February 25, 2011

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Learning in a fun way to do our duty to God and country

Cynthia DewesFebruary is Boy Scout month, with the usual blue and gold banquet celebrations, and fundraising among adult supporters. It’s the time to appreciate the good that this organization, and the Girl Scouts, do for family, community and nation. And it’s a great time for nostalgia among Scouters.

British Lord Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts in the early 20th century at a time when old-fashioned virtues, such as honor, duty and reverence, were admired and practiced, and proclaimed by authors like Rudyard Kipling.

The Boy Scout oath begins, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.” Scouts continue to recite and uphold these promises.

When our family was most involved in Scouting, the process began with younger boys known as Cub Scouts, who belonged to a “den” as part of the larger “pack”—shades of Kipling’s Jungle Book.

Women were the den mothers, as I was for six years, holding weekly meetings in our homes. Once a month, all the dens attended a pack meeting at the local school or church meeting place—whatever organization was sponsoring the program.

The idea was to promote teamwork, responsibility and respect for the common good while having fun—boy fun, which usually included noise, dirt and general mayhem. Every week, there was some kind of lesson and craft project, which presented challenges in more ways than one.

Once, when we had a craft that involved pounding nail holes in wooden blocks, I discovered after the meeting that my vinyl floor was pockmarked from a boy’s efforts that missed the mark. It stayed that way for years as a monument to dedication to a greater good.

Two of our younger children liked to lurk nearby during den meetings, often participating in the crafts. By the time he became a Cub himself, one of them had been there, done that, but he enjoyed it anyway. Those two even dreamed up a “Devil’s Club” in retaliation to being outsiders, holding meetings at the same time, and using a toy devil doll and spear in their own “rituals.”

The Cubs graduated to being Webelos, a transitional year before Boy Scouts proper with men leaders. In Boy Scouts, the emphasis shifted to outdoor activities, such as camping, hiking, rock climbing, community service and other charitable projects, and earning badges for everything from tying knots to cooking to music. Today, computer technology and other modern subjects are included.

The highest achievement in Scouting is to earn the rank of Eagle, a status which continues to hold relevance into adulthood.

Men have told me that having “Eagle Scout” on their resumés has proven to be an advantage in their careers. Perhaps that is because in Scouting, boys compete against themselves rather than against each other, with individual merit and competence as the goals.

While Boy Scouts was initially a Christian organization, it has come to accommodate other religions in its attention to reverence and obedience to God. Invocations and other prayers, as well as non-denominational worship services, are part of the program. Boy Scouts may be unabashed believers or not, but they learn respect for others’ convictions.

The intrinsic goodness of people, who are made in God’s image after all, is recognized in Scouting efforts and goals.

One of our son’s Scout leaders once said to me after our son earned the rank, “Now he’s an Eagle.” And I replied, “He always was.”

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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