I just got my latest issue of Eagle's Call magazine (formerly Eagle Scout Magazine). One article is about the recipients of the latest National Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award. The winner rebuilt a playground at a cost of over $35,000 and over 5,000 hours of labor. One of the runners up spent two years collecting over $130,000 to build a veterans memorial. I can't even imagine what it would take to do either of those projects, but those Scouts did. Amazing!
When I first read the article, one of my thoughts was that those projects put to shame all of those I've seen locally (including my own many years ago). Of course, that's why they are winning awards.
As I thought about it today, I realized there is a big difference between those projects and the ones my Scouts have done recently, and I'm talking about more than size or cost, or time spent on them. It is obvious from the descriptions of these outstanding projects that they are personally and deeply meaningful to the Scout. Most of the projects I've seen locally are not like that.
That's not to say that we don't have good, meaningful projects, and I'm certainly not trying to suggest that each Scout needs to raise tens of thousands of dollars and spend thousands of hours working on his project. What I am suggesting is that most of the time we could do much better than we have. Most of the Scouts I talk to about Eagle projects are simply looking for something to get done so they can get their award. Instead of being an opportunity to serve, or a chance to do something they really care about, it's little more than an item on a checklist.
I've seen this attitude in relation to the Eagle Scout award itself. In the last five and a half years I've been involved in Scouting I have seen five Scouts earn the rank of Eagle. One more is just waiting on a board of review. Every one of those six Scouts was over 17 years old when they finally finished off their Eagle rank. Four of them waited long enough that their board of review was not held until after they turned 18. With perhaps only one exception, each of those Scouts treated their projects, and the rank itself as something they just had to finish before they could move on to the next, more important thing. It was simply an item on a checklist.
And some parents (and some leaders) out there aren't helping the situation.
I cringe every time I hear a Scout (or his parent) say that he is not allowed to get his driver's license until he earns his Eagle. In my opinion, this does nothing to help and actually diminishes the real value of the program.
Scouting should be about the experience. It should be an opportunity to do something of value. It should be a chance to learn and grow. Advancement is an important part of the experience, but if we elevate it to such a prominent position that all the other important things become nothing more than obstacles to climb over then we are failing to accomplish what should be our real purpose.