Optics and the Eagle Court of Honor

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If you’ve been following news of the 2016 presidential race, you’ve probably heard discussions of “optics”–how appearances affect the way people judge a candidate’s strength. A few weeks ago, for example, there was a minor kerfuffle when a media outlet ran a photo of a Donald Trump rally in a room that looked three-quarters empty. (The Donald, of course, said the room just looked empty because everyone was crowding the stage to get closer to him!)

The issue of optics affects Eagle courts of honor as well. Guests (and the honoree) will feel better about the event if the room is nearly full rather than mostly empty–even if the size of the crowd is the same in either case.

When our church built a new sanctuary a few years back, I learned an interesting rule of thumb from the architect: A space like a sanctuary or auditorium seems full when 85 percent of the seats are filled. Go higher than that, and people will leave because they can’t find a seat. Go a lot lower than that, and the space will feel empty.

 

If you’re holding the court of honor in a room with movable chairs, it’s easy to control the number of seats. (Be sure to keep extra chairs close at hand.) If you’re holding it in a room with fixed seating, you may need to rope off the balcony or sections in the back. Either way, your new Eagle Scout will be able to look out over a sea of smiling faces—not an auditorium half full of empty seats.

First Things Last?

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According to Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, the very beginning is a very good place to start. That may be true with musicals, but it’s not necessarily true with merit badges.

While the requirements for every badge are numbered, there’s no rule that says Scouts and counselors have to go in order. In fact, it often make sense to approach the requirements out of order. (Among the few exceptions is Scuba Diving, where requirement 2 says, “Before completing requirements 3 through 6, earn the Swimming merit badge.”)

Timing will often determine sequence. For example, requirement 8 of Communication merit badge has the Scout plan a court of honor, campfire program, or interfaith worship service. If a court of honor is looming on the schedule, it make sense to have a Scout who needs the badge plan it, even if he hasn’t completed requirements 1 through 7.

As a merit badge counselor, you can also sequence the requirements to pique a Scout’s interest. For example, requirement 7 of Backpacking merit badge (“Tell how to properly prepare for and deal with inclement weather.”) will be a lot more meaningful to a Scout after he has completed a trek (requirement 11) with less-than-ideal rain gear. (You obviously wouldn’t let a Scout venture out totally unprepared, but you get the point.)

When a Scouter complained that one of Lord Baden-Powell’s ideas was against Scouting’s rules, B-P exploded. “Damn the rules!” he said. “Call it an experiment!” In terms of merit badge requirements, think “Damn the order! Call it an experience!” When you do, your Scouts will gain more than just a simple piece of cloth.

For more on merit badge prerequisites–and the lack thereof–see section 7.0.4.11 of the Guide to Advancement.

Gifts for Eagle Scouts and Mentors (Advertisement)

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One of the most popular inspirational pieces in The Eagle Court of Honor Book is my “Legend of Eagle Mountain,” which anchors the Eagle Mountain script the book contains.

But did you know that “Legend of Eagle Mountain” is available as a personalized presentation certificate you can give your newest Eagle Scout? It is, and it comes in two versions: the traditional parchment version ($9) and a full-color version ($15). Each includes the Scout’s name and his board of review (or court of honor (date).

But wait, there’s more, as the infomercials promise. You can also buy mentor certificates in the same styles and at the same prices. These certificates complement the Scout certificate and honor the involvement of troop leaders, project advisors, and other adults.

For complete details, visit http://eaglebook.com/eagleMountain.htm or just jump straight to my online store at http://eaglebook.com/cart/index.php.

The Scout Badge Grows Up

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This week, Bryan on Scouting offered a great introduction to the new Scout rank, which replaces the old Boy Scout joining requirements. This is perhaps the most significant of the changes to the Boy Scout advancement requirements that take effect on January 1.

(As an aside, I think it’s always been confusing to say that the Scout badge wasn’t a rank, even though it was represented by what looked like a rank emblem. This seemed like a distinction without a difference, and I’m glad the BSA has done away with it.)

If you haven’t yet, I would encourage to carefully review the new requirements, which are posted at http://www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/2016BoyScoutRequirements_8.14.2015.pdf. This document gives a side-by-side comparison of the old and new requirements, making it easy to see what has changed.

While there’s a lot to digest, two points about the Scout rank are worth considering:

  • The Pledge of Allegiance is back; see requirement 1f. Originally, the Pledge was not required for the Scout rank because the volunteer team that developed the new requirements was focused on Scouting-specific topics: ideals, patrol method, advancement process, etc. (Also, since participating in a flag ceremony is required for Second Class, they figured Scouts have plenty of opportunities to recite the Pledge.) In any event, the Pledge is now part of the Scout requirements, so feel free to refute any conspiracy theories you hear!
  • The Scout rank requirements align very neatly (and very intentionally) with the requirements for the Scouting Adventure in Arrow of Light. In other words, a new Scout who has earned the Arrow of Light should come to your troop with all the knowledge he needs to complete the Scout rank. Of course, you’ll still need to test him and hold a Scoutmaster conference. (There’s no board of review for the Scout rank.)

