Thursday, May 14, 2009

Brave, Clean, Reverent, and Well-Armed?

Scouting sure has changed since I met with my fellow Cub Scouts in the basement of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s longtime missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and firefighters.

“This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl,” said A. J. Lowenthal, a sheriff’s deputy here in Imperial County, whose life clock, he says, is set around the Explorers events he helps run. “It fits right in with the honor and bravery of the Boy Scouts.”

The training, which leaders say is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting, can involve chasing down illegal border crossers as well as more dangerous situations that include facing down terrorists and taking out “active shooters,” like those who bring gunfire and death to college campuses. In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.

“Put him on his face and put a knee in his back,” a Border Patrol agent explained. “I guarantee that he’ll shut up.”

Somehow I don’t think this is what Lord Baden-Powell had in mind.

I know there’s always been a sort of paramilitary meme to scouting, but I think this a little overboard. And I realize there’s a difference between the Explorers and the Boy Scouts; for one thing, Explorers is co-ed, and there is a long history of the group working with law enforcement versus the more community-service minded track that comes with Scouting. But I still can’t shake the idea that giving teenagers — no matter how well-intentioned — classes that involve assault weapons doesn’t really square with the image of camping in the woods or helping a little old lady across the street.