In my Mid-December column, Dave Sutter was looking for movies that fit requirement 5 of the Citizenship in the Community merit badge. I came up with “Inherit The Wind,” “Norma Rae,” “Erin Brockovich,” “A Civil Action,” and (my personal favorite) “Pay It Forward,” and asked YOU for YOUR thoughts. Here’s what a couple of readers had to say…
I just had a brainstorm on the movies question. There’s a documentary out called “Paper Clips,” about how kids in Tennessee with a school project did something pretty wonderful to remember the victims of the holocaust. It’s available at Blockbuster and probably from NetFlix, too. Information about the movie, and the trailer, are available for viewing at www.miramax.com/paperclips/ . This is probably one of the best choices. Take a look, and see what you think. (M.B., National Capitol Area Council, VA))
Although it’s rated PG-13 (for “intense boxing violence and some language”), the movie, “Cinderella Man,” absolutely fits what that merit badge is looking for – a story about someone who does something that makes a difference in the community! I couldn’t recommend it more highly. The characterizations and acting are flawless, direction brilliant, and—best of all—it’s all true! (Hal Daume, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)
Now, let’s wrap up the year with some interesting questions…
I’ve been asked to present to an Eagle Scout his first Eagle Palm. I like to make such award presentations more ceremonial. I’d like to provide a little background, historical insight, and so on, as well as the requirements for the Palm, but so far I’ve found very little on the origin and history of Eagle Palms. Can you direct me to a resource or provide me with some background on this subject? (Todd Moreland, ASM, Los Angeles Area Council, BSA)
Except for knowing that Eagle Palms were first introduced by the BSA in 1927, I don’t have any further information on their history, so I reached out to the USSSP’s webmaster, and here’s what he has to add on this subject…
Three Palms beyond the Eagle rank were first authorized in 1927, as Andy’s noted. The idea of additional awards beyond Eagle likely took its inspiration from the military custom of adding extra devices to a medal when it was earned more than once or when the wearer did some further distinguished act meriting additional recognition. In the case of Eagle Palms, bronze signifies five merit badges beyond those required for Eagle, gold signifies ten, and silver signifies fifteen. While most people associate “gold” with the most important, or highest level, silver is considered more important in Scouting. This also follows the military custom that silver designates the higher rank. In the Army, for example, the oak leaf of a Major is gold while that of a Lieutenant Colonel (the next highest rank) is silver. In the Navy, the oak leaf of a Lieutenant Commander is gold while that of a full Commander is silver. The idea of wearing leaves for military rank dates back to European military officers wearing oak leaves in their headgear following a battle. (Michael F. Bowman, Vice President-Web Development, U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.)
My son asked his Pack’s Cubmaster (me) if he had won any awards when he was in Cub Scouts himself, Lo those many years ago. I can vaguely recall that I was in Webelos for two years in the 1970s, and spent a short time (less than a year) in the Boy Scouts. I think I may have earned my Arrow of Light, but I’m not sure—we didn’t have any kind of crossover ceremony or really even have many Pack meetings back then. If I wanted to find out what my old advancement record shows (if it even exists anywhere), where would that be? (James G. Cunningham, CM, Pack 618, Durant, OK, Texoma Valley District-Circle 10 Council)
You can call your council service center and ask whether their records from 30 some years ago have been retained, but even if they say yes, it’s actually unlikely that they have Cub Scout records. But, ask anyway. Or maybe your mother still has your old Cub Scout (or Webelos Scout) shirt, and maybe the badge is on it (Moms do save this sort of stuff you know!). Worth a try. But, all in all, I think your best bet will be to track down your original Den Leader and ask him or her if you did or not—if you can recall the name. Assuming you’re successful, one way or the other, the “square knot” for the Arrow of Light rank is available for purchase at your local Scout Shop and if this is what’s really behind your question, then go buy it and sew it on your uniform—This is “Scout’s Honor,” after all, and if you believe you earned it, then that’s good enough for me!
