Michael S. Malone, author of “Four Percent: The Story of Uncommon Youth in a Century of American Life” recently spoke at the National Scout Museum during Eagle Scout Heritage Week. His presentation was captured in a video available at the following site – http://www.ustream.tv/channel/national-scouting-museum
Some of his comments about eagle scouts were really amazing, and I’ve done my best to capture them accurately from the video:
I’ve been an Eagle Scout now for nearly fifty years and in that half century, I’ve learned far more about what it means to be an Eagle than I ever knew on that day as a thirteen year old when my mother pinned the medal on my uniform pocket. I don’t have to tell any of you here that earning your Eagle is merely a prelude to learning what it means to BE an Eagle, and that is an education that continues to this day [and will] no doubt continue for the rest of my life.
I’ve only got 35 years tenure as an Eagle, but I can certainly identify with his initial remarks. Being recognized as an Eagle is so much more than merely completing a checklist or getting through a series of merit badges. It is a personal transformation – one that continues as we live life: gaining experience, making mistakes, learning and growing, meeting new people and accepting new challenges.
Mr. Malone continued by talking about the history of the award, the surprise of the BSA organization when the first Eagle candidate showed up asking for a Board of Review and struggling to finalize the requirements. Even the choice to create such an award was interesting:
Simply put the award was originally planned as the capstone rank of American Scouting – the symbol of the “Super Scout” who went well beyond the rank of First Class. In particular, it was designed to sit at the confluence of two developmental traits: one leading to the Star Rank which dealt with the scouting skills like camping and cooking; the other focusing on the duties of a citizen led to the Life Rank. Those two paths were distinct and both awards were considered co-equal and the culmination of their respective approaches to scouting.
SO, why even create a top award?
Well the obvious reason is that BSA’s National Scout Commissioner, Daniel Carter Beard, wanted to “Americanize” the British Scouting program and needed to find a counterpart to the King, now Queen, scout award.
The second reason was that it neatly integrated those two sides of scouting thus recognizing that some scouts might want to pursue both.
But I think the most compelling reason was that it is a very american trait to compete to win. Even today, when competition has become almost taboo in public schools, boy still compete for nearly everything they’re allowed to from video games to teams sports (and a lot of things they aren’t)
Mr. Malone characterized the drive of the young men as almost boundless — leading some to pursue sailing to the poles of the planet in wooden ships and others to fly to the moon. Was there anything a determined Eagle scout could not accomplish if he were to really put his mind to the task? Unfortunately, our culture started to view scouting in two different lights, in part, because of the consistent achievement of Eagles.
It was at this point in history when the image of scouting began to bifurcate. It is a schism that endures to this day.
On the one hand, there is this stereotypical scout found in everything from comic books of the 1930’s to movies like “UP!” today…Young, ardent, intent on doing good deeds and often a little silly.
On the other hand, the Eagle scout — older, confident, infinitely competent and the very embodiment of youthful achievement.
Boy scouts were the kids helping the old lady across the street and scaring each other around the campfire. Eagle scouts were the heroes of adventure books and movies…the young man who shows up to save the day. Even today, to call someone a “boy scout” still carries with it the connotation of the do-gooder. By comparison, calling someone an Eagle scouts remains tightly bound to the image of a man who accomplished an extraordinary feat while still a boy and who is destined to achieve great things as an adults. That’s why it remains the only achievement of childhood that will still be found in the obituary of a ninety year old man.
In understanding how this came about, Mr. Malone discussed the influence of the Eagle Service Project (introduced in the 1960’s) on the young men who had a new requirement to complete before becoming recognized as Eagles.
After all, what is an Eagle project but basic training in entrepreneurship, and not for MBAs or veteran managers but for teenage boys still in high school! I’ve mentored nearly fifty Eagles and with each one my admiration for this requirement grows. I’ve been part of a number of successful entrepreneurial teams including e-bank and I have to say that nothing in this world is a more perfect preparation for staring a new company than being a sixteen year old Life Scout developing an idea for a service project; testing the response of the targeted customers; developing a strategic plan and calendar; assembling a team and executing that plan; managing subordinates and finally measuring the results.
Thus hidden behind the uniforms, the merit badge sashes, the campfire and the 50-mile hikes, scouting has quietly been training millions of entrepreneurs that will be needed to lead this country in the world through the next century.
I applaud Mr. Malone for conveying the wisdom generated by his many years of experience. There are many parents of young boys who are eager for their sons to earn a “star” on their resume without fully soaking up the experience of transformation that must occur for one to really become an Eagle. We understand that it’s not about the checklist, and it’s not about the number of badges earned, but the drive from within to excel and the passion to commit to do hard things cheerfully that ignites the life-long drive to live “set-apart”. Eagle isn’t a title to be “grabbed” off a shelf, but a choice to serve others while embodying Scout Ideals (Oath, Law, Motto, Slogan)