Well, my congratulations to Eagles one and all. I do not mean to throw any shade on their accomplishments. But I have to ask, is this altogether a good thing? In a similar way, we see more and more advanced degrees awarded in higher education. But what do those degrees mean in a world flooded with degrees? Achieving a credential like Eagle or Ph.D. still says a lot about the person who can claim it. But more and more, it seems to be about the drive to acquire the credential, not about the breadth or depth of experiences or knowledge or skills that one has acquired along the way toward that credential.
Thirty years ago, I was putting up a canopy over the place where we parked the camp tractor during Staff Week with the help of a 14-year-old Eagle Scout. I asked him to tie a tautline hitch around a post with one of the guy lines. He didn’t know how to do it. I was flabbergasted. “Whaddya mean, you don’t know how to tie a tautline hitch? You’re an Eagle Scout.” He replied that he learned how to tie the knot at the time he was passing those particular tests, but he didn’t bother to retain the knowledge. Since that time, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of required skills that aren’t retained by advancing Scouts. But more than that, there seems to be a difference in what kids are in Scouting for.
Scouting for me was about camping. It was about adventure. It was about discovery. Along the way, I forged certain important relationships with friends, with adult mentors. It formed me as a person in many ways. The Eagle for me stood for all that Scouting had shown me and made of me, not some massive personal achievement. I hadn’t conquered the mountain, but rather become native to it.
In the years since I have sat on many Boards of Review and done many personal growth conferences. I like to ask about the important experiences the Scouts are having. I am less interested in how many merit badges they’ve earned. A badge should stand for some experience; the experience is not just earning a badge. Piling up credentials when you haven’t been anywhere or done anything (comparatively speaking) seems to me a vain pursuit. In my time, I have been both a Scoutmaster and a Venturing Advisor. The youth in my units advanced at a goodly rate, but advancement in rank was a side effect of the adventures we were having, not the reason we were having the adventures.