Eagle: A Means to an End, not the End Itself

Written by Brett Parks on . Posted in Advancement

The Boy Scout advancement program is subtle. It places a series of challenges in front of a Scout in a manner that is fun and educational. “As he completes the requirements he achieves the three aims of Scouting: to develop character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop physical and mental fitness." --2013 Advancement Guide, BSA, p.23.

We often talk about a boy "getting" his Eagle, as if it's as easy and natural as getting a zit, or as simplistic as buying a Slurpee. Other times it's made a condition of some other goal, like a driver's license. We also talk of "his Eagle" as if it's been reserved and is just standing by waiting for the "owner" merely to check all the boxes and claim what's already his. While well-intentioned, these philosophies belie a misunderstanding of what the BSA advancement method and more particularly achieving Eagle really mean.

We adults do a gross disservice to the boys by setting our own sights primarily on the Eagle rank. Eagle is not the point. I have read that of all boys enrolled in Scouting nationwide, 3-6% earn this rank. Does this mean that Scouting has failed the other 94%? By the "Eagle is the objective" measuring stick, then yes. Fortunately, the Boy Scouts of America has clearly stated its Aims: building boys and men of (1) high character, (2) physical, moral and spiritual fitness, and (3) participating citizens. Put simply, the Boy Scouts of America does not exist to hand out badges to boys.

So, when you hear these ideas put forward, ask, "Why"? Why does he have to earn Eagle before he can drive? Is it Eagle for Eagle's sake? Is it for you? Or do you want him to work toward it because you recognize that the knowledge, skills and abilities embodied in theprocess of earning it will serve him throughout his life? And have you communicated that concept to your son/Scouts?

Of course, we want our boys to earn the Eagle rank. Advancement is part of the program, and earning Eagle is a very worthwhile, noble and achievable goal. But it needs to be for the right reason. The adults involved in a boy's scouting experience must recognize that it is only one piece of the puzzle; that it is part of a process; that he is, through learning these skills, bettering himself for the future. If he earns it at 14 years or at 17 years, 11 months and 28 days, it is the same achievement - there's no bonus for finishing early nor is there a penalty for taking longer than someone else.

If, for whatever reason, he does not earn the Eagle rank, but has developed into a man of high moral character, who takes care of himself physically and spiritually and who understands his role in society, we have succeeded! Conversely, if he "gets" his Eagle but doesn't exhibit these qualities, what does that say about his mentors?

"It is better to build boys than to mend men." --Truett Cathy