Is a Scoutmaster appointed or elected, and by whom? (Mark Corson)
Per BSA guidelines, the process begins with the chartered organization (CO) and the chartered organization representative (COR). The COR is typically a member of the chartered organization (e.g., if the CO is a church or synagogue then the COR might be the pastor but could also be a member of the congregation or parish; if the CO is a school, the COR might be a member of the PTA or PTO). The COR is responsible for securing a chairman for the troop committee (CM) and together these two secure the balance of the committee members who will support the troop. The CO itself approves all adult volunteers (there’s a line on the adult volunteer leader application for the COR’s signature). The Scoutmaster (SM) of the troop is, to quote the BSA, “appointed by the head of the chartered organization” (which usually means the COR, with the approval of the troop committee). The SM position is, therefore, not an “elected” position; it is an appointed position. To put it another way, the SM serves at the pleasure of the CO/COR/CM and troop committee. This can be found throughout all BSA training materials, troop committee guidebooks and Scoutmaster Handbooks.
How long can or should a Boy Scout wear the Den Chief cord after he stops being a Den Chief? Is there a time limit? You see, we’re real good about making sure the position patches come off when a Scout no longer holds a position, but in the Den Chief cord case, no one knew the answer. The Scout’s father asked our Scoutmaster if his son could wear the cord, since his son performed Den Chief duties two years ago; however our Scoutmaster wasn’t sure how to answer the question, since having Den Chiefs in the Troop wasn’t a big deal until a couple of newer leaders (one of them was me) suggested that we get our Troop more in line with the material that’s printed in all of the Scout leader training books we received when we attended training. Anyway, since our Scoutmaster didn’t say “No,” the father and his Scout son took that as a “Yes-It’s OK.” So now this Scout wears the cord and hangs out with our current Den Chiefs (the ones that actually perform Den Chief duties each week), and it’s hard for our Scouts, parents and visitors to determine who’s an active Den Chief and who isn’t. I’m sure the Scout is proud of serving as a Den Chief, but I also believe he should keep the cord in a drawer or box with all the other Scout items he’s earned or plans to include/display in a Scout shadowbox some day. Any thoughts on this? (Todd Biggs)
Sure there’s a time limit for removing the Den Chief cord after a Scout stops being a Den Chief. It’s the time it takes to remove it: About ten seconds, I’d reckon.
Same with all leadership positions. As you pointed out, when a Scout’s no longer PL, APL, SPL, ASPL, Librarian, or whatever, the badge comes off. Anything else leads to confusion and misunderstanding. Same with adult positions, too. Interesting that it was the father who approached your Scoutmaster and not the Scout…but, heck, that happens, and I’m sure no one had any “evil intention” of any kind. But, it also has the effect of diminishing the active work of the present Den Chiefs! Sounds like the Scoutmaster has two jobs here. First, he does need to have another conversation, not with the Scout, but with that Dad, to set him straight. At the same time, the Scoutmaster might check out the requirements for the Den Chief Service Award, because it might turn out that the Scout has already qualified for it and so gets to wear a permanent, special cord. That’s a win-win in my book! The BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS book describes how a Scout earns this.
Another columnist recently wrote, to add some further light on Den Chiefs and DC Cords. Here’s what Michael Brown had to say…
Good answer on the question regarding a “Den Chief Knot.” However, I would also point out that the Den Chief Handbook (#33211B) also has the requirements for the Den Chief Award (if this Scout was a DC, one hopes he has a copy of it). Also, it should be pointed out that, if earned, a Scout may continue to wear the Den Chief Award cord even after he is no longer a Den Chief (at which point, he would stop wearing his regular DC cord). I should also point out that Venturers, both male and female, may serve as Den Chiefs and earn this award (some of the Cub Scout literature has been updated to indicate this, but others haven’t been). On the question of gender, the answer is that male and female Venturers may be Den Chiefs. (Michael Brown)
What are your thoughts on having a Boy Scout (Star rank) as the Den Chief for his younger brother’s Den? Is there any policy about allowing it or not allowing it for rank advancement leadership credit, if his parent is the Den Leader? (Beth Atkinson, DL, Atlanta, GA)
First, some “rules” (BSA’s; not mine): There is no policy that prohibits a Scout from being a Den Chief for a younger brother’s den and there’s no policy that prohibits a Scout from being a Den Chief for a Den led by his own parent. Being an good Den Chief is all about DOING THE JOB.
