An Open Letter To The Girl Scouts
December 31, 2014 8:28 PM   Subscribe

 
This problem has never gone away, just changed shape, since I was a Girl Scout in the 90's. Back then the council office banned pens so they could re-use all their paper. I'm sure there was more going on, but that's what I was aware of as a child. I was a Girl Scout 1992-96 or so, and I can't help but wonder what the hell is going on that it's just never got better.

Mismanagement has something to do with it, but so does an utter and complete lack of support from the government when compared to the Boy Scouts. I get that it's hard to run a national nonprofit, but every time I hear about this stuff, the comparison is just too hard to get away from.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:49 PM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


Well. There is some misinformation in the first link (cookie sales actually started before Christmas, you can't order just a single box of cookies online so the shipping isn't quite all that ridiculous...)

But: Scouting isn't perfect, either on the Girl Scout or the Boy Scout side of things. (Disclosure: I've got kids in both, and I hold leadership positions in both). Both organizations are screwed up at every level above the individual Troop, and both are in decline. Both are closing camps for demographic reasons that are much broader than pension plan issues.

All that aside: kids have fun in both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts as long as their leaders focus on them, rather than on Scout politics or the social-scientist-driven-flavor-of-the-month program. And that's good enough to keep me involved.
posted by ffmike at 9:06 PM on December 31, 2014 [10 favorites]


Wow, their pension investments really did poorly (the reason for the pension mess.) It sounds like whoever allocated them was irresponsible or incompetent. A fund that provides livelihoods should always be hedged.
posted by michaelh at 9:08 PM on December 31, 2014


At first I thought this was satire. But it's not. Damn. I'll probably still buy cookies though...
posted by MikeMc at 9:13 PM on December 31, 2014


The digital cookie sales that will allow girl scouts to sell online starting this year: From what I’ve read online if my daughter sells a box of cookies to her nana online, her nana will be charged $4 for the cookies, $11.25 for shipping.

If I'm paying $11.25 for ANY cookies to be shipped to me, they had better have Pugsley Addams's preferred ingredients in them.
posted by delfin at 9:17 PM on December 31, 2014 [9 favorites]


If you don't have a Girl Scout Cookie sale near you and you don't want to pay shipping, you can buy some excellent Keebler knockoffs of Samoas, Thin Mints, and Do-Si-Dos at the grocery store. (One of the two official Girl Scout Cookie bakers is actually a subsidiary of Keebler.)
posted by SisterHavana at 9:28 PM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


Ah, man, my kid just started girl scouts recently (Daisies).

I've been a volunteer for many different things (other kids programs, city boards, sports, etc) and never have a run into an organization so incompetent as the Girl Scouts.
Hell, we've been attending meetings since September and I'm still waiting for them to call me and tell me which troop to join.

Not to mention the endless hoops you need to jump through as an adult volunteer.
I understand in this litigious age, you need to be a little pro-actively paranoid, but seriously.

My wife is a very dedicated parent and potentially tireless volunteer for the troop, but over 15 hours of online training, weekday evening seminars, and other onerous requirements make it very difficult for a working parent to be involved, let alone convince others to help out.
posted by madajb at 9:37 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


And don't even get me started on the huge rip-off cookie sales have become.

$4.00 a box and the girl gets about 85 cents?
And you've rigged the rules so cookie sales are about the only fund-raiser the girls are allowed to do?

Forget it. If my child is going to learn any lesson, it's how not to be a shill for a multi-billion dollar snack food company.
posted by madajb at 9:41 PM on December 31, 2014 [43 favorites]


What's with writing just "Girl Scouts" and not "the Girl Scouts", like "my daughter is in Girl Scouts"? Is this a Thing?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:57 PM on December 31, 2014


Yeah. Pensions. What old people rely on to live out their lives comfortably after a lifetime of labor. The very thing organizations and governments ripped off workers with when they were still working - hey, take a pay-cut, the benefits are amazing! Ooooops, we never set any money aside to meet that obligation! You're greedy and hate kids for expecting what we promised you in your old age and never intended to deliver, and we can find an exception or two to completely invalidate the thousands and thousands of workers screwed over. Go die poor over there, we have girls who want to go to camp.

If congress wants to be helpful, guarantee pensions and other retirement benefits, and maybe give up a carrier group or two to fund it, and some laws to claw-back some of the expenses.

The hell of it it, the GSA is a very progressive organization. It's almost as if an older generation had deliberately screwed over a newer generation with financial malarky for political reasons...
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:01 PM on December 31, 2014 [46 favorites]


Disclosure: I was Gold Award Girl Scout. (It's like Eagle Scout, only nobody cares because...girls.) I still have all three sashes filled hem to hem with badges. I started Scouts in the early 70s, and stayed in it even during my punk phase. (In a Catholic troop no less.) When I was a scout, we could earn free trips to camp by selling the cookies. I went to summer camp every year, not because my single mom could afford to send me, but because I sold the hell out of some cookies, because I wanted to go to summer camp.

They don't do that any more. The girls don't earn anything individually for all their hard work. The local troop gets anywhere from $.30 to .65 a box now. That's it.

I've contributed, as an alumni, both in time, resources and donations to help local troops, even though I don't have a daughter, because scouting was so important to me. Learning self sufficiency, like how to start a fire, or capture water, or all sorts of survival skills, as well as learning to sew, learning to fire a gun accurately, fire a bow accurately, canoe, hike, forage, mountain climb..sailing. My troop once sailed a boat to the Bahamas by ourselves, after we learned navigation and charts and maps and how to deal with the various ordinances and regulations and contacts. We backpacked from Washington, DC to North Carolina down the Appalachian trail. We canoed the entire Flint River, we rafted down the Mississippi...and so to hear someone in leadership of the Girl Scouts say "girls don't like camping", broke this old scout's heart.

Individual scout troops are doing their best, even now. But the national organization is broken, and I don't even know if it can be repaired without tearing it down and starting anew.

But I can tell you this, if you care about Girl Scouts, when you see the table there at your local market, ask the troop leader if you can make a donation to the troop itself, sans cookies and national organization. Help your local troop buy the stuff they need to learn the skills the scouts were designed to teach. Instead of buying cookies this year, just drop 5 bucks on the troop.
posted by dejah420 at 10:16 PM on December 31, 2014 [182 favorites]


We don't get the wide variety of cookies here in Canada that the States get, or at least the local troop doesn't sell them. And they changed the recipe a while ago (I think to reduce/eliminate trans fats) and the cookies aren't nearly as good tasting. So I've been tossing the money I used to spend on cookies directly to the troop for a while. It's common enough that the process is well oiled.
posted by Mitheral at 10:31 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Given that my mother's self-funded retirement accounts lost about 40% of their value during the financial crisis (it was actually closer to 60% at first, but after two years it recovered a bit of that), I sympathize. (But on the other hand, the Wisconsin state pension fund, to which she also belonged, is the ONLY state pension fund that was fully funded for future beneficiaries both before and after the crisis. So with really good management (apparently 1 in 50 chances of that), it was possible.

