I held up the picture of Obama. The scouts reacted as though Medusa herself stood before them.
Boy Scouts are supposed to love their country, not hate it. So when I visited a group of 11-year-old scouts recently, I was more than a little surprised to find the opposite.
As one of their requirements, scouts are supposed to discuss their “rights and duties as a citizen” with a community leader or teacher. Since I’m a political science professor, I apparently fit the bill. I was invited in to have this chat with a dozen or so 11-year-olds–who, as it turns out, already have a surprising ability to hate.
We started by talking about their rights. I wanted to impress on them that they have the right to do many things that they have the patriotic duty not to do. You have the right to burn a flag, for example, but you have the duty to respect it. You have the right to hate others, but you have a duty to treat them respectfully. You have a right to disagree with friends, neighbors, and even your government about policies, but you have a duty to be civil and respectful.
As we talked, I stressed that these were key points of the scout oath and law. A scout makes an oath to “do my duty to God and my country and to obey the scout law.” The scout law states that a scout is “trustworthy, loyal, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” I’ve italicized the parts of the scout law that I stressed in our discussion. You can disagree, and indeed you should actively participate in politics when you disagree with existing policy, but you should remain loyal to your country, reverent of our president (etc), clean in your speech, and friendly, courteous, and kind in all your interactions.
We talked for about 30 minutes about all that. I wanted to wrap up by seeing how many of their elected officials they could recognize–my goal was to make a point about the importance of being informed about politics so that you can participate in the process. I brought with me pictures of the president, Utah’s two U.S. Senators, Representative Jason Chaffetz, Utah’s governor, our local state senator and state representative, and the mayor of Orem.
I held up the picture of Obama. The scouts reacted as though Medusa herself stood before them. They hissed and booed. Several of them literally turned their faces or covered their eyes rather than look at the picture. A few hollered out, “Cover it up, cover it up!”
Seriously? Didn’t we just talk about civility, courtesy, respect, loyalty? Didn’t we just talk for half an hour about your right to disagree but your duty to be civil and respectful?
One of the scoutmasters in the back of the room is a military veteran. He’s very conservative, but after the meeting, he told me how stunned he was by their reaction. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with your president or not: You respect your president and disagree civilly.
I worry about a world where even boy scouts would react that way to a photograph of their president. I have a hunch they learn it at home.