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Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is an organization for boys, widespread in (but not limited to) the United States of America. The purpose of the BSA is to develop character and leadership, primarily through camping and other outdoor activities, but also through community service and leadership positions. The fundamental unit of Boy Scout organization is the troop.

The BSA has three membership divisions:

  • Cub Scouting[?] is for boys between the first and fifth grades, or 7-10 years old. Its main object is to prepare boys to join a regular Boy Scout troop.
  • Boy Scouting is for boys ages 11-17. It is the main (though not the largest) of the divisions, and is discussed in this article.
  • Venturing[?] is for young men and women ages 14-20. It is an extension of Boy Scouting for older individuals, oriented more towards leadership and training its members to help younger Scouts.

Table of contents

History Scouting began in Great Britain, founded by Lord Baden-Powell and based on skills he learned in defense of the town of Mafeking in the Boer War and at an experimental camp on Brownsea Island[?] in Dorset.

Because Baden Powell was also associated with the YMCA in Britain, news of the early Boy Scout manual, "Scouting For Boys", had already reached the United States. The Boy Scout movement, however, did not reach the US until 1909. William D. Boyce[?], a Chicago publisher, was wandering through the fog of London, lost in the unfamiliar city, when a uniformed boy offered to take him to his destination. Upon their arrival, Boyce offered the boy some money and the boy refused, stating that a Boy Scout should not take money for doing good deeds. Boyce was impressed and asked the boy to meet him the following morning to take him to the Scout headquarters. The boy did so and Boyce returned to the United States and, with two other businessmen, Edward S. Stewart[?] and Stanley D. Willis[?], Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America.

The first troop was Troop 1, based at a YMCA. Edgar Robinson, an important administrator of the YMCA in Chicago, agreed to help Boyce organize the Boy Scouts as a national organization. Two other organizations melded with the BSA. The first was Ernest Thompson Seton's[?] Woodcraft Indians[?], and the other was Daniel Carter Beard[?]'s Sons of Daniel Boone[?]. Seton had also met with Baden Powell in England, prior to Boyce's experience in London, and was influential in the foundation of the Boy Scouts there. William Randolph Hearst, and others, later founded multifarious scouting organizations which eventually combined to form the Boy Scouts of America. The consolidation was complete by the late teens.

The Boy Scouts of America was successfully organized by 1910, when Seton, Beard and Baden Powell, along with Boyce, Edgar Robinson and others, called a national meeting. This was to be a historic meeting, for the first national officers were selected, and it was agreed that the President (then Taft[?]) was to be the Honorary President of the BSA, a tradition that is still followed today. The Scots were then incorporated by Boyce on February 8, 1910.

In 1911, the Boy Scouts of America published the first American Boy Scout manual ("Handbook For Boys"), a revision of Seton's version. This was the first appearance of the American Scout Oath and Law. The British version was a pledge of allegiance to the King. James E. West wrote the Scout Oath, and added three points to the British version of the Law (brave, clean and reverent).

In 1912, Sea Scouting[?] became an official program. Sea Scouting is closely akin to the Boy Scouts of America, though focused primarily on maritime activities. Boys Life magazine also began in 1912, and continues today to be the official Boy Scout magazine. In 1913, the Scouting Magazine for Leaders started.

The Boy Scouts have served at every presidential inauguration since 1913 at Woodrow Wilson's[?] inauguration.

In 1916 Paul Sleman[?], Colin H. Livingstone[?], Ernest S. Martin[?] and James E. West[?] successfully lobbied Congress for a federal charter for BSA. Also in 1916, Baden Powell organized Wolf Scouts in Britain, for boys too young for the Boy Scouts (minimum age twelve at the time). In BSA, Wolf Scouts became Cub Scouts[?].

In 1919 Baden Powell began a training program called Wood Badge[?] for adult leaders in Scouting. It was copied all over the world and is still in use today.