I don't get why people think it's wrong for the troop to get "only" a small percentage of the sale price as a direct benefit. The cookies have to cost something, don't they? I mean, they aren't given to the Scouts free of charge. Lots of for-profit enterprises operate on similarly thin mints margins.

Joakim Ziegler, I'm sure it's trademark protection policy (similar to "LEGO® bricks" instead of "Legos"). The organization is formally "Girl Scouts of America", not "the Girl Scouts". If you want to say "my daughter is in the Girl Scouts" nobody is stopping you, but if you are writing something for their website you had better abide by the appropriate style guide. Trademark dilution, in US case law anyway, is determined by practice and usage, so this is no small matter.
posted by dhartung at 11:36 PM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


dhartung: "Joakim Ziegler, I'm sure it's trademark protection policy (similar to "LEGO® bricks" instead of "Legos"). The organization is formally "Girl Scouts of America", not "the Girl Scouts". If you want to say "my daughter is in the Girl Scouts" nobody is stopping you, but if you are writing something for their website you had better abide by the appropriate style guide. Trademark dilution, in US case law anyway, is determined by practice and usage, so this is no small matter."

Yeah, I guess. I was talking about the letter in the first link, though, so not really an official Girl Scouts source, but still.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:05 AM on January 1, 2015


I have little to add to this discussion, as I honestly don't know whether paying out pensions is more important than sending scouts to camp, and I really don't want to be in a position to ever ask one group to give up theirs so another can get theirs. But, on a largely unrelated note:

My troop once sailed a boat to the Bahamas by ourselves, after we learned navigation and charts and maps and how to deal with the various ordinances and regulations and contacts.

How is this not a feel-good summer movie yet?
posted by chrominance at 12:43 AM on January 1, 2015 [29 favorites]


I had been a volunteer for the girl guides a few years ago and the expense (several hundred dollars a year) and the huge time commitment was insane. There was NO support from the national organisation and the only time I heard from them was when they wanted more money from me. I had to pay several hundred dollars for my daughter to be in my troop and yet we recieve no money back from those registration fees and were expected to fundraise weekly from the parents to pay our basic costs (hard on the lower income parents, of course). N'thing the incredible disorganisation (parents would approach me and ask why their child hadn't been allowed to join my troop when I had never been given their contact info). Something weird was going on there and I left because I couldn't afford to volunteer anymore and once I left there was no one willing to take over my daughter's troop so it disbanded.
posted by saucysault at 12:43 AM on January 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


And yes, I know Girl Guides and Girl Scouts are different organisations but the mismanagement of both is similar.
posted by saucysault at 12:46 AM on January 1, 2015


Good for the Blogess. She's awesome, and these are exactly the issues that she should be raising. Still, it will take a whole lot of horrible behavior before I will be putting the Girl Scouts in the same sentence with the Boy Scouts.
posted by Windopaene at 12:56 AM on January 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't get why people think it's wrong for the troop to get "only" a small percentage of the sale price as a direct benefit. The cookies have to cost something, don't they? I mean, they aren't given to the Scouts free of charge.

From the article: the cookies cost 90 cents, 65 cents goes to the local troop and $2.45 goes to headquarters. A girl that sells 100 boxes for $400 that cost $90, earned her troop $65 and $245 for the national organisation. That seems exploitative.
posted by saucysault at 1:10 AM on January 1, 2015 [34 favorites]


I would so be on board for that Night Vale mashup club. I am 26 and have a wide variety of eclectic and mostly useless skills and am great with kids as long as they like to talk about books. (Insert call-me gesture)
posted by NoraReed at 1:29 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


> A girl that sells 100 boxes for $400 that cost $90, earned her troop $65 and $245 for the national organisation. That seems exploitative.

Well, the lawyer salaries have got to come from somewhere, right?
posted by I-Write-Essays at 1:38 AM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I’ve also seen it labeled a “credit card fee”

I think that isn't legal in some states, for instance, I think it isn't legal in Massachusetts. I'm sure they lawyered it up and found a loophole (charity exception? shipping exception?) but yeah, not so legal generally speaking.

PART I
TITLE XX
CHAPTER 140D
Section 28A

"(2) No seller in any sales transaction may impose a surcharge on a cardholder who elects to use a credit card in lieu of payment by cash, check or similar means"
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:49 AM on January 1, 2015


What's with writing just "Girl Scouts" and not "the Girl Scouts", like "my daughter is in Girl Scouts"? Is this a Thing?
When I first saw some of the old IBM company songbooks from the 30's or 40's, there were verses that referred to "the IBM", which sounded so weird to me.
Even though it makes sense, nobody says "the IBM' these days.
It sounds like the same deal- maybe a branding thing.
posted by MtDewd at 5:02 AM on January 1, 2015


Speaking of Girl Scout mismanagement, don't forget that they've been caught throwing away the cookies they don't sell.
posted by kinetic at 5:33 AM on January 1, 2015


Still, it will take a whole lot of horrible behavior before I will be putting the Girl Scouts in the same sentence with the Boy Scouts.

A friend of mine with a long history in both says that the difference between the national organizations is that the Girl Scouts are run badly by good people but the Boy Scouts are run well by bad ones.
posted by Etrigan at 6:20 AM on January 1, 2015 [48 favorites]


What's with writing just "Girl Scouts" and not "the Girl Scouts", like "my daughter is in Girl Scouts"? Is this a Thing?

Saying "the Girl Scouts" reminds me of football players who say they attended the Ohio State University (as if there was a faux Ohio State lurking just around the corner waiting to trick you).
posted by MikeMc at 6:49 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


When you are so incompetent that you begin to hurt everyone associated with you, you stop being a "good" person in my book.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:51 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


as if there was a faux Ohio State lurking just around the corner waiting to trick you

There is. It's called Ohio University. Harvard on the Hocking.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:54 AM on January 1, 2015


I am a Girl Scout alumna, leader, and service unit team member. Mostly everything is different from council to council, so some of the "errors" in reporting may really be local differences. Cookie sale periods are staggered, prices vary, cookies offered (and their names) vary depending on which of the two bakeries your council uses, etc. My council isn't doing online sales this year, instead taking a "wait and see" approach.

My troop has chosen the Capital Area Food Bank for our "Gift of Caring" program. Our customers can buy cookies to be donated. Last year my daughter sold over 100 food bank boxes alone. We also donate some of our troop's cookie earnings to our council's scholarship fund that pays for dues, uniform, registration fee, etc. for girls who can't afford them. As Daisies, we aren't trying to make big bucks for overnight trips, and we don't sell a lot of cookies compared to some troops, but we do what we can to create good from the program as it is.

