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Issue 58 – September 2005

The Webelos Den Leader’s letter that appeared in my Mid-August column sparked considerable interest, and letters! Here are some very interesting additional points-of-view…
Dear Andy,

About that Webelos Den Leader, one more item: Where was their Unit Commissioner in all of this? There are so many avenues of help for this leader, I have to wonder if she knows who the Unit Commissioner is or not! (Michael Morris, CC, Pack 214, Greater Saint Louis Area Council, MO)

Yup, she had lots of resources for support, but, didn’t opt for any them until way down the road. Makes me wonder why.
Dear Andy,

The letter from that Webelos Den Leader is exactly the sort of thing that we miss in training, and should cover. I like your response, but feel that a little more information from that leader would have helped to clarify things. For instance, she states that there’s a man “registered” with the Pack as an Assistant Cubmaster, but the council itself has no record of this—in other words, he’s been working with the Pack for some time, but without being a registered adult volunteer with the BSA. A red flag rose in my mind at that point. Neither the Pack nor its Chartered Organization (if they know) should be comfortable with that situation. My experience tells me that there are probably more unregistered leaders working directly with boys in that unit! Who, then, is responsible when one of them commits a criminal (as opposed to an “against policy”) act? I believe that the Chartered Organization takes that hit! Apparently, the rest of the Pack’s leadership feels that the man involved is innocent, or is justified in his actions, and instead of trying to counsel him, they’ve “closed ranks” to protect him. This, too, is a red flag, and very troubling. Your advice that the boy move on to a Troop right now is good practical advice, since that Pack will never let this woman participate in any meaningful way again. However, it still leaves the Pack free to return to a way of operating that seems to run counter to what I know of BSA policies. I can only hope that that the Scout Executive, Commissioner, and the Chartered Organization are having some kind of dialogue about this situation. (Dennis Fairbairn, ADC, South Plains Council, TX)

I agree that there does need to be something in training on this, but it won’t help someone who is in such a desperate need for attention that he or she will even take harassment as a substitute for positive attention. This leader, I believe, left as much unsaid as she said. Did you notice, for instance, that she did have the option—which she didn’t exercise—of seeking a restraining order through her local police? I’m guessing we’ll never quite know exactly what went on here—she sure hasn’t written back, and I’m hoping that that means she’s resolved her issues (at least for herself) and moved on.

As for unregistered folks, I’ve personally seen units try to pull that sort of stuff—“Well, you don’t have to register, as long as you’re willing to do the job…” That’s a bunch of horsepucky, of course.


Dear Andy,

About that Webelos Den Leader faced with alcohol/abuse problems, where was the committee in this situation? Since we’re volunteers in “Boy” Scouts, not “man” or “woman” or “adult” Scouts, there’s something fundamentally wrong when leaders (and their sons) quit or leave because of other adults. There should be a huge red flag waving in the face of every committee member—committees need to step forward and expect (demand!) positive, supportive, mentoring behavior from every adult, whether registered leader or not. For the Pack—and I mean the entire Pack, not just the individuals involved—to allow such behavior is absolutely unacceptable! Your advice about handling the problem immediately was right on. But we don’t do Scouting alone, or in a vacuum. Total support needs to come from the Pack Committee or the whole system breaks down. I think there should be some serious hand-slapping and “Don’t do that again, ever!” at the Pack’s next committee meeting. (Dave Hudson, ADC, Clinton Valley Council, MI)

You’re right on, when it comes to the committee, if not the other parents. But I’m still concerned about why this leader tolerated such behavior for so long, because kids take “snapshots” of us adults—in and out of Scouting—all the time, which leaves at question what sort of takeaway these young boys’ had when they continued to observe this woman tolerating harassment from another adult.
Dear Andy,

My comments here aren’t about that Webelos Den Leader’s harassment situation, even though they’re sparked by her letter to you, and your response… You recommend that she focus on her daughter and Girl Scouts while Dad essentially joins Boy Scouts with their son. Too often, I think, a Troop focuses on gender and not on capabilities or interests. My wife, who is an avid outdoorswoman, was essentially shown her walking papers when my son joined his Troop: “No moms on campouts.” She did remained active as a Merit Badge Counselor, and as such showed herself to be a fine teacher for Scouts, but that’s as far as she could go with this Troop. She would have made a terrific ASM or even SM, but it was too hard to push against Troop tradition. The Troop eventually turned itself around on the issue, but I suspect this problem persists in a lot of Troops. I suppose we could have “shopped around” for a more congenial Troop at that time, but the ultimate choice was up to my son, and he followed his Den. There’s a “weaning” problem as a boy moves from his Cub Scout Pack into a Troop—the parents are supposed to step back and let the boys have more control, and make their own mistakes. Traditionally we might see this as a “mom” problem—the Mom can’t let go and wants to hold her son’s hand—but in my own experience, I see it pretty often with dads, too. It manifests itself in a breakdown of the Patrol Method and what’s supposed to be a boy-led Troop becomes dad-led. While this sort of Troop might keep itself going as an “Eagle factory,” it’s not giving the boys all Scouting has to offer. About the only gender-linked thing I see is a statistical one—more fathers might be interested in camping and Scoutcraft than mothers—but that’s just a stereotype we all have to get past, especially when it can be hard to find a core of good volunteers. (Rick Smith, ADC, Northern Star Council, MN)

