Today's Girl Scouts: More Than Cookies and Campfires

America's favorite cookie peddlers are donning new uniforms and new attitudes as they enter the 21st century.

This spring, Girl Scouts have begun trading in their old duds for more trendy clothes, including brimmed hats, khaki pants and cargo shorts. But the changes are more than cosmetic for the organization, which boasts 2.7 million members.

"In 1912, girls earned badges in 'laundressing' and 'seamstressing' and the kind of skills for survival back in those days," said Grace Chien, executive director of the Girl Scouts' Totem Council in Seattle, Wash. "Now, the skills for survival are car care, navigating the Internet, managing your money."

And the list goes on.

Girl Scouts of the USA has introduced new badges honoring proficiency in everything from coping with stress to women's history.

Scout officials say they're adapting to changing times to help girls grow up and prosper in an increasingly complex world. But some critics say the organization has adopted a political agenda that leans to the left.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, an associate editor for the National Review, compiled a list of "politically correct" activities endorsed by Girl Scout handbooks and resource materials. Among them: "help organize an Earth Day celebration" and "organize an event to make people aware of gender bias."

Lopez said the manuals also encourage discussion of "contemporary issues" including abortion and preventing teen pregnancy.

"There's a 'Decisions for Your Life' badge you earn for, among other things, carrying around an egg for a week to see what it's like to have a kid," Lopez said. "There's also a 'Domestic Violence Awareness' patch — all the good PC things."

In 1993, the organization made the mention of "God" optional in the Girl Scout Promise. According to Lopez, that decision, along with the Girl Scouts' acceptance of homosexual members and troop leaders, helped that organization avoid the political fallout faced by the Boy Scouts of America, which adhered to its founding principles.

Girl Scout officials insist inclusion, not political correctness, is what dictates their policy.

"We are a reflection of contemporary America, and America has people from all different backgrounds, of all different religious faiths," Chien said. "Our goal is to make sure every girl everywhere who wants to be involved in Girl Scouts can be involved."

Girl Scouts of the USA is a private organization and can set its own standards of conduct, an argument defenders of the Boy Scouts used when that organization's ban on openly gay members came under fire.

Lopez has made the argument herself, but said without reading all the Girl Scout literature many parents may be unaware of some of the topics of discussion.

"A lot of Girl Scout mothers around the country are uncomfortable with sending their daughters to Girl Scout meetings and having them talk about sex," Lopez said. "That's something a lot of people believe belongs in the family and churches."

Whether such activities are rightly within the scope of a scouting program is up to parents to decide. But one thing is for certain — there is more to being a Girl Scout today than cookies and campfires.