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Issue 46 – Mid-December 2004

Dear Andy,

It’s said, “Timing is everything.” I wish I’d read sooner your comprehensive response in the Mid-October 2004 “Ask Andy” series to the question, “Aren’t (Eagle) boards of review nothing more than rubber stamps?”


I just went through the most uncomfortable Star BOR I’ve ever experienced. It involved a Scout, our Troop’s Senior Patrol Leader, who had earlier this year received a formal vote of “no confidence,” presented by both our patrol leaders and Troop members to our Scoutmaster. But, even though this Scout ended up being dismissed from his position (properly, I trust—I wasn’t told the whole story), this Scout’s understanding of
Scout Spirit remained in question as he persisted in a more subdued form of bullying (consistent with “bullying” as identified in the BSA’s Youth Protection Guidelines)—the very leadership method that had so endeared him to our Troop members. In fact, he continues to “lead,” even to the point of dominating over our interim SPL.


As you’ve guessed by now, in spite of restrained objections by a few others on the BOR, our BOR chair “rubber-stamped” this Scout’s most recent rank advancement, offering the rationale that the Scout candidate had successfully “passed” his Scoutmaster Conference to the BOR and, thus, the BOR could not refute that the Scout had met the requirements for the rank under review. End of BOR. (BTW, I don’t think the Scoutmaster had simply passed on the problem, leaving it for the BOR to resolve—I’m reasonably sure he wanted this Scout simply to get past the “petition incident” and get on with Scouting.) Sadly, this particular Scout does have a long record of repeated, contrite repentance for his bullying, soon followed by regression right back to it again. So, how would you revise your original reply to Bruce Stohlman to cover all-but-the-Eagle BORs? Thanks, again for all you do in helping us keep true to the Scouting Program/Movement and the youth. (CB, Committee Member, NJ)

I’m really sorry to hear about that “petition,” and I’m wondering if at least some of the “bullying” this Scout now seems to be doing isn’t a bit of acting out the anger, frustration, and embarrassment he’s feeling as a result of his Troop and fellow leaders letting him down. You, see, he really didn’t let the Troop down; it’s the other way around. Baden-Powell put it this way, “The Scoutmaster’s (primary) job is to find the good in each boy, and bring it out in him.” Was that done? It sure doesn’t sound that way!

On the board of review, if the Scoutmaster properly held the conference with the Scout, and signed his name signifying completion of all requirements (including “Scout Spirit”) in the Scoutmaster’s conference, then a legitimate board of review is definitely in order, and the BOR members need to converse with this Scout without prejudice or premeditated intent to “sand-bag” him. Boards of review are about two things: reflecting back and, more importantly, looking forward. If this Scout was willing to put the ill-advised treatment he received behind him, then the board members should be willing to look toward a bright Scouting future for him, too.

Let’s talk a little about Scoutmaster’s conferences. These don’t just happen when there’s a rank advancement pending. A thorough Scoutmaster will confer with one or more Scouts (depending on the Troop’s size) at virtually every Troop meeting. This is how he stays in touch with the Scouts in his charge. In certain instances, also, holding a conference with the same Scout for several weeks in a row, or more, until the young man “gets it” is not inappropriate, either. After all, this is one of the most important jobs of the Scoutmaster.

Scoutmaster’s conferences aren’t just about Scout stuff. This is a chance to learn about the young man’s home life, school life, and beyond. That’s how, for instance, it might be learned that there’s something going on in this Scout’s life that’s causing him to push other Scouts around—maybe that’s how he’s being parented! Find out! Then, help him cope!

The single-most important job of the Scoutmaster is to provide leadership training—both formal and informal, “modeling,” conferences, and whatever other means he has available to him—to his Troop’s youth leaders. If he falters in this, he’s letting the whole Troop down! So, take a look at the next letter (below) and maybe the “Scout Law For Elected Leaders” can help.

