Every so often I get in a conversation with a "traditional" (non-LDS) scouter and they often have a question or comment on how the Church conducts the scouting program. I'm afraid that most often, it's a (well-earned) criticism and it bums me out that the church's scout programs often have a bad reputation. This morning I got in a conversation with a fellow at our local scout shop. (OK, it's really just a tiny corner of a clothing store; they're just kind enough to also supply scout supplies). We were commiserating about the difficulties getting volunteers to help out with pack and District activities. I mentioned that I've been doing our local day camp for the last couple years and he grinned and said he'd done it four four years in Reno. He said something like, "No offense, but it's really hard to get the LDS packs to supply volunteers." I had to agree that it's often really difficult to get LDS volunteers. He offered several suggestions, but unfortunately, they wouldn't really work in our situation.
I think sometimes, in the Church, we tend to think that unless we have been called, we don't have to help out. Cub Scouts is treated as drop off child care and Boy Scouts as something to be studiously avoided. In addition to the Cub Scout program being the basis for preparing a boy to be a priesthood holder and preparing him for his mission, it is a program to train parents. Parents should learn early on (hopefully someone will take them aside when their oldest son turns eight and explain the Cub Scout program to them and what is expected of them) that they are an integral part of their son's scouting experience. Whether he succeeds or fails will be highly dependent on how well they lead him. The scouting program is also good for parents. How much easier is it for the parents of a young man that has been an active scout to send him on a mission than the parents whose son has never been away from home in his life? At least the scout's parents know he can survive a weekend in the wild and that he probably won't starve to death in his first few weeks in the field. (He might only be able to prepare a very limited menu of burned food and may be in danger of burning down his apartment, but at least he won't starve).
Sometimes my conversations with traditional scouters come around to how we as LDS groups tend to pencil whip the boys through the program. (To be clear, pencil whipping is when a requirement is signed off but the boy hasn't really fulfilled it or met the objective. This cheets both the boy and the leader). I generally have to agree that it does happen. A year or so ago, our District Eagle Scout Project coordinator passed away and the people that took it over were aghast at some of the projects he'd approved. I don't know if he was LDS or not, but it does seem that we put such a high focus on getting the Eagle that sometimes we lose track of the importance of the boy earning his advancements. The guidelines for being a merit badge counselor are pretty specific that the counselor can't change the requirements. Of course, there are occasionally rare instances where it is appropriate to fit the requirements to the individual's abilities, but it shouldn't happen very often. I've seen whole groups signed off when collectively the group barely passed the minimum requirements, let alone each individual. (One traditional scouter told me after last year's Day Camp that a number of LDS groups had given belt loops for the activities we'd done at Day Camp, even though we'd only superficially covered the requirements. The intent was to get them started and they could finish off the requirements at home or at Den Meeting). It's important to remember that a boy having a shirt full of decorations is far less important than his having the knowledge he gains from learning and doing on his own and his knowing he didn't slide by. Neither the scout nor his leaders can claim to be trustworthy when awards are given and not earned.
One big reason these kinds of conversations really burn me up is that the Scouting program is also supposed to provide missionary opportunities. Generally we tend to think that these opportunities are limited to the boys we might bring into the program (less-active or non-members). I'd guess in reality we make just as big of an impression on their parents and other scout leaders. Some of these people are really the salt of the earth, but because of the examples they see in our leaders and parents, they'll never desire to join the church.
I attended Naval Science Institute in the summer of 1998. In the first few weeks we identified some areas we thought the service was lacking in leadership. We agreed that our small group wasn't likely to make huge changes, but our motto was "Change Your 10%". We agreed that wherever we went, each of us would do our best to improve the 10% we had influence over. In the years since 1998, I've had other conversations that make me not-so-proud to be an LDS scouter. All I can do is agree that we [LDS scouters] should be doing things the right way, try to lead by example and change my 10%.