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Issue 67 – January 2006

To lead off this New Year, let’s first give a tip of the Commissioner’s Cap to John Szpytman, of Dearborn, Michigan, who wrote this Letter to the Editor of NEWSWEEK magazine:

“Howard Stern in a Boy Scout uniform insults those in Scouting who work to show young men a better path of values. I just wish NEWSWEEK had taken a moral stand and not permitted this disrespect to the organization.”

Now, let’s go to work, starting with some carry-overs from 2005…

Hi again, Andy,

I’ve read your comments (see Mid-Mid December 2005), and I have some clarifications and more information about the “active” and “spirit” aspects of Scout advancement.

For instance, I should have told you that one of the Scouts was Life rank for about three years and served as our Senior Patrol Leader (he did and excellent job, by the way) for 1-1/2 years out of the three. But then he just stopped coming to Troop events (meetings, outings, etc.) altogether, with the exception of coming in to present his Eagle project and for his Scoutmaster’s Conference for Eagle. Although he invited the Troop to help him with his project, I still don’t think this qualifies as an “active” scout. However if you look as “active” as not restricted by time then I guess the hours he spent on his Eagle project qualifies as being more active than inactive.

I also have a problem with your notion of “Do Your Best.” From what I’ve seen in the Advancement Guide and the Boy Scout Handbook, this applies much more to Cub Scouting than to Boy Scouting. Boy Scouting says you have to do and complete requirements; not just “do your best.” If you can’t do what a requirement says, then you don’t get the badge until you can. For example, merely “trying” to ride a horse isn’t good enough to get a badge! Applying this to the “be active” requirement brings us right back to searching for a definition of “active.” In the case of that Scout (see above), Yes, on some Troop meeting nights he was working, and sometimes he was at track with his high school team, but also sometimes he was at home doing nothing (we checked—he has a brother in the Troop). When the question of his attending the Troop meetings was put to him in the review, he talked about work and the track team, but didn’t mention the “goof-off” days. Personally, I was somewhat disappointed, but since he was one day from his 18th birthday, I wasn’t going to refuse him the rank, because at least he was previously a very active Scout. Nevertheless, he was very weak in meeting this requirement.

I will admit that we have some spineless adults when it comes to Eagle boards or review and I’ll even confess that I intentionally didn’t sit on one for Eagle because I strongly felt (and still do) that the Scout just didn’t deserve the rank (he later got fired from his job as camp staff for drugs/girl within camp, and then moved out of state once he hit age 19). The alternate, however, was to upset an adult leader in the Troop who is excellent with the Scouts, particularly our newer Scouts, and possibly cause dissention in the Troop—I felt that the lesser of two evils would be to not participate in the board, even though this opened the door for an undeserving Scout to get the rank. Do you have any suggestions on how to better handle this if it comes up again?

Probably the last point of discussion is Troop meetings. We, the adults, can plan some excellent meetings; however, for the past five years we’ve left this to the PLC. Yes, our Troop meetings include Patrol interaction, competition, skill instruction, and games. But the Scouts still find the meetings boring. We’ve trained them, and given them resource books like Woods Wisdom to plan their meetings. We also try to guide them to possibly planning more outings or bringing in guest speakers, but it just doesn’t seem to happen. Our campout attendance is fading, and we can’t pinpoint why. The older Scouts in particular just aren’t going, even though they plan all the trips in our annual August planning meeting. Do you have any suggestions on how to improve this without taking away the Troop from the Scouts? (I’m hoping to hear from you soon! Name Withheld)

For that Life Scout who served as SPL for 1-1/2 years, I’d say that so long as he was active as a Scout and leader in his Troop for the required six months, he’s met the requirement for “active.” This effectively means that even if he didn’t show up at all between the end of that six-month period and the time of his Scoutmaster’s Conference for Eagle, he can’t be “dinged” for the hiatus because he’s already met that requirement.

