Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"To do my duty to God and my country"

Kathleen Arnn compares the original Boy Scout Handbook to the current one in "Scouts' Honor." Today's isn't bad but it would be much better, she thinks, if it retained the original's emphasis on good character:
The Boy Scouts of America celebrated their hundredth anniversary last year, and this year is the centennial of The Handbook for Boys, their first official manual. Comparing it with the current edition of the handbook—the 12th, published in 2009—shows that the small outpost of civilization manned by the Scouts holds on bravely in America. But decades of aggressive political correctness have had their effect, and the Scouts have lost some of the confident American boyishness that loves heroes and makes for heroes. This is too bad for the more than 3 million boys enrolled in the Scouts today, and for the society in which they will grow up to become men. ....

In the original handbook, Scouts' honor is explicitly traced back to the chivalry of the ancient knights. The Pilgrims and the American pioneers carried this knightly virtue to America, and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have taken up their standard. Honor, as the handbook explains, is sacred to a Scout: It "will not permit of anything but the highest and the best and the manliest." "A good Scout must be chivalrous," it tells us:
[H]e should be as manly as the knights or pioneers of old. He should be unselfish. He should show courage. He must do his duty. He should show benevolence and thrift. He should be loyal to his country. He should be obedient to his parents, and show respect to those who are his superiors. He should be very courteous to women. One of his obligations is to do a good turn every day to some one.
The handbook doesn't shrink from invoking shame to motivate Scouts. For example, under Courage: "It is horrible to be a coward. It is weak to yield to fear and heroic to face danger without flinching." There are examples, like the dying Indian who "faced death with a grim smile upon his lips and sang his own death song" and the cowardly knight who fled the battle of Agincourt, much to the disappointment of his lady at home. The original handbook teaches through heroes, providing Scouts with a host of manly examples to emulate. Above all, it cultivates spiritedness, teaching Scouts to defend their honor, their friends, and their country like the great men of the past who "were accustomed to take chances with death" for the sake of the things they loved. ....

We learn about America's great moments through the heroes who lived them: George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Boone, Betsy Ross, Johnny Appleseed, and most of all, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln is a hero among heroes, a central figure in the handbook's discussions of patriotism and of virtue. He is "in heart, brain, and character, not only one of our greatest Americans, but one of the world's greatest men." The manual relays the whole story of his life, from his lowly beginnings that taught him the value of hard work, to his education, and to his presidency and untimely death ("the emancipator of the slave, the friend of the whole people and the savior of our country died, a martyr to the cause of freedom.") This discussion ends with the closing paragraph of the Second Inaugural, "words with which every boy should be familiar, voicing as they do the exalted spirit of a great and good man." ....
Almost all of that, she writes, is missing from the current Handbook.
Robert Mazzuca, the Chief Scout Executive of the BSA, has been quoted as saying that the organization is suffering from "a little arthritis" but is making efforts to modernize. If this means using Gore-tex boots on hikes and ripstop nylon tents instead of canvas, the Boy Scouts may be all right. If it means teaching leadership rather than moral virtue, and timidity rather than manliness, that's another story entirely—one of obtuseness, trendiness, and decline. .... [more]
The Claremont Institute - Scouts' Honor

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