Monday, June 11, 2012

Honoring an Eagle Scout

We old 'uns are always worrying about the young generation.  But the truth is that the vast majority of young people are nothing to worry about.  It's we, the old ones, with our power, our corruption, and our hypocrisy, that are responsible for ruining the future.

On Sunday I was privileged to attend an Eagle Court of Honor at Troop 171 in Seattle, where four young Americans, including a former neighbor, Kyle Piddington, were awarded the rank of Eagle Scout.  It's easy to forget that behind all the hoodies and the baggy pants of today life is going on as usual and regular middle-class kids are going on scout camp-outs and getting socialized from boys into men.

The Eagle Scout ceremony is shocking in its unashamed conservatism, with flags, bush shirts, badges, God, country, character and moral straightness.  And it is also shocking in its familism.  Each honoree is eulogized (from the Greek: "good words") by an adult, and is enrolled in the rank of Eagle Scout with mother and father behind him.  Mother puts the Eagle Scout ribbon on, and the Eagle Scout pins mother, father, and a mentor.  Each Eagle Scout gets a US flag that has flown over the US Capitol.  Cue George M. Cohan and "It's a Grand Old Flag."

Those of us that have read Judith Rich Harris's Nurture Assumption, which argues that the most important influence on children is first of all their genes, and then their peers, and only then their parents, often wonder how to socialize young people: to counter the Lord of the Flies barbarity of their peers with something healthier than our appalling schools.

Scouting stands as an obvious and unassuming answer.  It puts boys under the guidance of adults, immerses them in a rough-and-ready moral order complete with ritual and responses, and combines teaching with play.  The boys start out as beginners, and end up as leaders.  We are talking about real leaders, of course, with real responsibility for their charges, poles apart from the "community organizer" style of leadership that is often celebrated by our political culture.

But the biggest takeaway for me was the realization that Scouting puts boys of all ages in a single group, and counteracts the instinct of children to socialize only with their age cohort.  Thus a 12-year-old can go out camping with 18-year-old gods, by right of membership.  And the 18-year-old has a responsibility of care for the young ones.

In my own boyhood I recall with particular relish "fagging" for a school prefect.  It usually meant toasting bread and brewing coffee in the afternoons for the Olympian gods.  And it also allowed the young to take certain liberties with the senior boys: a cheeky remark was not amiss.  When you consider that my particular god grew up to become Sir Howard Stringer, head of CBS News and then Sony Corporation, you can understand the privilege I enjoyed in the humble role of servant.

It's a delight to get a chance to talk to young people once they can converse like adults.  Kyle, the Eagle Scout that I came to honor,  responds like a politician to the usual questions from adults, with confident and intelligent sound bites.  Last year he set up a Facebook page for kids at his high school to help each other with homework.  And his father reports that he spent many hours teaching kids through their homework problems.  Why not?  Studies show that you remember 90 percent of what you teach.  Kyle is going to Cal Poly in the Fall and intends to major in Computer Science.

The trouble with our modern society, with its Big Media, Big Politics, and Big Business, is that it marginalizes all the important things, like family and civil society.  It's good to be reminded that under the radar, outside the camera frame, kids like Kyle Piddington are doing fine.

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