Economic Growth

Boy Scouts will allow girls to join. But not everyone's happy

Boy Scouts of America troop members attend a Memorial Day weekend commemorative event in Los Angeles, California, May 25, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY ANNIVERSARY) - GM1E95Q0EL202

Admitting girls to traditionally boy-only leadership programmes has provoked a mixed response Image: REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

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For over 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has been a boys-only club. But not any more. The organization has just announced that it is going to welcome girls.

BSA said that the skills that Scouts learn – leadership in particular – are just as important for girls as for boys. The organization’s research found that more than 90% of Scouting families and leaders believed the BSA programmes are relevant to boys and girls alike.

The Board of Directors voted unanimously to support the move, which has provoked a mixed reaction; welcomed by some and criticized by others.

Leadership development

Image: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

“The BSA’s record of producing leaders with high character and integrity is amazing,” said Randall Stephenson, BSA’s national board chairman. “I’ve seen nothing that develops leadership skills and discipline like this organization. It is time to make these outstanding leadership development programmes available to girls.”

However, not everyone thinks that mixing girls and boys is a good idea.

The Girl Scouts wrote a blog on the same day as the BSA announcement arguing that girls learn skills such as leadership best in a single-sex setting because it gives them the “free space” in which to “learn and thrive”. Their leadership programme is just as good, they argued and, moreover, girls need female role models.

“The benefit of the single-gender environment has been well-documented by educators, scholars, other girl- and youth-serving organizations, and Girl Scouts and their families. Girl Scouts offers a one-of-a-kind experience for girls with a programme tailored specifically to their unique developmental needs,” they said.

Image: BSA

Is single-sex education better?

The gender segregation debate has been raging in the education sector for years.

One side argues that girls and boys in single-sex schools do better because they can “be themselves”.

The other side claims that single-sex education doesn’t prepare children for the real world, where both genders live and work together.

The Girl Scouts may have a point. A few years ago, the Institute of Physics undertook a study of UK students that showed that girls from single-sex schools were more likely to choose physics at A-level than those at mixed schools.

Image: Institute of Physics

In other words, they were less likely to be influenced by the gender stereotypes that suggest science is a “boys subject”. The study found that girls were almost two-and-a-half times more likely to go on to do A-level physics if they came from a girls school rather than a co-educational school.

However, a new Australian study found that children in single-sex schools on average don’t perform any better than those in co-educational schools.

A mixed model

There is some compromise in the Boy Scout Association’s position. Each pack will be allowed to decide whether to establish a new girl pack, establish one that consists of girl dens and boy dens, or remain an all-boy pack. Cub Scout dens – smaller groups within a pack of six to eight children – will continue to be single sex.

“There is research that indicates boys and girls together at the Cub Scout age in a nurturing environment have more benefits than single gender. At the same time, there is research that shows strong single-gender benefits – and we know parents have diverse perspectives on the topic, so we want to provide options with what best meets their needs,” they say.

Declining numbers

The number of boys entering the Boy Scout Association has declined from around five million in its heyday in the 1970s to less than half that today (2.3 million), leading some critics to suggest that the move is intended to boost membership. But the BSA says this isn’t the case.

The BSA says it wants to “meet the needs” of modern families. This included the fact that families and girls had been asking to join for “many years”.

It also said that there was the practical matter of allowing boys and girls from the same family to attend the same club.

It’s not the only change the organization has made recently. Earlier this year it announced that it would accept transgender members. It changed its policy to admit children based on the gender stated on their application form, rather than on their birth certificate.

In 2013, it lifted a long-running ban on gay people joining the organization, and in 2015, it stopped barring gay Scout leaders.

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Economic GrowthLeadershipEquity, Diversity and Inclusion
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