Will Change on Gays Allow Boy Scouts to Recapture Role in Society?

Article excerpt

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is in the process of removing its national anti-gay policy. The Texas-based youth group announced Tuesday that it will vote next week on whether to allow decisions about gay members to be made at the local level.

But, as this group that was once nearly synonymous with American youth has begun dismantling a policy that some of its own chapters have dubbed repugnant, the question arises, can this century-old institution ever be as dominant as it once was in American family life?

Families simply have so many other choices, as well as demands on their time, that its unlikely a single group will ever have that central a role in the life of American youngsters again, says Susan Shapiro Barash, who teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College.

It certainly evokes a gentler time in our countrys history, she says. The sheer fun, the boyishness of it, now is not so much front and center in our culture, she adds, noting that parents are more deliberate in their after-school choices. There is so much more competition to get ahead from an earlier age that being a Boy Scout now is probably not as expedient, she says.

This is a parenting reality that April Masini, an online advice columnist based in Naples, Fla., says she regularly encounters in questions from parents about the right choices to make for their childrens activities.

The generation of helicopter parents who usher their children through childhood like white on rice, have found myriad options of after-school activities, many of which are considered pre-college application favorites and yes, I'm talking about activities for kids of all ages, including pre-school, she notes via e-mail.

Parents seek out chess and debate teams for kindergartners, as well as museum-hosted enrichment and other programs such as the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore that include families and elementary school kids who are gifted, she points out, adding, the Boy Scouts have competition, and families have options.

This weeks announcement about its policy on gays could be critical to the Boy Scouts halting the losses to its ranks. The BSA did not return calls for comment, but a 2010 Boston Globe article about the groups centennial celebration noted that between 1998 and 2009, national BSA enrollment shrank from roughly 3.3 million to some 2.7 million. A 2010 Gallup poll showed that while some 45 percent of men 50 and older had been Boy Scouts, that figure shrank to 27 percent of men aged 18 to 24.

Many observers say the groups latest move to back away from banning gays may be decisive in stopping further shrinkage. This is huge, real progress, says Andrew Koppelman, a law professor at Northwestern University in Chicago and co-author of A Right to Discriminate? How the Case of Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale Warped the Law of Free Association.

He notes that the no-gays policy had created a deeply divisive struggle between a number of the largest, urban chapters and the Plano, Texas-based organization. …