A few years back, I read a book about developing plots for novels and short stories. One chapter had an intriguing title: “When You Come to the End, Stop.” The author said that too often writers keep on writing long after they’ve said everything they needed to say. In an old-fashioned English murder mystery, for example, the murderer might be unmasked on page 200–but then the writer goes on for another dozen pages tying up loose ends and having the detective recount in detail how he cracked the mystery.
Similar problems can crop up in courts of honor. You probably won’t get up at the end and recount in detail how you planned the ceremony, but you might be tempted to make lots of announcements, tack on a Scoutmaster’s minute, or do something else that will make people start yawning and checking their watches.
Resist the temptation. As quickly as possible after the presentation of the Eagle badge, have a brief closing and let the celebration continue at the reception.
I’m not a member of the uniform police, nor do I play one on TV. That said, I do think it’s only right for Scouts and Scouters to wear the right patches in more or less the right spots on their uniforms. Right?
But what are those right spots? Sometimes, the answer seems less than clear. And so you see Totin’ Chip patches on pocket flaps or camporee patches where jamboree patches should go or badges of office in the spot reserved for patrol patches.
For years, the BSA has offered a guide to awards and insignia. Called the Guide to Awards and Insignia–how’s that for a catchy title?–it seems to be a pretty well kept secret, at least in my neck of the woods.
The guide is full of handy diagrams like the one shown above, but that’s just part of what makes it useful. It includes the catalog number for each patch, pin, and medal it describes, for example. And the introduction includes a wealth of information on such questions as whether you can wear two badges with the same meaning and whether it’s possible to wear too much insignia. And on page 61, you’ll learn which was is up when it comes to leader knots.
You can purchase the guide for $6.99 from ScoutStuff.org. But you can also download it as a PDF–well, a series of PDFs– at the BSA website for free.
As I blogged last spring, one of the topics I taught at the Philmont Training Center was Generation Z. That’s the generation that takes in basically all the Scouts we’re serving today.
Young people in this generation are also called screenagers and netolescents due to their dependence on electronic devices. One cool video about Gen Z I used in my conference says these young people don’t consume on two screens, they consume on five. You and I could quibble about that number and whether it’s good thing or not–okay, maybe we couldn’t quibble about that last part–but the fact remains that screens are standard operating procedure for today’s teens. (Or maybe I should say HD operating procedure since standard definition seems as old-fashioned to them as black-and-white TV!)
My question, to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson: “What’s in your court of honor?” If it features nothing but speeches, if it could be done as a radio play without affecting comprehension, if it’s black-and-white boring, it’s probably not going to be very interesting to today’s Scouts.
I’m not saying you need to go overboard, but I think you should figure out ways to add visual interest to every court of honor. Here are a few ideas:
- Play a slideshow, set to contemporary music, of the honoree’s journey from Tiger Cub to Eagle Scout
- Run a slideshow used as a backdrop for the ceremony, with the photos changing every minute or two
- Show a Scout-produced video about the honoree’s Eagle project
- Live-tweet the court of honor on a screen beside the stage.
- Use Skype or FaceTime to bring in an out-of-town guest, such as a former senior patrol leader who’s away at college
- Show a Scout-produced video takeoff on a popular late night sketch like James’ Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke.”
- Create a backdrop using a meditative nature video from YouTube.
Those are just a few ideas. I’m sure the screenagers in your troop could come up with more.
What do you think? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Post them in the comment section below; if possible, include a video link.
Did you buy The Eagle Court of Honor Book on Amazon? If so, please consider posting a review at https://www.amazon.com/Eagle-Court-Honor-Book/dp/0965120740. It’s easy to do, and you can even post a court of honor photo. Best of all, I’ll send the first five new reviewers a free Eagle Mountain Certificate! (Just send me a message after your review goes live.)
During every election season, council newsletters and district roundtable commissioners remind Scouters of the rules for participating in political events. In a nutshell, it’s okay for BSA units to present the colors at a political rally so long as they leave before the speechifying begins. Individuals are free to stay and cheer (or boo), but they must change out of uniform before doing so. The point is to make sure Scouting doesn’t appear to be supporting one candidate or party over another, which could easily happen if a troop hung around and formed part of the human backdrop for a candidate’s speech. (You can learn much more about what to do and what not to do in this Bryan on Scouting post from July.)
If you think this rule is silly or unnecessary, consider the case of the Rev. Faith Green Timmons, pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church in Flint, Mich. Earlier this month, Timmons invited Donald Trump to stop by her church to thank volunteers who have helped out during the long-running Flint water crisis. Trump did stop by, but instead of thanking the volunteers, he started giving a campaign speech. Timmons interrupted him and he later criticized her in the press, generating the wrong kind of headlines about the visit.
Now that was just one encounter with one unusual candidate, but I think it demonstrates the importance of Scouters steering clear of politicians. Regardless of party, they;ll look for any angle to win votes and are happy to be seen with those who will burnish their images, whether that’s first responders, wounded veterans, or Boy Scouts.