Dear Andy,

I’m a Scoutmaster for a small Troop with a higher than average record over the past several decades for Eagle Scout advancements. But we now have a situation that I see brewing on the horizon… We have a Scout who’s been with the Troop for three years, and in that time has managed to advance to Star rank despite an almost complete lack of leadership qualities. This has resulted largely because this Scout’s father is very aggressive about “guiding” his son’s Scouting career, and becomes confrontational at anything he perceives as “holding up” his son’s advancement. The Scout is about to go up for his Life rank, and he’s just been elected Senior Patrol Leader. But he’s failing miserably at the SPL job. Our Troop’s Committee Chair and Advancement Chair, our District Commissioner and Unit Commissioner, our District Executive, and I have all talked to this gentleman over the past three years, about his interference in his son’s Scouting career, but h although he listens politely and seems to understand, he simply ignores us afterward, and keeps on getting in the way. At this point, I’m trying to reach out to the Scout and explain to him that he is not doing himself any good by continuing to allow his father to “front” for him, but I worry that if there’s no real change, this Scout is going to be coming to me in six months, expecting me to sign off on his Eagle rank, which, quite frankly, I’m loath at this point to do. (When I became an Eagle Scout, my Scoutmaster emphasized to me the lofty nature of the Eagle, and told me that it could not be “earned”, but only “awarded.”) Do you feel that my position is justified? It seems to me that your past columns suggest that you feel the exact opposite—that the Eagle badge is a reward to which the Scout is entitled if he’s completed all the requirements on paper. (Mick Wagner, Scoutmaster, Troop 898, Portland, OR)

I’m going to cover three subjects here: “knighting;” ranks, recognitions and awards; and youth leadership skills and the commitment that can make for success. Here we go…

Personally, I despise adult leaders who talk about rank advancements as if they, in their infinite wisdom, were “knighting” the Scout by “awarding” the rank, rather than recognizing the Scout’s achievements along the Scouting advancement trail, which is what they’re supposed to be doing. In other words, the idea that the Eagle (or any other) rank “isn’t earned—it’s ‘awarded'” is total nonsense to me and tantamount to an ego-trip by the unit leader. In point of cold fact, the concept of “awarding” diminishes the Scout, because it diminishes the hard work he’s done to EARN the rank!

“Reward” is not a part of my advancement vocabulary. Advancements, and the badges that accompany them are not “rewards.” They are symbols and recognitions of a specific set of accomplishments, and they are presented (not “awarded” in the sense that your own Scoutmaster used) at appropriate events (like Troop meetings and Courts of Honor). And, as long as we’re on this subject, the BSA has an “advancement plan” for adult volunteers as well as youth–Scouter’s Training awards, Scouter’s Keys, etc.—all of which have a specific set of requirements to be completed in order to earn the recognition.

“Reward” is not a part of my vocabulary when it comes to recognitions that “find the person,” such as the Heroism medals, District Award of Merit, Silver Beaver, and so on, either. In these cases, one cannot set out to “earn” them—they “find” the recipient when his or her peers wish to recognize one for exceptional contributions above and beyond the ordinary. In other words, these are given—and they’re given not for merely “doing one’s job,” but for exceptional performance.

Finally, let’s talk about your Scout. I’ve certainly seen interference with a Scout’s advancement—in both directions. I’ve seen misguided parents “push” their son by, for instance, withholding a driver’s license till Eagle is earned. I’ve seen Scoutmasters, in their ignorance, hold back a Scout who’s hot on the advancement trail because they think the boy’s “not mature enough” for the rank, disregarding the fact that the boy’s completing of the requirements demonstrates his level of maturity. Both of these approaches demonstrate the same thing: A total lack of understanding of what advancement in Scouting is all about!

So, how did this particular Scout come to be elected to the highest and most important youth leadership position in the Troop, with ostensibly nothing going for him except an aggressive father? And, if this Scout is “under-performing,” may I ask what guidance and leadership training he’s received from the Scoutmaster (it is, after all, the Scoutmaster’s primary job to teach and model leadership!)? Why is this Scout “failing miserably”? Is it perhaps because he hasn’t been counseled on what his responsibilities are, and how to go about them?

