Forget Trump’s Boy Scout speech. Let’s talk about Girl Scouts and STEM.


Remember when a real president honored Girl Scouts’ interest in science at the White House Science Fair?

Many people across the country were appalled by Donald Trump’s rambling and boorish political speech to the Boy Scouts of America National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.

The insecure braggart-in-chief found a way to work in:

  • Insults to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Washington, and the news media.
  • An incoherent anecdote hinting about a fellow real estate mogul’s sexual escapades aboard a yacht.
  • A threat to fire a member of his Cabinet if the Affordable Care Act isn’t repealed.
  • Indoctrination of the Boy Scouts and their families in the crowd into becoming worshipers at the Altar of Trump.

Many Scouting families and former Scouts took to Twitter and the BSA Facebook page to register outrage, threatening to stop donating to the organization and to take their sons out of Scouting. Many demanded that the BSA issue an apology and some kind of statement distancing the Boy Scouts from Trump’s inappropriate conduct. They were not satisfied with the BSA’s initial tepid response.

Even worse was the realization that the president of the BSA, Randall Stephenson, is also the president of AT&T, which needs the Trump administration’s approval for an $85 billion deal to merge with Time Warner. Under Stephenson’s leadership, with so much money on the line, it wasn’t likely that the Boy Scouts were going to take Trump to task.

But the BSA chief executive, Michael Surbaugh, did issue a real apology. “I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. … For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.”

So instead of dwelling on such unpleasantries, let’s take a break from the constant beat of the Trump drum and celebrate the fact that the Girls Scouts of America just introduced 23 new badges in the outdoors and STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math.

Putting a priority on STEM isn’t new to the Girl Scouts. This is how the website of Girls Scouts of the USA describes the organization’s emphasis on science and its related fields:

We introduce Girl Scouts of every age to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to help them see how they can actually improve the world — whether they’re discovering how a car’s engine runs, learning to manage finances, or caring for animals.

We’d like every girl to explore different aspects of STEM every year, so we’ve developed a unique, “fun with purpose” K–12 curriculum to inspire girls to embrace and celebrate scientific discovery in their lives.

These new badges, aimed at all Girl Scout levels, K-12, from Daisies to Seniors and Teen Ambassadors, represent the biggest increase of the number of new badges in 10 years. The new badges cover areas like robotics, mechanical engineering, and programming.

So why should we care about Girl Scout badges? Let’s look at what it means as those girls grow up into women. From a GSUSA press release announcing the new badges, which also lists the many partners who helped work on these new badges and the Scouts’ STEM programs:

Girl Scouts are almost twice as likely as non-Girl Scouts to participate in STEM (60 percent versus 35 percent) and outdoor activities (76 percent versus 43 percent). With the introduction of 23 new badges, which marks the largest programming rollout in almost a decade, Girl Scouts can create algorithms, design robots and racecars, go on environmentally conscious camping trips, collect data in the great outdoors, try their hand at engineering, and so much more. …

Girl Scouts do better than their non-Girl Scout peers in the classroom, earning better grades and aspiring to higher educational attainment, and are more likely to seek careers in STEM, law, and business —industries in which women are underrepresented. And the benefits of Girl Scouting are not exclusive to any particular demographic, which means that no matter where girls live or what their age or background, Girl Scouts can help them develop to their full potential and excel in all aspects of life. …

GSUSA created programming that included contributions from many notable organizations. Collaborators include the STEM-focused Code.org, GoldieBlox, SciStarter, Society of Women Engineers, and WGBH/Design Squad Global, as well as the  outdoor-focused Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

These new badges are on top of another effort to let girls earn badges in cybersecurity. An AP story about the new badges describes how the emphasis on STEM helps girls get over their “crisis of confidence” in pursuing education and careers in these fields.

The effort takes a progressive approach to STEM and also nudges girls to become citizen scientists using the great outdoors as their laboratory.

Among the new badges are those that introduce kindergarten and first graders to the world of robots and engineering. Scouts can learn basic programming and build prototypes to solve everyday problems. Older scouts will have the chance to enhance those skills, learning more about artificial intelligence, algorithms and how to formally present their work. …

One study cited by the Scouts showed women remain vastly underrepresented in [the cybersecurity] industry, holding 11 percent of such jobs globally. Another study, done by the Computing Technology Industry Association, found that 69 percent of women who have not pursued careers in information technology attribute their choice to not knowing what opportunities are available to them.

This is not meant to be a puff piece about GSUSA, although I am a lifetime member after being a Scout as a youngster and an adult leader for nine years while my own daughters were in Scouting. But after having to put up with buffoonish Trumpery at a Boy Scout event (at any time, really), I thought we could all use a little good news for a change.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 30, 2017.

One Comment on “Forget Trump’s Boy Scout speech. Let’s talk about Girl Scouts and STEM.

  1. Hi Sher. Happy to see you write about helping kids. With so much attention focused on politics and #45’s daily disasters, getting people to think of ways they can help kids through school and into careers is more difficult than ever.

    In 1997 I was a Chicago delegate to the President’s Summit for America’s Future event in Philadelphia. The president of the Chicago area Girls Scouts chapter was also on the team. I recall suggesting at one point that their be a merit badge devoted to “helping youth programs grow in more places”.

    I encourage you to take a look at the graphics in these PDFs https://www.scribd.com/doc/195854678/Mentor-Role-in-Larger-Youth-Development-Strategy

    https://www.scribd.com/document/158130787/Virtual-Corporate-Office-Strategy-for-Helping-Youth-Tutor-Mentor-Programs-Reach-Youth-in-More-Places

    I think that site based non-school programs can be distribution centers for STEAM and all sorts of learning, made possible by the efforts of volunteers, businesses, colleges and others, not just through the vision and efforts of staff and Board members of each area youth serving organization.

    If intermediaries take this role, they can look at maps of a city and begin to do the information collection and analysis that would show where programs exist, that need to be supported, and where no programs exist, or where programs offer too few learning activities, which means new programs need to be launched. They could lead on-going efforts to draw volunteers and donors to programs in all parts of the city and suburbs.

    Youth in scouts and service learning programs at high school and/or college level could be doing this analysis, and sharing their ideas and call for involvement in blogs and videos they create.

    If enough people do this maybe we can drown out #45 and ramp up needed help for k-12 kids in poverty areas throughout the country. That would make a great merit badge.

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