As far as ditching some Troop meetings: Well, if I’d never cut a college class, or took a day off from work to go sailing, or decided to hang out a little longer at the local watering hole (even though the strongest thing I drink is Ginger Ale) instead of going to yet another commissioners meeting, maybe I could throw the first stone. But guess what…

“On my honor, I will do my best…” are the opening words of the Scout Oath. “Do your best” is hardly restricted to Cub Scouting. That said, meeting requirements is fundamental to Scout advancement at any age. As Yoda told Luke Skywalker, “Do, or do not; there is no ‘try’.” Look again at the Scout Oath. It doesn’t say, “I’ll try to do my best”—it says perfectly straightforwardly, “I will do my best.” I believe in this concept, personally. “Trying” to ride a horse is not the same as “ride a horse” in walk, trot, canter, etc. Look, for instance, at swimming merit badge. There, it says that the Scout will swim specific strokes strongly. That word, strongly, is the key to the requirement. Overlook it, or let it “slip” a little” and the Scout is short-changed. But, what does “strongly” mean? Again, the BSA is silent. This is in the eye of the counselor. But the wise counselor doesn’t make some arbitrary “rule” that all Scouts must adhere to, regardless of age, physicality, etc. That’s where we adults do our greatest service to youth—by understanding that each and every one is absolutely unique.

I appreciate your honesty and candor regarding that “questionable” Eagle candidate. We can only make the best decisions we’re able, with the information and insights we have at the time the decision has to be made. My suggestion is one you already know: Go with your heart.

Finally, Troop meetings. If the very Scouts who design and devise their meetings and activities within them are ultimately bored by them, it’s time to find out what’s causing this. I don’t have a “magic bullet” for you here. It might require some one-on-ones between the SM and the SPL, a PL or two, or some non-PLC Scouts. It might require keeping track of what worked and what didn’t and figuring out what went right and what went wrong. Maybe there needs to be a de-briefing session immediately after each Troop meeting. I can tell you this much, though: Skip the “guest speaker” notion unless these speakers provide interactive, hands-on demonstrations with the Scouts. If they’re there to lecture or show slides, or do anything that turns this portion of the meeting into a “class” or the Scouts into merely an “audience,” fuggedaboudit!

One very successful Troop I provided commissioner service to had absolutely amazing retention of older Scouts. One thing they did was have a portion of the meeting where the Troop “split” by age groups—under 14 did games; 14 and older planned for their own special hike or campout (they had an ASM especially assigned to them). They did the same thing on Troop hikes: Under 14 took the “easy” path to the campsite; 14+ climbed up on the back-side of the hill, where true rock-climbing skills were needed. This Troop was so successful with this that their older Scouts actually drove their own cars to the Troop meetings!

I hope some of this helps! Stay with it—You’re providing memories for these boys and young men that will last a lifetime, and they’re learning things in Scouting that no other youth program comes close to offering!

Happy New Year Andy,

It’s interesting how one’s personal experience seems to influence our thoughts on a particular subject. You felt (see Mid-Mid December 2005) that having an older brother as a Den Chief for his younger brother’s Den was an “absolutely wonderful idea…family bonding.” As for me, due to the negative experience we had with just such a situation, I highly discourage it. The older brother we had as a Den Chief clearly showed favoritism, ignored the needs of Cubs who were not “best friends” with his brother or played on his sports team, and at times was down right mean, intimidating and physical to some of the Cubs, to the point of pain and injury. So, instead of his being helpful, we had to watch him closer than the Cubs he was supposedly there to help with! My wife was the Den Leader, and she decided to talk to the Scout’s mother. Things improved for a little while, but natural instincts are hard to suppress and in the end not much really seemed to change. My wife should have contacted this Scout’s Scoutmaster and had him removed, but she wanted to keep the peace and was counting the days until his time was up and gave him a review that was less than stellar. When it was time for me to take over as Webelos Den Leader, I chose not to have a Den Chief at all because of the sour taste left by the previous one. (Paul Alters, UC, Heart of America Council, KS)

I definitely appreciate and respect your point of view, except for one thing, which I’ll get to in a moment. It’s more than a shame that the Den Chief you described didn’t do the job he was supposed to be doing. But it does beg the question of whether this was truly a “sibling problem,” or was this a Scout who didn’t “get it” and would have been a “problem child” no matter where he happened to be a Den Chief?

I’ve had my share of “problem Den Chiefs” too—None of whom was an older brother, by the way! You see, some Scouts just aren’t cut out for this unique leadership job. They might be OK Patrol Leaders or OK Scribes or Quartermasters, but give them a Den of rambunctious, eager, and energy-overflowing Cubs, in a situation where they’re not elected by their peers, and with perhaps a Den Leader who thinks they’re already fully trained (and, consequently, doesn’t take the extra time necessary to train, advise, and counsel them), and you can have a minor disaster on your hands!

