Friday, May 15, 2009

Training Our Kids -- This. Stinks.

Via Jotman read this link to the NY Times story describing a program of the Boy Scouts of America to carry guns as they imagine themselves as future government agents confronting illegal immigrants or raiding places where illegal drugs are being grown or produced.

This is really sick.

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.”

One participant, Felix Arce, 16, said he liked “the discipline of the program,” which was something he said his life was lacking. “I want to be a lawyer, and this teaches you about how crimes are committed,” he said.

Cathy Noriego, also 16, said she was attracted by the guns. The group uses compressed-air guns — known as airsoft guns, which fire tiny plastic pellets — in the training exercises, and sometimes they shoot real guns on a closed range.

“I like shooting them,” Cathy said. “I like the sound they make. It gets me excited.”

There is a picture at the link but I don't want it appearing in my blog. And there is more information as well.

A comment at another site pointed out that the Explorer program is an "affiliate" of Boy Scouts of America. I suppose that bit of minutia is important in the same way that in those in the torture discussion loop are hard at work looking for other pots to point at who may be more stained than themselves. (Isn't it interesting how the terms "torture" and "enhanced interrogation technique" are interchanged depending on context and who is talking?)

Readers of this blog already know that I find this story disgusting. This is a problem about adults, not children. Whatever contorted adult imagination put this program together needs counseling, along with all who blow it off as harmless gamesmanship. When I try to say how poorly conceived this program is words fail me. The good news is that as of this writing nearly five hundred comments from readers are an avalanche of negative responses to the story. This one was among the editors' picks.

I am an Eagle Scout, a CEO, a Beirut veteran, and a member of the board of the National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. I am in, of, and part of the Scouting Movement in a way that many of the commentators are not. I have my 40-year pin from the Boy Scouts and a framed Silver Beaver certificate on the wall over there with the pictures and diplomas.

Law Enforcement Exploring is decades old. What no one's said yet is that this story is not at all new. Please readers, understand that there are those of us in the leadership of the Scouting Movement who are as appalled as you are. And we're Scouting's majority by a long mile. Your beef is with the local law enforcement Explorer Post leaders in Imperial County California, not with the BSA. If you care to study the history and the peculiar sociology of Scouting a little more closely, you will discover that precisely this concern -- an encroachment of paramilitary indoctrination -- has been eschewed by the Scouts in Britain and the USA ever since Scouting's foundation a hundred years ago.

Scouting is a franchise, with each Scouting unit run by its chartered organization -- in this case the Imperial County Sheriff's office. What Ms. Steinhauer and Mr. Krainin discovered in California is an extremism. The article and the slideshow are incredibly well done, and together they are an appropriate illumination fully in keeping with the social responsibility of the media. And frankly, with Scouting's own core principles. I can't in any way defend what's going on in Imperial, but I can defend Scouting's guiding principles and affirm to all of you that what you're reading about is, in my personal experience, a way-out aberration. Unfortunately, the written and visual images play so well for one side of the values wars that -- at least here -- Scouting's genuine values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law are going to be lost in all the noise.

In a movement as broad and, yes, as inclusive as Scouting, you're going to find this somewhere. Imperial's distinctiveness makes it real news fit for the Times. But if you actively seek the same distinctiveness in other milieus, you're also going to find every other expression of America within Scouting, including the most progressive sensibilities and individuals you can imagine.

To any of you interested, here is a permalink to an op-ed in the Allentown Morning Call that I wrote last year, offering a much-different perspective of how "Scouting is yet an exemplar for America."

To my brother and sister Scouts: Don't be enraged at the Times. These people are doing their job.

— Mike Pocalyko, Reston, Virginia

Americablog ran the picture and readers have left comments.

Ultranormal also picked it up.

This story reminds me of the tragic manner by which a growing number of Israeli young people seem to have morphed into feral examples of the law of unintended consequences. It starts at a young age and is nurtured by the best of good intentions but the results are both heartbreaking and dangerous.

Bernard Avishai on Child Abuse and

Dead Palestinian babies and bombed mosques - IDF fashion 2009

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