Here’s what a reader recently had to say about Eagle Scouts…
Most last-minute Eagles think the rank will help them in the future, particularly getting into the military academies. These last-minute opportunists dilute the accomplishments of real Eagle Scouts. I remember hearing, at a troop meeting, “Who’s that guy?” Turns out he was the Scoutmaster’s son, going off to college. He’d been inactive in our troop for as long as I’d been a member. The most damage is done to other Scouts in the troop. They know what’s up. Is the Scouting program just a bunch of words?
Let’s start with the BSA’s age requirement for Eagle: Complete the work anytime up to your 18th birthday. This means there’s really no such thing as a “last-minute” Eagle: He’s done the work in the time provided.
Which prompts this question: Just what is a “real” Eagle Scout, if it’s somehow something other than a Scout who completes all requirements in the time provided?
Next, let’s take a look at a Scout who’s just completed is final Eagle requirements but hasn’t been around the troop for a while…
Let’s suppose he’s completed all requirements—including his six months of “tenure-in-position of responsibility” and “active”—except for perhaps a merit badge, or his service project, a year or more ago. Let’s also suppose he, like many high schoolers, is involved in a whole bunch of stuff, like student government, sports, music or theater, national honor society, and so on. And let’s also suppose he’s involved in non-school activities, like a church mission, or traveling soccer, or the like. And let’s add one more aspect: he’s got himself a part-time job, or tends to siblings after school while his parents work, or the like. So where does he put his energies? On wrapping up his final Eagle requirements or merit badges, of course. And he does it. If any of this is accurate, and he’s “done his time,” where is there a problem? The answer’s obvious: the only “problem” is in the mind of an uninformed (or uncaring?) onlooker.
Now, let’s back up for a moment and look at the broader picture. Based on BSA national statistics, we know that the current average age of Eagles is 17 years and a couple of months. But forty or fifty years ago, the average age of a Scout earning Eagle was about 15. Why this big a difference? Are Scouts getting lazier? Are Scouts, as this reader suggests, “last-minute opportunists” motivated by the notion of getting this on their resumes? Or is something else going on?
Well the “opportunist” notion can be thrown out the window right away. That’s because, by a young man’s senior high school year—when he’s usually about to turn 18—it’s already too late for “Eagle” on his resume to do him any good when it comes to college (or military academy) admissions: he applied months ago and now he’s waiting for results.
So, what’s going on? Let’s start here: If he earned his Cub Scout Arrow of Light (which is common for the vast majority of Boy Scouts these days), this happened at the very tail-end of his Cub Scout experience. So, following that pattern, wouldn’t one expect that Boy Scouting works the same way? That you earn Eagle as you’re aging out of the program? Based on my own talking with various Scouts and their parents over the past several years, I can confirm that this misunderstanding is definitely present in the minds of a significant proportion of Scouts, parents, and even troop volunteers.
Next, let’s take a look at the roadblocks troop-level adults throw up in front of Scouts who—in their minds—are advancing “too quickly.” “A 13 year-old Eagle Scout is too young to understand what he’s accomplished, so we slow them down” is a theme I’ve heard for years. “You have lots of time—there’s no rush” is another message Scouts receive from both parents and troop volunteers. “You must not have done your requirements right” and “going to merit badge fairs can’t be legit” are other frequent phrases designed to discourage advancement. “Don’t forget: We can fail you at your board of review” is yet another. I’ve even heard, “You’re not ‘leadership material’ so don’t expect to ever get a leadership position in this troop.” And then there’s the troop that thinks boards of review must review every single requirement to the satisfaction of the reviewers, so that they have “proof” that the Scout can tie every knot, know every plant, perform CPR, and on and on…
Of course, all of this is nonsense. But that doesn’t prevent knuckleheads like these from abusing the advancement process to the detriment of the Scouts they’re supposed to be supporting and encouraging.
So, back to the original issue: Is there anything fundamentally “wrong” with earning Eagle just before you turn 18? Of course not! Just like there’s nothing wrong, either, with doing this five years sooner.
Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. 427 – 12/23/2014 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2014]