POLITICAL COLUMNIST: Scouts focusing on life lessons

Yes, we live better lives – in some cases much better lives – because of technology. But when does a wired world become a little too wired?

By John Carlson

Yes, we live better lives – in some cases much better lives – because of technology. But when does a wired world become a little too wired?

Several studies this decade report that boys between the ages of 12 and 17 watch nearly three and a half hours of TV a day. Add to that all the time they spend in front of a computer, or fiddling with their iPod, cell phone or playing with their X-Box and Gameboy, and an unsettling reality sets in: boys (and girls are not far behind) spend most of their free time today looking at a screen.

Which means they spend less time in the outdoors playing sports or riding bikes (compare the amount of time you rode your bike at age 11 with how much your kids ride today), exercising or actually talking (as opposed to texting) to their friends. Is there a cure? Yes. The Boy Scouts.

When scouts go out on campouts, they are not allowed to bring iPods or cell phones or Gameboys with them. The electronic world is left behind. The world of scouting isn’t plugged into a wall socket, it’s plugged in to nature and hiking, survival skills, friendship and service. And it’s fun.

There is a wise rabbi from Mercer Island, Daniel Lapin, who tells his audiences, “The more things change, the more we need to remember things that never change.”

Things like the scout law: “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” Those words, like the scout oath and motto (“Do a good turn daily”) remain unchanged after nearly a century. The good rabbi may not have been referring to the scouts, but their existence makes his point.

Long before environmentalism became fashionable, the scouts were planting trees and teaching kids how to respect and conserve the natural world around them. The most responsible environmentalists in America are boy scouts. They actually go out and get things done.

Before civil rights became an American tradition, the scouts were open to all boys, regardless of race, religion or creed. Today they also have programs to accommodate the physically and mentally disabled. If a boy wants to become a scout, they will find a way to take him.

And long before schools began emphasizing community service projects, the scouts required them of any scout hoping to advance from one rank to the next.

In this politically balkanized world of ours, I marvel at the few but vocal critics of scouting who attack them for not being politically progressive. Actually, the critics are half right. The scouts aren’t political at all. I’ve read the Scout Handbook. There’s nothing there on health care reform, but plenty on first aid and life saving techniques. Not a word on cap and trade, but plenty about respecting the land and leaving no trace behind on camping trips and hikes. The handbook is silent about who to vote for, but plenty on good citizenship. And so forth…

When my 11-year-old wanted to join, I was surprised to see plenty of thriving scout troops. He joined Troop 600, which earned some headlines in early June when 12 members received the rank of Eagle Scout at their Court of Honor, which may well be the most at one time in state history.

It is heartening to see so many boys and young men recognize that the skills and experiences of scouting are relevant no matter how pervasive and prominent technology becomes in our lives. And surprisingly it’s also a lot of fun for their parents, too. Don’t believe me? Check it out. All the information you need is online at seattlebsa.org.

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