According to www.scouting.org the earliest vestige of Cub Scouting dates to 1914 in England. It appears that Robert Baden-Powell having begun the Boy Scouts four years earlier needed to do something for younger boys. Just as today, older boys have younger brothers and friends and they wanted to be part of the action. Baden-Powell looked to Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 work of fiction The Jungle Book for inspiration and developed a program for these younger boys that he called the Wolf Cubs. In the United States, a Cubbing program (not yet called the Cub Scouts) was piloted in 1929 in select communities and formally launched in 1930. In its first year, it attracted 5,102 boys.
Cub Scouts are alive and well. According to Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), as of 2013, the organization had 1,417,034 youth participants. Currently, Cub Scouting begins for boys in first grade and takes a boy through the fifth grade. The boys pass through a series of ranks at each grade first graders are called Tiger Cubs, second graders – Wolf Cubs, third graders – Bear Cubs, fourth graders – WEBLOS and fifth graders are said to be in the Arrow of Light Year. Each boy is required to accomplish a brief set of initial requirements which earns them their Bobcat Badge. This “levelling up” aspect is a significant part of the Cub Scout Program as written.
Admittedly, the program itself can feel a bit “dated”. This can be both a positive and a negative for today’s youth and families. The uniform itself is a throwback. You can take a peek at some of the early Cub Scout uniforms www.sageventure.com. Most modern kids would never think of wearing something like this in public today. The modern uniform (www.scouting.org) is not that different but has been updated somewhat. The pants are now trousers. The hat is no longer a “beanie”. Yet, the neckerchief is still in place and the dark blue shirt with dark blue pants is still the norm. This is not a “look” that most children wear today. It is very formal and quite frankly not very comfortable. Now, this sense of throwback may appeal to your parenting goals and then again it may not. The uniform is probably a good analogy for the entire Cub Scouting Program. A bit throwback, but still aligned to some people’s tastes.
Scouting Magazine’s website (www.scoutingmagazine.org) has a blog entitled Bryan on Scouting that has scout leaders as its target audience. This blog in November of 2016 described an overview of the most recent revision of the Cub Scout Program. According to www.cubscoutideas.com, prior to the 2016 revision, the program itself went 45 years without a major set of changes. According to www.scouting.org the basic unit of the 2016 revision is what is called an “adventure”. These are theme based activities that are organized to meet a specific objective. Each of these adventures according to Bryan on Scouting is intended to take two den meetings.
Cub Scouting remains organized by a hierarchical organization. The most visible unit is a pack. A pack is a group of Cub Scouts sponsored by some community organization. Each pack is typically organized into a group of dens first, organized by age (each grade has its own den) and then, if necessary, more than one den is created in an age group in order to keep the size of each den around, at most, 8 to 10 boys. Each pack’s activities are organized by a Cub Master and a pack committee. Each den has its own den leader. Den meetings are frequent. They occur approximately weekly. Pack meetings tend to be monthly. Pack meetings center on either special events or are a celebration of the boys accomplishments from the previous months. At best, boys tend to develop close friendships with the boys in their den.
On the pack level, boys also typically engage in activities. The most visible among these are camping and construction projects. Camping and scouting are clearly culturally associated. Bryan on Scouting notes that outdoor program is the focus of one of the adventures required for each of the Cub Scout ranks. A boy in Cub Scouting will go outside. Almost every local district (a collection of packs), or local council (a collection of districts) supports, at a minimum, an accredited summer day camp program for Cub Scouts and often supports an accredited summer residence camp option. Construction projects are also very visible. Packs traditionally hold several races a year. These can include space derbys (rubber band powered shuttles), rain gutter regattas (model sailboats), and the ever-popular pinewood derby (gravity driven model cars). These are construction projects of varying degrees of difficulty that are designed to engage boy and parent in collaboration in building a vehicle that will win a race.
Cub Scouts are also known as a service organization. Each pack yearly engages in at least one community service project. These can range from community clean up projects to visiting people in elderly-care facilities. Each spring, Cubs are involved, nationwide, in an effort called Scouting for Food where Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts do a bag distribution and pickup in order to collect non-perishable food items for local food distribution pantries and organizations. Cub Scouts learn from a young age that it is important to be part of your local community.
Currently, Cub Scouting offers boys an opportunity to earn a set of awards called Nova Awards and for the more adventurous boy an award called the Supernova Award (www.scouting.org). These awards are the backbone of the Cub Scouting STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) offerings. These awards are not a core part of the Cub Scout program but can be part of what attracts the more academically or scientifically minded boy to Cub Scouting.
Cub Scouting also has opportunities for boys to explore their own faith and faith community. Cub Scouting has programs where boys from almost every major recognized religious community can earn a religious medal by exploring with a local religious leader his own religion and faith community. Scout Sunday is frequently celebrated by packs that are chartered by Christian organizations. Cub Scout packs are frequently chartered by religious organizations and have strong ties to faith communities.
Cub Scouting has had two problematic issues that have consistently plagued the organization. One of these issues surrounds religious belief. The other centers on issues of gender identity and sexual orientation.
According to www.bsalegal.org, Boy Scouts of America, the umbrella organization of which Cub Scouting is a part hold the following statement as part of its bylaws:
The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.’ The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them. The Boy Scouts of America, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and the organization or group with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.
This statement essentially closes the door on adults and youth that do not have a belief in some semblance of a “higher power”. In short, if you openly identify as an atheist or an agnostic this is problematic. Again, this is part of what has been described above as “throwback, but updated”. While Cub Scouting has clearly embraced modern ideas like scientific inquiry it has likewise held the traditional position that boys must believe in God to be welcome at the pack meeting. This will bar some and probably encourage others to be involved. This is a serious issue that should be contemplated before considering involvement in a local Cub Scout pack.