If counseling has indeed taken place, and the Scout simply doesn’t “get it,” then hold another election right away (with this Scout equally eligible to be elected SPL, right along with everyone else who wants to run for the position). If he’s elected again, then the job of the Scoutmaster is clear: TRAIN HIM! If he’s not, then he will not have served the required amount of time for the next rank sought. And, in this case, the Scoutmaster still has one job: TRAIN HIM. That’s what Scoutmasters are for!

If the Scout ultimately fulfills the tenure-and-leadership requirement for the rank sought, the Scoutmaster cannot arbitrarily deny the rank to the Scout. But, it’s the Scoutmaster’s job to see that the Scout performs his responsibilities to the very best of his personal abilities. Remember this: Scouts don’t “fail the Troop” so much as Troops fail the Scout!

And, while we’re still on the subject of requirements, let’s get the expression “requirements on paper” out of our vocabularies—requirements are just that, and when they’re completed, they’re completed. Period.

Finally, here’s something that might help crystallize what leadership’s all about for this young man, based on the Scout Law that we are anticipating he lives in his daily life…

THE SCOUT LAW FOR ELECTED LEADERS

As an elected leader in my Troop, I am…

TRUSTWORTHY: My Scoutmaster and the Patrol Leaders I serve can count on me to keep my commitments and to be there for them.

LOYAL: I respect my fellow Troop leaders and always support them.

HELPFUL: When a Patrol Leader has a problem, he knows he can come to me for support. I make a point of looking for new things to do, to make our Troop strong and fun.

FRIENDLY: I smile when I greet my fellow leaders and the adults who support my Troop. I am a friend to every Scout in the Troop, regardless of rank or position.

COURTEOUS: I add “Sir” when I speak with adults, and I add “please” to my requests of my fellow leaders–I never “bark orders.”

KIND: I look for the Scout who needs special help, and I give it wherever I can. When I can’t, I find someone who can.

OBEDIENT: I live the ideals of Scouting, which are the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.

CHEERFUL: No one ever sees me frown, complain, or shirk from my responsibilities. I attack every job and every problem with a smile and a “let’s do this thing” attitude.

THRIFTY: I use my natural energies to strengthen my Troop and serve our Patrol Leaders; I don’t waste my energy on things that don’t move us forward with adventure and fun.

BRAVE: I stand up for Scouting’s ideals. I try new things and new ways, even though they may intimidate me at first. I am always my own person.

CLEAN: I speak with clarity and always with a positive attitude. I never speak ill of a fellow Scout.

REVERENT: I believe that every Scout in my Troop has a special, unique, and God-given goodness in him, and I make it my responsibility to find it and bring it out.

Dear Andy,

If your readers are curious as to the requirements for the old Explorer ranks and ratings (as well as the requirements for the Sea Scout and Air Scout advancement), all this is documented at my website devoted to Senior Scouting history: www.geocities.com/Yosemite/Falls/8826. Also, regarding the “trained” strip, wearing the strip indicates that you’ve received basic training for your position. So, if you’ve been trained in one position and then move to another, you should remove the strip unless you’ve already received training for that new position. (Michael Brown)

Cool stuff! Thanks for writing!

Dear Andy,

I have three questions this time…

1 – Should a District accept an adult leader’s training record if he’s from a different state?

2 – Can a person receive a District Award of Merit more than once?

3 – Is a Scoutmaster a “life appointment”? Or is it more like a Cubmaster, who changes every three years?

(Percy Shackles, UC)

Training is training, no matter where received. Yes, that training should be accepted, otherwise we’re not a national organization—we’re just a bunch of islands that never touch!

If we’re talking about different districts and/or different councils, one can certainly receive the D-A-M more than once! In fact, I’ve personally known several dedicated Scouters for whom this has happened. In each case, their “new” district has recognized them for their contributions there. Now, if we’re talking about the same district, then, rather than another D-A-M, we probably have a person eligible to be nominated for the Silver Beaver, which is a council-level recognition.