First off, if you read carefully, you’ll notice that my response to that Webelos Den Leader wasn’t so much about harassment as it was about modeling. It was also about boundaries and restraint. My suggestion that she refrain from proceeding with her son into Boy Scouting was based in part on what I sensed may have been a less-than-healthy mother-son relationship (the main clues were her silence regarding both her husband and daughter and her desire to keep her son and his peers in blue uniforms way, way beyond the Cub Scout program’s intentions). My suggestions that she move into training and Girl Scouting and that her husband now move forward with their son definitely had to do with gender, but maybe not the way you may have thought. Boy Scouting, after all, isn’t about camping and hiking and outdoor skills. These are merely tools. Boy Scouting is about male role-modeling. Boy Scouting is intended to give boys and young men personal development and leadership opportunities under the guidance (not leadership—guidance) of one or more quality male role models. Yes, women can be excellent backpackers, organizers, leaders, etc., etc., but the one thing they will find it impossible to be is a male role model. That aspect was decided by nature before they were even born. If anyone—man or woman—thinks they’re “qualified” to be a Scoutmaster because they know how to camp and hike, this simply tells me that they don’t “get it”—They haven’t figured out what Scouting’s really all about!

That said, I’ll tell you that I’m disappointed with any Troop that has a “no moms” camping rule, especially since no adults should be hiking/camping side-by-side with the Scouts, anyway! In my own Troop, when I was a Scoutmaster (the Troop was a National Quality and National Camping Award Troop, by the way), moms could definitely come along, so long as they understood that (a) a same-gender buddy system for adults would be in force at all times, (b) accommodations specifically for women may or may not exist, and (c) just like the dads, they would not be interfacing with the Scouts themselves at any time during the outing itself (i.e., this was Boy Scout camping; not “family camping”). The women who came along (who were all absolutely willing to follow these guidelines without argument, by the way) enjoyed themselves and were a delightful addition to the adult company.

Finally, I’m going to tell you that you made absolutely the right Troop decision—You stepped back while your son chose his Troop! There’s nothing you could have done that’s more important than that! Besides, you and your family still have opportunities to go camping as a family, and this will in no way interfere with what I’m hoping will be a positive Boy Scouting experience for your son!

Now, moving on…

Dear Andy,

Is there a paintballing merit badge? (E.B.)

Not only is there no such merit badge, there’s absolutely no paintballing permitted as a Scout activity! Paintballing is tantamount to shooting and killing people—and as such has no place in Scouting. Never did. Never will.

Hi Andy,

Many merit badges begin with the same requirements, especially those that are water-related (they ask, as a first requirement, that the Fist Class swim test be met), but others, too. For instance, “Show that you know first aid for injuries or illnesses that could occur…including hypothermia, heatstroke, heat exhaustion, dehydration, sunburn, insect stings, tick bites, blisters, and hyperventilation.” Or, “Demonstrate proper technique for performing CPR using a training device approved by your counselor.” My question is, should you require a Scout to repeat these for every merit badge? What if you’re counseling on multiple badges, such as both Motor-boating and Waterskiing? If the Scout already has First Aid and Swimming merit badges, shouldn’t requirements like those I mentioned be considered completed? Or do I have to make the Scout repeat them? For the CPR requirement, it seems like every Troop would need to go purchase a CPR dummy? (Steve Rudkin, Advancement Chair, Troop 441, Austin, Texas)

Let’s try to keep this simple…

If a water-related Merit Badge requires a swimmers test, and the Scout is either First Class rank (he can show you his card) or he’s completed First Class requirement 9b (ask him to show the initials for that in his Handbook), or earned Swimming Merit Badge (he can show you his card), then the “prerequisite”-type requirement for the new Merit Badge has already been completed and does not need repeating. The same principle would apply to First Aid “prerequisite”-type requirements—They’ve already been done. As for CPR, the “device approved by your counselor” can be a pillow with a face drawn on it, for gosh sakes! Absolutely no need to go out and buy a Recussi-Annie!

