Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Scouting and Culture Wars

Editor's note: I found this guest column by our friend and Scouting historian, Nelson Block, published in the Waco Tribune. It is definitely worth reading in its entirety.

Nelson Block, guest column: Scouting and 'culture wars'

Monday, March 17, 2008

HOUSTON — Rick Perry’s new book, On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For, is portrayed as a tribute. Actually, it’s the latest attack on a great American institution.

Perry praises the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) as a paragon of “traditional American values” then co-opts scouting to vilify those he and like-minded politicians and talk-show hosts consider political enemies.

This group invented the “culture war” and casts liberals as the religion-bashing, authority-hating, character-deficient bad guys in it who would create a world “where moral relativism reigns and individualism runs amok.”

If the governor understood scouting’s history, he would know it uses many concepts championed by liberal and progressive leaders among its founders.

Scouting and several other movements evolved to alleviate poor social, public health and educational conditions created by the Industrial Revolution in England and America, as young people left their rural homes for cities with low-paying factory jobs and dissolute pursuits far from moderating family relationships.

Victorian and Edwardian reformers responded by helping people improve their lives, promoting the idea that hard work brings rewards, among other principles. Although Perry suggests that industriousness and faith are not liberal values, Scouting’s liberal and progressive founders embraced them.

In 1902, liberal American naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton established the Woodcraft Movement, based on camping and American Indian life, to enrich modern leisure time.

He incorporated educational principles described by liberal educator John Dewey, who advocated children working together in social situations where the child would “emerge from his original narrowness of action and feeling to conceive of himself from the standpoint of the welfare of the group.” BSA later named Seton its first chief Scout.

In 1908, British general R.S.S. Baden-Powell published the book that popularized the Boy Scouts, Scouting for Boys. He incorporated concepts then considered liberal perfected during his army years: encouraging noncommissioned officers to exercise leadership, personally training soldiers in military scouting and providing them with wholesome entertainment.

The principle was the same for both soldiers and Scouts — make the individual responsible for a task, then give him the freedom to accomplish it.

When Scouting came to America, liberals and progressives immediately supported it, including Theodore Roosevelt and James E. West, BSA’s first chief Scout executive. West began his progressive activism as a teenager in a Washington, D.C., orphanage, fighting for the children to have a library and attend public school.

These leaders used liberal social principles to build the Boy Scouts. Unfortunately, Perry uses Scouting to build support for his particular social principles.

For example, Perry considers public prayer an important part of religion, and by extension, Scouting. However, Baden-Powell held that beyond a personal belief in God, religion was about helping people. When people asked if he prayed, he was tempted to reply, “Not often: I am far too busy giving thanks.”

Yes, the Boy Scouts’ values are worth fighting for, but Perry picks a fight with his fellow Americans and misrepresents this institution by claiming it is at odds with liberalism.

Liberalism then and now recognizes that people realize their greatest potential in exercising personal freedom, and that such freedom comes with responsibility to the society that supports it.

Nelson R. Block, a Houston Boy Scout leader for almost 30 years , co-chaired the Johns Hopkins University program “Scouting: A Centennial History Symposium.”

Here is the link to the Waco Tribune.

Paw prints could lead to a wildcat

Follow the tracks

Yes! Follow the tracks. In the words of naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton, "Look ever for the track . . . it is the priceless, unimpeachable record of the creature's life and thought, in the oldest writing known on earth."

Follow the tracks. Leave the city. Climb into the chaparral. Walk among the scrub oak, watching for signs- claw marks low on a gnarled tree trunk, a trace of scat, scratch marks on the ground.

And at last, look there! A print, scalloped front and back. Four toes, no claw marks. Another, and another, some even made by a two-legged animal.

From The Thousand Oaks Acorn Read it all here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

In the wings

From the Charlotte Observer:
"Another month will wind down by the end of this week, even with the leap day added to February every fourth year to realign our calendars.
February's full moon is often referred to as the Hunger Moon. Perhaps there's another, more appropriate name for the silvery globe, round as a medallion and bright as a silver dollar, rising late in a brittle eastern sky. The late artist-naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton suggested it be known as our Awakening Moon. Arriving without heat, it brings on the winds of change."

Read it all