When the last of our four sons attained the rank of Eagle Scout in 2004, the boys got together and presented to me a gold stick pin adorned with an eagle, its’ wings spread in majestic flight.
The stick pin is also a reminder to me of great differences in people. Our eldest son completed his Eagle requirements at age 14, son two at age 16 and sons three and four barely before their 18th birthdays.
We had only one rule about scouting: No Eagle/no driver’s license.
Having been involved at various stages of Scout activities most of my adult life, it was my mindset that the rank of Eagle, if it was to be carried with pride, had to be earned through the initiative of the Scout more than a result of parental prodding. The two youngest sons were not fully committed to the Scouting program, but both, in their own time, determined the rank was a significant goal they should reach for themselves. Each of the four went on to give two years of their lives to service in distant places. All four are successfully wedded and well-employed.
Four different young men; four very different approaches to reaching their goals.
I like an idea stated by Frederich Nietzsche: “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
One of the great aspects of the programs of the Boy Scouts of America is the recognition of such differences. The program is flexible to accommodate the needs and interests of all who are willing to fulfill their obligations as set forth in the Scout Oath and Law and avail themselves of the opportunities presented. As Scouters, we do boys and young men a great service when we help them recognize that Scouting is not a one-size-fits-all effort but rather one that is easily tailored for individual growth.
My wife and I taught English at three universities in the People’s Republic of China. Our first challenge was to get the students to participate in class. Their entire educational experience was based on what might be called group learning; the teacher recited, the students memorized, and as a group they repeated what the teacher had recited.
While in China, we were asked to judge several English speaking contests at elementary and middle schools. We were struck by the fact that the contestants had memorized one of five or six talks and were repeating the sounds of the words, with little or no understanding of its meaning. Even their hand gestures were identical. As we began to develop some rapport with the students, we would almost universally hear the same complaint: “We are lost; we have no idea what we will do with our education, or what it is preparing us for.” Such a thought must be, I think, inconsistent with the mindset of a young man intent on earning Scouting’s highest rank.
Scouting should sow in the minds of boys a zest for the adventure of life. One of the required merit badges is citizenship, one requirement of which is that a Scout learns something of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. It is to be hoped that when a boy learns of his inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a seed will be planted that inherent in those rights is the right to try for success, to sometimes fail, but to then get up and try again. That sounds to me to be a fair representation of the kind of young man who wears the eagle.
Author: James L. Wright | Judge (Retired), Los Angeles Superior Court