I have been frustrated by some of my experiences as a leader, particularly in the start-up phase, but overall my daughter and I enjoy it. In our council, we have long wait lists of girls wanting to join and not enough volunteers to run troops for them.
posted by candyland at 7:16 AM on January 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


This comment was interesting to me:
...What I do for the girls is skip the cookies, and the calories, and made a donation check to the troop for $249. If it were $250, it would go to their head council, and they would take a cut, and then the troop would get it. That way I paid money that would have 100% of the money directly benefit the troop I was helping without the ‘cut a bit here’, and ‘a cut for this there’.
posted by amtho at 7:29 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


To this former Girl Scout, the key link in the FPP is this one, which talks about how camping skills have been eliminated from merit badges. Let me say that again: camping skills have been eliminated from merit badges.

Both troop and summer camping were key parts of my Girl Scout experience. There are many things that deserve credit for the fact that I do research outside for living, and scouting is one of them. Girl Scout summer camp was amazing in all the outdoors skills we learned, from building fires to orienteering to canoeing to sailing, and also a tremendously important social experience for this awkward, weird kid.

When I heard a few years ago that my camp (Camp Occoneechee in Hendersonville, NC) had closed as a summer camp, I was immensely sad. Occoneechee served the Hornet's Nest Council, which included all of Charlotte, and it was at the time super cheap for a summer camp. Many of my fellow campers had no other opportunities to spend a week away at camp and experience the woods instead of the city or suburbia.

But it's another thing entirely to take away not only their camps, but to remove outdoors skills from the merit badge system. I earned very few badges that were not outdoors skills, because I was not very interested in the others and because most of the ones I earned were earned at camp. Meanwhile, my college freshmen are scared to walk off the pavement and don't know the name of a single plant (and don't care to learn).
posted by hydropsyche at 7:37 AM on January 1, 2015 [23 favorites]


And honestly, this is inspiring me to think about volunteering to be a leader, to be the change I want to see in scouting.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:41 AM on January 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


So I've been tossing the money I used to spend on cookies directly to the troop for a while. It's common enough that the process is well oiled.

So if I run onto a table sale outside the local big-box store, can I just give them $10 for coming out and be pretty sure it will make it as a pure donation to their troop?
posted by achrise at 7:46 AM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think I need to write my representatives about getting that exemption changed so that the pensions can be funded without local groups losing money. Because damn, the Scouts may not be what they used to, but they're still miles ahead of a lot of other groups out there. If I had a daughter, I'd be happy to see her join.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:47 AM on January 1, 2015


Definitely just hand them cash! As a Cub scout dad, our pack got to keep 100% of the loose cash we were given at popcorn sales events, but only like 30% of the sales. A monster day of sales was often eclipsed by the relatively small number of direct donations!!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:58 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


And speaking as a Boy/Cub Scout dad, whose mom had an amazing experience outdoors but whose daughter never got to camp with Girl Scouts, it seems very unfair that girls can't learn to camp and split wood and canoe and all that.

Then again, Boy Scouts only use wood fires for ceremonies, and cook over gas now, so I guess everything is changing. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 8:01 AM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cookie prices, percentages to troops, rewards for girls, and most cookie sale policies are set at the council level, as is campground management. Councils seem to range from tolerably decent to incompetent and thoroughly incommunicative and unsupportive to troops. The national organization doesn't do much other than development of the badge program (which is actually terrible right now) and marketing. I'm pretty lucky with my council-we've got several fairly well-maintained camps and a lot of local gs events and opportunities available and my cadette troop gets a decent cookie profit. We absolutely can do other fundraising as long as we also sell cookies. But our troop earns a few thousand dollars a year with cookie sales. No other fundraiser has come even close to that. Our girls can theoretically earn a week at summer camp, along with other rewards with their sales, though selling the 1000 boxes it takes to earn that is way beyond what most girls can do in this area. And we have quite a bit of financial aid money available. My kid got free summer camp twice just because we asked for it. I believe that is mostly endowment and donation money - not cookie sales, so councils without oil tycoons might not have that available.
Our council opted out of online sales for this year. I'm a bit nervous that online sales from other areas might hurt our local sales. Mostly though, I'm pissed off that we have a brand new controversy to deal with right before we try to earn enough money for a summer trip. It was bad enough the last two years when we had aholes confronting our girls about GSUSA supporting abortion and teh gayz. This time it won't just be kooks who don't like the idea of empowered girls anyway.
As a leader, I've got a lot of problems with the organization as it stands today, but I don't have a problem with the girls raising money pay for the paid staff and buildings they work in. We pay $15 a year for membership (which mostly pays for insurance). Other than that, a girl isn't required to pay a single penny to participate. There's no other youth program I know of that's that affordable. That's because of cookie sales, flawed though they are.
posted by Dojie at 8:22 AM on January 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


By the way, my girls are now at the point that I only need go to camp with them for adult supervision. They have all the outdoor skills they need to run the whole show on their own. Granted, they didn't learn them from the official badge program, but camping is a priority for them, so we made it happen. They don't get badges for it, which sucks, but we do more outdoor skill building than my troop did when I was in scouts and it was still a big part of the official program. Troop activities have always been up to the whims of the leaders and the girls in the troop. Some troops never camp, but there are plenty of troops that camp all the time.
posted by Dojie at 8:32 AM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


the difference between the national organizations is that the Girl Scouts are run badly by good people but the Boy Scouts are run well by bad ones.

That has been the feeling that I have. The Girl Scouts have worked hard to put inclusivity for all kinds of kids and scout leaders front and center in the public face of the organization and that matters a great deal. The Boy Scouts have been grumpy scrappers about gay scouts (and scout leaders) and the religiosity aspect and that's always been annoying and super not cool for the amount of cultural cachet they carry. I remember when the American Library Association was considering severing formal ties with BSA because they discriminated (and ALA had a rule against discrimination) and you'd think we'd declared war on apple pie the way some people reacted. Menshowed up in their uniforms, called people names.