In my opinion, the most critical time in a boy’s Scouting career is his first few months in the troop. Keep him around through summer camp and into the fall, and he’s likely to be with you for several years to come. The new Scout rank does a good job of giving him the information he needs to understand how Boy Scouting works and what his path ahead will look like.

And Now by the Power

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It’s amazing what sorts of “rules” crop up concerning Eagle courts of honor. One of my favorites relates to the formal convening on the court of honor. According to this “rule,” your district executive must formally convene the court of honor for it to be “official.” The words he or she uses often sound like this: “And now by the power vested in me by the National Court of Honor of the Boy Scouts of America, I hereby declare this court of honor to be duly convened for the sole purpose of presenting the Eagle Scout award to _______________.”

By the power, huh? Well, take it from me, a former district executive: DEs have no power vested in them! Virtually anyone can say those magic words—and they don’t really have to be said for the court of honor to be official.

So call on your DE if you’d like, but also consider enlisting your district chairman, district or unit commissioner, or a council executive board member who lives in your community—anyone who can add weight to the words and get the court of honor started off on the right note.

(Note: I’d like to hear from you about court of honor “rules.” What traditions have you seen that just don’t make sense? What would you like to change about the courts of honor in your troop or district? Send your ideas to mark@eaglebook.com, and they may end up in a future tip or blog post.)

Doing Homework by Lantern Light

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A few years back, I chaperoned our church’s high school youth retreat. Saturday morning, as I made coffee and waited for the dining hall to open, I saw a disturbing sight: One of the students was sitting at a table doing homework! Later in the day, other kids filtered into the lodge to do homework in a variety of subjects. A few even skipped the ropes course so they could study. Some probably skipped the retreat altogether for the same reason.

Homework pressure probably affects the Scouts in your troop in much the same way, especially those who are in high school or who take especially challenging classes. While we shouldn’t turn campouts into study halls, it’s important that we recognize the time pressures our Scouts are under. By making reasonable accommodations, we can encourage them to get their homework done and still participate in Scouting activities.

Here are a few options to think about:

  • On longer trips designate one or two cars as quiet zones to allow Scouts to do homework.
  • If you have teachers among your troop parents, invite them along on outings to provide homework help.
  • Be mindful of crunch times (like the midterms happening this month in many school districts) and plan shorter outings or outings closer to home during those periods.
  • Let those Scouts who need to do homework skip certain activities during a campout.
  • Consider making homework to be a duty-roster task, putting it on par with dishwashing. (Yes, that may sound crazy, but desperate times call for desperate measures.)

Many kids today are far too busy–taking Advanced Placement classes, playing multiple sports, flipping burgers after school, etc. As Scouters, we can bemoan that situation, we can become part of the problem, or we can become part of the solution. The choice is ours.

How does your troop handle homework challenges? Post your stories in the comments section below.

The Keys to Good–and Bad–Scout Ceremonies

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The 1947 Handbook for Scoutmasters explains the essence of good ceremonies: “All Scout ceremonies should be: dignified–simple–short. They should be based upon the ideals of the Scout Oath and Law and be conducted on a high plane so as to inspire the boy.”

That really says it all. There’s no place in good ceremonies for long-winded speakers, overly complex scripts, or anything that smack of initiations or horseplay. Here are a few other guaranteed ceremony killers:

  • Bad physical arrangements. The middle of an Eagle court of honor is not the time to realize that you need a chair on stage for the honoree or that you forgot to adjust the room’s thermostat.
  • Unprepared presenters. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the words in your script are if you presenters stumble over them.
  • Inaudible presenters. If microphones are needed, get them and use them. Presenters often mistakenly assume that if they can hear themselves talk, the people in the back row can, too.
  • Scripts that require memorization. Many Scouts (and adults) freeze up if they have to quote memorized lines. Memorization is also a problem in Scout Law candle ceremonies, where the recitation of the 12 points is interrupted by explanatory prose.
  • Poor coordination. Even when each presenter is prepared, the transition from one speaker to the next can be awkward; it’s also easy to assume that someone else is bringing essential props. The best solution is to rehearse ahead of time.
  • Announcements after the closing. Announcements are often a necessary part of ceremonies like courts of honor, but avoid making them at the end; doing so spoils the magic of the moment.