Now, for my personal thoughts… I think it’s absolutely wonderful that two boys and a parent can all be part of Scouting together (at least part-time, in Den and Pack meetings) and I would absolutely encourage this sort of thing. It’s, of course, very convenient, and there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s also family-bonding, and there’s everything right with that! Does this “count” toward the leadership requirement for rank advancement? It darned well BETTER count! And anyone who tries to tell you (or your son) otherwise is full of beans!
A while ago, you tackled a question about an Order of the Arrow Lodge with “stuck in the box” thinking, and you pointed to the “Supreme Chief of the Fire” (the Council’s Scout Executive) as the final arbiter of decisions in the Lodge. This is true. But, I can think of at least three ways to influence this Lodge without waiting for retirement or replacement (or demise) of the SE or Lodge Adviser. First, make the effort to influence the up-and-coming Lodge leaders—those involved Arrowmen who are on a track to join the Lodge Executive Committee (the Lodge’s governing body) and possibly become Lodge Chief. Yes, this can take years of gentle pushing, but it can produce results. Occasionally it only takes one “generation” of youth leaders and things change (my own lodge went from no chapters to chapters after a single trip to NOAC and having the youth leaders encounter lodges with functioning chapters!). Second, lobby the remotest Districts’ Key 3s to pass the same comments to the Scout Exec.—The same message repeated from several voices may change attitudes! Third, lobby the real boss of the Council! The Lodge is a part of the Council program, and that program is driven by the Council Board, and the Board and the Council President have influence over the Scout Executive. (Peter Sanders, ASM, Pine Island, MN)
Thanks for your excellent ideas about lodge/chapter issues and what might be done to effect some positive movement!
Now here’s my own question: In that same column, you talk about the Explorer Silver Award. You mention the “Circle V” program and a loss of meaning of the Silver award. What was the “Circle V” program? How do you rate the circa 1950 Explorer Silver Award to the current Venturing Silver Award? (Peter Sanders, ASM, Pine Island, MN)
Until 1959, the longstanding “green uniform” Explorer program—that had the round red emblem with the BSA universal emblem, compass, anchor, and wings (aka CAW)—had four ranks: Apprentice, Bronze Award, Gold Award, and Silver Award. To advance beyond Apprentice, the Explorer (1) fulfilled a leadership requirement, (2) a social development requirement, and (3) a citizenship requirement, plus he earned “Ratings.” These Ratings (there were nine of them in total) worked like Boy Scout Merit Badges except that they were four or five times the magnitude or difficulty of any Merit Badge, and each required that the Explorer participate in (a) an outdoor activity, (b) a social activity, and (c) a service activity (all with his Explorer Post or Troop Crew). The Bronze rank required two ratings, and then Gold and Silver each required one more, for a minimum number of four (plus repeating the activities a, b, and c each time) to reach the top rank. These requirements for Explorer advancement were so rigorous and demanding that an Eagle Scout who also earned the Silver Award was commonly referred to, at that time, as a “Double-Eagle.”
But, by 1959, all of this had passed into history with the massive reformulation of the Explorer program (commonly called the “Circle V” program). Now, we had presidents instead of senior crew leaders, committee chairmen instead of crew leaders, and so forth. The green uniforms also went the way of the dinosaur, replaced by grey trousers and blue blazers. The longstanding Compass-Anchor-Wings emblem likewise disappeared, to be replaced by a four-ringed (gold-blue-white-red) circle shot through by a gold-colored pointy thing, with the BSA universal emblem in the center—thus “Circle V.” And, saddest (to me) of all, any sort of individual advancement opportunities disappeared entirely, replaced by… nothing.
What do I think of today’s Silver Award? I like it! And, I like the others—Bronze, Gold, Quest, and Ranger—as well! They provide the opportunity for those youth who are inclined to do so to grow and test themselves against a general standard, and “climb a mountain,” if you will.
