Selling Cookies, Selling Science

The Girl Scouts of the USA are in the business of sales. What does this mean for our daughters?

I’ve got something in my pocket that belongs across my face … it’s a great big Girl Scout … Science of Happiness Badge?  

No longer content to be happy for happiness’ sake, Girl Scouts now pursue “The Science of Happiness.”    

A “Positive Psychology Researcher” from the University of Pennsylvania helped create the badge. According to a National Public Radio interview with Alisha Niehaus of the Girl Scouts of the USA, girls have the opportunity to become “a test subject” in the “laboratory” of their own lives, systematically determining if practices like forgiveness, for example, make them feel happier.

Nothing wrong with that.   

Why, then, as I stood in my kitchen listening to the story, did I feel as though someone wiped the “great big Girl Scout smile” right off my otherwise scientifically happy face?   

What about the badges girls used to earn? Things like “First Aid” and “Girl Scout Ways” (including kindness, being prepared, and — most importantly — selling cookies)?

The cookie badge has become the “cookie business” badge. (Girls couldn’t possibly be expected to participate in a “fundraiser.”  Instead they learn the ins and outs of operating a business — at age 7.)   

I nearly choked up a Thin Mint when I learned that “Fashion, Fitness and Make-up” is now the “The Science of Style” badge.

I’m aware of the science (and big business) behind the beauty industry. (In coming weeks, I’ll be writing about how this affects our daughters.) I’m as against “Barbie-Syndrome” as any intelligent, conscientious mother. But there’s nothing wrong with earning a badge for good-old-fashioned “fashion.”

In Girl Scouts, we made sit-upons for a practical reason: our hineys got wet sitting on the ground. We learned fire-safety so we could cook meals without burning down the forest. We discovered that campfires are for aesthetics, too. They smell wonderful and look beautiful and there’s nothing quite like the lingering taste of s’mores while singing camp songs. 

Fashion is an undeniable part of our world. A person (man or woman) who wants to succeed professionally must have a reasonable sense of fashion (or create her own sense of style that people respect.)    

Engaging in the art of fashion helps women feel feminine, beautiful. Do we have to study how a pair of boots is constructed or know which demographic group is most likely to purchase them to appreciate how fabulous we feel wearing them?

I understand that Girl Scouts must keep up with times and technology. I’m all for the addition of the Digital Film-making Badge and the Product-Design Innovation Badge.

Niehaus says that the changes were “girl-led.” 

I assert that the changes are equally driven by the trendy, mistaken notion that to be truly intelligent, girls must be as scientifically minded as their male counterparts (some are, some are not, and not all men are logically/mathematically gifted, either).  

A local troupe leader told me she has no problem giving the changes a chance but confessed that she felt there was “nothing wrong with Girl Scouts before” and she “wasn’t sure why they changed it.” Also, with the organization being so “girl-driven” she wondered what leaders will bring to the table? Girls think they know what they want but don’t always know what they need.

When I was growing up, Girl Scouts was just fun. Along the way, we learned about moral character, safety issues, community service and yes, selling cookies. It wasn’t meant to be like school. No one worried that we would turn into No-Brains-Barbie if we earned a badge for tenets of fashion: how to put together an attractive, functional wardrobe or to artfully, tastefully apply make-up.

We camped, we hiked, we learned to sew and bake. Parents were smart enough to know that girls were learning life-skills, even if selling cookies wasn’t billed as a “business venture.”

I mean no offense to the Girl Scouts. To call into question the motives behind this great organization would be politically incorrect, un-American, even.

It’s not so much a matter of motive as it is a matter of necessity. With all of the activities that vie for girls’ time and parents’ money, GSUSA is in the business of selling “purpose” and “relevance.” It has jumped on the girls-and-science bandwagon, presented itself as attractively as possible.

Girls will be drawn to the new handbook. It’s quite fashionable (check it out at the GirlScouts of Northeast Ohio website www.gsneo.org.) I’m sure there’s viable, scientific research behind the new look.

I just hope that girls will pursue what they are truly interested in and that the new badges will lead them to a traditional end: A Great Big Girl Scout Smile!

Laura Z. October 17, 2011 at 04:04 PM
I think its important to be scientifically minded for girls at a young age. Even more important than knowing about fashion. At the end of the day I'd rather have a kid who can think critically than one who knows how to keep up with the ever-changing fashion trends. When you look at some of the competition (hem hem, Asia) I'm glad there will be more opportunities for girls to have their brains stimulated.
Brian Bortz October 17, 2011 at 04:28 PM
I am the Lower School Science Teacher at Canton Country Day School. In addition to my teaching I have done many informal science programs (summers and evenings) and would be glad to offer a program for the Girl Scouts if they are interested.
Sara Roberts October 17, 2011 at 06:13 PM
One of my three daughters is a science teacher (and former Girl Scout). After earning a degree in engineering and having three sons, she went back to college to teach math and science. Her master's is in gifted education and she is particularly concerned about smart girls who feel compelled to "dumb down". That said, I don't think it hurts a girl to look her best. Perhaps Girl Scouts can help girls (and society) accept our feminine side and to think critically. I grew up at a time and place when you couldn't be both pretty and smart. I was smart, so I was never pretty. Then I moved to Ohio and was no longer smart. Boys don't have to choose. Donna, you write extremely well, much better than you make peace with aggressive fowl.
Donna J. Noble October 18, 2011 at 01:44 AM
Sara- Thanks for being a fan! With your reference to my rooster story, I need to refer my readers to "Over the Back Fence." And my dear, you ARE intelligent AND beautiful. It's beautiful that we now can be!


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