I enjoyed Brownies as a little kid and I lasted about three weeks in Girl Scouts. I could not get my head around the cookie sale thing as a smart way to earn money (it works at scale, sort of, but it's not that efficient if the goal is to run a local fundraiser) and I was shy and didn't want to go door to door which was the only option in my small town. It became clear that one of the main purposes of GS was to turn young girls into people who really believed in this sort of model/approach as a way to learn life skills (and raise money) and I wasn't in to that at all, I swear they turned me into a budding anti-capitalist since I was like "I may be only nine years old but I can tell this isn't a good way to make money"

I'll donate directly to the kids next time they're blockading the front of the supermarket. This blog post was really interesting since until I read it I didn't really know the pension stuff at all. Thanks for the post.
posted by jessamyn at 8:36 AM on January 1, 2015 [14 favorites]


This is a classic example of the problem with defined benefit pension plans. Declining membership and declining revenues. For them to stay viable, they require either increasing current employees contributing or increasing revenues to fund them. The assumptions on returns are so far from recent norms that the only way to fund them is more contributions, not investments. What is happening with the Girl Scouts plan is that the girls themselves, through their fees and fund raising efforts, are guaranteeing high levels of market returns. As the organization gets smaller, a larger burden in terms of percentage of revenues falls on those remaining. Although I would not call it a ponzi scheme, it does function like it in many ways.
posted by 724A at 8:37 AM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


A few years ago, I gave a group of girl scouts outside a market a $20 in lieu of buying cookies (diet and all) to support their efforts. Now I'm wondering how that $20 was accounted for. I hope more of it went to the girls, and not just somewhere around $1.70.
posted by Alterscape at 8:44 AM on January 1, 2015


My understanding (as a member of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia) is that the problem with most pensions is not declining membership and declining revenues but criminally risky management by the people entrusted with investing the money, especially during the housing bubble, which led to a serious loss of the money entrusted to their care. Most pensions would be just fine if the managers had stuck to traditional, lower risk investments, as the managers of our system did.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:45 AM on January 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


If you're donating in lieu of buying cookies, consider doing that outside of cookie sales or make a point of telling them specifically that it is a donation FOR THE TROOP - not for cookies. A lot of troops (mine included) use donations either to pay for cookie donations (ours go to Project Troop to Troop - sending cookies to the military, others go to food pantries or other organizations) or to pay for unsold cookies (which are often then donated). In that case, the troop does just get a small percentage of that money. Of course, troops have to pay for their unsold cookies, which can wipe out their profits if their sale goes poorly, so that's still helpful. Still, $20 at cookie season is likely to go toward cookies. $20 outside of cookie season goes 100% to the troop.

Also, if you're in an area with both declining membership and waiting lists for girls to join troops, check into volunteering as a leader. In some areas of the country, there aren't enough leaders for all the girls who sign up to actually get into a troop. You don't have to have a kid in Girl Scouts to be a leader.
posted by Dojie at 9:01 AM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


so to hear someone in leadership of the Girl Scouts say "girls don't like camping"

Let me say that again: camping skills have been eliminated from merit badges

WHAT THE FUCK.

Okay, obviously outraged here, here's why: lately I've been thinking a lot about what to do concerning one of the biggest areas with which I see women going into STEM having trouble, thus causing them to drop out in my particular field (geology): outdoor skills. Same with a lot of the physical sciences like biology - for women who don't have 'em, it can be intimidating as hell, makes it harder to learn, and it just sets up a giant playground for sexism to come out and romp in when we're outdoors doing things. I don't personally know a single woman who lacked outdoor skills that managed to make it through - every woman I know and talked about this with had outdoor skills prior to going into geology.

So I've been thinking hard about how what I need to do is volunteer or donate or do something with more younger girls to help give them those skills, and how to go about it. Because I grew up in a rural area where the troops were too far away to join, it took me a while to think of the Girl Scouts. Of course! Duh! And because IMHO those girls who may not go into such a field may still benefit - I've talked a bit about that before - it seems like a Good Thing to do for any of the girls, even the ones who aren't interested in STEM. I've even convinced some of my women colleagues this is a good thing to do in their areas, too - and of course, the reason many of them have outdoor skills? That's right, Girl Scouts!

So after the New Year I was going to get in touch with the local council and see what I could do. Which I'm still going to do, of course. But to find this out just makes me spit nails.

Good on you every council that still emphasizes it regardless. But I'm extremely troubled by what kind of messaging is out there for the rest.
posted by barchan at 9:03 AM on January 1, 2015 [17 favorites]


Both are closing camps for demographic reasons that are much broader than pension plan issues.

My old council has been throwing around that excuse, and I intensely dislike it. I mean, you're Girl Scouts. You're supposed to be teaching self-sufficiency and a love of outdoors, and just throwing up your hands and saying "Kids these days don't want this" is contrary to the mission.

Another issue has been council consolidation, which came into play with my old camp, which is the one outlined in the "Why are Girl Scout Camps being Closed?".

My old camp (a beautiful island in the Adirondacks) had a fantastic history: rich guy's son dies in boating accident dies in the 1930s, so he gifts the camp to the Girl Scouts so that there would always be children there. The council was fairly small- contained with a county.

Fast forward to around 2008, the pension mess. The council has expanded to cover half of the state; a majority of the new members had no personal connection to the camp, and didn't care. So, when the winter care taker retired, they didn't hire anyone new; camp falls into disrepair, and then they close the camp, citing how much it would cost for upkeep. And they were looking to make a bundle selling the camp-- which, as an island in the Adirondacks, would be large.

When some alums tried to stop the sale, by at least trying to add a condition that the camp would remain a camp for girls, or at least a camp, in the spirit of how it was gifted to us, it led to a lawsuit, which is still going on. The whole thing has sickened me.
posted by damayanti at 9:12 AM on January 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think I'm commenting more today in this thread than I did all last year, but one more thing - my girls LOVE selling cookies. I hate it myself, so I don't really get it, but cookie sales and camping are the two things they love most of all about Girl Scouting. So if you see my troop outside Kroger and give them a $20, they're going to LOVE being able to rack up sales of four more boxes of Troop to Troop cookies, even if only $2.60 of that goes to the troop. They love getting big numbers, and they love the rewards they get at the end of the year. My kid is trying to hit 1,000 boxes this year. She's more interested in reaching that goal than in putting an extra $17.40 toward troop activities. That's kind of how the eleven year old mind works. My girls had the option this year of forgoing the sale incentives and getting an extra 15 cents per box, but they still want the stuffed animals and t-shirt ties, and locker magnets or whatever they get for selling cookies. For some of the girls who come from kind of tough situations, reaching a sales goal and earning a cheetah-print wallet to recognize that accomplishment is a pretty big deal and nothing to sneeze at.
posted by Dojie at 9:24 AM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


What good alternatives are there to girl scouts, for someone put off by the whole cookie thing?
posted by Joe Chip at 9:28 AM on January 1, 2015


Slap*Happy: "Ooooops, we never set any money aside to meet that obligation! You're greedy and hate kids for expecting what we promised you in your old age and never intended to deliver, and we can find an exception or two to completely invalidate the thousands and thousands of workers screwed over."

Unfunded pensions were unfortunately the norm for several generations. The recent double whammy of boomers retiring and a market crash in 2008 has left many underfunded, and with little options.