What do I think of today’s Silver Award relative to the “old” one? Well, it looks like the only parallel is in the name itself. Other than this, there’s almost nothing in common between the two. This isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing—It’s just different. But, it truth be told, I would have preferred a current name other than “Silver Award,” because one might naturally assume that significant similarities are present, when they’re really not. How “tough” was the original Silver Award? Take a look at today’s Ranger Award, or the unchanged Quartermaster Award for Sea Scouts, and you’ll get a pretty good idea.
I’m new to reading your advice column and have two related questions that our Troop has been discussing at length, but hasn’t reached a good, workable, conclusion on. Here it is…
Boy Scout rank requirements stress Scout Spirit and Activity to be completed for advancement. What, if any, quantitative measures can be used to determine whether these requirements are met? Beginning with the easier of the two, what do you consider to be an “active” Scout? In the past we used a measure of attending 50% of the Troop functions to be considered an “active” Scout. But, as our Scouts are getting older, and commensurately busier with jobs, school, sports etc, this requirement doesn’t work as well. For instance, we have Scouts who have completed all the other requirements for Eagle, but can’t make it to Troop meetings because of their employment obligations (they do attend campouts or service projects when possible, but cannot make the meetings), thus they fail this requirement. In parallel with this, I also realize that “demonstrating leadership” is difficult if a Scout is not a “visible” leader within the Troop. For example, we had a Scout who had not attended a Troop meeting in four months, but was otherwise eligible for an Eagle rank Board of Review. He was granted his Board of Review and during it he spoke of his job—he was working in a local theater, where he began as a ticket taker/popcorn seller, and has now been given the responsibility of stage setup responsible for a crew of other high schoolers, and he’s been made a general assistant, due to his work ethic and leadership capabilities. Do we refuse this Scout his Eagle because he is can’t hold his job and attend Troop meetings? One idea we came up with was to handle situations like this on a case-by-case basis; however, one of our adult leaders (who is also a Scout’s father) become very concerned when we told him that his son was not eligible for Eagle rank advancement because this Scout wasn’t attending meetings and had offered no good reason for his inactivity. So, whose call, whose determination, or what resources are available to support the Scoutmaster’s decision in situations like this? (In this case, we backed down and the Scout did receive his Eagle, but many of the adult leaders in the Troop requested NOT to sit on this young man’s Board of Review.) I’d like to prevent this from recurring in the future. The second gray area is the approval of the “Scout Spirit” requirement. Again, this is not a concept that can be defined with numbers; however, it’s very clear when watching and interacting with the Scout. Am I correct in understanding that this determination is made by the Scoutmaster? Do you have any suggestions regarding what the Scoutmaster can use as criteria for this? What recourse does the Board of Review have if, during the review, we don’t agree that the Scout shows Scout Spirit, even though this has been signed off by the Scoutmaster? I’d appreciate any suggestions you can offer. I’m planning on bringing these up in Roundtable also, but would like some preliminary input. (Name Withheld)
Not only do your Troop’s “rules” concern me, but your descriptions of situations concern me even more.
Statements like “they do attend campouts or service projects when possible, but cannot make the meetings, thus they fail this requirement” give me the horrors! How can you say in one breath that you have a Scout who is attending as many Troop events as he’s able, and in the very next breath tell me you’ve “failed” him. He’s been failed all right—the Troop’s leaders have failed to grasp the meaning of Scouting, failed to understand the meaning of Scout Spirit, and failed to understand the dynamics of teenage young men. This Troop should be absolutely ashamed of its treatment of these young men, who choose every week to be Scouts.
Next, there’s the Scout who is “working in a local theater, where he began as a ticket taker/popcorn seller, and has now been given the responsibility of stage set up over a crew of other high school workers, and general assistant due to his work ethic and leadership capabilities,” and how the Board of Review allowed this to somehow qualify for (or substitute for) one of the specified leadership positions in a Troop. What were these people thinking? Had they not read the requirements? And who approved the decision to allow this substitution—a substitution that is absolutely inappropriate?
Third, what is this stuff about adults associated with the Troop opting out of that particular Board of Review so that they didn’t have to make a decision? Spine transplants might help.
