Today my 500th issue coincides with my very first, published 15 years ago this month. That first issue was published in the monthly newsletter of a single council. Today, these columns are regularly read in every one of the BSA’s nearly 300 councils, including the Direct, Far East, and Transatlantic. Readers also hail from the GSUSA, Scouts Canada, Scouts Poland, Scouts Iceland, the British Scout Association, and many more around the world. In total word-count, we’re closing in on the two-million mark.
Letters have come from Scouts and former Scouts; Scouters at all levels; parents; and professional staffers at the council, regional, and national levels.
Thank you! Without your readership and—even more importantly—your writing in, none of this would have happened. I’m particularly gratified by your enthusiasm for what we’re accomplishing here because “Ask Andy” has never been publicized or promoted; you’ve found me, and stuck with me often for the entire 15-year run.
My commitment to you will continue. Although about a third of our conversations will find their way into an issue sooner or later, every single letter I receive gets a personal reply. When I “shoot from the hip” and miss, I’ll publish my error as soon as I can. When you let me know that maybe I should have considered a fact I was unaware of at the time I replied, I’ll publish that, too, and I’ll take twenty lashes with a wet lanyard for messing up. But, most of all, I’ll research and double-check every reply and give you the very best I can offer.
If I seem to be some sort of “expert,” I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not. I dig in and research BSA literature, policies, regulations, procedures, and rules until I find the answer you need. This is why accusations like “Well, that’s just Andy’s opinion”—which occur regularly—simply don’t hold water. In fact, such false accusations are often used to dodge the issue or avoid having to admit that what’s been going on (often for years) is completely wrong. The cold fact is that I rarely offer my “opinion.” In that vast majority of situations I’m giving answers that are straight from BSA rules, regulations, policies, and procedures. Folks may not like the answer, but doing it this way eliminates further discussion and debate: It is what it is. (This is why the columns aren’t a “forum” and why 99% of my responses aren’t “blogs.”)
Sometimes I can get out from in front of this computer and keyboard, and feel more like a real person than a disembodied bunch of characters on your screen. So thanks to the councils who have invited me to speak at their Universities of Scouting and Commissioner Colleges! Thanks, in particular to Scouter extraordinaire and fellow Philmont Staff Alumnus Ken King, for inviting me to speak at the NESA exhibition tent at the 2013 Jamboree held at the Summit Bechtel Reserve.
I’ve been asked from time to time, “Andy, what’s the silliest question you’ve ever received?” That one’s always stumped me, because there are really no “silly” questions—people need answers and that’s what I’m here for. But a few years ago I did get a question that was sort of tricky to reply to. It was from a Den Leader who couldn’t find where to buy the plans for a “Cub Scout Cruise Missile Kit” that I’d said had just become available. I had to advise, delicately, that that was in my April First issue that year… Uh, April First?
The other question is usually, “Andy, what’s the one question you’re most frequently asked?” That one’s easy, although I’ve never understood why. It’s “How do you count camping days/nights for Camping merit badge?” (I’ll let you work on the answer to that one…)
There are three other people I must thank today. The first is John Glockner, who, as my Council Commissioner 15 years ago (I was his ACC for training), liked my idea for finding a way to get answers into the hands of the people who need them most when commissioners were in short supply. The second is Mike Bowman, key among the founders of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, who “auditioned” one of my columns in the early 2000’s and decided to give me a permanent place on the usssp.org website. The third is my wife, Linda, who has frequently watched my hair catch fire and listened patiently to my occasional rants, often guided me with her own wisdom, supported and encouraged me for a lot more than 15 years…and has always kept her sense of humor!
So let’s keep on keepin’ on! We’ll see you at No. 501 shortly!
“BABY” and “CARDIAC” EAGLES
About fifty years ago, the average age for making it to the rank of Eagle Scout was 15 and a few months. Today, the average is 17 years, 4 months.
The reasons for this dramatic change are myriad; the debates about them have been going on for a long time and are likely never to get resolved in any coherent way. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
In 2015 we had 54,366 new Eagle Scouts, representing 6.57% of all eligible Scouts in that year. So the first thing we need to recognize is that in that year 827,489 Scouts of “Eagle age” stopped at Life or somewhere short of that rank. Further, when the average age of these Eagles is 17.34. This suggests that about 27 thousand Scouts were between 17.34 and 18 years old, while others were somewhere between 13 and 17.34. Of these, via crude extrapolation, some 6,000 or slightly more likely hadn’t reached their 14th birthdays before making it to Eagle.
In the face of these results—and this is the point here—we had maybe as many as 6,000 Scouts called “Baby Eagles” and up to 27,000 Scouts called “Cardiac Eagles.” So this could mean that upwards of 30 thousand or possibly more new Eagle Scouts were either diminished or deflated by these or similar pejorative remarks about their age when they achieved this landmark rank.
Really? Is this what we want to be doing? Especially when we look at some more numerical relationships… Do we realize that while Eagles in 2015 represented one out of every 15 Scouts, they represented one out of every 300 males between the ages of 11 and 18? That’s right: Only one young man out of every 300 in America between ages 11 and 18 becomes an Eagle Scout in any one year. So what happens when we count only those who fit into some people’s “acceptable” age range (somewhere between 14 and 17, or so it would seem)? Then we’re talking about one in 600. Let’s think about that. Is this really how we want to treat a boy—regardless of age—who’s just spent a lot of time and energy on the dozens and dozens of individual requirements for no less than 21 merit badges, plus all of the requirements for five (six, now) previous ranks? And he’s done this despite the challenges in every other part of his life, many of which are mandatory. Speaking of which, in Boy Scouting he’s a volunteer. That’s right, he can walk away from this anytime he wants, which as we’ve just learned, at least 299 out of 300 do, one way or the other.
The really weird part is that in other arenas, we do the reverse. We heap praise on the youngest gymnast to win an Olympic gold medal. We applaud loudly the oldest to win the Wimbledon trophy. But make it to Eagle at all and, when done sooner than 96% of all other Scouts, getting labeled a “Baby” is about as cruel a destiny as one can get, except possibly for those who earned Eagle within the stated time limit and got labeled “Cardiac.” Worse than wrong, this is insensitive and outright cruel.
In boards of review for this rank, I’ll often ask the Life Scout we’re chatting with why he believes he deserves to be an Eagle Scout. The very best answer possible—which, thankfully, we most frequently receive in response—is: “I’ve done the work and completed all the requirements.”
That’s it, folks. When we do the work and complete the task, we’ve earned it. The Eagle rank isn’t “bestowed;” it’s earned. Let’s make it our solemn promise to honor every Eagle. He’s done the work, he’s earned it. Congratulations!
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. 500 – 9/6/2016 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2016]