As I sat at a Boy Scout court of honor a couple of nights ago with three of my sons, I was pleased with the way the awards were presented.
First there were some non-official certificates awarded for various things. One Scout was always cheerful during summer camp. Another had excelled at climbing. One had discovered that he could do some things he had thought were too hard. And so on. This was followed by the awarding of merit badges.
The Scoutmaster then discussed the Tenderfoot rank, what it meant, and what went into earning it. He then called the boys that had earned that rank to come forward. He continued in this pattern through the Life rank. (We had no Eagles that night.)
After coming home, I reflected on the court of honor. It suddenly dawned on me that one of the great strengths of the Boy Scout program is its well defined system of requirements and awards. Another important element is the BSA’s firm stance on character and moral issues. These are among the elements that make up the BSA brand.
This brand is broadly recognized by people of all stripes, whether they agree or disagree with BSA policies or are indifferent. Almost everyone understands what the BSA purports to stand for. Even if they know nothing specific about what it takes to become an Eagle Scout, people generally understand that it is an important and significant achievement.
This does not mean that all Scouts live up to the BSA’s ideals, or even that all Eagle Scouts remain true to Scouting principles. (While there is a good list of famous Eagle Scouts ranging from Hank Aaron to Michael Dukakis to Neil Armstrong to Ross Perot, there are also some that have become infamous criminals.)
Losing this brand recognition would be devastating to the BSA. For that reason, they take significant steps to protect the brand. This has occasionally caused controversy. But it has also produced a system that has caused several generations of boys to aspire to something higher and to serve their fellowmen.
Is Boy Scouting a perfect institution? Not by a long shot. Do I have some issues with the BSA? I have my criticisms of the organization. But they are the sentiments of a loving son that works within the outfit to effect improvements where possible.
This summer marks 33 years that I have been working to fulfill the oath I took when I became an Eagle Scout, to give back more to Scouting than it has given to me. I suspect that it will require a lifetime to accomplish this pledge.