Steve writes back:

That was my thinking as well, but the response from our District Advancement Chair was a little different: He felt that reviewing the First Aid would be a good idea, and, on the swimming stuff, if a Scout’s done a swim test (required for all BSA camps, Jamborees, etc.) within that season, then we’ll call it good, otherwise we’d like them to repeat the test. On the CPR thing, I actually take a little exception to what you said—If a Scout’s done a CPR course in the last year, then I’ll call that good, otherwise I don’t think a pillow is good enough (You can’t tilt the head back or look for obstructions). Well, I guess you could do it, but CPR is so important that I think the more practice, the better. Thanks for the advice though, you really cleared up a lot for me. (Steve Rudkin)

We’re pretty close to being on the same page here… As a counselor myself, I’d sure ask the Scout a little bit about First Aid, and I’d sure ask him to hop in the water and swim some strokes, but I’d do that without any attempt to “re-test” him—I’d really be looking for how comfortable he is. As for CPR, even if he’s carrying an unexpired card, I’d ask for a demonstration. But, remember, this is a “demonstration”—as if he were teaching it. Read it again: The requirement doesn’t say, “perform CPR”. So, as long as the Scout can describes to me and show me how to raise the chin, etc., I’m a happy camper!

Dear Andy,

I’m a registered adult leader—an Assistant Scoutmaster–for a Troop my son’s in, and I have some questions about Troop operations, particularly in how I can change the tide.

Taking training, I learned the value of running a Troop in the format of the Patrol Method—what a wonderful way to watch young men grow and adapt to the ever-changing and fast-paced world of today, a world that these young men will no doubt inherit, in the grand scheme of things! But, if this Troop has about three dozen registered Scouts, why would we have no Patrols? Why would we have one Senior Patrol Leader, who is responsible for overseeing all three dozen Scouts? Without Patrols, there are no Patrol yells, or flags, or anything else, there are no Patrol activities in the Troop meetings, and there are no ASMs assigned to Patrols, even though we have
at least 15 registered adults, of which roughly half participate on a regular basis. I’ve never seen attendance taken, never seen a Patrol activity to teach skills at a meeting. I’ve never witnessed anything but a “corporate–type” meeting, where the Scouts look at us adults as if we’re the head of IBM or something! Gee whiz! All we need to do, in my opinion, is wear a business suit and bring a briefcase, and then we’ll really have them convinced! (Sorry for getting a little sarcastic, but, frankly, I think it’s wrong and inadequate and not fair to these young men.) So, how do I begin to change a culture of “let’s raise money to have a good time,” and we, the adults, will decide for you what you’ll be doing, and when? Or was I taught wrong in leader-specific training? Is it “just too hard” (as I’ve been told) to run a Troop using the Patrol Method as defined by Baden-Powell, Scouting’s founder? Help Andy! (Concerned Parent/Leader, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

How does one change the culture of a Troop—or any group or organization—from the inside? Truth is, one doesn’t. But, let’s take first things first…

It doesn’t even take “training” to understand how a Troop is supposed to function. All it takes is a little reading of the Boy Scout Handbook—You know… that’s the book these boys are reading. Here are a few of the things this book says about Scouting (in just the first couple-dozen pages, too!)…

“Adventure, learning, challenge, responsibility—the promise of Scouting is all this and more…

“Patrols are the building blocks of Scouting… Your Patrol is a team of 6 to 8 boys who make things happen…

“Patrols are such an important part of Scouting that a part of every Troop meeting (is) set aside for each Patrol to meet by itself…

“Your Patrol will elect one of its members…as Patrol leader…

“Your Patrol will go hiking and camping with other Patrols in the Troop…

“Together, all Patrols make up a Troop…

“Senior Patrol Leader. The top boy leader of a Troop is elected BY ALL THE SCOUTS…

“The activities of your Troop are planned by a PATROL LEADERS COUNCIL made up of your Patrol leaders, senior Patrol leader…

“When you go to a Troop meeting, you can expect it to be packed with activities…Patrol demonstrations and contests between Patrols…songs, games, and ceremonies…

“On most Troop outings you will travel and camp with your Patrol…”

Any Troop that isn’t following what the Handbook has promised is failing both the Scouting movement and the youth in its charge. Why does this happen? In a few cases, because the adult volunteers associated with the Troop think this stuff is merely “guidelines.” Sometimes, it’s because the adults think they’ve found some sort of “better” way to run a Scout Troop. But the most frequent reason—whether they’ve read the Handbook or taken specific training or not—is because they’re jerks.

