Learning and teaching in scouting
When I was a Cub Scout at Taylor Elementary School there was an enormous uproar because a woman wanted (was willing) to become the leader of our pack. This was new and different for the early 1970s. Once registered and trained, she did a great job, as we all expected. I stayed in scouting through high school and volunteered with a troop when I was in college.
A month after I started teaching in CH-UH, I was asked to become the scoutmaster for the troop in which I was an assistant. I accepted even though I had no sons of my own (and still don’t). Over the next 25 years as a scoutmaster, I believe that I did as much teaching in scouts as I did in school. I dedicate this column to my experience in this alternative education setting.
Boy Scouts of America (BSA) recently announced that girls will be permitted to join Cub Scouts in 2019, and Scout troops in 2020. People who have known of my involvement in the organization have asked my opinion on co-ed scouting. To me, this was inevitable, although I was surprised at how quickly it happened. Groups need to evolve over time to become better, stronger, and more relevant, yet the announcement gave me hope that BSA will broaden its ability to teach the important attributes of civic responsibility and leadership.
In my first year as scoutmaster I confronted a different type of quandary. One of the boys qualifying for Eagle Scout, the highest rank, told me that he was concerned about being asked if he believed in God. At the review board determining if the high rank would be conferred, his answer could have been a barrier.
BSA requires belief in a higher power, even though the founder of scouting focused his reverence on nature. Because the spiritual beliefs of many people are fluid or evolving throughout their lives, denying a young person his goal because of his reluctance to accept a particular belief seems completely unacceptable. The student and I discussed what he might say if asked, and what he could and could not accept. Luckily, no religious questions were asked and the young man became an Eagle Scout.
Another issue that became controversial in our troop was the national BSA organization banning gay kids and adults. I never believed it was anyone’s business whether someone was gay or not. We were hosted in Cleveland Heights by a church that is inclusive of all. Many of our scouts and their families were upset with the national policy. We had our own “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that was never openly discussed.
In the late 1990s, I addressed our entire group of scouts and their parents about my opposition to the national policy and declared that I would not remove or exclude gay kids or adults. Later, in 2001, one of our Eagle Scouts expressed his concern over the organization’s discriminatory practices, as well. In the past few years as scoutmaster, I worked with several other scout and church leaders to figure out how to make changes to the national policy from within the organization. We were all stunned when the change happened and the Boy Scouts finally became open to all.
I was surprised, then, that the national organization has accepted girls into the program, and I am excited to see how it works out. Every other nation in the world that has scouting programs welcomes girls as members, so I am pretty sure things will be fine. As a scoutmaster, my daughters were not welcome in the troop in which I served. I wish we could have had the chance to share scouting together.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.