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Issue 27 – Mid-February 2004

Here’s a question asked of our Webmaster and long-time Scouter, Michael Bowman, and his excellent—in my opinion—answer:

Our Pack is rather large, and therefore unable to present all awards and advancements during a Pack meeting. Because of this, our Den Leaders are presenting Bobcats, recognition beads & various other awards within the Den meetings. Do you have suggestions for *very* short and simple (yet exciting) ceremonies? (S.W.)
And Mike (with a couple of editing “nudges” by ol’ Andy) replied…

If a Pack has become so large that advancement awards can’t be presented at a Pack meeting, then the Cubs are getting cheated out of one of the best parts of the program—recognition in front of ALL their peers in an impressive ceremony that encourages them to continue to achieve. Official recognitions like rank badges, arrow points, and other awards are absolutely to be presented at Pack meetings and not Den meetings. At Den meetings, recognition beads can be presented, but that’s it. If the problem is that the Pack is really too big (more than, say, 70 Cubs), then it’s time to talk to your Commissioner and arrange to split the Pack into two Packs so that all the boys get a quality program. A super-sized Pack may be more fun for adults, and easier, due to economies of scale, but it does little to offer a personalized and significant individual experience for the boys. Instead, it becomes a herding process and eventually turns these boys off on Scouting. If the problem is that the Pack meeting is adult-oriented, then drop everything that has to do with adults. Get rid of the dadblasted announcements and use a handout or newsletter. NO ANNOUNCEMENTS! They stink. They’re deadly. The Cubs hate ’em. If adults are over-planning the meeting with too much content, cut way back. A Pack meeting should have (at least!) an opening ceremony (by the Cubs!), a song (by the Cubs!), a skit (by the Cubs!), and an advancement ceremony (FOR the Cubs!) followed by a closing (maybe by the Cubmaster, but better by the Cubs). Keep it simple. Leave room to recognize the Cubs—that’s why they and their parents show up! Anything else is an extra that can and should be dropped. Recognizing the accomplishments of the boys is the most important thing at this age. Keep a skit and a song for fun. Keep the opening and closing to a few minutes. Each month we publish relatively short advancement ceremonies for PACK MEETINGS that are based on the monthly theme. You can find them at http://usscouts.org/bbugle.asp. We have hundreds.

Remember “KFC”! No, not the chicken. KIDS FIRST CEREMONIES! The Cub Scout program is for boys, about boys, and always for the boys. It’s not for the adults, and neither are Pack meetings. Large Packs frequently lose the bubble and have grandiose meetings for the benefit of the parents that lose the Cubs. The symptoms are squirming, misbehaving Cubs and sometimes a need for hall monitors to protect the building from those who have escaped! Strip the meeting to essentials and the heck with anyone who objects to their own important thing getting dropped. If they want to have their thing going, they can invite folks to their house for a separate meeting later. Pack meetings need to be about and for the Cubs and nothing else. I can’t say enough about not cheating your Cubs out of the thrill of being called up in front of their peers and all the adults (including their proud parents!) to be recognized for their accomplishments. Tossing out badges in the last five minutes of a rowdy Den meeting does little, and the whole purpose of Cub Scout advancement is lost. If you can’t do a better job than you’re doing in a Pack of the size you have, it’s time to both re-think what agenda’s really operating here and/or split the Pack into smaller units that can do the job they’re supposed to be doing.

Dear Andy,

I’ve volunteered to be a mentor for a Patrol Leader, and I’d like to reference an approved document as to the BSA expectations for a Patrol Leader. Can you identify a good reference to use? (Lt. Colonel John M. Bavis, Deputy Assistant, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations & Training, U.S. Army, Virginia)

Thanks for asking, Colonel, and WOW how great that you’re mentoring a future leader, not just of Scouting but potentially for our country! Yes, there are several resources you can obtain. Start with these two, both of which should be available at the Scout Shop in the service center of the Boy Scout Council you’re in (sounds like you’re in the Colonial Virginia Council): the SCOUTMASTER’S HANDBOOK and the PATROL LEADERS HANDBOOK. The first will give you an overview from the adult P-O-V of what the job of Patrol Leader entails, and also how to go about mentoring Scouts, and the second will give you the BOY’S-eye-view. After you’ve checked both of these out, if you need more, give a holler!

