Issue 412 – September 3, 2014
A while back, you published a letter about a Scout who had been denied his Eagle rank at his board of review for the dubious claim that he “lacked Scout spirit.” I nearly cried when I read that letter. What a horrible, horrible thing to put a Scout through. As an Eagle Scout, I’m ashamed—no, furious—at what those board members did.
Why do adults continue to put elaborate obstacles and hurdles in front of Scouts to prevent them from becoming Eagles?
Back when I was a Scout, one of my friends didn’t “pass” his Eagle review because—you can’t make this stuff up!—they didn’t think he read enough newspapers! Never mind that he was 14 years old and read what most 14 year-olds read in newspaper: the sports section and the comics page. Sure, he caught a headline now and again and, if it interested him, he read an article. But their stated expectation was for him to read at least two newspapers, front to back, every day, like some business executive or politician. What bunk!
Fortunately, he had a good Scoutmaster who went in and read them the riot act. Shortly after that, they convened and “passed” my friend. But why should he have gone through this in the first place?!
Since that time, and after hearing other wacky stories about things asked at Eagle reviews, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with Scouts getting ready to for their Eagle board of review. I’ve told them some of the weird questions that other Scouts have had to deal with, told them that while it’s not right (or even relevant) to ask those questions, they should be ready anyway.
When a Scout’s “failed” at any board of review, he needs someone who will go to bat for him…fast! It’s shameful to think that the Scout who raised that question to you—who obviously earned his Eagle—was denied by petty board members who should have been thrown out of the room for failing their responsibility to the young men they’re supposed to be serving. Talk about “Scout spirit”! Where was theirs!
At first I was reluctant to have my name published with my comments, thinking that some of these folks could still be around. But I realize that in order for this kind of nonsense to end, it will take Eagles standing up for other Scouts against this nonsense. Shedding light on the bad actors maybe will clean up the problem for others.
Other really lame questions I’ve heard about seem to be aimed at tricking or embarrassing the Eagle candidate. Questions like, “Which part of the Scout Oath or Law is most important,” and expecting a specific answer—not just a well-reasoned answer or even an answer that affirms how all parts are important to a well-rounded Scout. Instead, the person asking that question has in their mind a “right” and “wrong” answer and the “right” one—whatever it might be—is the only acceptable answer to them. If the Scout chooses Brave and explains why, he gets told that he should have said Trustworthy because what does it matter if you’re brave but you’re dishonest. That’s not right.
Asking Scouts to share specific times from their past when they were not “Trustworthy” or didn’t “show Scout spirit” (never mind that these are supposed to be ideals that we “promise to do our best” to uphold, that confession it turned around to shame the Scout instead of encouraging him to try harder.
I also think dredging up a past inappropriate act on the part of a Scout—back when he was a Second Class Scout, for instance, or a camping trip three years ago—is, frankly, cruel when that’s not who the Scout is today. An Eagle board of review isn’t a confessional, nor are the board members priests dishing out punishments and repentance as more important that absolution.
I’d always thought the whole point of a review was for Scouts to talk about how they’d learned from their mistakes and applied what they’d learned in Scouting to do better going forward.
I told one young Scout that he might get asked questions like this and explained that while I don’t think they belong in a review he should be ready, just in case it happened. He broke down in tears and told me how, a year or two ago, he’d cheated on a test in school, admitted it to the teacher (he didn’t get caught, he just felt bad about it), accepted the punishment, and had never done it again. He was truly upset about this past mistake, still well over a year later. I told him that we all make mistakes but he did the right thing and shouldn’t be embarrassed or worry about it anymore. I told him that he learned from his mistake and didn’t do it again, and that’s what a Scout should be. This scout is now exemplary, and did pass his review. I’m glad that he and I talked about this beforehand, and happier that it didn’t come up at his review, but I’ve heard about boards asking other Scouts this exact question, and dinged them for their honest answer.
One question I was personally asked about, that I felt was inappropriate, was why I wasn’t a member of the troop at the church I went to. Normally, this might have been a good question, to see if there was a problem that needed to be addressed. I had been an active Scout in that troop at my church, but when a new Scoutmaster took over, his idea of Boy Scouts was to run it like when he was in the Army! That’s why I switched troops, and I’m glad I did, because none of my friend who stayed there made it to Eagle rank. But the person asking the question about why I’d changed troops was the head pastor of another church, and his questions seemed more focused on digging up dirt on my own church’s leadership rather than why I had left to join another troop that was using the Scouting method instead of the Army way. I felt like he was boxing me into a corner to say something bad about my church leaders or my faith. He kept trying to dig beyond the way the Scoutmaster was running things, looking for what I felt was some piece of dirt on them, or some sort of confession from me that I’d had bad religious leaders.
I also think it is wrong for Board members to treat these reviews like they’re some sort of marathon job interview to get “Top Secret” clearance at the Pentagon and dragging them on for well over an hour. I think at some point it becomes a little sadistic.
I hope you hear back from the Scouter that wrote you that justice was done for that Eagle Candidate. (Jason Orton, Eagle ’90, and now Pack Committee Chair)
Thanks for taking the time to write. These are important lessons for us all to take to heart. We’re here, supposedly, to build bridges to the future of America; not roadblocks that produce permanent negative outcomes.
Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to email@example.com. Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)
[No. 412 – 9/3/2014 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2014]