In 1920 the first International Scout Jamboree, a gathering of scouts from all over the world, was held in London. Jamborees are currently held every four years, in varying countries. It will never be held in the United States because BSA prohibits females from joining as youth members, the only non-Muslim country to do so.

In 1937, oil magnate Waite Phillips[?] donated to the BSA a large tract of land in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. This is now the Philmont Scout Ranch.

BSA's National Office is currently located in Irving, Texas. The National Organization is divided into regional Councils, which range in size from two small West Virginia counties (Mountaineer Council) to all of DC and much of Maryland and Northern Virginia (National Capital Area Council).

The Order of the Arrow began in 1915, was officially recognized by the National Council in 1936, and became a part of the Boy Scouts in 1948.

Early Rival Boy Scout Groups in the US

Creed and Rank Advancement

  • The Boy Scout Motto is "Be Prepared".
  • The Boy Scout Slogan is "Do a Good Turn Daily."
  • The Boy Scout Oath is "On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight."
  • The Boy Scout Law is "A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent."
  • The Outdoor Code is "As an American, I will do my best to, be clean in my outdoor manners, be careful with fire, be considerate in the outdoors, and be conservation-minded."
  • The Boy Scout Sign is the middle three fingers raised and the tips of the pinky finger and thumb joined, with shoulder and elbow at right angles.
  • The Boy Scout Salute is the the hand held in the same position as in the Boy Scout Sign, with the pointer touching the forehead or hat brim. This is similar to the salute used by militaries around the world.
  • The Boy Scout Handshake is the traditional handshake, done with the left hand instead of the right. (The symbolism behind this is that the left hand is closer to one's heart.)

The ranks of Boy Scouting are, in order:

  • Scout
  • Tenderfoot
  • Second Class
  • First Class
  • Star
  • Life
  • Eagle

The ranks up to First Class are awarded for knowledge of Scout skills (first aid, cooking, knots, etc.) The Star and Life ranks require six months in a leadership position (most of the positions listed in Troop Organization below are acceptable for this requirement), and community service. The Eagle Scout rank likewise requires a leadership position, as well as a large community service project planned exclusively by the Eagle Scout candidate, and the earning of 12 specifically requred merit badges plus 9 more, for a total of 21. (A portion of the merit badge requirement must be completed for both the Star and Life ranks.) The ranks require a progressively increasing committment to the Scout Oath and Law (see above). (See List of BSA rank requirements)

After attaining the rank of Eagle, a scout may earn Eagle Palms[?]. For five additional merit badges beyond the twenty-one required for the Eagle Rank, a bronze palm is earned. Five more is a gold palm and five beyond that is a silver palm. Additional silver palms may be earned for each cluster of five merit badges.

Activities Scout activities are conducted with the discretion of the troop, but all troops have somewhat similar programs.

Troops typically hold meetings once a week, though some do not meet during the summer. The activities conducted at troop meetings vary widely, from Scout skills training to campout planning to games.

Patrol meetings independent of troop meetings may be held to conduct troop business, such as the creation of a patrol flag. Most patrols do not hold regular meetings independent of troop meetings, but some go so far as to organize their own outings.

Troops also typically hold excursions once a month or more. These are typically camping trips. These campouts are an important place for Scouts to work on skills and rank advancement, and also to entertain themselves. Some troops also hold regular backpacking trips.

It is common for several troops (such as those in one district) to gather at least once a year at a special weekend campout called a camporee. A camporee is a competition, with events such as knot tying, flagpole[?] raising and flag ceremony, and orienteering. Troops place varying amounts of emphasis on preparing for camporees, and those that win the highest awards usually do so by making camporee their first priority.

Most councils, if not all, own and operate one or more permanent camps, not necessarily located within the council's jurisdiction. These camps host a variety of activities throughout the year, but they are most heavily used during the summer. Troops come to these camps for a week at a time. Summer camps are important places for the earning of merit badges, particularly those that require special facilities, such as archery or pottery. Purely recreational activities are also available, and most camps offer one-night side trips. Troops may choose to attend their local summer camp, or one in a more distant location.

