Re: Eagles Easier now
Ian Ford (ianford@DIRCON.CO.UK)
Tue, 1 Aug 1995 23:07:28 +0100
Rick talks about " cheapening " awards ... but what are we trying to
achieve here ? The advancement program is just part of the method of
My PERSONAL view is that we are in the business of helping kids to grow,
not issuing credentials. The question is whether one takes the view
currently described in BSA policy of having rigid standards that can only
be varied in specific circumstances , or the model which many European
associations choose which is geared to the individual.
There are pros and cons for each. Arguably USA is a goal-driven society
in which some folks succeeed and some fail. So get kids used to the idea
that life is about competition , testing and winning or losing. It's a
tough world out there. Somebody said that coming second meands you are
the first loser. Several Scouters here seen to take that view. If you
can't swim you are a loser. If you cant earn the required MBs for Eagle or
whatever you are a loser. And each year two or three percent of our
youth reach that ultimate standard of Eagle Scout. Ninety seven percent
don't. Are they any worse Scouts as a result ... probably not.
In my opinion the problem comes when you confuse two goals. If you want
an elite award then there is an argument for set standards. To follow the
route of " Credentialling " means that Eagle Scout rank will be
recognised by employers or whatever as a " qualification " . I would not
employ somebody who had a degree which I new was not properly examined
and standardised. I would not want to be operated on by a surgeon who had
" done his best " in his med. finals but was not quite the ticket when it
came to using a scalpel.
However, if you want a program that is accessible to all kids then you
need a different advancement system. Here in UK we have a system which is
very different to that of BSA. Not better, not worse, just different,
because the philosophy is different. UK Scouters are perplexed when our
American colleagues talk about having to have adults on Boards of Review
to " maintain standards " because in one sense every Scout who gains an
award has achieved a different standard ... and that is a policy decision.
There is " credentialling " to some extent , e.g. the equivalent of First
Aid MB requires a Scout to qualify for a Red Cross certificate or
equivalent, and that is a no-nonsense national standard. Water activities
require " credentialling " by the Royal Yachting Association , British
Canoe Union or whatever , and Scouts take tests and are assessed by
examiners who are appointed by the national body , not by Scouting.
However, there is less prescription , nothing like the " required list "
of MBs. Scouts are encouraged to choose their own specialisation then go
for excellence. Balance is achieved by the Progressive Training Awards
(ranks) which require certain minima in terms of basic scoutcraft,
citizenship etc., then offer a range of choices. Instead of having to
complete set tasks for each rank , UK Scouts have to reach an acceptable
standard in a number of areas.
I used to run an Air Scout troop and we hads some kids who were technical
wizzards ... into radio , aircraft spotting , model making etc. but only
competent campers. But since camping was a cheap way of living whilst we
went paragliding or visited an air show the backwoods skills were not
at a premium ... although I tried to encourage minimum survival skills.
Other kids were creative , and chose drama and debating etc. These kids
met the basic Scouting skills , but their books had entries under the
" culture " section. Yet others chose to follow athletic activities,
and their Scout record reflected their prowess in sports. Their community
involvement and leadership was through coaching younger kids or helping to
organise sporting activities , or participating in sponsored events for
But what happened was the Scout Association had defined a <minimum> level
of attainment for all Scouts , a lowest common curriculum if you like.
Then each Scout was encouraged to set his own goals , to agree them with
the PLC, and to have them assessed by his peers.
This avoids the need to have complex arrangements for kids with special
needs or units in remote parts of the country or whatever. The program
accomodated kids with disabilities, not by setting out " alternatives " or
" exemptions " but within the actual program. E.g. one of the options for
the " community " section of the Pathfinder Award (roughly First Class)
is " gain or renew a cycling or wheelchair proficiency qualification. "
Both relate to road safety , both are assessed by the Royal Society for
the Prevention of Accidents (external credentialling) ... and the Scout
whose " transportation " is a wheelchair is given the same recognition as
the Scout who rides a bike.
Examiners are <required> to set standards to the individual provided that
minimum standards are met. The aim is to develop the Scout. If I had a
Scout doing Artist badge I would judge it by his level of improvement
over time as demonstrated by his portfolio. A kid with moderate dyslexia
would be judged differently for the Librarian badge to kid who was gifted ;
the list of books each kid had read would be reviewed with those
individual differences in mind. The dyslexic kid might just be able to
use an alphabetical card index ; I expect a bright fourteen year-old to
have an idea about on-line literature searches.
Having worked with both programs I can see good and bad points in both.
In both systems it is possible for a Scout to " check the boxes " and do
the minimum for each rank. Likewise many BSA merit badge counselors will
be flexible in their interpretation of the rules , and some British
examiners will not exercise their discretion appropriately. Some adult
Boards of Review are either too strict or too lenient , so are some
Patrol Leaders' Councils.
The BSA program is set out and can be implemented by new and relatively
untrained adults ; the UK program relies on having experienced leadership
who can guide the Scouts and PLC on goal-setting and evaluation , and I
have seen new Leaders in despair because " the answers aren't in the
book. " In BSA you can bet that somewhere there is the book with the
answers in it. You might not like them , but the anwers are there.
My conclusion is that if you have well-motivated kids led by caring and
trained Leaders it does not actually matter how the training program is
structured. Kids will learn and grow , get recognition or whatever,
and will not only stay they will bring their friends.
Comparing different programs may give ideas , but rarely provides panaceas.
A few years ago I was at a joint meeting of BSA and British Scouts. At
the end of the evening the BSA Scouts were wearing berets and the UK
Scouts ball caps. Each thought that the other organisation had far better
headwear. The Brits said that if they could wear baseball caps like the
Yanks they would never complain about wearing hats again ... honest. The
BSA kids insisted berets were " cool " and that wanted to adopt them as
troop uniform. Why ? The hats were novel . But above all they were not
" regulation " ... if BSA National Office and Gilwell Park had overnight
proulgated changes in uniforming regulations, would the Brits be wearing
baseball caps and the Yanks berets six months later ? Of course not !
For what it's worth ...
Asst Group Scout Leader, 25th Greenwich Group, Greater London South &
Boy Scout trainer, Channel District, Transatlantic Council BSA
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City