Many Scouts are already familiar with an advancement process from what they experience in the Cub Scouts. The biggest different in the Boy Scouts is that, rather than having a leader walk you through the steps, the scout is expected to now take initiative, and set his own path to advancement.
Advancement is not the overall goal of Scouting – but it is one of the methods used to help scouts learn and grow. To quote Scouting.org:
Everything done to advance—to earn ranks and other awards and recognition—is designed to educate or to otherwise expand horizons. Members learn and develop according to a standard. … Learning comes from doing. For example, youth may read about first aid, hear it discussed, and watch others administer it, but they will not learn it until they practice it.
Scouting skills—what a young person learns to do—are important, but not as important as the growth achieved through participating in a unit program. The concern is for total, well-rounded development. Age-appropriate surmountable hurdles are placed before members, and as they face them they learn about themselves and gain confidence.
Advancement should never be seen as a race or a competition. While the scout will take many of the steps on this path with his patrol or troop, the pace he sets in completing ranks is his own. The steps of advancement provide the scout with a series of goals, and a path to take to achieve those goals.
Advancement in Scouting can be broken down into three phases:
- From Scout to First Class rank, the scout focuses on learning Scoutcraft skills, how to work in their troop and patrol, and how to be self-reliant for their scouting career.
- From First Class to Star and Life, the focus shifts to leadership. The scout will take on positions of responsibility within the troop, helping to lead and maintain their patrol and troop. They also begin to take on the role of teacher & guide to younger scouts. They also shift focus to earning merit badges, which help a scout explore potential vocations and hobbies, enabling them to concentrate on their own interests and goals.
- The final step, Life to Eagle, focuses primarily on a significant community service project, which the scout plans, organizes, and carries out with the help of his troop. The leadership and scout spirit he has learned throughout the rest of the trail come to a focus, as he applies all those skills to accomplish a significant goal of his choosing.
Scout advancement – be in in basic scout skills, merit badge requirements, or eagle project phases – should always proceed in four steps:
- The Scout Learns – the scout learns by doing, and then frequently is asked to further his understanding by teaching others
- The Scout is Tested – the Scoutmaster or his designee (an assistant scoutmaster, older scout, or parent) or a merit badge counselor verifies that the skill/task in question has been learned
- The Scout is Reviewed – once a scout completes the tasks required for a rank, he meets with a review board
- The Scout is Recognized – completing ranks or significant steps is recognized as soon as possible, frequently at the next troop meeting. Courts of Honor are held periodically to review advancements troop-wide.