Reading the articles, it appears the Girl Scouts pension was funded, it was just was obligated to sell low and lock in poor returns in the 08-09 timeframe, and thus hasn't participated in the bounce back following that. So even though my 403b has seen around 15 percent gain last year, they're in no such luck.
posted by pwnguin at 9:30 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've been a leader of two troops (both daughters) and can attest to the pain in the ass that cookie sales are. Logistically someone needs to go and pick up and then store and distribute MANY cartons of boxes of cookies. When the girls are older they can do the work, but require lots of supervision, so that requires getting parents involved which is difficult at best. Calling around to get people to give up a Saturday morning to move boxes and transport and supervise ten year olds that have varying abilities and interest in the job at hand?*shivers remembering*

When my oldest was in Girl Scouts the local Boy Scout Troops made national news by openly flouting the national anti-gay stance. Our local PTOs decided to no longer sponsor scouting groups that did not match our pro-all-kids stance, so our troop talked to the local council. Our local council seemed to be made up overwhelmingly by middle-aged lesbians that were truly supportive and always helpful. Within two years our local council actually was disbanded due to fiscal mismanagement. There was nothing nefarious, just poor planning and an inability to say no to any project that would be a positive for the girls whether it was cost effective or not. So the Girl Scouts are run badly by good people but the Boy Scouts are run well by bad ones in a nutshell.

I was sad to hear that our local camp was sold. The little camping we did with girls under eleven (platform tents) was the only experience of outdoor activities many of our girls had ever had. By the time my youngest was in scouts the overnights were already treated more like a giant sleep over indoors in a cabin, featuring pajama fashion shows, rather than building a fire.
posted by readery at 9:55 AM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


What good alternatives are there to girl scouts
If some people are smart (and I think they are), we should be a couple years away from the establishment of real-life Lumberjanes.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:14 AM on January 1, 2015


What good alternatives are there

There's always Camp Fire. I don't know what it's like these days, but we enjoyed it back in the day. As I recall, we did do one candy-sale fundraiser, but it was nowhere near on the level of the GSA cookie sale.

(N.B. I also don't know much about their national structure.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:16 AM on January 1, 2015




I have never understood why the girl scouts sell commercial cookies. Why don't they make their own? (i.e. a real bake sale - maybe this is only possible outside the USA?) Should they call the organization the "sales girls"?
Selling cookies on behalf of Kellogg's/George Weston subsidiary never seemed to me like a good idea.

It also doesn't have to be cookies, they could sell camping gear if they wanted to collaborate with business.
I do realize that factory made cookies are simpler than almost everything else: have low cost ingredients, are easily consistently made (vs selling fruit), have an extremely long shelf life, and most importantly, people will buy them year after year (it sounds like a lazy idea).
posted by niccolo at 10:24 AM on January 1, 2015


This is a sad discussion. It filters into my geezerhood all the wrong tropes which encourage the "things are not what they used to be" clichés I keep handy.

Even worse than (an organization collapsing from) bad management is the notion that budding young women are not interested in a world outside the one they experience as a city dweller. How can a pajama party be anywhere near as valuable as learning basic camping skills?--and everything this knowledge implies?

When I was a naïve young Boy Scout (over 50 years ago) I thought Girl Scouts were just Scouts with a different camp--you know, the separation of the sexes for logistical reasons. Maybe things are never what they used to be.
posted by mule98J at 11:24 AM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mother of a Girl Scout and 2015 troop cookie coordinator here. (God help me.)

Thanks for the post - I share many of The Bloggess's reservations about the organization and finances. The pension thing is complicated. Also the issues with historic campgrounds. The ones we use (in central Texas -- close to Austin) have just become incredibly valuable due to development in the area and increasingly expensive to maintain. A lot of places are struggling with this; there are no easy choices.

But even given those concerns, and the fundamental fact that I am not a "joiner" and initially signed my daughter up for scouting under protest, our experience with our troop has impressed the heck out of me. The overall progressiveness and inclusivity of the Girl Scouts org is awesome (as opposed to the Boy Scouts) and the particulars of our troop have meant a lot to my mostly-introverted 10-year-old who loves bugs and camping and lighting things on fire.

Honestly we are selling cookies mostly because the girls enjoy it. The parents endure it. And despite the low return per-box, some troops in our town have financed camping trips to Big Bend and Costa Rica from a few years of cookies sales -- so that still can happen. There are also programs (as mentioned) to support local charities and deliver cookies to troops overseas. But yes, donations to directly to the troop are great. We'll gladly take them and they go directly to our account and not the cookie overlords.

Our area opted out of online sales -- because the logistics and costs were just so bizarro as described.

dejah420: They don't do that any more. The girls don't earn anything individually for all their hard work

I'm sure this varies from council to council, but in ours, the girls do earn individual rewards. If they sell over a certain amount they get "Cookie Dough" (like Girl Scout scrip) that they can use towards camp fees as well as uniforms and other scouting accessories sold at the Girl Scout Store. For a lot of girls those $50 Cookie Dough cards are difference between being able to go to camp or not.

I hope the Girl Scouts their act together. And I agree there is really no reason for the organization to not be more honest with girls and parents about what's going on (which I take as Bloggess's primary point).
posted by pantarei70 at 12:22 PM on January 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Just giving money and not buying the cookies can have negative consequences. Local to my area troops get an allotment of cookies they are expected to sell. If they do not sell all the cookies then the troop needs to pay full price for them. Last year a neighbor girl's troop was given extra boxes that they had not asked for but had to sell or pay for. This resulted in families spending lots of extra time trying to sell them and putting off family activities for their other kids.
posted by 101cats at 12:42 PM on January 1, 2015


Depending on which aspects of scouts are of interest to you, you may find 4-H to be an alternative worth considering.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:13 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just giving money and not buying the cookies can have negative consequences. Local to my area troops get an allotment of cookies they are expected to sell. If they do not sell all the cookies then the troop needs to pay full price for them.

If I hand a Scout $20, that's either A) $20 straight to the troop or B) five boxes of cookies to me and $3.40 to the troop. Even if they end up having to buy those cookies themselves with that $20, they still get back that $3.40. I don't see any negative consequence to the troop.
posted by Etrigan at 1:32 PM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


this organization has come to serve the employees at the council in the national level they use little kids to front there gold digging and it needs to stop compare this with the Boys and Girls Club and its night and day.There is absolutely no reason for all this fundraising and having it all go to national except 60 cents a box.
posted by OhSusannah at 1:45 PM on January 1, 2015


I see women going into STEM having trouble, thus causing them to drop out in my particular field (geology): outdoor skills.

Eh. What "outdoor skills" are impossible to learn for a reasonably intelligent motivated adult?
posted by smidgen at 1:57 PM on January 1, 2015


We never, ever, ever went camping when I was in Girl Scouts in the 80's. We didn't do much other than cookie sales.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:08 PM on January 1, 2015


What "outdoor skills" are impossible to learn for a reasonably intelligent motivated adult?

None, but it's a hell of a lot easier to pick up those skills when you're a kid and nobody's going to judge you for being slow or clumsy at them. When you're an adult and it's a part of your job (but not a part of your job that's actually in the description or for which your employers provide training), looking slow compared to your colleagues who've been sleeping in tents and scouting out latrine sites since childhood is a problem.
posted by asperity at 2:20 PM on January 1, 2015 [20 favorites]


What "outdoor skills" are impossible to learn for a reasonably intelligent motivated adult?

