Scouts-L Mail Archive for February of 1999: Re: Swimming
Tue, 2 Feb 1999 13:10:49 EST
In a message dated 2/2/99 11:50:07 AM, ian@FORD.DIRCON.CO.UK wrote:
<<I imagine that even Eagle Scouts sometimes have some sort of irrational
fear - claustrophobia, fear of spiders, fear of heights ... so why
penalise a kid who is afraid of swimming ?>>
I have watched this thread with more mixed feelings than any topic since I
have been participating in Scouts-L. And I will probably come across as
Alley Oop the caveman in my thoughts.
In virtually every area, I believe that the needs of the child should come
first. And this is no exception.
However, there are at least two purposes to the outdoor skills requirements in
our BSA advancement program. One is the self improvement, do your best type
purpose. From this point of view, substituting running for swimming can be
totally satisfactory. But the other point of view is that there are certain
tangible, non substitutible skills which a Scout of a particular level should
be able to perform. If water skills or a water rescue are needed, it doesn't
matter if a particular boy can run the mile in 3 minutes 30 seconds or can run
100 miles while carrying a pack; he either can swim or he can't perform.
I believe this is why until rather recently, substitution of requirements were
not permitted for the Eagle. It was thought that being an Eagle should mean
that one had certain physical skills one of which was water rescue skills. If
you didn't have those skills for whatever reason, be it physical disability,
fear of water or whatever other reason, you couldn't be an Eagle Scout. You
could be a great Scout and have a great Scouting career, but not be an Eagle.
We now allow subsitution to some extent and I strongly support that, but I do
think there is some substantial merit to the Eagle representing a certain
level of performance capability.
I fear that my examples now will be judged flaming or insulting; I hope not.
But if a boy had an extreme fear of the dark or fear of the outdoors, would we
waive the camping requirements due to his fear and allow him to advance with
no camping? If he were extremely shy and had a fear of talking to strangers,
possibly because of a stutter, would we waive the merit badge program because
it involves dealing with strangers who are merit badge counselors.
Having said this, forcing a boy who has a severe fear of water to swim is
child abuse. But drowning is even worse. And preparing a boy to face his
fears is a great service, and I have to believe that thoughtful swimming
instruction done by experts can help address this kind of thing. I did teach
swimming for two years and helped convince many, many terrified kids that they
could survive in the water. Very commonly, the fear of water is instilled and
strongly reinforced by parents, or else is a method for the boy to assert his
independence and get attention. But it can be trauma induced and can be very
severe, requiring much time and thoughtful care to overcome.
I guess I would come down on the side of requiring boys who are physically
able to swim to do so to advance. This is not "penalizing" the boy for not
being able to swim. NOT RECEIVING A SCOUT ADVANCEMENT IS NOT A PENALTY. NOT
GETTING THE EAGLE IS NOT A PENALTY. The Eagle is only one part of the Boy
Scout advancement program, which is only one of eight methods of the Boy Scout
program, which is only one part of the total BSA program, which is only one of
a large number of activities available for youth to prove their mettle and
But I would also feel strongly obligated to do everything possible to help
this boy overcome his fear of water and I would not be surprised if it took a