Thursday, May 14, 2009

Is this really the Scouting ideal?

I was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout when I was younger. I attended and worked at Yawgoog Scout Reservation, marched in parades, wore the uniform, earned the rank of Eagle and was elected to the Order of the Arrow, served as senior patrol leader, camped in the winter, and did all the things Scouts were supposed to do. I was proud of my time in the Scouts and while I personally can't support them now due to what I believe are discriminatory policies coming out of the national office, I do believe that the Scouts can offer something very positive to young men. The Scouting ideals -- service to community, duty, personal responsibility, lifelong learning, compassion for others, appreciation and care for the natural world -- are all worthwhile lessons.

That's why, when people made comments about the Scouts being a paramilitary organization, I just scoffed. Hell, I spent my summers working as a lifeguard, teaching sailing, or driving the powerboat out of the Ashaway Aquatics Center (aka "The Yawgoog Yacht Club") to rescue tipped-over canoes and the occasional crash-landing hot air balloon. Sure, we wore khaki uniforms with badges and there was a rifle range at camp but just as many kids went to the craft center or the nature lodge and more of my friends went on to be doctors, teachers, and diplomats than military personnel.

I think that's why I found this article and the accompanying photos in today's New York Times -- Scouts Train to Fight Terrorists, and More -- so profoundly disturbing.

I knew that the Explorers, a co-ed "learning for life" spinoff of the Boy Scouts, taught kids about different types of jobs but I'm baffled about a program that teaches children as young as 14 this:

Ten minutes into arrant mayhem in this town near the Mexican border, and the gunman, a disgruntled Iraq war veteran, has already taken out two people, one slumped in his desk, the other covered in blood on the floor.

The responding officers — eight teenage boys and girls, the youngest 14 — face tripwire, a thin cloud of poisonous gas and loud shots — BAM! BAM! — fired from behind a flimsy wall. They move quickly, pellet guns drawn and masks affixed.

I'm all for youth programs that teach kids skills, that give them something to do after school, but have we become such a paranoid and defensive culture following 9/11 that we need to teach children who aren't even able to drive to shoot people, to subdue suspects, how to respond to a sniper attack, and to rescue hostages? Do we need to be recruiting them like this? One of the Border Patrol agents quoted in the article candidly states, "Our end goal is to create more agents."

I realize that the Explorers aren't the Boy Scouts but this approach, this goal, and this training all strike me as a rather frightening turn. So much for just spending a weekend earning your woodworking merit badge.

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