The following opinion piece was written by Stephanie Mueller and published in the Dallas Morning News.
The Boy Scouts have certainly been under scrutiny lately. They can’t seem to please either side of the conservative/liberal tug-of-war over its policies.
Yet one indisputable fact is that the Boy Scouts of America has been training boys to be great men for over a hundred years. The list of Eagle Scouts that have gone on to greatness is long and even longer when this list includes Scouts as a whole.
The majority of this transformation transpires off-the-beaten-path in their camps. Many attend local camps year-round. But the camp that’s the most revered — and changes boys to men in an almost “fraternal order” way — is Philmont Scout Ranch, the oldest and most popular of its four High Adventure camps. Say the word Philmont to a Scout over 14 and chances are he either went there or knows someone who did. Those who have experienced it speak of it with reverence and joy.
Philmont Scout Ranch encompasses 214 square miles of rugged wilderness in the Rocky Mountains of northern New Mexico. It operates 34 backcountry camps, 55 trail camps and 770 campsites. This summer more than 22,000 Scouts and leaders will each hike approximately 100 miles over 12 days. They’ll eat dehydrated food, store their gear in bags up in trees to not attract bears, use specially designed “pit” toilets and sleep on rocky ground.
Why do they love it so? Unless you’ve been, you don’t understand. The programs read like a list of popular natural science college majors: conservation programs, wildlife management and watershed protection. More importantly, the skills they learn are ones that have been determined to create successful adults: leadership, group dynamics, problem-solving and self-reliance.
This philosophy is gaining momentum. Across the nation, there are private “survival” camps for troubled teens that are often used as a last resort by parents who’ve exhausted all other alternatives. These camps take rebellious teens into the backcountry for several weeks, teach them how to live off the land and overcome bad habits and attitudes. Teens are given the tools, resources and experiences to learn to be independent and work with their peers.
The differences between these behavior-modifying camps and Philmont are limited; they both provide opportunities to gain skills that form the foundation of successful people. However, these private camps are either cost-prohibitive for most, or only subsidized for teens already in the juvenile justice system. Philmont is reasonably priced.
The self-reliance taught at Philmont isn’t new.
For centuries, civilizations have been creating ways for boys to endure hardships as part of coming-of-age rituals. The idea is that a boy must learn self-reliance, that the world does not revolve around him and that he is part of something bigger. Without such experience, a young man could have a false sense that boyhood lasts forever. He may live without responsibility for his actions and believe the world owes him.
It’s easy to pick sides on the Boy Scout debate based on personal convictions. However, we should be championing the things it does better than any other group — making great men.
Society is prevalent with youth who no longer understand delayed gratification, personal responsibility and personal connections. However, the Boy Scouts, through camps like Philmont, are molding boys into successful men.
Ask a Scout who recently attended Philmont and you’ll get some really good stories. Ask him years later and he’ll tell you it changed his life forever.
Stephanie Mueller of Preston Hollow is an independent consultant for a national gourmet food company and a contributor of Voices columns. Her email address is team. firstname.lastname@example.org.