Dear Andy,

We had a merit badge counselor training this week in our District. At the training, this question was asked: If a Scout has been working on a merit badge with a counselor and has a number of requirements signed off, but that counselor isn’t able to continue the merit badge with the Scout, and a “new” counselor is assigned—Can that new counselor require that the Scout “re-do” requirements that the first counselor has already signed off on? Also, what if it’s been two or three years since the Scout started the merit badge, and has forgotten material that the first counselor has signed off on, then what? (D.M., Greater Alabama Council)

BSA Advancement Policies & Procedures provide good guidance on the two situations you’ve mentioned, since both relate to the overall issue of Merit Badge “partials.” I think the primary policy we’d want to observe here is this: “A merit badge cannot be taken away once earned…” The second is that “partials” are good till the Scout’s 18th birthday. The essential principle, it seems to me, is that we’re not going to ask a Scout to re-do something he’s already done. If this includes MBs, as it certainly does, and obviously includes ranks as well, then it’s a very small step to conclude that it would equally apply to specific requirements within a MB as well as a rank. So, regardless of whether the situation is a change in counselors while a Scout is in process of completing a particular MB, or time has passed between his originally completing some of the requirements for a MB and now he’s made a decision to re-visit and complete it, the same principle would apply. However, I’d be reluctant to see a District or a Council make this an inviolate and unalterable policy, because I believe there are special circumstances that need the good sense and good judgment of and experienced and Scout-focused counselor. What do I mean by that last statement? Well, here are three different situations I’ve personally encountered as a counselor:

– A Scout came to me believing he had met most of the requirements for Swimming MB, and merely needed a “sign-off” on a few “show-and-tell” details. Nonetheless, because swimming itself places a person in a situation (i.e., in the water) that is pretty unforgiving of incapacity or lack of adequate skills, I suggested to the Scout that our first meeting should take place at a pool, where he could show me his in-water skills. Unfortunately, I quickly observed that his swimming abilities were borderline at best—he sort of lumbered through the water using strokes that barely mimicked freestyle, side, breast and back strokes. What sort of saved him from sinking like a stone was that, being pretty much overweight, he was buoyant enough to stay on the surface, no thanks to his actual abilities! But, mine would be the “final signature” on his card, and I had a decision to make! Did I “reject” the signatures already in place on his “Blue Card”? No. But, after he came out of the water that first day, I asked him if he’d be interested in “polishing the chrome” on his swimming style, so that he’d look “cool” when he swims. He liked this idea, and we spent five more sessions in the water. He got better every time (I gave him specific things to practice on his own, in between sessions, of course), so that by the time we had completed the “show-and-tell” stuff, he was also a much stronger swimmer who could accurately perform the strokes required, sustain them, and transition from one to another with relative ease. That was several years ago. Just last week, I attended his Eagle Court of Honor, and he told me how, because he felt confident of his abilities after completing Swimming MB with me, he went on to earn Lifesaving MB at summer camp, and then applied for (and got!) a position on the camp’s waterfront staff, where he’s been for the past three summers!

– For Communications MB, a Scout came to me with a note from his freshman high school teacher verifying that he had delivered a five-minute speech to his class. Here, I asked him to bring his note cards and to describe to me what’s involved in developing and delivering a five-minute speech. But I didn’t ask him to do it again, because, in our conversation, it was obvious to me that he had learned what this requirement is there for, and completed it accurately and honorably.

– For Lifesaving MB, this Scout needed merely to have his in-water “breaks” tested, and he did this successfully first time in the water with me. But, I decided to take a few extra moments with him, to discover what he had learned in completing the other requirements (again, mine was to be the final signature). His knowledge was excellent, but I did notice that he was unaware of what’s involved in life guarding at an ocean beach, where there are no ability groups or buddy system or supervisors, and there are things like riptides that you don’t find in a lake, pool, or river. Yes, I definitely signed his Blue Card for having completing the requirements, but we spent about a half-hour just talking about ocean life guarding. Not because I wanted to “add to the requirements”–I wanted to ADD TO HIS KNOWLEDGE.

So there you have scenarios that might have turned out quite differently had some hard-and-fast “rule” applied—scenarios that took judgment based on a single but vital question: “What’s best for this individual Scout, that’s in keeping with the primary goals of the advancement process itself—Fun, challenge, knowledge, skills, and CONFIDENCE?” My approaches might not have been the same as those someone else might have taken, or all counselors should take, but I’d hope that the end-result in any case would be the same: Scouts—young men—who have truly learned something that they can take with them into LIFE.

And D.M. writes back…
Thanks, Andy!

Our District Trainer—he’s our District’s Advancement Chairman too—stated that “A Merit Badge Counselor could MAKE a Scout re-do requirements!” I think that your advice is more in line with the spirit of advancement. A Counselor should review all completed require-ments, and go over weak points that a Scout might have, but not MAKE him re-do those requirements. A review can be made without giving the Scout the feeling that you’re not honoring his previous work and his first Counselor’s signature. (D.M.)

To my mind, there’s not a thing wrong with an informal review. This is how Scouts learn—and advance! Take another look at those three scenarios I described. Suppose there had been some arbitrary “rule” that I had followed. If so, then either there might have been three Scouts discouraged from further advancements or, worse, a drowning, an unsuccessful rescue, and an inept epitaph! Rules are for people who can’t or won’t think for themselves and decide for themselves what’s the right thing to do.