You already know that the fundamental “unit” of Boy Scouting isn’t the Troop (a Troop is merely the “holding tank”) it’s the PATROL. This was established as a new and powerful educational concept by Baden-Powell nearly 100 years ago, and nothing has ever proved superior to it, as a training ground for boys and young men. Period. In fact, a Troop that’s run on The Patrol Method is the easiest Troop to manage! But as for the present adult leaders in your Troop, they don’t “get it” and they never will. Worse, if they run true to form, they’re not about to allow logic, cajoling, teaching, training, or reading to infect their idiotic outlooks.

So what to do… Here are your options:

Become Committee Chair and, from that position, instruct the Scoutmaster as to what you want changed in the Troop operations and program. If he refuses, replace him (be sure to have a replacement waiting in the wings before you have your conversation with the present Scoutmaster).

Become Scoutmaster yourself, and tell the Committee and Chair that you’re changing the Troop’s operation and program – They can’t deny you very well if your changes bring the Troop closer to what the Troop is supposed to be delivering!

Or, a somewhat less in-your-face option is to strike up quiet and very specific conversations with the other parents you’ve met and see if they, like you, think something’s very, very wrong with your present Troop. If you find that you have allies, go to your Commissioner (another volunteer, who provides overall unit service) and tell him or her that a substantial portion of the Troop wants to either fix this Troop or, if that won’t happen, then to spin off and start a new Troop that’s actually based on what Scouting’s supposed to be.

But, if you find you’re pretty much alone, and haven’t the time, right now, to take on major responsibilities like Chair or SM, then in order for Scouting to deliver the kind of program it’s supposed to be delivering for your son, you’ll need to find another Troop—one where they “get it.” You and your son aren’t married to your present Troop—you both “volunteer” for it every meeting you go to.

None of these options will be a slam-dunk. But they may be the only ways your son and maybe his friends, too, will ultimately receive the true promise of Scouting.

Dear Andy,

We’d like to send a letter to the Cubmasters or Scoutmasters and Committee Chairs in our district’s units, introducing new commissioners to them before these commissioners make their initial contact. Do you know of any such letter being used by other areas, or being available online? (Bob Gordon, ADC, Trailblazer District, Longhorn Council, Fort Worth, TX)

A letter of introduction is terrific, and don’t worry about form or format… The object of the letter is to say, “Hi! We on the Unit Service Team in your District have great news! Your (Pack/Troop) will be serviced directly in the coming Scouting year by (name), who’s been serving Scouting up to now as…”

More important than a letter, however, is a personal introduction. Be sure whoever does know the unit brings the new commissioner to a meeting and personally introduces him or her to the folks there. This goes a long way toward making the transition a smooth and amiable one. And, if the unit hasn’t had a commissioner before, then it’s the District Commissioner’s or ADC’s job to buddy up for the first meeting and make the introductions!

Dear Andy,

We have a new Troop in our area that’s established itself as a “Christian Home Schooling” Troop, with very stringent requirements for joining—they say a boy has to be of Christian faith and actively being home-schooled. However, they have chosen not to publish any bylaws about this—they just do it. What’s the BSA’s policy on a unit having bylaws? Can this Troop continue to impose its own joining requirements without having actual bylaws? (Rich Bails, Great Plains Council TX)

The answer to your question is NO. NO SCOUTING UNIT CAN DISCRIMINATE OR HAVE JOINING REQUIREMENTS EXCEEDING THOSE OF THE BSA ITSELF. PERIOD.

To see this in writing, go to the BSA’s New Unit Application, page 2:

Policy of Nondiscrimination. Membership in the Boy Scouts of America is open to all boys and young adults who meet the joining requirements…Membership in Scouting (is) open to all youth without regard to race or ethnic background…

What are the “joining requirements” for a Boy Scout Troop? Same page, same document:

…a boy…under the age of 18, has completed the fifth grade and is at least 10 years old, or has earned the (Cub Scouting) Arrow of Light Award and is at least 10 years old, or is 11 or older.

Further, no so-called “unit bylaws” are needed for joining or any other gosh-darned reason, because such bylaws cannot conflict with BSA National policies, procedures, or bylaws, which are spelled out in a whole host of BSA-published literature, including every bit of training literature.

Finally, if the unit in question persists with its discriminatory practices, this must be brought to the attention of the Scout Executive of the council immediately, because it is subject to immediate corrective action, up to and including revoking of the unit charter. And, don’t for one minute think these renegades don’t know it!

Keep on keepin’ on!

Andy

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

(September 2005 – Copyright © 2005 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.

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