The Telegraph

Saturday 16 December 2000

A very bad guide

The Daily Telegraph

THE photograph of a Girl Guide holding up a condom in the new handbook to the Guides - Look Wider - is shocking. Even if it dealt with personal and moral issues in a more sensitive way, the publication would still be a perverse one. This is because, although the Guides were set up with a moral aim - to help others - they also spent a good deal of their time on practical ones, such as camping and hiking. To discuss eating disorders and substance abuse, as Look Wider recommends, is a long way from Lord Baden-Powell's original brief.

Given that the handbook does touch on moral issues, though, it is sad that no moral stance is taken. Rather than offering a wholesome alternative to the interests that draw Guides away from the organisation in their early teens, Look Wider tries to appeal to those interests with references to, inter alia, sex, smoking and highly paid jobs. No way of life, however outlandish, can be criticised. All sorts of subjects are covered - teenage pregnancy, single-sex marriage, prostitution - but it is never said that there is anything wrong with these things. There is only one concrete warning in all 128 pages: "Hitch-hiking is not allowed."

The desperate desire not to put Guides off means that the handbook fails to advocate anything of value that might demand any responsibility - such as, say, marriage. Every Guide must make a pledge on joining the organisation: "I promise that I will do my best: to love my God, to serve the Queen and my country, to help other people and to keep the Guide Law." All these worthwhile aims require some effort on the part of the person pledging, and so are played down in the handbook: Queen and country do not merit a single mention, God is barely referred to and the emphasis is switched from helping others to helping oneself.

The approach is a misguided one. It is of a piece with the vicar who tries to attract the young to his church by ripping out the pews and replacing the organ with an electric guitar. Young people will not stay in churches to hear poor versions of pop concerts - they will go to a pop concert. Young people will not go to the Girl Guides to pick out the difficult route through the adolescent rites of passage; they will do it themselves with the help of parents, friends and teachers. The Guides organisation was never meant to act as a church or Citizens Advice Bureau. Its aim was to provide interesting, useful and enjoyable things for young girls to do, not find them miserable things to discuss.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2000.