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Why the Boy Scouts Work

Heather MacDonald

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Heather MacDonald writes, "A century ago this outfit figured out how to fire the imagination of inner-city boys with nature lore, ritual, and a code of conduct stressing duty, honor, and manliness. That's why today's elites hate it."

Feeling dispirited about today's youth? Try attending a Boy Scout meeting. You will find a parallel universe to today's vulgar, sexualized youth culture, filled with gestures of sometimes unbelievable delicacy and a code of conduct as anachronistic as sixteenth-century courtiership. Take Harlem's Troop 759. Six boys, from tall to small, sit expectantly around a card table in the basement of a red brick church on Morningside Avenue. The gangly senior patrol leader, Osmond Ollennu, a tenth-grade son of Ghanaians, calls the troop to opening ceremonies ("C'mon, men, form a straight line!"), and Osmond's little brother leads it in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by four full-throated repetitions of the scout motto ("Be Prepared!") and one scout slogan ("Do a Good Turn Daily"). Then Osmond, who is the troop's second-in-command, announces inspection. While the boys stand quietly in line, he gently reties a neckerchief here, straightens a collar there, occasionally whispering a reminder in a boy's ear. The troop's leader, a dignified 18-year-old named Henry Lawson, inspects Ollennu in turn.

To anyone familiar with the chaos in New York's inner-city classrooms, such rituals are a little piece of heaven. Though scouting arose in response to a perceived moral crisis in youth nearly 100 years ago, its founders could not possibly have foreseen how much more desperately their gift to poor, drifting boys would be needed today. In a world lacking structure, where even family may be constantly in flux, scouting provides order--from the weekly meetings with their flag ceremony and scout oath to the little rules of self-presentation, like neckerchief-tying and tucked-in shirts. To boys desperate for authority and discipline, it offers self-control and a clear path toward achievement. Most important, it speaks a language of selflessness and honor to a culture tongue-tied about virtue. It is a ready-made salvation for urban children, complete with that holy grail: self-esteem. Even so, today's cultural elite, offended by scouting's nineteenth-century ethic of manly virtue, has put it right in the line of fire of today's culture wars.

For the complete article go to the City Journal website.



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