None, but it's a hell of a lot easier to pick up those skills when you're a kid and nobody's going to judge you for being slow or clumsy at them. When you're an adult and it's a part of your job (but not a part of your job that's actually in the description or for which your employers provide training), looking slow compared to your colleagues who've been sleeping in tents and scouting out latrine sites since childhood is a problem.


I'd like to second what asperity said. In the world of ecological research, it is assumed not just that you have extensive camping experience but that you own all of your own gear (boots, backpack, sleeping bag, tent, stove, appropriate clothing for the weather that is not going to cause hypo/hyperthermia, etc.) and that you would be glad to drop everything and camp at the field site for a few days to get more work done. If you are a student just starting out in the field, you may get lucky and find someone who can loan you gear, but nobody would ever even ask if you know how to camp or if you're comfortable camping. Camping (including dealing with your own food and hygiene issues outside) is a means to an end, not something your co-workers are going to teach you. And if you fail to setup your own tent or cook your own food, maybe they'll help you out, but they sure aren't going to look forward to doing field work with you again.

Having these skills already is an unspoken pre-requisite to doing ecological or geological field work, which really is a barrier for students not from either a rural background or an upper-middle class background who were lucky enough to have family who taught them or to have been scouts.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:37 PM on January 1, 2015 [13 favorites]


What "outdoor skills" are impossible to learn for a reasonably intelligent motivated adult?

I don't know about "impossible," but definitely not learning them as a kid creates barriers. I grew up with parents who forced us, kicking and screaming a lot of the time, to go camping, hiking, rock climbing, and canoeing. I mostly hated it then, but now I have a job that requires a casual familiarity with all of those things, just like I'm also required to have a valid driver's license and to know how to use a computer. Literally every one of my coworkers (and people I work with in other organizations) did outdoorsy stuff as a kid, hunting or fishing or, in several cases, boy/girl scouting.

My partner didn't grow up with any of that, and it's been interesting watching her pick some of it up. But the list of things to learn is so long, from how to pee in the woods to how to figure out land access from a map to what shoes to wear, that it would be a significant project to learn it all in a hurry. Anything that can create access to these skills for kids who don't have parents with the interest or time in being outdoors is only for the good. My own brief experience with scouting was not positive, but it is clearly good for a lot of kids (and from what I read here, girl scouts tends to be way better than the male version).

On preview, asperity says it very well: "When you're an adult and it's a part of your job (but not a part of your job that's actually in the description or for which your employers provide training), looking slow compared to your colleagues who've been sleeping in tents and scouting out latrine sites since childhood is a problem." Without any real intention on my part, every interesting job I've had since college has required some mix of this stuff, plus things like driving 4x4s and ATVs in very rough terrain, handling injuries in remote places, etc, but almost none of those things are ever listed on a job description. They are just assumed skills, so that someone who doesn't have them is going to be at a significant disadvantage.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:39 PM on January 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


Unfunded pensions were unfortunately the norm for several generations. The recent double whammy of boomers retiring and a market crash in 2008 has left many underfunded, and with little options.

There is simply no excuse for that. Funding and operating a pension is dirt simple and is based on very well defined and known parameters. You know exactly how many employees you have, you know accurately how long they will live, and you know exactly how much you promised to pay them each month. We have over 100 years of data on average investment returns.

Boomers retiring has nothing to do with it. A company knows exactly how many employees it has and how old they are, decades before they retire. There are no surprises.

A stock market decline is also no excuse. A properly managed fund has 60% to 80% invested in something like the S&P 500 and the rest in bonds. If a market decline occurs as in 2008, you pay current liabilities out of bonds. You don't sell stocks in a down market.

One valid excuse, and the Girl Scouts are correct about this, is that part of the reason their "accounting" liabilities increased and their "nominal" funding ratio declined is because bond interest rates declined, according to accounting rules. But most of investment returns come from stock investments, not bonds. So in other words, part of the liability change is simply due to a change in a rather arbitrary measuring stick, not a real change in their pension's solvency.
posted by JackFlash at 3:27 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Scouts Canada is open to boys and girls — DS1 is now at the Scout level, and more than half of his 10-member troop is made up of girls.

The troop does a lot of camping, including a mountain camp in the first week of December. The girls in the troop are so well-organized and perky, and all the kids take responsiblity for 90% of the camp organizing. It's awesome to watch.

Bonus: If I want a fire at home, I just say so, and presto, instant fire in my fireplace. (SIL says we should install a gas fireplace but my pyromaniac DH and scouter kids wouldn't have it any other way.)
posted by wenat at 3:37 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I went all the way through GSA and it was absolutely life-changing. As others have noted, GS bred a strong competence in the outdoors in me. I learned how to backpack and backcountry camp with low impact. We also did a great deal of community service and career exploration, and since the girls plan everything, you can't help but learn organizational and leadership skills. This organization can do wonders for young people.

I can't speak to the pension issue, but every year, someone starts grinding about how "only" 60 or so cents goes to each troop. Yes. That is correct. The cookie sale is the single large-scale fundraiser that supports the operation of the GSA parent organization. That organization develops and provides leadership training, runs international and domestic travel and learning programs, does advocacy, creates all the materials that troops use to train leaders, offer badges, and develop girls' skills, and coordinates and supports information about camps and programs. It's money well spent. Individual troops fund themselves in other ways. We did lots of fundraising when I was a Scout - sold subs, pizza, wrapping paper, did craft fairs, etc., and we kept all that money. It seems entirely fair to me that one time a year, GSUSA requires troops to participate in a fundraiser that helps keep the structure going. Also, it is true that it is a very progressive organization and one I am happy to support in whatever way needed.

My beef with the cookies is not where the money goes. It's that they're so crappy. I really wish they'd offer a better product with fewer industrial ingredients - that would be more in line with GS values, in my view. That's a different fight, though.
posted by Miko at 3:41 PM on January 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


We never, ever, ever went camping when I was in Girl Scouts in the 80's. We didn't do much other than cookie sales.

Oddly enough, we never went camping in Camp Fire, either. I remember a lot of arts and crafts, and something about beads. But definitely no camping.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:43 PM on January 1, 2015


JackFlash: "You know exactly how many employees you have, you know accurately how long they will live, and you know exactly how much you promised to pay them each month. We have over 100 years of data on average investment returns."

Of my four grandparents, half are still alive, and the other two died at the ages of 91 and 85. Even if we pretended the life table for 1994 looked like 2009, they've all beat the average. But scientific and medical advances means life tables loose predictive accuracy the further out you predict.

Even if you could rely on life tables, Pension Do-over article, apparently some people received backdoor pensions:

The Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee filed suit in June 2012 in U.S. District Court in Nashvilleagainst the national office over the contribution hike, arguing a council consolidation that shrunk the number of local councils, completed in 2010, increased pension costs dramatically by adding new participants and early retirement incentives.

