What you’ve read about Girlguiding may not always be true

In the follow up to my recent post ‘Girlguiding is not and never was a Christian Organisation’ I am writing this next post about the medium that inspired this series – The Online UK Newspaper. It comes as no surprise that newspapers go for sensationalist stories and for some reason many seem to be against Girlguiding in no matter what they do. But my main issue here is when these articles misinform the public about Girlguiding when a little bit of research can put the facts right.

Since my previous post The Daily Mail updated this article, but I will start with the original;

Girl Guide group told to ditch God or be expelled

I’ll start with the headline, which in full is: “Girl Guide group told to ditch God or be expelled: Troop faces removal from national body after leaders rejected new rules”

Sensationalist headline. Literally yes, we do not say the word ‘God’ in the promise now but we do still include God in the line ‘develop my beliefs’. They have not been asked to ‘ditch God’ in the way many people will read this.

Unusual wording: Troop. The term Troop is commonly used with Scouts and American Girl Scouts, I am yet to meet a Girlguiding unit refer to themselves as a troop. The official term in the UK is Unit, as per the Guiding Manual.

When putting together a pen pal exchange with some Girl Scouts in Florida I was often emailing their leader and she referred to the American group as a troop, when I presented the pen pal exchange to my unit I accidently called our unit a troop and the girls were much confused! It is unusual for my area, I don’t want to jump to conclusions because perhaps this unit does refer to themselves as a troop but I doubt it as when the unit’s name is mentioned in the article it is followed by the word ‘unit’ – something that would come from the leaders themselves. I would conclude that the journalist still has some research to do.

“It means that the unit, which includes more than 100 girls in Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and Rangers from a variety of different faiths, will now have to meet as an independent group”

So perhaps this is where the confusion between ‘troop’ and ‘unit’ comes in. “‘Unit’ is the name given to a group of Rainbow Guides, Brownie Guides, Guides or members of The Senior Section and their respective Leaders.” – Girlguiding Manual. These units, all from one area, form a district. The 100 girls from Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and Rangers (Senior Section) are a district.

“The Girl Guide promise had been changed after over 100 years of tradition”

I’m unsure what the article refers to by 100 years of tradition, yes it is tradition for Girlguiding to move and evolve over time. This line misleads readers into believing this change is the first in 100 years, as per the Outcome of the Promise Consultation: FAQ: “Over the past 100 years the Promise has changed a total of 11 times before this consultation. These changes have occurred to reflect the views of our members and the changing attitudes within our society.” In case you are interested the original and current promises are listed below.

The original promise was:
I promise, on my honour, to be loyal to God and the King, To try and do daily good turns to other people, to obey the Law of the Guides.

And the current one is:
I promise to do my best, to be true to myself and develop my beliefs, To serve the Queen and my community, to help other people and to keep the Guide Law.

So this is the updated article, it has been moved to the ‘Femail’ section of the site which appears to be aimed at women.

So the headline has been cleaned up a little. In full it is: “The Girl Guides who refuse to give up on God: Troop who face disbanding because they don’t believe in a new secular motto” No more ‘ditching God’. But still using unusual term ‘troop’.

The first major difference is the image; the girls are now smiling. I can imagine this was to show that these girls actually do enjoy Guides and Senior Section and aren’t just being used as props.

This article starts with a Ranger Guide (a Senior Section member) discussing a Guiding activity. This is great! Finally newspapers are happy to show the more interesting side to Guiding with what we actually DO! But what follows is this statement: “Will they be getting an extra-special badge from HQ for representing the organisation in such a glowing manner?”

No, but neither will any of the other Guides taking part in standard activities, they may receive interest badges or event badges, but this is a common standard. Of course this sentence is included to lead the readers to believe this is an extra special unit to make their plight more heart-breaking. This puts another downward slant on Guiding as readers may believe this sort of activity is not normal for Guides to take part in, not what they can expect their daughter to achieve in their local unit.

So how did this sorry saga begin?” – I can tell you, following plenty of articles like this:

This may be a Scouting story, but it had a knock on effect on Guiding in my own life. So I’ll briefly cover this.

Another sensationalist headline, half way into the article it reads: “George began attending… in January. But to become a full member he must now take the Scout Promise.” This is not being banned, he was not asked to leave, but could not become a full member.

Again this article refers to a ‘Christian Movement’ but with little to base it on. At the time, when Baden-Powell was developing a training programme for youths over 100 years ago Christian beliefs were common place in the UK. But as the movement quickly grew around the world the spiritual aspect of Scouting was adapted to all faiths. I find no evidence on the Scouts website to call it a Christian movement.

Though the headline and the first line of the article include refusing to swear allegiance to the Queen there is no further reference to this in the article. Possibly something dropped later when the journalist realised the child was wearing a badge commemorating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee?

The next Girlguiding related story is on a similar vein, a child who cannot make her promise, a story that predates the recent consultation. But during research I found many different versions of the same article. I’ll start with the original and we will see how the story progresses:

Fair headline, the family are upset. The story is this:

“Two atheists are considering pulling their daughter out of the Brownies – in a row over whether she should have to make a vow to God.”

This is an article in a local newspaper of a local family who are upset over how Brownies is run. Their daughter wants to make her promise just like all her friends have done, but doesn’t want to include the line about God. She asked to change it and was rightly told no by the leader. One Guiding tradition that has never died is that all Brownies, Guides, Senior Section Members and Leaders make the same promise, the only adaptation previously could be changing God to a word of their faith.

This article makes no false claim that the unit have asked the girl to leave, and the parent’s quote shows they may choose to take her out of Brownies because the girl says she feels left out.