Now, let’s begin again, starting with that famous conundrum: “What does ‘active’ mean?” The BSA’s definition of “active” is this: active. There’s nothing further in writing, anywhere (and there’s a reason for that, which I’ll get to in a moment). Troops, thinking this is some kind of “problem” to be “solved,” sometimes think they’re doing the right thing by creating some sort of “rule,” such as “attend XX% of outings/meetings/ etc.” Invariably, these fail—for two reasons. First, a “one-size-fits-all” rule just doesn’t work (in this regard, you’re right on the money when you revised your thinking to take into account individual situations). Second, a Troop-level rule such as this imposes a further requirement on a BSA standard requirement, which makes it summarily illegal (check the ADVANCEMENT COMMITTEE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES book if you doubt me on this point).
Here’s the deal: It’s against BSA policy and ultimately frustratingly fruitless for a Troop to try to create a set of rules for the “be active…” rank requirement. More often than not—as you’ve discovered—such rules have to be bypassed again and again because each Scout’s situation is going to be unique.
To show you what I mean, let’s say that a Troop has a rule of 50% attendance at any combination of Troop meetings, outings and campouts. Seems pretty lenient, right? Now let’s put a Scout in the hospital for four of the six months between Star and Life ranks, and let’s also say that he attended 100% of all Troop meetings and activities before he was hospitalized. No way can he meet the 50% rule! But also no way would you to deny him the rank advancement, if he has everything else done. Why? Because (remember the Cub Scout Motto —It still applies!) he did his best. So to recognize his very best efforts, which falls short of that arbitrary rule you made up, you ignore that rule in favor of Scout effort and Scout Spirit—and you know you’ve done the right thing!
Or, how about a Scout who, because he was selected for your state’s annual “Scouting Report to the Governor,” missed the one Troop activity that would have put him over 50% and he comes in at 49%. What would you do? You’ll advance him to the next rank, of course!
Try this one: A Scout who’s the MVP of his high school basketball team, and they’re in the division finals, playing every other night, for weeks. Are you really going to “fail” him? Of course not! You know you’d be looking at a council-level appeal process if you did, and you know that that appeal would not only stand up but would identify your Troop as one that doesn’t “get it.”
So we can agree on this: “rules” don’t work. That’s why some pretty wise folks in the BSA’s national office, many years ago, didn’t try to assign numbers or percentages to this—They correctly realized that no set of rules would work. Honor their wisdom. Don’t try to “fix” what really isn’t broken at all!
As a former Scoutmaster and as a Commissioner who has helped other Troops through this dilemma over many years, I can offer these further insights…
Every Scout and his situation will be unique in one way or another. The Scout who misses campouts because he’s working to support his family or earn money for college or even to buy a bike or car can hardly be faulted, any more than we can fault the Scout who misses campouts because he’s a member of his school’s or community’s sports team, orchestra, glee or math club. Other Scouts might be babysitting their younger siblings while their parents try to hold down two jobs and work weekends. The same applies to Troop meetings. The Scout who must attend CCD or confirmation or Bar Mitzvah instructions that meet on the same night as the Troop can hardly be faulted for following the dictates of his religious institution. Aren’t Scouts in these situations being as “active” as they’re able to be?
So, let’s begin with a fundamental element of Scouting’s teachings: DO YOUR BEST. If a Scout is “doing his best” to attend as many meetings and outings as possible, in and amongst his other activities, then isn’t he doing his best to be as “active” as he’s able?
I’ve also sat on close to two hundred Eagle rank Boards of Review, for Scouts ranging in age from 13 to 18, across districts in multiple councils. Throughout all of these, there’s just one single thing I’ve found these young men to have in common: THEY LIVE FULL AND ACTIVE LIVES. I’ve never met an Eagle candidate who was a “Scout nerd”—that is, all he did was Scouting. Young men on the cusp of Eagle rank are into everything! Consequently, expecting such a young man to give up other significant parts of his life in order to comply with some rigidly hammered “rule” of some unforgiving, inflexible, non-youth-oriented Troop flies in the face of what Scouting’s all about.
Now, let’s tackle your question about Scout Spirit. This one is actually very simple: In the Scoutmaster’s Conference and in the Board of Review—for ALL ranks; not just Eagle—the candidate should be asked these two questions:
1) What is meant by Scout Spirit?
