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The Meaning of Eagle Scout

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Yah, in another thread @@MattR says:


The BSA created this monster. The term Eagle sells this program like none other and yet the meaning of that term is the source of all the grief. It's not the adults that are the problem so much as the definition of Eagle.


Seems like that's a worthy thing to discuss without all da sturm und drang associated with a particular case.  I can't figure out how to spin off a new thread in this newfangled forum software, so I'm just startin' from scratch. :eek:


I reckon @@MattR has a good point in that we aren't very consistent about what we view as an Eagle Scout.   


On the one hand, we say it means a lad who exhibits da best of character, fitness, and citizenship.  Somethin' that only 5% manage to achieve, somethin' so important that it merits a full private banquet award ceremony, congratulatory letters from POTUS and other local, state, and national leaders, somethin' that is so outstandin' that it merits special consideration for college admissions and military promotions and job applications.


On the other hand, we say it means someone who has done just da requirements, no adding.   Which means a lad who has gone car campin' 20 nights in 7 years, sat through some Saturday mornin' MB classes, drowned in a forward direction for 100 yards once upon a time, and held a title of Troop Librarian for a bit over a year in a troop that really didn't have much of a library (aren't all these things online now? ;) ).


So let's talk about what Eagle Scout should be, eh?   Or maybe what yeh make it mean in your program and how yeh do that.


To add fuel to da fire, I've always had a warm spot in my heart for Eagle Scouts when hirin' or lookin' for interns and such.  I've had pretty good luck that way.   I also have a colleague who won't hire Eagle Scouts any more.  His experience has been that Eagle Scouts expect to have everything laid out for 'em and spoon fed to 'em.  He finds 'em to be da bottom of da barrel in terms of work performance.




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Eagle is what a scout makes of it. It's a individual journey for each Scout. It starts with the requirements, but those are just a means to keep kids engaged. The experience is what matters.   I ag

For me it is: Knows his core scouting skills (camping, first aid, cooking, orienteering, citizenship, etc.) well enough that he can demonstrate prowess in several of these areas. He's a leader. Doe

I find that the longer a scout stays in the program, the more they retain regardless of the rank. An 18 year old FC scout has more going for him, than a 14 year old "eagle" that bails after his ECOH.

For me it is:

  • Knows his core scouting skills (camping, first aid, cooking, orienteering, citizenship, etc.) well enough that he can demonstrate prowess in several of these areas.
  • He's a leader. Doesn't need to be Super SPL. Does need to be someone who you can hand things off to and you know they will get done. That can be Guide, Instructor, SPL, PL or Librarian. Everyone has a different leadership style so you recognize that and allow for that.
  • He embodies the Law and Oath as much as he can. No one can be 100% so don't expect a Norman Rockwell painting, but when this young man is around you know that he is honest, kind and sincere.
  • Is not in Scouting for the bling or Eagle. You know these Scouts when you see them. You know the Scouts who truly care about the program and it's ideals, rather than the guys who simply are there to make Eagle and leave.
  • And if you find a Scout who has all of this but does NOT make Eagle, they are still Eagles to me. The patch does not make you an Eagle. What is in your heart and how you carry yourself makes you an Eagle.
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Focusing on what Eagle means is mis-placed and better left to Cliff Claven and Norm Peterson.  Your definitions of Eagle are fine.  Generally, I don't have problems with much of any of it.  


My concern is focusing on the definition of Eagle and what that definition means.  IMHO, the focus should be on providing a good program that has adventure and that stretch the scouts.  


Trying to judge if a scout is Eagle as they approach the end is just wrong.  

Edited by fred johnson
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I've really struggled with these questions, not so much as a scout leader, but here on the forum.


As a SM, I believed that advancement is the Scouts responsibility. My responsibility for his advancement is only providing a program that gives each individual scouts the skills to reach whatever goals he sets for himself. Not goals I set, but his goals. 


How many times has a new scout told us his goal in the troop is earning the Eagle? And yet he doesn't have clue to how he will do that. First off I believe the Eagle goal was set in his mind by some adult because why does a boy set the Eagle goal if he really doesn't know what it is about? Second, I'm don't take the boys goals personally. I only want him to learn the life skills of setting and accomplishing those goals. As the scout experiences the scouting  program, he will eventually figure out what he wants to get out of the program and he has my full support.


The skills we encourage for the scouts from the day he shows up is: setting goals, making plans to reach goals, and starting the actions of those plans. We teach those skills by encouraging the scouts to do those actions with all their activities. From a new scout setting the goal to learn knots to to planning Court of Honors. The skills just turn into habits they develop in their everyday scout activities. Earning any rank is simply accomplishing a series of small goals. Same with planning the Eagle COH. It appears overwhelming at first, but when it's turned into a series of small goals, then it becomes just another troop activity.


