Banning Boy Scout literature from classroom hurts kids

August 04, 2004|By Hans Zeiger

THE MONTGOMERY County Board of Education decided by a 7-1 vote last week that the Boy Scouts and other select religious or community groups cannot have their literature distributed in classrooms.

Organizations such as day care centers, nonprofit sports teams, government welfare agencies, anti-drug campaigns, computer clubs, chess clubs, honor societies and PTAs may continue to provide literature for distribution in schools. But the Boy Scouts and church groups cannot.

That's because the board wants "to keep out proselytizing pieces of literature," says its vice president, Patricia O'Neill. The Scouts are presumably placed in the proselytizer category because of their controversial policy banning homosexuals and atheists from positions of membership and leadership.

The Boy Scouts of America will be making equal-access arguments in court in bringing legal action against the school board. But there are practical reasons why the board should want the Scouts to recruit students.

I joined the Boy Scouts as a shy kid of 11 years old. I lacked confidence, I was nervous about camping trips away from home, and I didn't have an array of crucial life skills. But all of that changed in the Scouts. I learned to be strong, to "be prepared" with survival skills necessary for 50-mile hikes and wilderness adventures and character traits necessary for life success. I made lasting friendships, I served my community as a volunteer and I discovered the importance of honor.

I'm not the only one who was affected by the Scouts in this overwhelmingly positive way. A survey by Louis Harris and Associates tracked the academic and social outcome of Scouts and its alumni. The study found that Scouts with five years or more in the program outpace their non-Scout peers by far in a variety of categories.

Scouts were less likely to be involved in criminal behavior and less likely to use drugs or to be addicted to alcohol. While 98 percent of Scouts graduated from high school, only 83 percent of the general peer population received a diploma. College graduation rates for Scouts were 40 percent, compared with only 16 percent for non-Scouts.

Further, Scouts were more likely to assume a student leadership role in high school and college, to be more empathetic to the needs of other people, more able to make hard moral choices and more likely to respect the ecosystem.

Perhaps most interesting was the difference in income levels. Former Scouts were nearly twice as likely to earn over $50,000 annually than their peers, and 33 percent of them earned more than that. Only 17 percent of non-Scouts surveyed earned $50,000 or more a year.

School and Scouts are a good combination for young people. The Montgomery County school board cannot single-handedly oversee the growth and maturity of its students. It needs organizations such as the Scouts to complement its important academic efforts, to instill in young people character, integrity and crucial life skills.

But the leadership of the Montgomery County schools has ignored the vitality of the Scouts, to the detriment of the well-being of the community. In 2002, Montgomery County's school board abandoned its long-standing policy of allowing the Scouts free use of school facilities.

And now that the Scouts can't distribute recruitment literature to students to take home, scoutmasters and other troop leaders say they won't be able to build or sustain membership.

School boards should be initiating partnerships with the Scouts. Scouting offers a far more valuable educational opportunity than any class I took in school. If the Montgomery County school board cares about its students, it should allow the Scouts to continue to distribute literature in the schools.

Hans Zeiger is an Eagle Scout, president of the Scout Honor Coalition and author of the forthcoming Get Off My Honor: The War on the Boy Scouts.

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