October 30th, 2020


An old Scout looks back

The percentage of Scouts who attain the Eagle rank has been increasing. In 1996, the number was 2%, which was about what it was when I earned my Eagle 50 years ago. But in 2018, the number was 5%. Why?

Possibility 1: Scouts today are just that much better than they used to be. (I doubt this.) Possibility 2: The total population of Scouts has shrunk relative to the number of those who would normally have the drive and support to achieve Eagle. (Statistically possible.) Possibility 3: BSA has emphasized reaching Eagle almost to the exclusion of all other goals. Earning badges is the main thing we do these days. (Judgment call.)

I lean toward a combination of 2 and 3, above. While I celebrate each and every Scout reaching the top, I have some qualms about what we are making of the program these days. The advancement program is a tool, not a goal. The badge – any badge – stands for an experience; merely qualifying for the badge is not the experience itself.

I would be pleased as punch if 95% of Scouts earned the Eagle rank. But if we so change the program to make that possible, and by doing so ignore the life-changing experiences of personal discovery, of the magic of camping, the bonds of friendship, the encounter with God – if we make of Scouting the pursuit of credentials – then our success will be hollow, indeed.

Upon the hearth the fire is red,
Beneath the roof there is a bed;
But not yet weary are our feet,
Still round the corner we may meet
A sudden tree or standing stone
That none have seen but we alone.
When I look back over my life, I don’t think about my achievements much – and I have some significant achievements I could list on my CV. I think about that time when . . . I remember experiences, and feelings, moments, images, times of decision and discovery – these are the things that made me who I am, and which drive me yet. “The Child is father of the Man” as Wordsworth said. As a Scout leader, my job is to facilitate those experiences, and help young people process them. For some of them, all those experiences may eventually lead to the rank of Eagle Scout; but there are other treasures to be found along the way, and they are not to be despised.