The national Scout organization also operates a number of high-adventure bases, including Philmont Scout Ranch and the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base[?]. Troops may choose to visit high-adventure bases instead of or in addition to the standard summer camp.

Organization A Boy Scout troop is led by a Scoutmaster and his Assistant Scoutmasters. There is also a Troop Committee, with various positions relevant to the running of the troop and organizing of activities.

Troops are divided into patrols of seven boys, give or take a few. Each patrol is led by a Patrol Leader (PL) and one or two Assistant Patrol Leaders (APL's). The Senior Patrol Leader (SPL), and then his Assistant Senior Patrol Leader(s) (ASPL's), are the highest ranking boys in the troop. PL's and the SPL are elective positions. APL's are appointed by PL's; ASPL's are appointed by the SPL with the advice of the Scoutmaster.

Non-leadership positions of responsibility include:

  • One or more Quartermasters to keep track of the troop's camping gear and other equipment
  • Older Scouts may be assigned to patrols as Troop Guides, to instruct the younger boys
  • A Historian to keep troop records
  • A Librarian to keep the troop's library of merit badge handbooks and other official literature
  • A Scribe to take attendance at meetings, and to participate in writing troop newsletters
  • A Bugler to play the troop bugle at flag ceremonies and other appropriate times of the day
  • One or two Chaplain's Aides to conduct Scout's Own non-denominational religious services whenever Scouts are at a Scout activity on a Sunday
  • Any older Scout may work with a local Cub Scout Pack as a Den Chief
  • Scouts may volunteer as Junior Assistant Scoutmasters to help the adult leaders with their various tasks.

Troops are grouped into districts covering a small geographical area and containing several troops. Districts are likewise organized into councils. There are over one hundred councils, all part of the National Council.

Awards, Honors and Symbolism The BSA offers many awards and honors, such as:

  • 20, 40, 60 and 100 Nights under the Stars awards (Nights under the Stars include all forms of camping.)
  • 50 Miler awards for hiking or watercraft[?] trips of 50 miles, plus 10 hours of hiking-related community service[?].
  • The Mile Swim award, for swimming one mile nonstop.
  • The Heroism Award, for heroic action such as saving a life
  • The Honor Medal, for resourcefulness and skill in saving or trying to save a life
  • Square Knot awards are given for significant good deeds. Multiple square knots may be earned. Patches may have different color schemes according to the good deed done.
  • The Totin' Chip card is given to Scouts who have learned how to safely use sharp-edged tools.
  • The Firem'n Chit card is given to Scouts who have learned how to safely light a fire.
  • Thirty or so different religious emblems are granted in conjunction with various Christian denominations and other religions.

Badges of rank:

  • The Scout rank badge has a brown fleur-de-lis on a greenish-yellow background. The fleur-de-lis symbolizes a compass needle, pointing the Scout in the right direction, which is onward and upward.
  • The Tenderfoot rank badge has a yellow fleur-de-lis, with a star on each of the two lateral points, an eagle on the center, and a shield on the eagle's chest colored somewhat like the American flag. The stars symbolize truth and knowledge; the eagle and shield symbolize freedom and readiness to defend that freedom.
  • The Second Class rank badge has a yellow horizontal scroll with the words "Be Prepared," the ends turned up, and a knotted rope hanging from the bottom. This emblem represents service. The upturned ends of the scroll symbolize cheerfulness in service.
  • The First Class rank badge combines the emblems for Tenderfoot and Second Class.
  • The Star rank badge has the First Class emblem on top of a yellow star.
  • The Life rank badge has the First Class emblem on top of a red heart, signifying that the ideals of Scouting have become a part of the Scout's life and character.
  • The Eagle Scout badge has a grey eagle, and a grey scroll like that on the Second Class emblem. They are on a tricolor background ringed with the words "Eagle Scout: Boy Scouts of America."