The short answer on tenure is that NO adult Scouting position actually has a stipulated time limit, unless set by the council (for instance, many council-level positions, such as executive board membership, etc., may have set tenures). Cubmasters typically “transition” after three or four years because the Cubmaster’s son has moved on to Boy Scouts (some Cubmasters stay longer, of course, especially those who might have younger sons in the Pack), but that’s more a matter of practicality than policy. Den Leaders often transition in the same way as Cubmasters, for a similar reason. As for Scoutmasters, if we wait for their sons to “age out,” we’re looking at seven years, minimum! But that’s not necessarily the “rule.” There’s certainly no “life appointment,” and it’s up to mutual decisions of the individual, the Troop, and—ultimately—the sponsoring or chartered organization to make the tenure determination.

So, a Scoutmaster’s tenure can be for many years or for an hour, depending on the kind of job he’s doing. There’s certainly no “life appointment,” and, in fact, that’s often a very foolish thing to even consider, because that’s often the fastest way for a Troop to stop improving the quality of its program. (The joke among Scouters, when they hear about someone who’s been a Scoutmaster for, say, 20 years, goes like this: “Is that 20 years of experience, or one year of experience repeated 19 more times?!”) The tenure of a Scoutmaster is ultimately determined by the Troop’s sponsoring organization, because on of the main responsibilities of the sponsor is to provide quality adult leadership for the Troop they’re sponsoring. If the Scoutmaster is performing his responsibilities well, then the sponsor will want to retain him for at least several years (to provide continuity), but also encourage the identification, recruitment, and training of one or more Assistant Scoutmasters, who can step into the role at an appropriate time. If, conversely, the current Scoutmaster isn’t performing his responsibilities in accordance with the aims and goals of the BSA and/or the sponsor, then it’s the sponsor’s responsibility to replace him as quickly as possible. This is done by first identifying and recruiting a replacement, and then making the transition happen. The transition happens by either “moving” the present Scoutmaster to another position, where he can be effective, and installing a new Scoutmaster, OR by dismissing the present Scoutmaster and installing his replacement. The most efficient time to do this, if it must be done this way, is when the Troop’s charter comes up for renewal. That’s because a person who “refuses” to abandon his position can simply not be re-registered with the Troop, thereby effectively ending his “legal” association with it (a non-registered person cannot continue in his or her prior registered role, because they’re simply not members of the BSA any longer!). It’s important to remember that it’s the sponsor and the appointed committee that ultimately governs the Troop—not the Scoutmaster. The Scoutmaster reports to the committee/committee chair, and not the other way around.

Dear Andy,

Way back in “Ask Andy-15,” you stated that a Scout who had started a merit badge under the pre-2003 requirements must complete it using the latest requirements. This question has come up with me recently and though I couldn’t find anything in the Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures book that addresses it, I did find the following, which seems to disagree with you: www.usscouts.org/mb/intro.html. In contrast to rank advancements, which impose a specific deadline for using the old requirements, the rule for merit badges is stated: “If the requirements change while a Scout is working on the badge, he may continue to use the old requirements until he completes the work, or he may use the new requirements if he wishes. It is his choice, and his alone.” Also, there’s this site: www.meritbadge.com/art/mb-memo.gif, and it says, “If a Scout started on a merit badge and then the requirements change, he should continue working on those requirements that he originally started on.” This is from a letter signed by John Dalrymple, BSA National Advancement, dated 1997. Do you have a reference for your statement? (Christopher Craig)

First order of business: YOU’RE CORRECT and I was INCORRECT. My August 2003 column (#15) contained this question-and-answer:

“Dear Andy, If a Scout has started a Merit Badge under pre-2003 requirements, can he complete it using the “old” requirements?”

And I said, “Nope! Current requirements complete the badge. (Same for rank requirements, by the way.)”

That beeping sound you hear is the “I GOOFED” alarm goin’ off! Big time!