The other hot button issue for Cub Scouting has been centered on the gender identity and sexual orientation of both adult leaders and boys. It is a very tough road to take to be a single gender organization in the world today. In light of a recently more open national dialogue that questions the binary nature of gender, to say that Cub Scouts is only open to boys is difficult. Up until 2014, Cub Scouting was only open to those who identified as heterosexual boys and until 2015, only open to leaders who are heterosexual. In July of 2015 the Boys Scouts of America stated:
Chartered organizations will continue to select their adult leaders and religious chartered organizations may continue to use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including matters of sexuality. This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change also respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own. (www.scoutingnewsroom.org)
By leaving the decision about whether or not to admit adult leaders based on their sexual orientation to chartering organizations Cub Scouting made it possible for specific Cub Scout packs to continue the practice of excluding openly homosexual adult leaders.
However, with respect to boys no exclusion by sexual orientation has been expressly forbidden. In January of 2014 the Boy Scouts of America adopted the following policy statement:
Youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America is open to all youth who meet the specific membership requirements to join the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Sea Scout, and Venturing programs. Membership in any program of the Boy Scouts of America requires the youth member to (a) subscribe to and abide by the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law, (b) subscribe to and abide by the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle (duty to God), and (c) demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone. (www.scoutingmagazine.com)
This, however, appears not to include transgender boys who are genetically female. In December of 2016, CNN (www.cnn.com) reported that an eight year-old transgender boy was dismissed from a Cub Scout pack in New Jersey. Scouting officials said that he did not meet the eligibility requirements to be a Cub Scout. Again, this may be a topic that divides parents. Some may be looking for an organization that has a strict single gender policy based on genetic markers and other may find having such a policy to be abhorrent. These policies on gender identity and sexual orientation need to be weighed prior to registration.
Be aware that Cub Scouting is not a cheap activity. Typically registration for a year in a pack can range from $100 to $250 per year per boy. This often does not cover the cost of uniforms and some of the pack’s activities. An active boy in an active pack can possibly cost a family easily over $500 a year in registration fees, equipment, and other expenses. The boys do a lot and are often rewarded for what they do with a patch, pin, tee-shirt or ribbon, but these costs can add up.
Cub Scouting is also very much a “joiner” activity. Cub Scout packs can run either typically either nine months a year up to year-round. The assumption is that once a boy joins that he is a member of the pack and of a den. The year is systematically laid out in advance to ensure that boys make all the requirement for that year’s rank. Missing meetings or activities can frequently derail this process. The assumption is also that Cub Scouting will grow with the boy. Once registered the goal of the pack is to keep the boy involved and active through their fifth grade year. At the end of that time the pack will typically have an elaborate “bridging ceremony” that welcomes boys to a local Boy Scout troop which often has the same chartering organization as the pack. The Boy Scout troop will then be the boy’s location for scouting activity until the boy is eighteen years of age. If you are not looking for a long term commitment to a youth organization then Cub Scouting may not be the place for you. Please be aware that Cub Scouting is very much a parent driven organization. Parents of Cub Scouts are expected to play some role in making the pack go.
Fundraising is something that is very much dependent on the pack. Most Cub Scout groups participate in selling “scout popcorn” which is the national fundraiser for the organization. Reports are that this is a difficult sell. Many Cub Scout pack registration fees (called: dues) do not cover their operating costs entirely. Many packs need to do occasional fundraisers during the year to overcome this deficit. It is almost guaranteed that if your boy joins a Cub Scout pack you will be required to participate in some fundraising activity. Scouting is a costly endeavor and requires constant contributions to the coffers to make things work.
If Cub Scouting is a good fit for your boy this can be for some an awesome and almost magical experience that grows with them from first to fifth grade with the option of continuing through Boy Scouting into adulthood. Those that are attracted to a bit of nostalgia will probably find Cub Scouting’s throwback feel welcoming. Boys who crave outdoor play will find Cub Scouting a welcoming environment. There is a solid structure here that is highly organized and developmental. Cub Scouting engages a boy in the context of his family, his community, and his religious background. A well-organized Cub Scout pack can be an excellent way for your boy to meet other boys, to explore, and grow into a well-balanced adult.
On the downside, Cub Scouting is more of a commitment of time or treasure than some families want to make. You don’t simply come one week and then miss the next two. Involvement with a Cub Scout pack is ongoing and significant. A family may find it difficult or impossible to balance an activity like club sports or theater with Cub Scouting. It’s just a lot to do. The social issues that are challenging Cub Scouting should not be discounted. This is an organization that is trying really hard to travel what appears to be a narrow path in the gender and sexuality debate. They seem to be stuck between wanting to be as inclusive as possible for boys and adults without not losing chartering organizations that do not share that sense of inclusion. There are a lot of stake holders here and they definitely have conflicting opinions on this matter. It is clear than Cub Scouting is not ready to tackle the questions brought up by transgender or gender fluid children and adults at this time.
Scouting has a long tradition in America it will probably continue to do so. It appears to be making slow evolutions but the question as to whether those evolutions are going to be fast enough for most Americans remains to be seen.
Disclosure: James Beam, the author of this article at the time of writing and publication is the Treasurer for Cub Scout Pack 372 in Essex, MD in the Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. James currently has a 10 year-old son who is an active WEBLOS Scout in this Pack.