It seems like we are doing OK because when I left as SM, our troop average one Eagle every 2.5 months. And the average age of the scouts earning Eagle was 16 years old with 95 percent of our Eagle's aging out of the program. The older scouts were in no hurry to leave. But if I had to pick one indicator that our troop program was working, it would be that four of our scouts were select the OA Chapter Chief in a row. The OA adviser said that our guys had confidence in planning and running meetings. So they were the natural selection. Maybe that says more about the present OA program, but it still says a lot for the our scouts who worked hard.


I don't get personally involved with our scouts goals, but I do have One extra requirement I expect from our Eagles, I expect them to act like adults. There will be no consideration for their age, maturity or experience. Only our 14 year old Eagle struggled with that, but I told them from here on for the rest of your life, just about every adult who learns that you are an Eagle will expect you to act better than the average person. So you might as well start getting treated like that now. Actually I kind of tell life scouts that too since they are so close to Eagle, but the expectation is emphasized on their Eagle conference.


When I meet Eagle Scouts I don't know from other units, I treat them as adults without hesitation. It's my nature, but I did receive a compliment from a 17 year old Eagle at NYLT after the course was finished.. He said that he dreaded going back to his troop where he would be treated as a Boy Scout instead as an adult. 


As for meeting adult Eagles in my life. I can't say I have met one that surprised me to learn they were Eagle. And I have never met one that expected to have everything laid out for him. Maybe that is a generational thing, I don't know. 


Where I struggle is with adults who put expectations on Eagles that takes their choices away. "We make our Eagles do Bla, Bla, Bla, because they are Eagles. This ranges from full time patrol leaders to full time JASMs and even asking them to join a different patrol or even leave the troop all together. Oh, yes, some adults think that Eagle is kind of a graduation too. As I said, I believe scouts should be in control of their goals, and their experiences toward those goals. Once the adults tell their Eagle scouts what they have to do, they aren't being treated as self thinking decision makers anymore. They are asking the scouts to do the bidding of the adults and that is when the scouts get frustrated. My thinking is that we humans are always growing and should look for opportunities to find growth. Maybe that is leading new scouts, or maybe that is helping the ASMs plan logistics for summer camp. If we are to expect the best from all our scouts, we need to allow them to make decisions, especially the Eagles.


But I understand having expectations. I started that way when I was a new scout leader. Truth is adults with expectations are better leaders because they at least have a starting place. The hope is that they grow and mature enough to not push their expectations on the scouts and instead focus on a program that helps scouts seek the best they can do for their scouting experience.


It's a complicated question for me, I'm not sure why.



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One fine point (but may exemplify an overarching problem that at times certain subtractions are ignored):

.... On the other hand, we say it means someone who has done just da requirements, no adding.   Which means ... drowned in a forward direction for 100 yards once upon a time ...

The swimming requirements stipulate "in a strong manner". There should be no signing off, nor coloring buddy tags, if the attempt could best be described as feeble. Any guardian of an aquatics area knows that's a set-up for catastrophe and will be unphased by any amount of adult-blown smoke. :mad:

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To the broader issue:

  • The goal should be 1st class scout.
  • The option should be continue on in rank advancement.

If the boy says, "Hey, I can do better!" Then he could:

  • Work on that National Outdoor Award. (I do not think they and Eagle should be one in the same.)
  • Set sights on Hornaday.
  • Go for STEM NOVA.
  • Get a job to support his family, or save up for an HA triple crown.
  • Put more time in school to make for poor grads up until now.
  • Found a ship, crew, or lab.
  • Become a musical protege'.
  • Earn the next boy scout rank, then the next, and the next, then some palms.
  • Every weekend play chess at the VA or some other bastion of loneliness.
  • Do any combination of good in the world.

The 5% stat (approximately, up from the traditional 2%) has me worried. Whereas before a troop had 40 boys just hanging around for each 1 keyed up to earn that medal, it now has only 20. That means it's very likely we've built us a program for boys who like awards rather than sought to award boys who build our program.

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An Eagle Scout is:

1. An Eagle Scout before his EBOR.  The EBOR is not even needed.

2. Is a full adult, regardless of his actual age.  Period.

3. Is an Eagle Scout because HE WANTED IT - not his parents, family, or Scouters.  (Peers helping him along is fine - that's what friends are for.)

