There's Boy Scouts, the 103-year-old big baddy of all scouting programs. Sure, membership has been declining over the years. Yes, the BSA's attempt at Solomonically splitting the baby in half by banning gay adult leaders while welcoming gay youth befuddles people on both wings of the debate. Still, even with the decline and discord, the BSA still 2.6 million scouts strong.
The upstart Trail Life USA held their convention this weekend and announced they are launching an alternative to the BSA in 2014. Reporters were not permitted at the convention, however their statement outlined their distinctiveness from BSA:
"Trail Life USA will be inclusive of boys, regardless of religion, race, national origin or socioeconomic status, and accept boys who are experiencing same-sex attractions or gender confusion.However, it will not admit youth who are open or avowed about their homosexuality, and it will not admit boys who are not 'biologically male' or boys who wish to dress and act like girls."
Meanwhile, Navigators (not to be confused with the Colorado Springs adult discipleship group), is a secular and coed scouting group.
They report exponential growth in recent years, especially after the March BSA vote over whether to include homosexuals.
This NBCNEWS.com story catalogs a plethora of spin off scouting programs. The American Heritage Girls sprouted up when the Girl Scouts removed their oath to God. Wiccans have Spiral Scouts to reinforce pagan values while avoiding the Christian underpinnings of the BSA. The Frontier Girls Club major on merit badges and heterosexuality. The Baden-Powell Service Association deemphasises religion and sexuality while leaning into service projects. Earth Champs wants to develop children concerned for the environment and economic justice.
Meanwhile, back at the BSA, obese scouts and leaders may not attend the National Jamboree due to the demanding activities of the experience.It's only a matter of time until Frito Lay charters the Cholesterol Scouts.
In a pluralistic society, some fragmentation and specialization within scouting groups is inevitable.Parents want to enroll their children in organizations which resonate with their values. But at the same time, one of the values citizens need to navigate a pluralistic society is the ability to get along with people with whom you strongly disagree. Our children need to exposure to other children who think, believe, and behave differently than they do. They need involved adults, especially parents, to help their children navigate these difference while affirming their own core beliefs. But as scouting continues to balkanize into smaller and smaller tribes, one has to wonder if our children can learn this skill within any variation of scouting.