The influence of girl scouting as a character-building organization on the moral development of young girl scouts

Ruth Herron Smalt, Fordham University


This qualitative study explores the moral reasoning of girls 6-8 years of age. Four girls were interviewed and observed; 2 girls matched according to a variety of variables were second graders; 2 were third graders, similarly matched. One second grader and one third grader participated in Girl Scouting. The study attempted first to map the general levels of moral reasoning of all 4 girls, and secondly explored whether the Girl Scouting experiences of the 2 girls add significantly to their moral reasoning. Long semi-structured interviews, observations, and moral dilemmas were utilized, and the organizational structure of Scouting and its signs, symbols, and traditions are examined. Results show that girls 6-8 years of age, given practice, are capable of self-initiated role-reversal to provide perspective; and that some young girls are courageous enough to turn the questions around and look at them from another point of view, one that cares for the feelings of all involved. The data show a greater difference between Brownies and non-Brownies than between grade levels. The non-Brownies, especially throughout the themes of honesty, fairness, and respect for self/others, are reasoning at Lickona's Stages 1-2, while the Brownies are centered more consistently at Stage 3, with glimpses of Stage 5. Moral principals are familiar to each of the young girls in the study, as they talk freely and with actual examples of dealing with value issues such as honesty, trust, and fairness. The Brownies, however, are more focused and articulate about how they learn, ponder, and incorporate their moral learnings into their lives and decisions. Throughout their stories, the Brownies tend to show clear patterns of reflectivity, resulting in enhanced moral sensibilities. These Brownies exhibit an ability to articulate and apply higher levels of moral reasoning across a wide variety of situations than the non-Brownies. The data indicate that there appear to be some close relationships between Girl Scouting and moral development, nested in a larger complex of influences that trace back to family, socialization, class, and religion.

Subject Area

Academic guidance counseling|Womens studies|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Smalt, Ruth Herron, "The influence of girl scouting as a character-building organization on the moral development of young girl scouts" (1996). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9708266.