The Disastrous Scouting/USA and 8th Edition of the Handbook

This worthy entry is from the authoritative Troop 97 collection of handbooks used by B.S.A. Inc.

the 8th edition of the handbook spelled out the ultra cool, modern and absolutely not “square” Improved Scouting, branded as “Scouting/USA.”  It introduced American boys to abusable street drugs, race consciousness, the generic World Scouting “left handed handshake”, premarital sex, metal belt loops for “achievements” (revised Cub Scout program ringing a bell here?) red berets, and most importantly, in consideration for their blatant currying of “inner city youth”, did it at a sixth-grade reading level.

The Troop 97 webpage describes Improved Scouting,


Boy Scout Handbook introduced in 1972

The 1970s decade was a dark time for the Boy Scouts of America. The period from 1972-80 was a national disaster, when BSA membership declined nationwide by 34% (a loss of 2.2 million members)! Although many changes in our society had an adverse impact on all youth programs, much of the cause for the drastic BSA membership decline was due to the radically changed Scout program of the period.

In 1972, the BSA made sudden and radical changes to the Scouting program, abandoning much of the traditional outdoor program, and applying inner-city programming to ALL of Scouting (what to do if lost?—The new Scout handbook’s entire “Lost” section showed a boy talking to a policeman with the instructions, “Ask for directions to find the way”). New, “politically-correct” terminology defined the era (the BSA had no “boys” or “Boy Scouts” because “boy” was considered demeaning; no longer an outdoorsman, the Scoutmaster became a “manager of learning” who taught Scouts the 11 “leadership competencies;” he guided Scouts through “personal growth agreement conferences” as they advanced through the various “progress awards.”)

The BSA began modifying the short-lived “Improved Scouting Program” in 1975, and finally scrapped the program in 1978-79, after only six years of use. The program stands in sharp contrast to Scouting before 1972 or since 1978.

During the 1970s, the BSA finally updated its heavy-impact conservation practices to modern low-impact policies designed to protect our rapidly dwindling outdoor resources.

BSA membership peaked at 6.5 million in 1972, and reached bottom in 1980 with 4.3 million.

8th Edition—Scout Handbook (1972-1979)

This edition represents the most radical change in Handbook content the BSA ever made. It introduced more new concepts and deleted more traditional subjects than any other edition. The drastic program changes it presented were a disastrous failure for Scouting. From September 1, 1972, through the end of 1977, the “Improved Scouting Program” de-emphasized camping by making outdoor skills optional in the lower three ranks and by eliminating outdoor merit badges from the required list for the higher three ranks (the Eagle list dropped Camping, Cooking, Nature, Swimming, Lifesaving). The new program also extended inner-city programming to ALL of Scouting. (The Handbook’s entire section on “Lost” shows a drawing of a boy talking to a policeman, with the text: “Ask for directions to find the way.”). The Scouting program represented by this Handbook stands in sharp contrast to Scouting before 1972 or since 1978.

The 8th Edition leaves out a lot of other traditional Handbook information: how to wear a neckerchief, when to wear the uniform, lashings, stars, fire without matches, tracking/trailing, silent signals, semaphore and Morse signaling, edible wild plants, finding directions without a compass.

8th Edition had two covers:

  • First three printings (upper pair of pictures)—two-tone green cover (the Scoutmaster Handbook, Patrol and Troop Leadership book, Leadership Corps book, Troop Committee Guidebook, and other manuals of this era all had the same boring two-tone green cover). The Scout Handbook has a color sketch in the upper right corner of four Scouts in blue neckerchiefs and red berets looking through a telescope at the moon. This was the first and only Scout Handbook not to have a complete cover picture. Artist unknown. The back cover has a brief paragraph about the handbook.
  • Last two printings (lower pair of pictures)—1976 Joseph Csatari painting “All Out for Scouting,”, featuring Scouts walking across the white cover dressed and equipped for Scout-like activities (backpacking, burro-packing, skin diving, archery, canoeing, fishing, cooking, rappelling, map & compass). This picture also appears inside the 9th Edition and on the 12th Edition back cover. The back cover continues the picture.

8th Edition, First Variant, back cover 8th Edition Cover, First Variant
8th Edition, Second Variant, back cover 8th Edition Cover, Second Variant

Until 1972, Scouts working on the first three ranks had to complete a long list of basic skills to earn each rank. The 8th Edition groups the skills into 12 “skill awards” (Camping, Citizenship, Communications, Community Living, Conservation, Cooking, Environment, Family Living, First Aid, Hiking, Physical Fitness, Swimming), each represented by a metal loop to be worn on the belt. These provided “instant recognition” as Scouts worked toward ranks. The BSA discontinued skill awards and returned to the previous system at the end of 1989.

The 8th Edition is the first Scout Handbook to discuss ethnic groups. Non-white Scouts are obviously in evidence throughout the book, not just a few background characters as in the 7th Edition. The discussion of abusable drugs is extensive; earlier editions barely mention them. The Handbook adds sections on general communication (in lieu of signaling), family living, and community living. It contains all the merit badge requirements for the first time in 14 years.

The book finally adds modern conservation emphases long overdue. It de-emphasizes pioneering and advocates modern knife and axe practices; this is the first Handbook not to include information on the destructive and unnecessary practice of tent ditching. This Handbook also adopts the international Scout handclasp as recommended by Baden-Powell (standard handshake with the left hand). Previously, the BSA had used a left handshake with three fingers extended.

This edition contains new wording for the explanatory part of the Scout Law, the first such change since the Law was written more than 60 years before (BSA has continued to slightly alter the explanatory wording with almost every new edition since). The BSA said that this was done to bring the reading level of the material down to the Sixth Grade level (although the wording for Loyal only confuses this point with Trustworthy in a boy’s mind: “A Scout is true to his friends,…”)

Some 8th Edition printings are printed on cheap recycled paper, which gives those books a drab look in spite of the color artwork. This was the first Handbook bound with a “perfect” binding (like a pad of paper). It is too bad that economics have dictated the change to the “perfect” binding. I still have my first Handbook (a somewhat dog-eared 5th Edition, but the covers and all the pages are there). Few of today’s Scouts will be able to carry their first Handbook into adulthood without missing pages, covers, and even entire sections.

8th Edition Summary and Printing History

  • title from title page—Scout Handbook
  • by Frederick L. Hines
  • first cover is cartoon sketch
  • second cover art by Joseph Csatari
  • 1972-1979 (7 years)
  • 3,700,000 copies printed (average 528,571 copies printed per year)
  • size 133x203x25 mm (5-1/4x8x1″)
  • 5 printings:
    1st printing (Jun 1972, 1 500 000 copies)—480 numbered pages, two-tone cover with cartoon drawing of Scouts looking through telescope
    2nd printing (Feb 1973, 750 000 copies)—480 numbered pages
    3rd printing (Jan 1975, 500 000 copies)—480 numbered pages, contains ads
    4th printing (Jul 1976, 600 000 copies)—480 numbered pages, cover art changed to white background with Csatari painting “All Out for Scouting”, contains ads
    5th printing (Dec 1977, 350 000 copies)—480 numbered pages

Actual 8th Edition Table of Contents

    First Aid
    Family Living
    Community Living
    Physical Fitness

Author: Renegade Scouter

Boy Scouting is for boys -- Help Renegade Patrol save BSA from itself. Do it for your sons. Do it for your daughters. America needs you. Answer the call to duty.

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