(The answer is: Living the Scout Oath and Law in my daily life, or other words that convey the same fundamental idea.)
2) How do you show Scout Spirit in your daily life?
(The answer isn’t “in the book”—It comes from each Scout, uniquely)
The larger questions are these: Does “active” mean merely “showing up” and does “show Scout Spirit” merely mean being able to recite the Oath and Law? Or do they mean DOING STUFF (like teaching new Scouts how to camp and hike, for instance) whenever the Scout can be there? Do they mean attending Troop meetings and then congregating over in a corner of the meeting room and being generally disruptive to the meeting itself? Or do they mean being a leader—as in Patrol Leader, SPL, Troop Guide, etc.—and mentor—as in being these for the “beginning’ Scouts in the Troop and showing them the ropes? To me, “active” and “spirit” mean “animated”—as in DOING STUFF. It’s as B-P said, in another context: “Scouting doesn’t teach Scouts how to ‘be good;’ Scouting teaches Scouts how to DO GOOD!” I believe the same principle can be applied to “active” and “spirit.”
Remember this: We have one fundamental objective in Scouting: To help young people make ethical decisions in their lives. Does attending each and every meeting or outing accomplish that? Or, does showing the Scout that the Troop can be flexible and understanding of his unique life and situation accomplish that perhaps a little better?
Finally, let’s talk about Scouts who have no apparent “excuse” for not attending Troop meetings. Baloney! Their lack of attendance isn’t some fault of theirs—It’s the fault of the Troop! Poor attendance (especially poor attendance for no explained reason) almost invariably means just one thing: POOR TROOP PROGRAM. Period. Scouts “vote with their feet.” This is fundamental to program development. If the Troop program is exciting, engaging, interesting, and FUN, your young men will clamor to show up. If, on the other hand, it’s dull, boring, sedentary, more like some sort of “business meeting” that has no games, no competitions, no Patrol interactions, there will be (guess what) NO SCOUTS.
This will be my last column for 2005, and it’s the Christmas season, so let’s close out the year with some reminders of what we, as Scouting leaders are here to accomplish. These quotes come from Baden-Powell himself, in his book, SCOUTMASTERSHIP, written in 1920 and no less (perhaps more!) valid today:
“The object of Scout training is…to improve the individual character of every boy so that he shall be a better and happier citizen; but also it can go further than this, it can bring the boys of (every) origin into closer comradeship…in a way that no legislation or co-schooling can do…through sharing together the joys of Scouting games and through making common sacrifices in carrying out together the community services of Scouts”
“The smile and the good turn are our specialty” (emphasis B-P’s)
“The business of the Scoutmaster…is to draw out each boy and find out what is in him, and then to catch hold of the good and develop it …and the spirit is there in every boy when you get him, only it has to be discovered and brought to light”
“Scout training all comes from within” (emphasis mine)
“To be a successful Scoutmaster, a man…has simply to be a boy-man, that is: he must have the boy spirit in him…he must realize the psychology of the different ages of boy life…he must deal with the individual rather than with the mass…he has got to see things from the boy’s point of view”
“The code of the (classroom) teacher…is silence and safety and decorum. The code of the boy is…noise and risk and excitement”
“The aim of Scouting is quite a simple one: To give to the boy the ambition and desire to learn for himself”
“The Scoutmaster…brings a great responsibility on himself. His mannerisms become (the Scouts’), the amount of courtesy he shows, his irritations, his sunny happiness, or his impatient glower, his willing self-discipline or his occasional moral lapses—are all not only noticed, but adopted by his followers”
“‘Commanding’ is not the same as ‘leading.’ Commanders order, ‘Go on’; leaders say, “Come on’!”
“The game of Scouting is a man’s job cut down to boy size”
“A nation owes its success, not so much to its strength of armaments, as to the amount of character in its citizens”
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Scouting!
Got a question? Send it to me at AskAndyBSA@yahoo.com – (Please include your Council name and home state)
(Late-December 2005 – Copyright © 2005 Andy McCommish)