Scouting Bridges Generational Gaps by Dr. Paul Copley
In preparing for its accreditation, JMU recently adopted a campuswide initiative to teach and assess ethical reasoning. Of course, JMU is not the first to recognize the importance of ethics. Popular business consultant and motivational speaker Randy Pennington undertook a mission to develop a statement of personal integrity and a set of principles to guide corporate managers and elected officials in practicing ethical leadership. After extensive research he found that not only had such statements and principles been articulated over a century ago, but they have been field tested over 150 million times. In his book, “On My Honor, I Will: The Journey to Integrity-Driven Leadership,” Pennington explains that the foundational aspects of integrity and leadership are superbly expressed in the Boy Scout Oath and Girl Scout Promise, together with the set of laws each scout pledges to embody. Pennington’s discovery comes as little surprise for members of my family.
The Generations of Copley Scouts
Every generation of the Copley family born after the founding of Boy Scouts (1910) or Girl Scouts (1912) has been involved in scouting. My father first became a scoutmaster at the age of 17. My mother was a den leader for the Cub Scouts while also serving as the leader for a Girl Scout Troop. She became a vice president of the Virginia Skyline Council and is a recipient of the Girl Scout “Thanks Award,” the highest recognition given to a volunteer. My sister served as a Girl Scout Leader, taking several trips to Europe with the scouts. More recently my brother retired early from PricewaterhouseCoopers to accept an unpaid position with the Boy Scouts in the Dallas area. He is one of three executives running a council with 50,000 youth and 15,000 adult volunteers.
My wife, Nancy, is the perfect addition to our family. She had been a Girl Scout and was an avid backpacker and naturalist. While attending Lynchburg College, she led Girl Scouts on backpacking trips through nearby segments of the Appalachian Trail.
When we started a family of our own, the kids joined Cub Scouts and Brownies as soon as they were old enough. I served as Den Leader for our son and Nancy as Troop Leader for our daughter. When boys reach the age of 11, they transition from Cub Scouts to a Boy Scout troop. Our den consisted of 21 boys, very large by Cub Scout standards. There was no troop in our community capable of taking 21 new scouts and the only solution was to start a new troop.
At the time, I was serving as director of the University of Georgia’s School of Accounting. Although I had a lot of responsibilities, I felt I had to serve as scoutmaster of the new troop. I explained to the boys that we would do things they would remember the rest of their lives. I was true to my promise. In my years as scoutmaster, we slept in caves and aircraft carriers, camped on a private island, canoed the Okeefenokee Swamp, toured a nuclear reactor, and collected fossils in a gypsum quarry. Although on average only 4 percent of Boy Scouts attain the rank of Eagle Scout, 14 of those original 21 scouts in the troop reached that goal.
The Copley Scouts Move to Harrisonburg
In 2004 when I accepted the offer to serve as director of the School of Accounting at JMU, I knew I wanted our family to continue to be involved with scouting. Luckily, my son was given the opportunity to interview for a counselor position at a Boy Scout Camp in Augusta. He got the job and worked six summers in the Nature Center.
With our son’s continued involvement in scouting secured, we next sought to make contact with the local Girl Scouts. This happened immediately upon arriving in Harrisonburg. We learned that our new house had previously been the meeting place of a Brownie Troop. The owner was moving to Pennsylvania and eager to provide for continuation of the troop. Before I knew what happened, we had a new house and a new scout troop. I joke that the list of things to check out when buying a home includes: has the home ever had termites, radon gas, or Girl Scouts.
With our arrival in Harrisonburg, my scouting involvement turned almost entirely to a supporting role for my wife in Girl Scouting. Nancy became the primary leader for the Brownie Troop we inherited with our house. She also served as an assistant leader for a troop of older girls, including our daughter. However her biggest job was as program director for the service unit. Girl Scouting differs from Boy Scouting in that troops are organized by age, with the result that Girl Scout troops are typically smaller and rely on the service unit for many activities. Service units (aligned with high school districts) organize monthly multi-troop events such as camporees, lock-ins and father-daughter dances. Nancy plans several of these a year with the largest being a week-long summer camp serving 130 girls. I am proud to be a registered Girl Scout, enjoy my role, and don’t mind being known as “Mr. Nancy” by many of the girls in Rockingham County.
Go for the Gold, Fly like an Eagle
The Brownies that we inherited are now high school juniors and seniors. They serve as junior leaders in service unit events (especially summer camp), but most of their efforts are directed toward earning their Gold Awards. The Girl Scout Gold Award, like the Eagle Scout, is the result of a long process of advancement, culminating in a significant service project. The girl must identify, research, plan, and execute a service activity for their community. Like a dissertation, the proposal must be approved and the final write-up defended. These accomplishments are so significant that I advise students that the Gold and Eagle Scout awards are lifetime items for their resumes.Credible academic evidence of the success of these programs in instilling Scouting’s principles may be found in a 2010 study conducted by Baylor University and the Gallup Organization. Eagle Scouts were found to have a greater connection to family, community, and co-workers. Additionally, they are committed to setting personal and professional goals and have built character traits related to work ethics, morality, tolerance, and respect for diversity. The mission of JMU’s Ethical Reasoning Collaborative is to prepare enlightened citizens who apply ethical reasoning in their personal, professional, and civic lives. I hope that this campuswide initiative is as successful as scouting in attaining this goal.