The Philanthropy.com article puts the number added to the pension pool at 1,850. The Motley Fool puts the total participant count at 13,000, so that's a fairly large and recent addition of unfunded participants.

So what about the investing returns? The article points out:

The plan now has 49% of assets in long-duration bonds, with another 10% in other fixed-income strategies including high yield and emerging markets. The rest of the portfolio includes 22% in equities plus investments in hedge funds, private equity and real estate.

So they likely have a substantial amount of bonds that matured in the past five years, and I doubt they felt like locking in a 2.75 percent return for 30 years so their maturity curve is likely skewed sooner rather than later. Most importantly, their bond portfolio is double their public equities portfolio, which means the fact that the S&P500 is up 45 percent since Jan 1 2007 won't help them much.

This does not look like a measuring stick problem, but rather a pension fund heavily invested in bonds while taking on substantial additional liability.
posted by pwnguin at 6:54 PM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, I've been digging around. After reading this story about the GSUSA CEO and her $65,000 potty, I started digging around to find the 501c filings from the local council here.

I am astonished...astonished to find that the CEO of the local council makes almost $300,000 dollars a year. And the next person on the tax form gets over $130,000 a year. I mean, I just scanned the forms, and I could be misreading them, but if I got it correctly, they spent almost 25% of their budget on two salaries.

The council makes almost all of it's money from cookie sales.

I'm really unhappy about what I'm turning up as I research this, because the current setup; with the removal of camping merit badges and the insertion of "financial' merit badges tied to cookie sales, and "mall lock-ins" instead of camping trips...I dunno you guys, it's starting to feel a whole like like Consumer Scouts with a heavy dash of child labor exploitation. Seriously, as someone who treasures my memory of Girl Scouts, what I am turning up about the current leadership structure is causing significant cognitive dissonance.
posted by dejah420 at 8:35 PM on January 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


I can understand being concerned about a lack of "outdoor skills" badges, but at the same time, my entire time in GS I think I barely earned a dozen badges. But I learned outdoors skills through our troop camping, and we went three times a year, as well as through annual council camping events and the backpacking special interest group run by the council that I mentioned above. So the lack of an outdoor skills badge (which, if there was one, I certainly never earned) definitely did not impede me from learning outdoor skills. That was embedded already within our troop activities. I was lucky in having some really strong troop leaders. I also went to summer camp programs for several summers. The camp program centered on outdoor skills (basic skills at first, then I spent a week during 2 consecutive summers learning long-distance cycling with gear carrying and overnight camping). There were no badges at camp, though. So it's worth separating the whole badge process from the larger Scouting experience. Badges are only part of Scouting - and since they were kind of a pain in the ass, about 10% doing stuff to 90% writing up reports about it, I passed on getting involved with the badge program, mostly, and only did enough to meet the minimum to qualify for the awards.

What troops do is largely constrained by the interests and will of the leaders, who are volunteers. Leaders who are not into camping will not introduce their troops to camping. It's a shame for kids who get stuck in the "let's make pom-pom crafts" wimpy troops, but that's not the experience of all troops. If every troop had great, adventurous volunteer leaders who valued outdoor skills, every troop would have them. If you believe in that and have time, sign up to volunteer with a troop and help make it happen.
posted by Miko at 9:02 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Of my four grandparents, half are still alive, and the other two died at the ages of 91 and 85. Even if we pretended the life table for 1994 looked like 2009, they've all beat the average. But scientific and medical advances means life tables loose predictive accuracy the further out you predict.

Anecdotes are not data. Large pools of people revert to statistical averages, so outliers are of no consequence. A popular myth, promulgated by dishonest politicians, is that life expectancy is some mysterious unknown.

The fact of the matter is that Social Security actuaries quite accurately predicted life expectancy way back in 1936. Those predictions are still accurate today and built into pension plan calculations. There have been absolutely no surprises concerning longevity.

This does not look like a measuring stick problem, but rather a pension fund heavily invested in bonds while taking on substantial additional liability.

Perhaps you haven't noticed, but long bond total returns have outperformed the stock market over the last 10 years. So, while I wouldn't recommend that strategy long term, they have been quite lucky in the last decade to be over-allocated to bonds.

A depressed economy leads to lowered interest rates which means a bull market for bonds. However, the measuring stick is current interest rates, which when they go down, reduce the discount rate used to evaluate liabilities. That causes accounting liabilities to appear larger, even though the current bond holdings in the pension are increasing in value. Using current interest rates to evaluate pensions is a flawed metric that leads to incorrect assumptions about solvency.
posted by JackFlash at 9:18 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Our troop has great leaders and the girls do tent camping at least twice a year (which is awesome....because I am no kind of camper.)

They also "cabin camp" in the spring for 2-3 nights.

And there are actually "outdoor skills" badges -- at least at the Brownie and Junior levels. But not all troops/units may participate.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:20 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


JackFlash: " There have been absolutely no surprises concerning longevity."

This... runs counter to literally everything I know on the subject, and is especially alarming since those calculations nessecarily predate the widespread application of penicillin. Do you have any data or references to support these claims?
posted by pwnguin at 10:23 PM on January 1, 2015


This... runs counter to literally everything I know on the subject, and is especially alarming since those calculations nessecarily predate the widespread application of penicillin.

What most people know on the subject is a myth, promulgated relentlessly by conservatives, until even otherwise intelligent people believe the myth.

Part of the confusion is that as far as pensions are concerned the only important factor is life expectancy at age 65. Most of the change in life expectancy has been a reduction in infant mortality. That makes no difference to a pension. On the other hand the increase in life expectancy at age 65 has been slowly creeping up at a boring pace of a little less than one year per decade for more than a century.

There have been no surprises in life expectancy at age 65. There have been no changes in the trend. The biblical four score has been pretty much the ceiling for a long, long time. All of that expensive medical technology has purchased barely a handful of extra years in retirement over the last century.

Social security actuaries back in the 1930s knew this trend and it really hasn't changed much since. Here are some links. Take care to look at life expectancy at age 65, not at birth.

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2011/022.pdf
http://www.ssa.gov/history/lifeexpect.html
http://mappinghistory.uoregon.edu/english/US/US39-01.html

The last link provides a striking graph that illustrates the difference between life expectancy at birth and life expectancy at age 65. Click on the appropriate buttons and you will see that expectancy at age 65 is practically flat, with a slight upward trend.

The point being, there are no excuses for poorly funded pension funds. It is a pretty simple mathematical calculation with no significant unknowns. The real problem is greedy or incompetent pension managers who want to cheat on the arithmetic.
posted by JackFlash at 11:08 PM on January 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


I can understand being concerned about a lack of "outdoor skills" badges, but at the same time, my entire time in GS I think I barely earned a dozen badges. But I learned outdoors skills through our troop camping, and we went three times a year, as well as through annual council camping events and the backpacking special interest group run by the council that I mentioned above. So the lack of an outdoor skills badge (which, if there was one, I certainly never earned) definitely did not impede me from learning outdoor skills.