Scouting Friend John Glockner, in Patriots’ Path Council, NJ, received an interesting letter from a fellow Scouter, and he’s shared it, along with his response, with me. I think we can all learn something from this exchange, so here it is…
Do you have any contacts in the Venturing program on the national level? I’m having a problem right now. My Troop Committee feels that our Venture Patrol should be doing some community service in addition to their fun activities. But, the Venture Patrol Leader feels that they should just do fun activities because they are already participating in Troop-level service projects. His argument is that we are punishing them by forcing them to “double dip” on service. I don’t buy his argument myself, but the Venture Assistant Scout-master has swallowed it entirely and is pressing the issue. In addition, he’s talked to a “Venture expert” from my Council, (apparently not the professional or top volunteer), who told him that it’s appropriate for Venture Crews (sic) to do service, but that Venture Patrols should not be performing service because they are already doing in as members of their Troops. I can’t believe that any Scouter would make such a statement, but want to solve the problem without issuing an edict. So, I’m hoping to get an opinion from a higher court. (A.V.)

And John replied…

Since you’ve identified these Scouts as members of a Venture Patrol within a Troop, rather than an independent Venturing Crew, the answer is straight-forward. As a Patrol, the Scouts would naturally participate with the rest of the Patrols in the Troop in all Troop-sponsored service projects. However, since this Venture Patrol comprises older Scouts, the ASM assigned to them may want to suggest to the Scouts that they might just want to tackle their own service project(s) in addition to the Troop’s service project(s). Who knows? They may really get into it, if it’s their idea! But the ASM should be suggesting the concept to the Venture Patrol members; not specifying a particular task—that’s for the Scouts themselves to do.

Dear Andy,

What would District Commissioners and Unit Commissioners like to receive from their District Executive? (David Rice,District Executive, Sha-Bo-Na District, Illowa Council, Knoxville, IL)

Well, I’m gonna guess that you don’t want me to quote from BSA literature. As an experienced DE, you’ve probably read enough to last several life-times! So, instead of regurgitating all that stuff about “partnering” and “mutual respect” and “unselfish service” and such, I’m going to speak from the heart, based on my personal experience as a UC, ADC, and DC, working with at least a half-dozen different DEs across a couple of different councils. Here goes…

If the Commissioners in your district were Scouts instead of Scouters, they’d be the PLC within a Troop and you, the DE, would be their Scoutmaster. The DC is the SPL, the ADCs are ASPLs, and the UCs are the Patrol Leaders. The “Troop” itself is the units—the Packs and Troops—they and you all serve.

The UCs/PLs job is to keep their patrols members happy and active and participating and getting the most out of Scouting that they can deliver. The ADCs/ASPLs provide special services and expertise when needed, and help keep all on track. The DC/SPL guides the program the PLC develops and is the rallying point for thinking about the future and what the Troop’s gonna be doing next.

You, the DE/Scoutmaster are their guide, mentor, best example, advisor, and counselor. You don’t do their jobs for them—you show them how to do their jobs and then watch them go! Unless, of course, you want to be “The World’s Oldest Patrol Leader”—in which case you’re going to do what the SPL and PLs should be doing, correcting them in public, forgetting to praise and nurture, and sort of chop ’em off at the knee-caps. As Scoutmaster, you confer with your SPL (or DC) to make sure the PLC’s pointed toward True North, and counsel with them if there’s drifting, leaving the “course correction” itself to your SPL. You guide recruiting and observe how they train themselves, and you keep ’em from doin’ stuff that’s not theirs to do. You’re their best friend, but not their “buddy,” their “uncle” but not their “Dutch uncle,” their teacher without being pedantic or lecturing, and the best example of Scout Spirit they’ve ever seen.

Too “conceptual”? Not enough “meat”? Well, David, that’s the whole idea. If I gave you a set of “rules” to follow, it just wouldn’t work! Did you know that, early in the last century, when there was a labor disagreement between British rail personnel (conductors, engineers, etc.) and railroad corporation management, the trainmen brought the British rail system to its knees by doing just one thing: They followed the rules EXACTLY.

So, catch the vision, my Friend, and then just do one thing—Every time you make a decision or you’re sitting at a crossroads just ask yourself this simple question: “What would the best Scoutmaster there is do right now?” And, when you know the answer, and I guarantee that you will, then just trust yourself and do it.

Happy Scouting!

Andy

Got a question? Send it to me atAskAndyBSA@yahoo.com-be sure to let me know your Scouting position, town, state, and council!

(Mid-February 2004 – Copyright © 2004 Andy McCommish)

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About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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