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Youth Organizations

Boy Scouts Of America

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) provides educational programs for boys and young men that can be delivered through local organizations. The aims of the BSA programs are to develop character, citizenship, and fitness among its members. The Scout promise (oath) and scout laws identify the specific virtues the BSA wishes boys to pursue. Those virtues are honesty, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness, courteousness, kindness, obedience, optimism, courage, thriftiness, cleanliness, and reverence.

The BSA programs attempt to achieve the stated aims and develop the identified virtues through several methods. First, adult scout leaders are meant to serve as role models who guide members through an advancement system. Second, scouts select activities in their small groups, and each member is expected to take on and share leadership roles. Third, as members demonstrate that they have attained skills through mastering and completing specific challenges set forth in the manuals, scouts earn awards, badges, and advancements to the next level of scouting. Community service and outdoor activities are central features of the programs.


At the beginning of the twentieth century there was a general consensus, both in the United States and Europe, that boys needed educational and recreational activities beyond those provided by schools. In 1910 William Boyce, a publisher from Chicago, incorporated the BSA, after meeting with Robert Baden-Powell, the British author of Scouting for Boys. On incorporation in the United States, the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) under-took to support the formation and maintenance of Boy Scout programs by community organizations. The Sons of Daniel Boone, founded by Daniel Beard, merged with the BSA and Beard became the first national scout commissioner. Ernest Seton, who had founded the Woodcraft Indians, became the first volunteer national chief scout. The U.S. Congress chartered the BSA in 1916. Membership grew rapidly to approximately 850,000 boys by 1930.

Legal Status and Governance

Although the BSA holds a congressional charter, the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that the BSA is a private organization that can restrict membership. The BSA has chosen to exclude atheists and homosexuals from both membership and volunteer positions. The exclusionary policy has been highly controversial.

Local community and religious organizations sponsor troops led by adult volunteers. The national executive board, made up of volunteers representing local councils, sets guidelines and approves materials and content of leader training and scouting programs. The executive board elects the chief executive who is responsible for operating the BSA. There are several thousand paid employees who administer the organization. Throughout the United States there are 300 local councils organized into twenty-eight areas in four regions.


Boy Scouts may be seven through twenty years of age. The initial programs, which are family and home based, are Tiger Cubs for first graders (seven years old), Cub Scouts for second through fifth graders (eight through ten years old), and Webelos Scouts for fourth and fifth graders preparing to be Boy Scouts. Boys in the initial programs attend meetings in dens comprising about eight to ten boys, and the dens are organized into packs. Boy Scouts, who are eleven through seventeen years old, are organized into patrols of five to eight boys who are part of larger troops. Varsity Scouts are fourteen through seventeen years of age. Venturer Scouts are boys or girls from fourteen through twenty years old. Approximately four percent of Boy Scouts earn the Eagle Scout rank, the highest advancement in Boy Scouting, which is obtained by accomplishing specific requirements and badges. In the year 2000 there were approximately one million active scout members and half a million adult volunteers in 52,582 troops.


The BSA publishes the magazines Boys' Life and Scouting. Handbooks are published for boys and leaders at each level of Boy Scouts. Pamphlets, training manuals, and guidebooks provide information for members, parents, and leaders.

Influence and Significance

Few independent external evaluations of the BSA are available. However, several small studies point to benefits of participation, such as a positive sense of self, leadership skills, work habits, and a sense of responsibility to the community through participating in the Boy Scouts.


HOYT, KENNETH. 1978. Exploring Division Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., and Career Education. Rockville, MD: Educational Resource Information Center.

KLEINFELD, JUDITH, and SHINKWIN, ANNE. 1983. Getting Prepared: Nonformal Education in Boy Scouts. Rockville, MD: Educational Resource Information Center.


BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA. 2002. <www.scouting.org>.


Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comEducation EncyclopediaYouth Organizations - Big Brothers Big Sisters Of America, B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, Boys And Girls Clubs Of America - AMERICAN FIELD SERVICE