A boy and a girl scout holding flags marching in a suburban July 4 parade.

Felicia Pace, right, of Troop 64, marches in Northbrook’s Fourth of July parade. At left is Drew Sheedy. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Photo by Neil Steinberg

Girls can also be trustworthy, loyal, helpful ...

Victor Hugo never wrote, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

What the author of “Les Miserables” and “Hunchback of Notre Dame” actually wrote, in French, was, “On résiste a l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas a l’invasion des idées.”

Or, translated into English: “One can resist the invasion of armies but not the invasion of ideas.”

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Which not only doesn’t sound as good; it isn’t even true. One can resist ideas whose time has come. And millions do, for years, as they are dragged screaming and tweeting into the modern world.

In fact, that might be handy shorthand for grasping what is going on today around the globe: some embrace ideas whose time has come. And some resist with all their might.

Until change occurs, as change must, and most people ... shrug and move on.

My wife and I took our folding chairs to Northbrook’s Fourth of July Parade last Thursday. A low-key affair. Cops on bikes. Fire trucks. Veterans marching as the crowd stood and clapped. The high school band. A division of the Shannon Rovers and the Jesse White Tumblers. Youth sports teams.

And the Boy Scouts, whoops, Scouts BSA, which this year began permitting girls to make lanyards, learn how to pass axes safely and march in small town parades. 

No gasps. The crowd reacted ... not at all, as far as I could tell. I did wonder how the experiment is going. The Friday after July 4th is a bad time to seek reaction. But someone was manning the phones at the national office in Irvine, Texas. “A Scout is helpful ...”

“It’s going really well,” said Effie Delimarkos, spokesperson for the BSA. “We have 20,000 girls registered since the program started in February.” That’s out of 2.2 million members of what is still collectively called the Boy Scouts of America; its program for 11- to 17-year-olds is now Scouts BSA.

They may march together but belong to single-gender troops. 

“It’s not exactly co-ed,” Delimarkos said. “We have approximately 2,500 new units, the most units fired up in a very long time.”

She pointed out that girls were involved with scouting even before the change, as de facto members, siblings who participated in activities without actually being enrolled.

”The Cub Scouts would have a Pinewood Derby, the official races, and then there would be the sister races,” she said.

What helped change the BSA’s mind was a survey showing 90% of the parents of girls of Cub Scout age 5 to 11 were interested in scouting.

“It was pretty compelling,” Delimarkos said. 

They did consider whether the curriculum “made sense” for girls and decided it did.

“We realized the content itself is universal,” Delimarkos said. “We don’t fully tell the kids, but there are lessons sandwiched between the fun and camping and Pinewood Derby. Lessons that build resilience and character. The Scout Law, ‘A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful.’ These kind of things are not specific to boys.”

I checked in with a longtime Northbrook scout leader, Sandi Schleicher.

”I think it is great,” she said. “Though I know some Girl Scout leaders who aren’t happy about it.”

That is putting it lightly; last year, the Girl Scouts sued the Boy Scouts, claiming their name change constituted trademark infringement. 

”Only GSUSA has the right to use the Girl Scouts and Scouts trademarks with leadership development services for girls,” the suit claimed.

The change reminds me of when smoking was banned in restaurants. To many, the idea was ludicrous: nobody would eat out anymore! The change happened, and it quickly became amazing to recall that life had been otherwise and smoking was once permitted in places people eat food.

We react to the prospect of change with fear and resist. Then it happens, despite our resistance.

”Prior to girls joining, we did have a fair share of skepticism, whether this was or wasn’t a good thing,” Delimarkos said. “What we heard, from parents and grandparents, was they have a totally different opinion when it’s their daughter or granddaughter.

“They realize we’re not necessarily taking something and changing it, but taking what many people have done and loved and making it available to the next generation. Once they see it through those eyes, some of the skepticism melts away.”

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