Why I’ll Never Be a Girl Scout Leader

It’s cookie season again.

So last week, when the leader of Jennifer’s Girl Scout troop called to ask if I could spare an hour to help her sort the girls’ cookie orders, I was happy to say yes. After all, she’s a close friend and she is the glue that has kept Jennifer’s troop together. This mom feels passionately about the opportunities Girl Scouting provides and is willing to bear the burden of an enormous amount of paperwork, preparation for meetings, and sometimes even abuse by other moms ““ not to mention picking up and warehousing literally a truckload of Thin Mints and Samoas ““ in order to see the girls continue in Girl Scouts and advance in the ranks.

I want to support her, but when I think about doing more than just lending a hand and really investing my time and energy in Girl Scouts, I can’t get very motivated; the truth is I just don’t understand the appeal of Girl Scouting.

I know that statement may seem sacrilegious; how can I have a negative attitude about an organization that promotes inclusiveness, diversity, and symbolizes wholesomeness?

It comes from my experience with my daughters in Scouting. My older daughter, Valerie, was in Girl Scouts from kindergarten through fifth grade at which time the girls and moms lost interest in it and Scouting died a natural death for her and her classmates. Jennifer, our sixth grade daughter, also started as a Daisy Girl Scout and her troop is still hanging together ““ thanks to the mom I mentioned above.

Nonetheless, Girls Scouts just doesn’t make sense to me. One of my biggest frustrations with the program is that it seems very shallow. I believe their hope is that if you expose the girls to many different interests ““ whether it’s astronomy, cartooning, or nature ““ that it will ignite a spark in one of them and they will want to pursue that interest further.

But what ends up happening is that the girls get such a small tidbit of information that the exposure is meaningless. Girl Scout meetings are more like birthday parties than an educational experience. The troop leader does a lot of work preparing an activity and snack. The girls show up, eat the food, do the craft or whatever is put in front of them, and then once they are outside of the room, the whole experience is quickly forgotten.

And the badge they received for trying the chosen activity isn’t really a symbol of accomplishment; it is like those “Participant” ribbons the kids often bring home. Or like a party favor. You got it because you showed up. I believe that’s why Jennifer has a drawer full of badges that she hasn’t cared about having me put on her vest. In fact, when she received a badge for going to High School Musical on Ice she almost felt insulted. It took away any illusion she had that the badges signified doing something of value.

I don’t think you can have your cookies and eat them too. Programs are most successful when they really have a strong focus and I think in the case of Girl Scouts, it either needs to be about fun or about education. If the girls were really going to learn anything about a particular topic, it would require hard work and time”¦like school.

Or to say it in a more positive way, Girl Scouting has become too ambitious. Its basis was in scouting, but now it tries to be all things to all girls. No organization can achieve that broad a goal ““ something is going to suffer, and in the case of Girls Scouts, I believe it is depth.

I could enjoy Girl Scouts if we dropped the pretense that the girls were there to learn and just called it what it really is, which is a play date. It is an opportunity for the girls to interact outside of school and the moms to socialize.

I do want to interject that I know that as the girls get older, there are a lot of Girl Scout camps that concentrate on a particular area of interest and I’m sure the girls come away with some real knowledge and skills. I’m really talking about my experience with the younger girls and the programs we participate in during the year.

Girl Scouts seems like an anachronism. Back when it was started in 1912, it made sense to create an organization that provided a social outlet for girls in isolated rural home environments while giving them an expanded sense of the world.

But in 2008, this notion is downright quaint. Between the internet and all the media that our children are exposed to, their world is global. Girl Scouts doesn’t seem to meet a need for socializing or activities that isn’t already available to girls.

I’m making that heretical statement knowing that, according to their website, there are four million members of Girl Scouts of the USA. There are stories of female CEOs who trace their love of business back to selling cookies when they were a Brownie. So obviously there are a lot of girls and women out there who really get something out of participating in Girl Scouts.

For me though, participating in Girls Scouts is like eating a Thin Mint now that they’ve taken out the trans fat. It’s not very satisfying.



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