Terry Lawson is now the BSA’s national advancement director, and he just confirmed to me exactly what you and the U.S.Scouting Service Project have stated: Once a merit badge has been started, if the requirements change before the Scout’s completed it, he has the option of either using the requirements he started with (the “old” requirements, in effect) or using the current (“new”) requirements–it’s totally his personal choice. (Importantly, it’s NOT the counselor’s decision, or even the Scoutmaster’s—it’s 100% the Scout’s decision.) And, as long as we’re on this subject and setting the record straight, let’s address what constitutes “starting” a merit badge. Is it getting the blue card signed, or buying the pamphlet? Nope. It’s having met (at least once) with the counselor—not calling for an appointment, but actually meeting with him or her. Mr. Lawson was very clear on this point as well, so there you have it! Thanks for reading, and thanks even more for keeping me straight!

Dear Andy,

I’ve searched and searched for more clarification on one of the qualifications for a Troop to be a National Quality Unit, with no luck on this one: I have a Troop that had only one Scout attend summer camp this year. This Troop meets the rest of the requirements. My question is, would this Troop qualify as a National Quality Unit with having only one Scout attend summer camp? (Tim Gelvin, Snydertown, PA)

Well, one could say that, if this was, indeed, a “Troop outdoor activity,” it meets req. 3 of the NQUA report, even with only one Scout participating. But, it could also be said that one Scout does not a Troop make, especially since neither the Scoutmaster nor any other Troop leaders—youth or adult—or even patrols were present, and so it’s impossible for this to be construed as a “Troop outdoor activity.” Or, one could say that a single Scout cannot possibly occupy a “Troop campsite” and so must have attended on what’s often called a “provisional” basis, and—that being the case—he attended not as a member of his own home Troop but as a member of the camp’s “provisional Troop.” That’s one Aye and two Nay’s and so I think your best bet is to call your District Executive and find out how the council views this. On a totally personal level, I’d be darned if I’d award a NQU Award to a Troop that had just one Scout go to summer camp, when the whole purpose of an entire “Troop year” (September to the following summer) is to GO TO SUMMER CAMP TOGETHER! (As a Commissioner, if I grant this award, how the heck do I then encourage this Troop to get with the program?) Now maybe the Troop did a Philmont trek or went to the Somers Canoe Base or the Florida Sea Base. If so, I’d sure count that as qualifying! But if they actually did nothing, they get nothing, in my book!

Dear Andy,

We just started up a Troop last March, and we’ve had an ongoing fundraiser where people here in town can donate their empty bottle and cans for five-cent refunds. Our Scoutmaster had put a sign up on his property for this, and people were dropping off there. But, for reasons I won’t go into here, our Troop committee decided to remove our Scoutmaster. He and his son moved to another Troop in a nearby town, but he’s continued to promote our Troop’s fundraiser on his property. I’ve contacted the other Troop, to let them know this is our fundraiser, but he’s refused to remove the sign that names our Troop. The other Troop has told us they’d make sure he changes the sign, but it’s been a month now and the sign’s still unchanged. This is misleading our community, because people think the fundraiser is still for our Troop! What can we do about this? I’ve read a number of things in BSA literature about how troops aren’t supposed to interfere with another’s fundraisers. Are there any specific BSA rules that cover this? (Annie Dorr, Troop 77, Poughquag, NY)

This isn’t so much a matter of BSA rules as it’s a matter of basic decency and fair play, and this ex-Scoutmaster seems to be refusing to “get it.” Yes, the sign should certainly be changed, and I’d be hard pressed to think that this individual hasn’t figured that out. But it’s not for you to change… Leave it alone. Meanwhile, this is an interesting “lesson” for his new Troop to observe, and I’m hoping they’ll use it! So, what to do… Well, you could make a stink about it, and maybe even run an identical “competitive” fund-raiser, but how Scout-like would that be? Perhaps the best, and certainly most graceful, way to handle this is to first recognize that there are no patents on fundraisers and then to simply create a new fundraiser for your Troop, that you can promote in your community, and just ignore what this un-Scout-like individual is doing. It’s tough to give up a good idea, but I believe in your situation that that’s your best option—it’s certainly the most graceful and will result in the least rancor.

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-December 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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