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Be Prepared, 1990's-Style

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In an effort to keep pace with the times, the Boy Scouts of America last month unveiled a new and extensively revised Boy Scout Handbook.

Scouts are, of course, still urged to "be prepared." But beyond the traditional instruction in how to tie knots, use a compass, and build a campfire, the new Handbook, by addressing such contemporary problems as drug and child abuse and illiteracy, seeks to help boys cope with life in the 1990's.

The changes, said Lee Sneath, a national spokesman for the Dallas-based Boy Scouts of America, are part of a decade-long effort to modernize the 80-year-old organization and boost its membership, which in 1979 had fallen to 3.1 million from 4.8 million in 1972. Currently, Mr. Sneath said, the Scouts have approximately 4.3 million members, ages 6 to 20.

"As the nation's largest youth-development organization," he said, the Boy Scouts have chosen to combat five social ills that the organization terms "unacceptables": child abuse, drug abuse, functional illiteracy, hunger, and youth unemployment.

"If young people can be protected from child and drug abuse, learn to read, and be fed," he observed, "then they will be better prepared for the job market."

Reflecting this outlook, one of the more significant changes in the 645-page Handbook is a new 24-page insert on the dangers of child and drug abuse. Before becoming a Boy Scout, Mr. Sneath said, a boy and his parents must work through the insert and sign off on it. "We want boys today to be aware of the environment around them, and, unfortunately, today's world has child and drug abuse," he said.

The 10th edition of the Handbook also places additional emphasis on an "environmentally gentle" approach to camping. This "low-impact, no-trace camping," Mr. Sneath explained, instructs Scouts to leave a campsite in better condition than they found it.

And finally, beyond being written in a more "interesting and readable" manner, he said, the new Handbook features more than 900 color photographs of "real Scouts doing real Scouting things."

Clearly, the time has passed when Norman Rockwell's images and the prospects of outdoor adventure and merit badges were inspirational enough to lure generations of boys into the Boy Scout's ranks.--jw

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