Girls Just Wanna Be Scouts

Cub Scouts with the U.S. flag

by Oletta Branstiter


Girls in Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts of America organization has announced that young girls will be allowed to join Cub Scout packs and are planning to accept older girls into a program to earn the Eagle rank – the highest Boy Scout award.

This should come as no surprise. As far back as the late 1990’s girls have been participating in Boy Scout adventures as part of the Explorer program. My son went on a co-ed trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico. He came back with a girlfriend.

My Experience

Girl Scout Gold Award

A few years later, my daughter, ten years younger than her brother, had accomplished her goal of earning the Girl Scout Silver Award at age 13. She was well on her way to be one of the youngest Girl Scouts to earn the Gold Award when our area Council invited leaders and parents to a meeting introducing a new direction.

A nervous young woman was given the unenviable task of pitching a very unpopular idea. As troop leaders in attendance, we were under the impression that we would have input and veto power over any new proposals. We were soon disabused of this misconception as our rebuttals were consistently met with the same answer: “This is the direction we’re going.”

The radical proposals were supposedly based on the idea that to attract more girls into the Girl Scout program, achievement badges would be de-emphasized. In the place of challenging life skills curriculum and demanding goals to earn each badge, bracelet charms would be promoted for girls who wanted to merely investigate topics, mainly focused on issues of self-esteem.

Not Charmed, I’m Sure

One of the first charms designed for this new program became the symbol of existing troop leaders’ disgust. Girl Scouts could choose to begin their fashion jewelry collection with a tiny metal mirror charm! The expensive bracelets and charms would be purchased by the girls or their families, as they far exceeded a typical troop budget. Adding insult to injury, these charms could be obtained with practically no effort, as long as the girls had enough money.

Teen girls like my daughter, Ellen, had spent years fulfilling the challenging objectives of each and every hard-earned badge they had sewn onto their crowded sashes or vests that had just been rendered optional. When Ellen was informed of the changes she was incensed. She demanded that I make an appointment with our Council Director.

Confrontation

As her chaperone, I let my daughter do all the talking. She asked specific questions about how the new program would affect veteran Girl Scouts. In response, Ellen was told that the new program would be optional and that those girls who wanted to continue earning badges could do so.

But when my daughter asked whether girls who opted to collect charms instead of earning achievement badges would be eligible to receive the Gold Award, the answer astounded her.

The Girl Scout Council Director reprimanded my daughter. She said, “Just because you want to work harder to earn the Gold Award shouldn’t mean that other girls who might not want to work as hard shouldn’t get it, too.”

Stunned, Ellen replied, “Then the award is meaningless.” To which the Director answered, “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Ellen quit Girl Scouts that day, heartbroken. I resigned as her troop co-leader and the troop dissolved shortly thereafter.

A Compromise in Quality?

I heard that there were other troops in the area that retained the achievement badge curriculum. I just can’t imagine many girls staying committed to a national program whose requirements lacked consistently just rewards and expectations of commensurate effort. Even teenage girls recognize the moment when an award becomes worthless.

I must admit that after we quit the Girl Scout program, I had not investigated it again until I sat down to write this article. Upon browsing the website for our Girl Scout Council, I found no evidence of the Charm program that caused our departure. In fact, the main site shows all the badges that can be earned in the program, reminiscent of my daughter’s opportunities at the beginning of her Girl Scout career.

It appears that our Council participated in a short-lived test program during the early 2000s and that it failed. I can only hope that this ill-fated experiment did not serve to dilute the challenging nature of the current Girl Scout program.

If Only…

If joining a Boy Scout program had been an option for my daughter, who was disenfranchised by the drastic changes she experienced, she may have been one of the first to jump at the opportunity to participate, especially after witnessing her parents plan her brother’s Eagle Award ceremony. 

 

 

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