BSA program evolving with the goal of accommodation, but should we blame individual Scouts for that?

When one of our Scouts was recently visiting a prospective new troop, the legitimacy of his rank advancements and merit badges was questioned (he inferred because of his LDS affiliation). Even I admit that this boy is hyper-focused on rapid advancement (a self-driven motivation - not push from parents or adult leaders). But when he attends two summer camps and every merit badge class that pops up on the council calendar, I can't fault him for his drive and determination. Another example: In addition to attending our own troop campouts, he attends campouts of neighboring troops (on his own initiative) to accumulate camping nights more quickly. Some call that cutting corners, but he is simply responding to the program as defined by BSA National, and opportunities served up to him by our local district/council (which is not dominated by LDS troops, FWIW).

Seizing opportunities that others pass by is a character trait that will take him far in Scouting, education, career, and life.

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