Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Trail to Eagle

As I mentioned in a previous post, Dad never had advancement through the rank of scouting as his prime motivating focus. But, it was still a focus. And advancement plays a vital role in the process of scouting.

When a boy first enters the scout program he must earn the rank of Tenderfoot. This rank is designed to introduce a young 12 year-old boy into the culture of Scouting. He needs to learn the Scout Law, Scout Oath, Scout Motto, and the purpose behind Scouting. This rank is rather simple to obtain but helps cement the boy into the program with the sense of achievement.
We need to take seriously the importance of achievement. I have been to Scout training as an adult. In that program we were broken up on to small patrols and tasked to perform certain activities such as knot tying, fire building, or any number of skills. If your patrol did well you each got a number of colored plastic beads. If your patrol did not do so well, you got fewer beads.

Now, keep in mind that at adult training you are with men with a wide range of education and diverse occupations. I have been to training with auto mechanics, college professors, and lawyers. These were all highly successful and high-performing men. But when you offer these men beads based upon merit, I was amazed at how important a half-a-penny bead could be. The sense of achievement, regardless of the reward, is visceral.

After the boy completes all the requirements for Tenderfoot, there will be a Court of Honor where the troop, parents, church leaders and others come to support all those who achieved a rank advancement or obtained a merit badge. This public display of achievement is another vital part of Scouting.

Imagine the raw thrill of a 12 year-old boy standing on a stage in the cultural hall of a church in front of 30-60 people and being recognized as one who has achieved.Dad loved the spectacle of the Court of Honor. I have been to many of his presentations and they still give me goosebumps just think about them.

After having achieved Tenderfoot, the next rank is Second Class. I was always perplexed the rank of Second Class came before First Class. I thought sequentially and figured first came before second. But the two ranks of First and Second Class were not sequential they were hierarchical. Being first class is always better than being second class.

To obtain the rank of Second Class, the boy had to be a member of the troop for a set amount of time and had to demonstrate mastery of basic scouting skills. The compass, first-aid, and knot tying were all part of these skill sets. Any boy who was in Dad’s troop had no problems with these skills because many of Dad’s games at the weekly scout meeting centered on such skill.

Once each requirement was accomplished there was a board of review. This concept truly frightened me. In a board of review, the scout sat across form the Assistant Scout Master and the Senior Patrol leader and had to demonstrate how he had achieved this rank. I was always worried I would fail my board of review. I never did.

After a successful board of review, at the next Court of Honor, the boy would be rewarded with the Second Class rank. This was the most important rank advancement because the boy was no longer a rookie. Now, other boys were at the rank of Tenderfoot, but he was Second Class.

Next came First Class. Again, there were more scouting skills, some outdoor requirements like camping and hiking, and new thing called a merit badge. A merit badge was obtained by mastering knowledge and skills in a targeted area. For example there was a merit badge for firsts-aid.

Rather than developing a cursory knowledge of first-aid skills as was required for Second Class, the merit badge for First-aid required much more time and a more in-depth skillset. In fact, each merit badge had its own merit badge booklet that the scout was to read and study in order to obtain the badge. Now scouting was not just about fun and games, there as a serious learning component.

To obtain Frist Class you had to earn a merit badge. The wise Scout Master made sure the first merit badge pursued was an easy and fun one. This way the young boy can learn what it takes to get a merit badge without being too overwhelmed.

The difficulty of the merit badge is that you didn’t earn them at the weekly scout meeting. Rather, you had to do most of the learning on your own or with small group of scouts and then you had you visit a Merit Badge Counselor to pass of your requirements. Typically these counselors were ward members. But still, Dad required that his scouts learned to make appointments with these counselors and to go to their homes to pass of the requirements. It was very hard to be a shy scout.

Well, you can see the pattern. Every three of four months there was a Court of Honor where those in the troop who achieved a rank advancement received their rank badge but also those who earned merit badges were reward them at the same Court of Honor. Dad’s goal was for each boy to earn something at these Courts of Honor.

After First Class, the boy is now well on the path towards Eagle. Now each rank advnacnent is based upon the number of merit badges earned, the requisite service project, and the time the scout was a member of the top.

The next three ranks include Star Scout, with five merit badges, Life Scout with 11 merit badges, and Eagle Scout with 21 merit badges. Of those 21 merit badges, 11 were required. This included First Aid, Camping, Cooking, Citizenship in the Community, Nation, and World, and the ever popular Environmental Science, which as one of the hardest.

Once the boy has earned the 21 merit badges, had been in the top for a few years, showed leadership qualities, and accomplished a major service project, he will have earned his Eagle. Only about 5% of boys who start scouting obtain Eagle. Why? Because it takes a minimum of two years and typically four to five years to complete. This, as t time when boys have lots of other distraction such as school, sports, and girls.

Now, when it came to an Eagle Court of Honor, Dad went all out. It was a small pageant of Scouting. Typically, about 75 to 100 people came to Dad’s Eagle Courts of Honor. But there was no Eagle Court of Honor that was more important to Dad then the one where Troop 106 awarded 12 boys get their Eagle at one time. 

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