The Boy Scouts encourages rank advancement by making the first three ranks embarrassing and pathetic.

I’ve said many times that Boy Scouts was one of the best things that ever happened to me. The education that I received in Scouting probably contributed more to the person I am today than the entirety of my high school experience.

As a result, I don’t have too many bad things to say about the Boy Scouts. Their policies regarding homosexuality are improved but appalling, and I was never a fan of camp cuisine, but otherwise, it’s a nearly flawless organization in my experience.

But here’s something that has always amused me:

The Boy Scouts is an extreme meritocracy that uses ranks to delineate a boy’s level of achievement. The highest rank that a boy can attain is Eagle.

Before I turned eighteen and graduated out of Scouting, I had attained the second highest rank, Life. I actually had all of the requirements for Eagle (in spades), but an unfortunate set of circumstances prevented me from achieving Eagle.

I remain angry about to this day. Perhaps someday I will write about it.

But it’s the first three ranks that amuse me.

The first is Scout, designated by this patch, which is worn on the breast pocket of the uniform.


It is rank automatically conferred upon joining Boy Scouts, but it’s also not technically a rank. It’s a gift. A participation ribbon. So if you’re walking around with this patch, you’re a Scout without a rank.

You’re pathetic.

The first rank that you can earn is Tenderfoot. It actually requires that you demonstrate many useful skills, show measurable improvement in specific levels of  physical fitness, and learn many meaningful things related to first aid, wilderness survival, and more. Most of the requirements would never be taught in a traditional classroom but are at least as valuable.

For that effort, you become a Tenderfoot. A wimp. A wuss. A pushover. Unadventurous. A boy with tender feet.  


The second rank is Second Class. It’s requirements are even more demanding. Learn how to use a compass and a knife. Build fires. Cook food outdoors using fire and propane. Learn invaluable first aid skills. Demonstrate knowledge of indigenous plants and animals. Demonstrate your ability to swim. Earn and save money.

It’s a lot. It’s impressive. It’s invaluable.

For that, you become Second Class. Quite literally a second class citizen.

And frankly, a much lamer patch than the Tenderfoot. A reminder of the Scout motto, in case you’ve forgotten. A bit of rope that almost looks like a noose. No eagle or stars or red, white and blue shield.

Just a banner with a noose.


Finally you achieve a rank that does not make you sound like a loser:

 First Class. It’s not easy to earn, but once you do, you can proclaim your rank with pride.

Of course, the patch for First Class is simply a combination of Tenderfoot and Second Class patches, so even though you have put those embarrassing days behind you, a reminder of them lives on your breast pocket until you make the next leap to Star then Life and finally Eagle.