Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Eagle Scouts

This year, the Boy Scouts of America have celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Eagle Scout Award.

Out of the more than 115 million boys who have passed through the Boy Scouts of America in the last 102 years, approximately two million have become Eagle Scouts, a 2% rate that has climbed to about 4% of all scouts in recent years. Some may have excelled in outdoor challenges and troop leadership, or while earning merit badges for oceanography and entrepreneurship. Yet all have been changed by the experience of what has been come to be called "the Ph.D. of Boyhood." And these Eagles in turn have changed the face of American culture in ways both obvious and unexpected.

Many went on to notable careers and distinguished service to the country. The list of famous Eagles over the last century includes movie and television stars, six Medal of Honor recipients, Nobel Prize winners, novelists, a number of astronauts (including most Shuttle astronauts), Tuskegee airmen and Japanese-American internees, congressmen, senators and governors, an endless number of corporate CEOs and university presidents, a U.S. president (Gerald Ford), and the first man to walk on the moon (Neil Armstrong).

And that reputation is deserved. A recent Gallup survey (for Baylor University) of Eagle Scouts, former Boy Scouts and men who never joined scouting found that America's Eagles are far more engaged with the world around them in almost every way—in community service, club membership, churchgoing, outdoor recreation, and the fields of education and health.

Eagle Scouting's biggest contribution to American life is the one most recognized: the service project, the "dissertation" of the boyhood Ph.D. Since the mid-1960s, all Eagle candidates are required, beyond earning the traditional 21 merit badges, to devise, plan, execute and manage a community-service project.

Most of these projects are small: a new bench at the park, painting a school building, collecting blankets for a homeless shelter. But some are hugely ambitious: restoring wetlands, building a library in Africa or a playground at a Russian orphanage, creating an artificial reef—and they consume thousands of hours.

Those projects likely make the Eagle Scout service project the single greatest youth service initiative in history, and one that has touched every community in America in an important way.

This blog post was redacted from the Wall Street Journal opinion pages 31 July 2012.

No comments:

Post a Comment