Dan Coutu
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The Challenges of Diversity within the Boy Scouts

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Posted: over 8 years ago | Views (9460) | Comments (1)

As a Unit Commissioner I often encounter situations where leaders or committee members try to reinforce the principles of scouting but do so in a way that goes too far. As adults and leaders it is important for all of us to keep in mind that we are dealing with children, not fully mature adults, and that they are not all capable of the full range of reasoning that we can manage.

Yes, we certainly are in the business of teaching boys how to become young men but that doesn't mean that we should fail to think about the big picture. I have had the opportunity to work with many youth over the years. Some were super bright and energetic, some wanted badly to make progress but found themselved held up by their own limitations (or in some cases their parent's limitations.) I have always found it important to first focus on "is this helping this boy?" when trying to make good decisions. Let me outline some of the scenarios that I have seen over the years so that you can better understand my points.

One boy is dyslexic and the normal process of using the scout handbook for understanding what he needs to do in order to earn rank becomes a very frustrating challenge for him. Some of the adult leaders, not aware of his situation, urge him to try harder and put more effort into it. One tells him that if he wants to earn rank he can't be lazy, he has to study the handbook. The boy gets discouraged and fails to make progress in ranks. Then we discovered that reading is very difficult for him and find some of the other scouts that are willing to work with him. They read items from the handbook and partner to accomplish advancement tasks. The boy's outlook improves, he smiles more and becomes more social and less withdrawn and goes on to become an eagle scout.

Another has a neurological disorder. At summer camp he frequently separates from others and walks in circles out on the grass a short ways from the campsite, talking to himself and waving his arms. Some boys get to talking about how weird that is. Some adults feel that because the boys are supposed to be together he should not be allowed to "wander off" like that. A leader steps up and points out that the boy has a nervous system condition that causes that behavior and asks for the support of the other campers. That level of acceptance from the campers and members of his troop then carries forward over the years. Does he earn Eagle? Not only does he earn Eagle, but then proceeds to earn every merit badge possible!

A boy from an impoverished family can't afford a uniform. Other troop members look around and someone finds a shirt that is no longer being used and gives it to him. Others provide the patches to be sewn onto the uniform such as the council strip and troop numerals. A few months go by and still no patches have been sewn on. A bit of questioning reveals that the patches can't be found and the boy doesn't know how to sew. Mom is a single mother with other younger children to also care for and is worn out trying to care for her family. There's a desire to help him learn how to be responsible for the loss of the patches while at the same time not allowing him to get caught in a negative spiral of poor self-esteem that he has so far grown up with. The solution was to approach his mother about the missing patches and ask her opinion on handling it, then provide him with the missing patches and at a troop meeting set aside some time to teach him how to sew by having him sew on his new patches. He was empowered and then was able to continue to progress in ranks.

In all of the above cases there were times where a focus on one or a few aspects of the scouting program could have overwhelmed other aspects and led to the boy giving up and leaving scouting. For the most part it is the responsibility of us as adults (whether official leaders or not) to recognize how to balance things and to look deeper than the obvious so that the boys under our wing can thrive and succeed in the ways that they so much deserve!

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Sometimes all it takes is one moment to understand another's challenges and another to do something to help overcome them.  In these two moments, you can change a person's life for the better.  This is true for Boy Scouts.  But it is also true for all people of all ages with all sorts of problems.  I think it comes under the heading of treating others as you would have them treat you. How easy it is to forget this and take the easier, and unproductive path, of being judgemental, critical or even cruel.

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