I get what you're saying about not caring about earning badges, Miko. The many reason I worked to earn badges as a cadette was to meet the requirements for earning my Silver Award. I know I had badges (they had another name for cadettes at the time--"Interest Projects", I think) for camping, canoeing, and sailing, and then my troop also did things to earn some I was less interested in (I remember a disastrous trip to a beauty parlor for make-overs). Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards all require girls to earn a certain number of badges. To many girls, earning those awards is an important part of being a scout, and obviously if she is working towards an award, what badges are available to be earned is going to really affect her experience of what it means to be a scout, and in turn, likely affect the kind of project she chooses to work on for the award. To not have outdoors skills even be a part of that process will definitely de-emphasize them for many troops and many scouts.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:27 AM on January 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just went to the my local council's home page and filled out a volunteer application. Obviously, it's the wrong time of year to be signing up to be a troop leader (and I'm really not sure I have time for that right now), but they are looking for volunteers to support their summer day camp, which aligns nicely with my academic schedule and my being all about the outdoors skills. It took 3 minutes to fill out the volunteer application and the background check form. I'm pretty excited right now.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:50 AM on January 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


I do understand the relationship between badges and awards, hydropsyche. I did enough badges to get the awards, too, as I noted - I went all the way through Senior Scout and the achievement awards as well as the torches. My point is that the badges I earned were not that strongly related to my (or my troop's or backpacking group's) acquisition of outdoor skills. We did badges individually and as a troop to meet those requirements, but badges were not our only or our central project.

I can also attest that outdoor skills were already de-emphasized for many girls and troops by the 1970s and 1980s, as many troops definitely did lean toward the "beauty" and sewing and drama and health/nutrition sorts of badges even then. Troops vary in ways that reflect the goals and interests of leaders and girls. Badges/insignia, ultimately, did not form the definitive Scouting experience for me and are relatively minor in both my memory and in the lasting skills I continue to call on. The outdoor exposure can and does happen independently of the badge program.

Interestingly, I just perused the criteria for the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards and there no longer seem to be badge requirements as prerequisites for the awards program. Instead, "journey" completion is the prerequisite. Outdoor-related badges/insignia/awards currently available throughout the program, Daisy to Ambassador, include Hiker, Naturalist (a different topic at each level), Letterboxer, Gardener, Camper, Geocacher, Animal Habitats, Trailblazing, Adventurer, and Night Owl (which involves "explore nature at night"). There are many other science and practical skills badges like woodworking and digital moviemaking. Overall, considering the high degree of variability in urban/suburban/rural troops and access to different kinds of outdoor experiences, as well as in individual interests, I think the GS have done a good job broadening the badge topics and requirements to allow for maximum flexibility while emphasizing individual goal-setting, service, and leadership, which have always been the overarching goals of Scouting.
posted by Miko at 9:28 AM on January 2, 2015


Yeah, if I'm going to be a volunteer, I've got a lot of cramming to do. The requirements for everything have changed so many times since I was last a scout in 1993--I don't think the Bronze Award actually existed when I was a Junior, and now there are Ambassadors, and there's a lot I don't know. I don't really understand the "journey" thing, and I'm not sure what skills I have that will be applicable to what. But it will be fun to dive back into it.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:59 AM on January 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't totally get the "journeys" either. But the rest of it looks fairly comprehensible. A couple years ago, when a GS troop in Colorado drew fire from conservative groups for admitting a transgender kid as a Scout, I got fired up and signed up as a volunteer with my local council. It's actually really well set up. You basically just sign up, complete some forms indicating what you're interested in, and then get updates about opportunities that are coming up. You can do some very small commitments as well, like helping one time with an annual event - not everyone has to be a leader. Sadly I haven't done anything with them yet but that's more because I've had an especially intense year.
posted by Miko at 10:30 AM on January 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


The point being, there are no excuses for poorly funded pension funds. It is a pretty simple mathematical calculation with no significant unknowns.

I work as a defined benefit pension actuary, and I just want to chime in here to say that this is, unfortunately, quite false. It would be great if DB pension plans were easy! They are not, though, and I don't have any idea what the "pretty simple mathematical calculation" is that you are referring to here. Any given plan participant's liability to the plan is a highly complex random variable that depends on many unknowns, including but not limited to: probability of death at each age (and their probability of death before 65 does matter very much for decrementing purposes -- for example, many plans have lump sum benefits payable to spouses upon participant death, and this plays a nontrivial role in liabilities), probability of becoming disabled, probability of retiring, future interest rates, plan asset performance, hours worked, projection of possible future salary increases, etc.

(I should also add that mortality tables are not a simple thing, as has been implied here. Indeed, there are government mandated mortality tables that change yearly, and the choice of a particular mortality table for a particular pension plan is a delicate and important process that carries a lot of weight in liability measurment.)

I think in general it's dangerous to assume that the problems facing defined benefit pension plans are simply the result of bad actors and an inability to follow a "simple mathematical formula," whatever that may be. That's the kind of black-and-white thinking that leads to further pension problems instead of solving them.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 12:26 PM on January 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


The problems you describe for pensions are process problems, not mathematical problems. Politicians and even the Government Accounting Standards Board are subject to political whim that can whipsaw pension planning by arbitrarily changing mortality tables and changing discount rates. But again, that is a process problem, not a mathematical problem.

Mortality rates are well defined. Disability rates are well defined. Number of hours worked is well defined. Lump sum payments in lieu of an annuity are well defined. Probability of retiring is irrelevant because benefits are (at least usually) defined for a fixed age of 65. Benefits are then scaled appropriately for early or late retirement. All of these are well defined knowns and mathematically tractable.

Really, the only questionable unknown is investment returns, but over a 20 to 40 year span, the short term ups and downs of the economy average out.

Unfortunately, pension managers are subject to the whim of politicians, or CEOs in the case of private pensions. When times are good, they want to cut back on contributions because they claim they have an excess. And then when times are bad, they say they can't afford contributions and need to cut benefits. This is the grasshopper and ant of Aesop's fable, in which management plays the part of the grasshopper.

Look, Republicans would love to convince you that pensions are impossible to understand -- magnets, how do they work -- because fear and uncertainty makes it seem that pensions are simply nonviable. Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that actuaries task is trivial. It is not. But the solutions are certainly mathematically tractable. The Social Security actuaries did a fabulous job 80 years ago when they had to solve their differential equations with pencil and paper.

The problems of pensions are entirely political. They are not caused by mathematical uncertainty. Conservatives do whatever they can to convince you otherwise.
posted by JackFlash at 6:39 PM on January 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


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