4. Participation in Scouting in hours can diminish but his impact on Scouting increases, and does NOT decrease, after his EBOR.

5. Has CLEARLY demonstrated, often, a desire to assist younger Scouts rather than insisting that his individual advancement be the priority.

6. At some point in his project process he took ownership and even pride in doing the project well rather than just doing the project.

7. Is a leader and takes the Oath & Law to heart.  When he fails he is harder on himself than the Scouters are.


You know it when you see it.  I wish these were the Requirements for Eagle and not what's in the GTA currently.

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My father used to say when he hired people that he really didn't care what their college degree was in, because he would have to retrain them anyway, but that they had the degree showed that they could commit and follow though a long term goal.


I am not a fan of the parlor or paper eagle scout as they are known; however even for those as @@Beavah has described above - simply meeting the camping requirements, sitting though the merit badge classes, etc.  They have still shown this commitment (even if driven by parents) to completing the Eagle award, and lets face it, there are a lot of distractions and alternate paths at that age.


While within the organization we have expectations for scoutcraft and nature or backcountry skills; the reality is the world around us doesn't really care about that.  They want neighbors they can trust or ask for help and get it, leaders, people who can carry out a project, they want people who can learn the skills they need for a task - this is what they see, and largely get, from the Eagles the BSA produces.  Even our paper Eagles, even if by osmosis or by the example of overly involved parents will learn more of these skills that the average American youth.  And for the Scouts who had the self motivation to get there and earn it, all the more so.


Even those Eagles on the list we would rather ignore - the infamous ones who apply their skills less to the moral values we try to instill in our youth than we would like - if you look below their acts, you can see the leadership, or planning and organizing skills they acquired.


I don't inherently think there is anything wrong with a Scout who is in it for the Eagle.  They are learning to set and achieve a goal, and will learn many more life skills along the way.


When many of us decry a paper Eagle Scout, myself included, usually we are focused on the lack of retention of their outdoor skills.  Or in our units, we feel cheated of our investment when the new Eagle starts to disengage from the unit after getting the award, rather than giving back and passing those skills and lessons on.  But the reality is that it really is age appropriate behavior, they reached their goal and now all the other pressures they have been putting off are able to reassert themselves on the Scout's time.  While undesirable that they did not immediately reinvest those skills, many of them do return later, when their own children are ready for Scouts, and then they do reinvest those skills, not only in their own children, but in all the other children fortunate enough to be along for the ride.


While it is not as selfless as we would wish, it still helps the rest of us who stick around sustain the program.


I know this post became a little rambling, but my short answer is if we look at the BSA as if we are an outsider, the Eagles that we produce, by and large, are worthy of the moniker - as the outsider understands it.

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LOL, gumbymaster, I think vumbi had the 'short answer'.


Mine isn't much longer. He should live by the scout oath and law, especially in the tough times when the temptation is to engage in destructive behavior. He's competent in the woods and is an all-round good citizen.

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Excellence on the trail. Sets goals and achieves them. Is a mensch.

If others were SMH, like I was, this may help us all expand our vocabulary by one word today:


Mensch (Yiddishמענטש‎ mentsh, cognate with German: Mensch "human being") means "a person of integrity and honor."[1] The opposite of a "mensch" is an "unmensch" (meaning: an utterly unlikeable or unfriendly person). According to Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, "mensch" is "someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being 'a real mensch' is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous."[2] The term is used as a high compliment, expressing the rarity and value of that individual's qualities.

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It's a Scout who has met all the requirements for the rank. Anything beyond that is adding to the requirements. As far as living the Scout honor And have character and integrity, a Scout of any rank can have that. Being a Real scout or a Parlor/Paper scout holds true for any rank. It is up to the individual boy which he is, not the program.

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You seem to be suggesting that we not have actual requirements for Eagle, but rather to allow SM's and other leaders to make subjective, and perhaps not unbiased, determinations as to which scouts are worth" of being an Eagle Scout.


Under the BSA's advancement system, requirements are clearly outlined. 


The scout sees the requirements, the scout works on meeting the requirements and then the scout achieves and completes the requirements.  


Of course as we know, in some cases, a scout will successfully complete the established requirements, only to have his SM - and/or someone else - begin to make subjective determinations on the scout and then add additional requirements as a way to justify their own subjective criticisms or judgments against that scout. Is that fair in any way to the scout?


If there are disciplinary issues and if the scout is not living by the scout oath and law, then that's another matter, but as long as the scout meets the requirements, and challenges, that have been put before him, then why try to hold them back or deprive them of what they've rightfully earned.


Who's interests in those instances are really being served? Certainly not those of the scout.

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