“The couple are keen for their youngest daughter, 5, to join the Brownies when she turns seven”

My instinctual thought was why is this 5 year old not joining Rainbows? I hope parents are aware that their daughters can start their Guiding adventure at a slightly earlier age. It could be there are no Rainbow units in the area, I never had the opportunity to be a Rainbow either, but if there is a lack of volunteers this article could have helped boost opportunities too.

“Nobody from the … group wished to comment this week.” – No Guiding member has to deal with situations like this alone, as volunteers we do our part to help the development of young girls and there are people within the organisation who are asked to deal with journalists.

“But a Girlguiding UK spokesman suggested that she should have been allowed to change the wording.” – If any research had been done previously the parents and the journalist would already be aware that the word ‘God’ could be altered to a word of the child’s faith to make the Promise more meaningful, but by not expanding on this it gives the impression that it is this unit leader who is wrong, and this is not the case.

The story is picked up by a website promoting the separation of religion and state, with the same quotes from the parents but using a slightly different stance.

Not a very offence headline, but without reading the article you may be lead to believe it was Girlguiding who would be asking the girl to leave when it is actually the girls parents who may choose to take her out of Brownies.

“But now her membership is threatened because she doesn’t want to take a religious oath.” – Again, the sentence is not complete by explaining that the child’s parents are making this decision.

It seems to be a common misconception that girls have to make their promise to become a Brownie, this is not the case. Articles like this one continue to give the public misinformed information.

In both articles it is mentioned several times that the child is enjoying herself and likes being a Brownie, and the only reason the parents may take her out of Brownies is because while she is happy she also feels left out.

Then things escalate;

The parents have now changed from upset to angry. If you go back to the original article’s quotes there is actually no mention of the parents being upset or angry, the mother is bothered, the girl is upset, but who mentioned anyone being angry?

Next. of course, is ‘forcing the praise of God on their girl’. Well that is a whole different story! Imagine the shock as parents discover that hidden amongst the game at the start of the meeting and a singsong at the end was leaders demanding children to declare faith over and over as the poor Brownies wept between each word. Well that clearly is not the story here.

“is in danger of not making the cut – for not pledging faith to God” – Again, no reference that is it the child’s parents who wish to remove her form the unit.

“The troop has declined to comment but Girlguiding UK said there was no reason why the Brownie pledge could not be altered.”

– Troop again?! And from a different paper. I’ll come back to this in my misconceptions post. Now this journalist has read the previous article and took their own conclusions on the Promise without any research themselves, making false claim that the ‘pledge’ can be altered without explaining exactly what part can be changed and to what. Very misleading sentence. Also the spokesman has changed to a spokeswoman.

And then the story made it across the pond;

“Girlguiding UK (their version of the Girl Scouts) is telling a seven year old that she needs to pledge an oath to God is she wants to remain in the group.” –

Just no. The story has now been changed so far and has been misleading in so many articles that it is now being reported wrong. This is now scandalous. People are now taking an opinion on an organisation based on a lie.

” As far as I can tell, Girlguiding UK is a private organization and it’s allowed to discriminate as it pleases.” No discrimination against atheists, any girl between 7-10 can be a Brownie should there be a place in a unit. If a girl does not feel comfortable making the promise, for any reason, she does not require to do this to become a member. (I’m sure many have the same thought, what about discrimination against boys? In my eyes having a girl only space is very nurturing and I feel there should be a equivalent all boys organisation, maybe I’ll go into detail on this one day.)

If she decides she’s an atheist, does the Girlguiding group really want to tell her she’s unworthy of joining?” – No research into the organisation by the journalist, just a sensationalist sentence.

There may be more articles on this story and the words may have further been destroyed. I wonder now whether the recent change has kept this child in Guiding and her parents are happier. But these articles really do leave my faith in journalism at a new low. Not one appeared to do their own research and took the word of parents and a quote from a spokesman as all they needed to spread scandal on a volunteer organisation and charity.

I add this final article as it brings up some common misconceptions from those who have only read the new Promise and related articles published online:

“Indeed, it now stands revealed as being actively discriminatory, and far from pulling down any (mythical) barriers to joining the movement, the Guide leaders are actually putting them up.” –

This journalist doesn’t appear to read her own paper, referring to mythical barriers that have been sensationalised within its own articles.

“Having dumped God and country altogether, it is now actually forbidding Guides — on pain of excommunication — to promise to serve anything beyond themselves.”  “So the new Guiding promise is all about being true to me, myself and my beliefs, whatever they may happen to be.”

– God is still referred to in ‘develop my beliefs’ and country is still referred to in ‘serve my Queen’. We still promise to help other people, and to think of others before ourselves, so how is this not serving anything beyond ourselves?

“Churches should deny the Guides use of their premises.” –

A common comment by those with little knowledge of everyday guiding. Would the Churches kick out karate clubs who do not pray at the end of each session, how about parties for youngsters who have not brought their bibles? As a Christian I have never once said I’ll do you a favour because you are a Christian, I would say I’ll do you a favour because you are a person (or cat, I like animals too.) And the change in the promise does not mean we suddenly stop supporting our linked Church with donations during service, helping take collection and reading of prayers, and gardening in the Church grounds. This doesn’t appear to be the attitude of a true Christian.

This article appears to be more an attack on society as a whole for the secularism that has become common place, but uses Girlguiding as a reason to write about it. Unfortunately this leads to more misinformed statements flooding the Internet.

It isn’t all bad though, some journalists get it right and help restore faith in community by writing articles such as these:

There are many more of these too, especially in local newspapers.  And, of course, there is plenty more information on Girlguiding on their website that can be relied on.

The comments on these articles, including the positive ones, further show how poorly misconceived Girlguiding is. This is the second of 4 posts about Girlguiding, next I will go further into how the public may not understand what we do. And my final post will go into detail on the adventures and experiences I have had during my time as a Brownie, Guide and Leader.

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