Can’t wait for those Girl Scout Cookies? Before cracking open the box, check out the often untold history of scouting and how the scouting organizations we know today came to be.
In October 2017 a new decision was made to let girls in the Boy Scouts of America (commonly referred to as Boy Scouts or BSA). With it, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the topic of gender-specific organizations at a young age. Some believe that scouting programs should stick to single-gender groups because of the level of commitment in each group, while others believe that all genders is a better option so kids can learn from their differences. Whichever side you are on, one cannot help but notice all the good that scouting programs do for families and communities regardless of the scouting programs’ rules on gender or religion.
In my family, scouting has always been a large part of our lives. My sister Sarah Geraghty ‘18 and I were in Girls Scouts starting in first grade and went on to achieve the Marian Award--one of the highest awards in Girl Scouts--with the 11 other girls in our troop. Our brother Andrew also participated in Cub Scouts starting in first grade, went on to become a Boy Scout and recently achieved his Eagle Scout Award--the highest award a Boy Scout can achieve. However, one does not have to get an award to understand and live the benefits of scouting in everyday life.
As an proud Eagle Scout, Mr. Stickel reflects on his journey throughout Scouts as a development in maturity and self-awareness . “When I was in Scouting, I thought I was just doing things that I really enjoyed: hiking, camping, swimming, canoeing, learning about nature, being in the outdoors. I thought that was what Scouting was all about. As I got older, I realized that in and of themselves, these activities were not the real crux of my Scouting experience. Instead, the essence of Scouting was contained in the values I was developing: taking responsibility for my actions, respecting myself and others, valuing the gifts of nature, and cherishing the freedoms and privileges afforded me as a citizen. And looking back, I realized how the people with whom I shared these experiences, adults and older boys, were role models who modeled the traits and qualities that I aspired to attain.”
The small percentage that have attained high awards in Scouts attribute credit part of their success to the foundational skills taught in Scouting Programs. To name a few, there are Olympiads, Astronauts, Senators, Professional Sports Coaches, State Representatives, Presidential Candidates, Writers, Movie Producers and Oscar & Emmy Winners that credit at least a small portion of their achievement to the essential qualities they learned in Scouts.
“You asked for a few words or phrases to describe a scout, and Neil Armstrong popped into my head. He was from our area (Wapakoneta, Ohio - just up I-75 above Dayton). As the first person ever to step on the moon, I might describe him as trustworthy, willing to serve others, and willing to risk for what he believes is important. That is the epitome of what a scout should seek to become.” Stickel continues.
Here is a rundown of the type of available scouting programs in the local tristate: Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and American Heritage Girls.
When looking at the various oaths and laws of each of the individual scouting programs (attached at end of article) many of the characteristics such as respect, strong work ethic and goal setting are the same, but one key difference is in who is allowed to join.
American Heritage Girls is also a Catholic based organization, and focuses on the arts, STEM, outdoor skills, personal well-being, family living, and leadership. Morgan McGee ‘18 a member of American Heritage Girls from second grade till sophomore year of high school informed me that she enjoyed AHG so much because one had to be “independent and have work ethic in order to earn your badges.”
She notes that Boy Scouts of America and AHG at one point were partnered together, but because BSA is gender non-biased* and allows LGTBQ+ scouts, AHG broke its ties to the organization.
*Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is gender non-biased by having the Venture Scout Program where young adults both male and female ages of 13-20 can experience high adventure camps. BSA is also opening up the position of attaining the rank Eagle Scout to girls, will also have a Scouting program for girls grades 6-12 in 2019, and also has already included a transgender scout in the program.
With this break from BSA, AHG members can no longer attend Camp Friedlander or attend other BSA affiliated summer programming. McGee reflects “not only did it hurt that they were taking away an important part of AHG, it hurt that they were being so adamant in denying this joy [being involved in Scouts] to someone just because they are different.”
Even though American Heritage Girls has this restriction, it does work to empower young women and teaches them to become independent and competent growing up in the 21st century. In fact, some badges are named after strong female historical role models such as Sacagawea, Harriet Tubman, and Dolley Madison. In addition to female-centered leadership, one of the key components to AHG is service to the wider community. On top of earning many of the program’s badges, McGee also merited the Presidential Service Award seven years in a row. Even with its choice not to be fully gender inclusive, the AHG’s, dedication to service teaches youth to be aware of how they can improve their own community.
Boy Scouts of America on Change
Though Boy Scouts banned the inclusion of openly gay members and leaders (this restriction ended in 2013) and has maintained a more traditionalistic reputation over the past 15-20 years, it has made strides toward promoting a sense of equality in youth. BSA seems to be at the forefront of scouting, yet when asked if scouting programs could improve certain aspects of their programming, Sarah Thornton ‘18, who started BS at age 14 and is still semi-active in her troop agrees that there is always room for improvement. As of January 2018 she was “barred from getting any badges or ranks from Boy Scouts” because of her gender. “I put the work in, I should get a badge or something, right?” Those who view the inclusion of women as a positive aspect of the modernization Boy Scouts hope it will create a sense of openness and freedom of expression for youth while those who do not think the shift is best believe it might cause more problems than the organization expects.
