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Scouting ranks, merit bades, and the advancement programs

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  • LATEST POSTS

    • As Tolkien wisely wrote, "he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left  the path of wisdom." The reason the advancement program is so vital to what Scouting is comes from the fact that, at it's core, it teaches boys how to make, and accomplish, worthwhile goals, in a manner which boys can understand. They learn planning, work, and preparation. When they fail or don't quite meet the requirements, they look back and learn from their initial attempt and keep trying till they succeed. It gives focus to their inborn energies  and desires to achieve by giving healthy,  stimulating and enlightening goals that let them stretch themselves in constructive, meaningful, and exciting ways. It replaces mindless entertainment with the more robust exhilaration of adventure and exploration, both geographical and cerebral. And when he earns the token signifying he has met the requirements for whatever badge or rank he has worked towards, well, what to some might seem just another "silly patch" (oh the naive innocence of the over-experienced!) is, to that boy who truly worked for it, a sign that he has learned how to develop certain skills or knowledge that he didn't have before, but in which he has now gained a proficiency. He wears on his sleeve what he feels in his heart - dignity and self-respect. With each merit badge he feels he has dipped his toes in a potential new interest, hobby, even career. With each rank he feels he has grown more in character and capacity and self-reliance. And while the Scout may not be able to articulate that sentiment, the emblems he sews on after each award are cues that help him turn those esoteric ideals into the reality of his character. Sure, the lazy, detached or burnt-out leader might brush it all off as useless bling, but I find these people have forgotten what it is like to be a young person just beginning to see what kind of man he can become, while for the boys and burgeoning young men who are Scouting itself, the colorful badges and ribbons and medals actually let them visualize what might otherwise be intangible concepts - accomplishment, inner strength, maturity, self-mastery, and self-respect. I believe it is only the inability to clearly see the vision of what Scouting should be that impedes us from appreciating the magnitude of Baden-Powell's genius and profound grasp of what growing boys want AND need. His simple methods - uniforms, the outdoors, the advancement program, all of them - they are all one needs to change lives. But cynical, tired skeptics who aren't seeing their own vision of Scouting try to place the blame any place they can to assuage the frustration they feel when they cannot get their program going - they will say boys are different these days, or that they can't run the program right because the committee/council/national/tooth fairy/parents make it impossible, or that the program has deteriorated, or whatever. And so they suggest - change the program! Lose advancement! Ditch uniforms! Toss the committee! To that I say, you are looking the wrong way. Don't tear it down, but build it back up - with the very materials we have always had. Outdoor learning. Patrol method. Advancement. Uniforms. Boy led. If you can get the boys to FEEL what you want them to LEARN, they will make their own program flourish, as it is supposed to happen. But to suggest shedding core elements of the program is simply giving up on the hope that it will work. In which case, beware lest your skepticism taint the minds of those under your guardianship as a Scout leader or parent. If the advancement program's purpose has been distorted or inflated by those who cannot see what it truly should be, do not fault the system, but those who abuse and misuse it for warped ambitions such as status, reputation, prestige or gain. They are the problem, not the program. My rule is never to tell a boy that Eagle Scout looks good on a college application or a resume. Only that it shows him what he is capable of doing, who he has been able to become, and what he will prove to give back in his future. Am I defensive of the advancement program? Of course, as I am of all the ideals at the core of Scouting. Though the world slides downward faster each year, I hold that the methods are just as effective and crucial now as they were on Brownsea over a century ago. And I mean that as much for the boys coming into the program now as for our more chronologically-enhanced Scouters, many of whom seem to have coldly given up on the future while looking towards a past that has passed them by, and because they fail to see the potential of the present, they have forgotten that, yes, one person can make a difference - and that person needs to be you.  If the program isn't what it could and should be, don't start by looking for who or what is to blame. Start by making a change in yourself, and how YOU are going to make the difference.
    • Just out of curiosity, what are the two special awards? Judging by your mayor, it sounds like your pack is full of achievers. I hope your B&G goes wonderfully tomorrow!
    • Are you KIDDING ME?!?  Any pack in this country would give their right arm (right den?) to have a community leader as generous and loyal to Scouting as that man! I dare say the fact that he is a former pack member himself makes the whole thing sound too good to possibly be true; what a FABULOUS friend and opportunity you have - wow I am already envious (forgive me!). There is no rule whatsoever that states only pack leaders can hand out awards - in fact this kind of community involvement should be the ideal of every Scouting unit. As it turns out, hosting community and civic leaders at Scouting ceremonies seems to have been a common occurrence in the first half of the last century, though in the latter decades Scouting units unfortunately became more insular and less bold in getting local leaders involved. But think of the benefits! It gets the community involved in Scouting and their young people's lives, it makes local leaders aware of the program and more likely to involve it in its growth and development, and it gives the boys a well-earned and legitimate understanding that, even as youth, they are important players in their community and their nation.  You go to your committee and tell them this kind of opportunity is absolutely heaven-sent and can only do good for your program. And besides even all that - your mayor sounds like one ardent supporter of the pack who more than deserves to participate in your ceremonies, at any level. You are extraordinarily fortunate to have him.
    • Because merit badges and rank advancement are so strongly associated with boy scouting, I think it would be a mistake to eliminate them entirely.  Let boys participate in the advancement program, if they wish to do so, but take all the patches (and other bling) off the uniform.  Eliminate the COH. They are a boring waste of time.   
    • I would think it was a fine idea even if the mayor was not an “alumnus” of the pack and an active supporter.  With those factors added, it’s a great idea.  What a good way to solidify community support for the pack. Plus, the Scouter who would otherwise be presenting the award can be standing next to the mayor for the presentation.  Maybe he/she can introduce the mayor.  It could be made into a positive thing for everybody.
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