As Americans, we’re free to support the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, or even the Bud Light party (which I have to admit seems like a lot more fun than those other groups!). As Scouters, we have a responsibility to protect the BSA’s reputation for non-partisanship and to avoid making the wrong kind of headlines.
When in doubt, remember George Bernard Shaw’s immortal words: “‘Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.”
In an age when people too often talk about, over, or at each other, StoryCorps offers something different: people talking with each other. If you haven’t caught a StoryCorps segment on NPR or in another setting, here’s the deal: StoryCorps brings together pairs of people–a father and a son, a husband and a wife, etc.–for interviews. But a third party asking the questions, one member of each pair interviews the other. To date, StoryCorps has recorded more than 60,000 interviews, which regularly appear on NPR and in books and podcasts. The interviews are also archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. (To get a flavor of StoryCorps, check out this great Scouting-related story from a few years ago.)
So what’s the connection with Eagle courts of honor? I’ve been to way too many courts of honor where I didn’t feel I really got to know the honoree. Oh sure, I heard the dates he reached each rank and heard him thank those who had helped him along the way. But I never heard what the experience had meant to him–perhaps because he’d never really thought about that question.
So I’ve been thinking. What if in the middle of a court of honor you dropped in a StoryCorps-style interview? What if the Scoutmaster or the honoree’s best friend sat down with him and talked through a handful of thought-provoking questions? That could well become the highlight of the ceremony, something that would be more meaningful to the audience–and the honoree–than any other moment.
The StoryCorps website has a great list of questions to ask in various settings. I might suggestion the following for an Eagle court of honor:
- Why did you join our troop?
- What are your best and worst memories from campouts?
- What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a Scout?
- What’s one memory of Scouting that you’ll carry with you forever?
- What lessons about leadership did you learn as a patrol leader (or senior patrol leader or quartermaster)?
- When and why did you decide to become an Eagle Scout?
- Why did you pick the Eagle project you did?
- What did you learn from doing your Eagle project?
- How did you balance being in Scouts with sports (or band or AP classes)?
- What do you know now that you wished you’d known as a new Scout?
I think the best approach to such an interview would be to set a time limit–10 minutes, perhaps–and to cut off the questions at that point, whether you’ve gotten to them all or not. I envision the honoree and the interviewer sitting comfortably near each other, perhaps on stools, certainly not standing at lecterns.
Have you done something like this at a court of honor? I’d love to hear how it went, so feel free to post your story in the comments section.
I don’t consider myself to be a prescient person. For example, I was pretty confident the first-place Alabama Crimson Tide football team would beat the unranked Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the second week of the 2016 season, but I would have predicted a much bigger victory margin than 28 points. (48 points, anyone?)
So against that background, I have to take a modicum of credit for predicting NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the National Anthem at games this season because he refuses “to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Earlier this year, my Ethics column in Scouting magazine explored the implications of a senior patrol leader declining to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; you can read it at http://scoutingmagazine.org/2016/02/what-to-do-when-a-scout-wont-say-the-pledge-of-allegiance/.
The Ethics column, in case you’ve missed it, presents realistic situations involving ethical dilemmas our Scouts could find themselves in. The point is not to prescribe solutions but to provoke discussion. Read the installment about the Pledge of Allegiance (or any other installment) and you won’t find the “right” answer.
Now, you may look at the Colin Kaepernick situation as cut and dried, saying either “of course, he should be required to stand” or “of course, he should be allowed to sit,” but the reality is that this situation, like most, is more complicated. Consider, for example, the fact that some veterans have voiced support for Kaepernick’s decision. I love what one of those veterans told Kaepernick when they met: “Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it.” (If there’s a “right” answer, perhaps that’s it.)
Anyway, I really don’t care what Scouts think about Colin Kaepernick’s decision; what I care about is how they make their own decisions. I believe our role as Scout leaders is not to tell our Scouts what to think but to teach them how to think. Or, as Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell once said, “The most important object in Boy Scout training is to educate, not instruct.”
That’s an important distinction, one I hope you’ll bear in mind as you discuss contentious issues with your Scouts.
It’s no surprise that patriotic organizations of all sorts support Scouting. After all, we and they have much in common, including a love for country and flag. But many Scouters have never heard of one such organization, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. This group, the successor to the Grand Army of the Republic, offers free congratulatory letters and commendation certificates to all new Eagle Scouts. If scheduling works out, they’ll even send a uniformed Civil War reenactor to present a certificate in person at an Eagle court of honor.
The process or requesting a certificate and letter is easy. Simple visit the group’s Eagle Scout Program page and click the certificate link. Fill out the PDF form in your web browser or PDF software, save it, and email it as an attachment to the Eagle Scout certificate coordinator for your state. (The directory is on the Eagle Scout Program page, and, yes, states that were part of the Confederacy do have coordinators!) There are a couple of important details to pay attention to: 1) Save the completed application under a new name, perhaps something like eagle_application_john_smith.pdf, so it stands out. 2) Allow 45 days for processing.
By the way, the members of the SUVCW are always interested in helping Scouts find Civil War-related Eagle projects. In fact, I first learned of this certificate program when I was writing about a council-level winner of the Adams Award that involved placing bronze markers on the graves of Civil War soldiers.