Merit badges may be earned in any of over one hundred different subjects. Some merit badges relate to personal development and adult living; others represent Scout skills; many are handicrafts or hobbies; most are potential career options.

Uniform The standard Scout uniform, worn by Scouts and adult leaders includes:

  • A beige button-up shirt[?], with two front pockets. Most Scouts opt for the short-sleeved version.
  • Green pants or shorts with multiple pockets, made of a material similar to that of blue jeans
  • A cloth belt with a brass buckle
  • A neckerchief. Neckerchief designs are unique to every troop.
  • Green socks with two red bands near the top. Socks may be either short or long. These are typically not required with long pants.
  • An optional green baseball cap[?] with red brim and Scouting insignia on the forehead.
  • Some troops institute coup beads. These vary between troops, but the basic principle is this: A thick piece of leather is worn on the belt, with leather thongs hanging from it. For every Scout activity in which he participates, a Scout is awarded a special bead (or sometimes a pair, for symmetry) that is slipped onto the thong.

Many patches are worn on the uniform shirt, in specific places:

  • On the left sleeve, from the top down: a pentagonal patch representing the council to with the Scout belongs, the number of the troop to which he belongs, a patch representing any leadership position he may hold, and a patch signifying that the Scout (or adult leader) has undergone leadership training.
  • On the right sleeve, from the top down: an American flag, and an optional patch representing the name of the patrol to which the Scout belongs.
  • On the left pocket, a badge of rank
  • Above the left pocket, any square knot awards for special achievement that the Scout may have received
  • On the right pocket, a patch awarded at a summer camp or other activity, or a Nights under the Stars award
  • On the right pocket flap, a patch signifying membership in the Order of the Arrow

Controversy The Boy Scouts give female adult leaders (mothers) most of the privileges of male adult leaders. This policy was instituted in response to a shortage of fathers willing to participate actively in running the troops.

Until 1954, the Boy Scouts of America was a segregated organization. Colored Troops, as they were officially known, were given little support from Districts, Councils and the national offices. It was believed that Colored Scouts and Leaders would be less able to live up to the ideals of the Boy Scouts.

Some practices of the organization have received increased public attention, largely in the last quarter of the 20th century and into the 21st. The BSA leadership strongly enforces policies against members and leaders who are atheists or homosexual. This has led to reactions where charitable funding or donated meeting space has been reduced (the donors objecting to the discrimination).

This has also led to quarrels between the BSA and the Unitarian Universalist Association. The UUA has tolerance as one of its defining virtues, and this includes respect and inclusion of atheists, gays, and lesbians. The BSA, which had long honored the UUA with religious badges, along with other religions that had Boy Scout programs, withdrew the badges, saying that Boy Scouts could no longer wear Unitarian Universalist badges on their uniforms. The UUA attempted to compromise, removing language that the BSA considers offensive from its official program manuals and informing young Unitarian Boy Scouts of the virtue of tolerance by other means. However, the BSA rejected this attempt at compromise, and the UUA responded by continuing its Boy Scout program on its own and unilaterally encouraging Boy Scouts to wear Unitarian Universalist religious badges on their uniforms.

The BSA believes "an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law". Although it officially makes no effort to discover the sexual orientation of any person, BSA scout leaders have investigated and expelled non-avowed homosexuals [1] (http://www.bsa-discrimination.org/Gays-Top/Review_BSA_Gay_Policy/review_bsa_gay_policy). Lawsuits over this matter have gone as high as the United States Supreme Court, which ruled that the BSA is a private association with the right to set its own standards for membership and leadership.

Many critics, especially internal ones, point out that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the single largest donor to BSA, has threatened to remove all support if the policy against homosexuals is removed, and that this is the single largest reason for the policy. The LDS Church in Canada funds the Scouting organization there, in spite of an explicit policy allowing homosexual leaders, and also funds the Girl Scouts of America[?] who similarly tolerate openly homosexual leadership. See also Boy Scouts of America v. Dale

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