Great expectations

Well, as of tonight we have two cub scouts in our household. We had our pack meeting, and Walter moved up to Webelos, and Richard joined the Wolf den. And since we’re the Bear den leaders, we won’t be seeing either of them on Tuesday night anymore. It’ll be strange, as they’ve both been more or less involved with our den since we became leaders a year ago.

As my wife and I were out for our evening walk we got discussing how the Mormon scout groups get a bad rep for making it too easy for scouts to achieve Eagle rank (and others, too). Unfortunately, there’s ample evidence, especially down here in Utah, to support that impression. Last year we took our pack to some day camps. As part of the camp they handed out a flier indicating which requirements they would be passing off during the day’s events. That weekend my wife and I went through the list and read up on the requirements the boys supposedly pass off. What the requirement stated and what was actually done at the camp bore little resemblance in most cases. I was rather dismayed.

We’ve seen in our own pack, too, how leaders will fudge the requirements regularly. In some cases it’s justified, as we have several special-needs boys who aren’t quite able to meet the regular standards. But in other cases I find myself sometimes scratching my head and wondering if the boys even knew they had worked on the requirement at all.

There’s pressure to make sure each boy gets an award at each monthly pack meeting, and that’s not easy. Even getting a bead requires passing off three requirements, and even the belt slides can sometimes take several weeks of effort. It’s difficult to make sure they get something every pack meeting and still get their next rank advancement on time. Even to achieve that much we often need to assign them “homework” to do with their families. We decided to make sure they earn their advancement, and work in the rest of it when we can, even if it means they don’t get something every pack meeting.

Today my wife got into a conversation about scouting with the owner of the animal sanctuary where she volunteers. The woman regularly gets calls from women looking for Eagle Project ideas for their sons. Some expect the farm to supply everything so that all the boy has to do is show up, put something together, and call it good. Others will schedule a time to come do some repair work or something, but cancel out because it’s raining. When they do come they’ll nail up a few untreated boards to cover a hole and think they’ve somehow qualified. This woman is getting pretty tired of Mormon boy scouts and their mothers.

I really have to wonder in cases like that who the award is really for. Do the adults really think they’re building up that young man? Do they think he’s building character by learning to let mom do the leg-work and then get by with as little as possible? Do they think the boys are really learning anything when half the time they don’t even realize they worked on a requirement?

Boys are many things, but stupid is not one of them. They know when they’re being coddled. I’m sure they can come up with some reasons why the adults don’t expect them to do the full requirement, and very few of them are positive. Instead of building up our young men we likely knock them down a peg or two, and teach them that people will always clear the path ahead for them, hold their hand, and give them a pass for the least amount of effort. That’s not a lesson I want my boys learning. Or my daughter, either.

My wife and I are the meanest den leaders ever. We stick as close as we can to the requirements. If one of the boys is goofing off and doesn’t complete the work then he doesn’t pass off the requirement, period. We don’t even provide them treats every week. They get a treat every five weeks–if they’ve all worn their uniforms to every meeting. We send emails to the parents letting them know what they boys still have to work on at home, and we don’t pass them off until we hear from the parents that they’ve done the work. We don’t even make exceptions for the boy who we were warned had some behavioral problems.

But you know what? When that same boy’s parents signed him up for swimming lessons and found they would overlap with scouts he agonized over how he might still come to scouts every week. Another boy’s parents informed us flat out that they didn’t care much for scouts and weren’t very supportive. Now they’re responding to our emails and making sure their boy gets his home assignments done–mostly, I suspect, because they see we’re not just treating it like a weekly crafts class. We are trying to build boys.

These are terrific boys. They’re all different, and they all have their challenges. But they have their strengths, too. The boy whose parents didn’t care much for scouting is the hardest-working, most focused boy in the den. When others are goofing off he’s right there doing what we ask. When we did a neighborhood cleanup project he probably collected more trash than the other three boys combined.

The boy with behavioral issues is a bit of a challenge at times, but mostly he’s a normal nine-year-old boy. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he’s good with his hands. If something catches his interest he can have laser-like focus. I have never seen a boy more careful with his pocketknife than this boy. And the week when we went for a short hike, and it ended up only being him and our son, we were blown away to see the two of them having a serious, calm conversation for most of the hike. We had expected to have to try and keep them constantly corralled and headed in the right direction. Instead we just had to keep reminding them to pick up the pace because they were so deep in conversation.

Kids have an amazing ability to meet expectations. I think it’s just that the adults sell their kids short and set the expectations too low. Give them a chance, place the bar high, and give them encouragement and recognition, and they’ll exceed even your high expectations. That’s what scouting is about. We’re doing our boys a terrible disservice if we just run them through the “Advancement Factory” so we can say our kids our all Eagle Scouts. We’re supposed to be building boys, not resumes.

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4 Responses to Great expectations

  1. Reminds me of the story of the rich young man and the expectation from his father that he earn $1,000 before he be given any inheritance.

  2. This reminds me a lot of my own Scouting experience. To this day, I feel like I didn’t earn or entirely want my Eagle badge. And I can’t count how many times I saw Mom and the rest of the troop committee use the proverbial plunger to ramrod kids through the requirements the month – or week – or even day before they turned 18.

  3. Thom says:

    Well, you did a lot more work for yours than many I’ve seen. You may not have wanted it, but I wouldn’t say you didn’t earn it.

    Pushing them is one thing. If they’re waiving requirements or turning a blind eye to shoddy effort just to get them through, that’s something else. If they never really wanted to do it, fine, but if they supposedly really want to do it, at what point do you tell them “too bad, you waited too long” even if there is still time left. There’s a balance between discouraging procrastination and encouraging giving up. It’s certainly better if they are self-motivated and get everything done well in advance of the deadline, but really, how many teenage boys operate THAT way?

  4. Denise Stratton says:

    I see the same thing. A few of the boys who earned Eagle awards in my Sunday School class didn’t feel it was something to be proud of. And not every boy has to earn an Eagle. It should be fiords those who really want it and are willing to work for it. The committees that approve projects are not being strict enough.

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