Andrew Geraghty, notes “as a Boy Scout, I believe that girls should not be in Boy Scouts. I am a feminist and all for the #MeToo movement and for social change, but putting girls in Boy Scouts is not the place for change to be happening. Boys need their own group to keep focused and form a good camaraderie with their Troop.” This is what many believe to be the main problem with allowing girls to participate in Troop life: the change will cause a lack of togetherness that the Troop experiences as a single gender group. “They both try to instill values in young kids as they deal with growing up. They are suited to their members, and it is wonderful that we have both,” A. Geraghty continues.
But why is there still a need to join one scouting group over another? “Separate but equal is never really equal,” says Thornton. Many feel that joining Boy Scouts rather than Girls Scouts or American Heritage Girls is better simply because there is a common stigma around female scouting programs as being inferior to their male counterparts.
An article from the Guardian explains that though the organizations are seemingly equal, Girl Scouts would rather be Boy Scouts, but Boy Scouts would not choose Girl Scouts. “Despite the similarities between the programs, a 2011 study in Gender & Society, a journal focused on gender studies, found that Girl Scouts are generally discouraged from scientific pursuits while Boy Scouts are pushed away from artistic interests. The study found that the girls are offered more art activities than the boys, but science activities make up only 2% of their activities and 6% for the boys. The girls’ activities are more communal, with 30% of their badge work taking place in groups, while the boys work is more self-oriented with less than 20% of their work taking place in a group.”
Is Girl Scouts Only of Value Because of the Cookies?
Many feel that Girl Scouts does not do enough to educate and promote a strong skill set for young women but rather focuses on collecting monetary assets. Sarah Geraghty when asked about the discrepancy in viewpoints says “with Girl Scouts, it felt more like hanging out with people than actually achieving skills. We did a lot of crafty things, but it's not the same as first aid badges or camping or cooking badges.” Which in personal experience is true to an extent but connecting with others is an integral skill that is crucial to raising the future leaders of the country. When asked about the differences, Thornton believes that though “there is a difference in the activities that we do, Girl Scouts does way more to empower and educate women. Boy Scouts is more about learning skills.”
So what are we to make of those results? The answer: It is all a matter of perspective.
Though there is a sometimes negative connotation around Girl Scouts--it employs the ideas of persuasion and capitalism when selling cookies--it is based around educating young girls. Girl Scouts inspires young women to set goals, make smart and informed decisions, develop money management, and grow interpersonal skills, and foster business ethics. Sounds a bit like a mix of economics and personal finance!
Speaking of economics, one of the most common places to see a Girl Scout is at your local store asking if you want to buy a box of cookies. Girl Scouts is not just about cookies though. Many GS troops are involved in annual service programs, organize clothing or item drives, and spread awareness for programs dedicated to the success of young women. The money raised though cookie sales goes directly into the funds for the troop and helps contribute to the achievements of young women in the area. Over 70,000 boxes of cookies are donated to local charities, too. This profit allows girls to go on field trips, to participate in STEM programs, and teaches girls at a young age the value of work ethic and community engagement. Boy Scouts does more to teach its members basic survival skills and an appreciation for the outdoors, Girl Scouts is a great place to learn and make connections that connect girls together for life.
So What’s Next for Scouting?
After looking at all three organizations as a whole, one notes that there are pros and cons to each, but one thing remains constant: American Heritage Girls, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts help foster a sense of achievement and community for young adults and teach life skills that could not necessarily learn in a classroom or on a sports team. Scouting is a safe place for so many people to find their passions and try new things every day.
If you are still asking when Girl Scout cookies go on sale, the answer is March 2, 2018. There is even an app you can download to find a cookie booth near you!
Cited Sources and Further Reading:
More about American Heritage Girls:
Brief History of Each Organization
American Heritage Girls was created in 1995 by an Ohio mother of four girls who were active in Girl Scouts but wanted to experience the same type of camping and outdoor experiences as their male counterparts. Essentially, the organization is an all-girls scouting program that is mix between the best parts of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts that focuses on faith, service, and fun.
Often known as one of the original founders of Boy Scouts, Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell’s handbook called Scouting for Boys was launched in Britain in 1908 after the Second Boer War in England. The handbook is framework for the many requirements of scouting that are still used today. After the movement gained momentum in Europe, Boy Scouts of America as we know it today started in 1910. The organization is committed to developing life skills and focuses on community and family engagement was well providing scouts with outdoor and high adventure camps.
Girl Scouts began in 1912 in America with Juliette Gordon Low who hoped to “prepare girls to meet their world with courage, confidence, and character”. Low was a champion of women’s rights (at the time women still could not vote!) and began educating young girls in Savannah, Georgia on foreign language, sports, and outdoor activities while keeping a main focus on service towards those in need. In the 21st century Girl Scouts has over 1.8 million girls in 92 countries and has over 50 million alum. All of which create the lasting legacy started by Low in early 1900’s.