Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys began serialization in England on this day in 1908, kick-starting the Scout movement Baden-Powell was a well-known war hero at the time; his scouting articles were so popular with young boys that by the time the series had finished running in April there were impromptu Scout groups in many parts of Britain. Worldwide today, there are some 40 million boys and girls in Scout and Guide organizations.
But the numbers have been in decline for some time. “After a decade of controversy, Scouting has become something you don’t discuss with your sophisticated, bien-pensant friends,” says Michael S. Malone in Four Percent: The Story of Uncommon Youth in a Century of American Life. Malone’s book is part tribute to “the largest, and most enduring training and development organization for young men in the United States” and part lament. The closing chapter describes the mammoth 2010 Scout parade in Washington, D.C., marking the 100th anniversary of the American Scouting movement. Malone and several hundred other former Eagle Scouts — his book title refers to the few Scouts who make it to the prestigious Eagle level — were given place of honor as the last group of the 10,000 Scouts who marched, perhaps into history:
What was equally striking about the parade, besides how many people were there, was just who wasn’t there. Unlike 1937, when a Progressive president had embraced Scouting as an ally against Depression and war, the new Progressive president (and much of Congress) during a time of Recession and war — had decided to stay away. It was a stunning, even appalling disconnect at a time of unprecedented numbers of fatherless boys and unemployed teenagers, when the United States had an unequaled need for trained young leaders. The unspoken message at the front of Sunday’s parade was: Here is the bright young future of America. And at the back of the parade, the message of the Eagle ranks was: Here’s what Scouting can do. But many people were no longer listening. Perhaps one day their children would.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.