I stumbled on this today looking for material to train our Webelos scouts for their Arrow of Light award. The present handbooks are simply awful — the Soviets wrote more inspiring manufacturing reports, translated into English than the soul-killing, mind-numbing awful that is the Boy Scout Handbook series today.
The Art of Manliness blog — one of our favorites! — took a close look at the Centennial edition of the BSA Handbook and compared it to the classic original. This portion was largely inspired by a 2013 Clairmont Institute essay by Kathleen Arnn.
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.”
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’s original essay — well worth the five minutes it takes to read completely — may be found here. Perhaps we shall post on it later.
AOM’s contribution was to compare merit badges from 1910 to merit badges of 2010. As there are a number of badges that survived the century, this was a straight forward task. The results are a side by side set of graphics with the requirements of each.
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.
All old time Scouts see this. The result is that Scouting is perhaps more boring even than school, so the handbooks become expensive bricks, heeded mainly in the breech.
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.
Perhaps the most compelling contrast is found in the Inventions merit badge:
Yes, you read that correctly. Our boys were expected to invent something and patent it.
Arnn captured the cucking self-abnegation of BSA honchos since the Improved Scouting Program nearly destroyed it in the 1970s. Here is an extended quote:
Today, there is a different approach to leadership: “success begins with a vision—picturing yourself where you want to be.” And because anyone can have a vision, anyone can be a leader. “You are a collection of wonderful talents, ideas, and experiences,” the new handbook’s Leadership chapter begins. “What do you want your future to look like tomorrow?”
The old handbook spoke proudly of the chivalric tradition; the new apologizes for the antiquated example of the knights. It sandwiches a few cursory paragraphs on moral virtue between a lengthy discussion of drugs and alcohol and a section on sexual responsibility. Moral choices are reduced to healthy choices. Doing the courageous thing becomes equivalent to refusing a cigarette at a party.
Instead of an exciting chapter on Patriotism and Citizenship, the handbook now offers a perfunctory discussion, re-titled just “Citizenship.” In the new handbook Scouts are citizens of their country, but also of the world. There are the same detailed instructions for folding and flying the flag, but the accompanying history lesson has been shortened and stripped of its vividness. There are, by my count, four heroes in the book. They are the founders of Scouting: British founder Robert Baden Powell, the naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton, outdoorsman Daniel Carter Beard, and James E. West, who led the BSA through its first 30 years. Each gets a sentence and a picture. American heroes, so numerous and colorful in the original handbook, are almost absent. Washington and Lincoln are each mentioned one time. Here is their sentence: “We remember the sacrifices and achievements of Americans with federal holidays, including observances of the birthdays of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
BSA was and remains a hollow shell of its formerly unquestioned status as the premiere training ground for our sons. Pandering to POCs became its own priority, even to the neglect and insult their core audience. Membership is in free fall because BSA doesn’t want white boys. They don’t want patriots or Christian believers. They want your money and are willing to extract it from you by the extortion of your sons.
What would the knights of old do?