Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Eagle: A Means to an End, not the End Itself

"The Boy Scout advancement program is subtle. It places a series of challenges in front of a Scout in a manner that is fun and educational. As Scouts meet these challenges, they achieve the aims of Boy Scouting."
--2008 Advancement Guide, BSA, p.23.

We often talk about a boy "getting" his Eagle, as if it's as easy and natural as getting a zit, or as simplistic as buying a Slurpee. Other times it's made a condition of some other goal, like a driver's license. We also talk of "his Eagle" as if it's been reserved and is just standing by waiting for the "owner" merely to check all the boxes and claim what's already his. While well-intentioned, these philosophies belie a misunderstanding of what the BSA advancement method, and more particularly achieving Eagle really mean.

We adults do a gross disservice to the boys by setting our own sights primarily on the Eagle rank. Eagle is not the point. I have read that of all boys enrolled in Scouting nationwide, 3-6% earn this rank. Does this mean that Scouting has failed the other 94%? By the "Eagle is the objective" measuring stick, then yes. Fortunately, the Boy Scouts of America has clearly stated its Aims: building boys and men of (1) high character, (2) physical, moral and spiritual fitness and who are (3) participating citizens. Put simply, the Boy Scouts of America does not exist to hand out badges to boys.

So, when you hear these ideas put forward, ask, "why"? Why does he have to earn Eagle before he can drive? Is it Eagle for Eagle's sake? Is it for you? Or do you want him to work toward it because you recognize that the knowledge, skills and abilities embodied in the process of earning it will serve him throughout his life? And have you communicated that concept to your son/Scouts?

Of course, we want our boys to earn the Eagle rank. Advancement is part of the program, and earning Eagle is a very worthwhile, noble and achievable goal. But it needs to be for the right reason. The adults involved in a boy's scouting experience must recognize that it is only one piece of the puzzle; that it is part of a process; that he is, through learning these skills, bettering himself for the future. If he earns it at 14 years or at 17 years, 11 months and 28 days, it is the same achievement - there's no bonus for finishing early nor is there a penalty for taking longer than someone else.

If, for whatever reason, he does not earn the Eagle rank, but has developed into a man of high moral character, who takes care of himself physically and spiritually and who understands his role in society, (and for my fellow Mormons, is worthy of the Melchizedek Priesthood) we have succeeded! Conversely, if he "gets" his Eagle but doesn't exhibit these qualities, what does that say about his mentors?

"It is better to build boys than to mend men." --Truett Cathy

Prepared. | For Life.™


Sherry Smothermon-Short said...

I totally agree! I'm always a bit suspicious of the boys who earn their Eagle at a very young age. Were they truly the one who was motivated or was it their parents? Eagles are supposed to be leaders, but I think it will be difficult for a 16 year old to "look up" to a 13 year old Eagle.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

William D. Chapman said...

Another great post. Are you still actively posting on this site? These are great topics for LDS scouters and we need more people like you addressing these issues and shedding light on them. One of the best sites I have found is Clarke Green (scoutmastercg.com) and one for LDS scouters is Mac McIntire on the LDS BSA Relations website. But you have some great content here and I hope you are keeping it up!