Our job, as leaders, is to help young men such as you’ve described “get it”—That is, they need help, guidance, and skill development to make their leadership positions—especially the position of Den Chief—work out for everyone concerned. When a Scout can’t figure out the right way to be a leader, it falls to us to help him succeed. Scouting is one of the very few opportunities our children have to mess up, get some “course correction,” and ultimately succeed in a safe, nurturing, non-failure-oriented setting!

That said, here’s the one bone I’ll pick with you: What the heck was your wife thinking, when to “keep the peace” she permitted an obvious bully to threaten, frighten, and injure the Cub Scouts in her care? This is tantamount to complicity in child abuse!

Dear Andy,

I’m an Eagle Scout who transitioned to the Boy Scout program as an Assistant Scoutmaster last Spring when my son moved up from Cub Scouting. My son has maintained a strong interest in Scouting ever since he joined as a Tiger Cub. This strong interest continues as evidenced by the fact that last night he passed his Board of Review for First Class rank. Accordingly, his advancement will now be more dependent on undertaking leadership opportunities, participating in service projects, and earning merit badges. I’ve registered as a merit badge counselor for several badges with my local council, and I understand that all merit badge counselors are to be registered. I don’t recall if merit badge counselors had to be registered 25+ years ago, when I was in Scouting as a boy, but my question now becomes this: If my son, or any other Scout, completes a merit badge with the assistance of a counselor from another council, what, if any, concerns or questions might be raised? Could the validity of this badge be challenged at some future date (such as on an Eagle application) if the Scout’s local council can’t confirm that the counselor was “approved”? In addition, what responsibility, if any, does the Scout have in this case in verifying the counselor’s approval status?

I’m thinking about merit badges earned at out-of-council Scout camps but I’m also thinking about merit badges that might be earned by participating in Scout programs offered by museums, national parks, college groups, or other organizations. For instance, my son has recently expressed an interest in working on the Railroading merit badge. Through the Internet, I’ve found that a historic railroad in a nearby county, plus the National Park Service’s “Steamtown” location in Scranton, PA, both offer programs centered on earning this badge. I think either of these would make a great fieldtrip for a group of Scouts interested in the Railroading merit badge. In addition, for the past three years a student group at my alma matter has been organizing and operating a “Scouting University” program offering the opportunity to work on and earn various merit badges. All of these offerings are within easy reach from my “home base,” but are outside of my home council. So, it’s not so much that a scout would be referred to an out-of-council MBC, but he might just choose to participate in a program that’s operated by a group outside of the home council. (John Cromer, ASM & MBC, Keystone Council, PA)

First off, I’m delighted to see a former Scout returning to the program for his own son! Most of all, HAVE FUN!

Yes, all MBCs are registered, although this is the only category of adult volunteer that doesn’t pay an annual registration fee. As for the general question on out-of-council MBCs, begin by referring to page 187 of your son’s BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK. The Scoutmaster provides the Scout with the name of a counselor for the badge the Scout’s interested in, and that name comes from a home council or home district list of registered MBCs. If we’re talking about merit badges earned at a summer camp of another council, it’s the Scoutmaster (or another adult leader of the Troop) who would pre-sign the card at the camp, which means that that signer knows exactly were the badge is being earned (besides, most Scout camps have a stamp that they use on all “blue cards” completed while the Scouts are campers there), and Scout camps make sure that all of their staff MBCs are registered as such for the summer. As for the other types of merit badge-earning venues you mentioned (all of which sound terrific to me), I have to believe that any Scoutmaster informed of a Scout’s intent to visit the kinds of opportunities you describe—especially those that state that registered MBCs are available to work with Scouts—would be completely encouraging of the venture. Remember, also, that the “blue card” provides a place for the full name and contact information of the signing counselor, so that should any question—however unlikely—arise at some later date, the counselor can be contacted by whomever might need to. This information is on the portion of the card that’s retained by the Troop, so there’s hardly an opportunity for a problem to arise. Moreover, the reference used by your council’s service center to verify that all merit badges for the final three Boy Scout ranks have been duly completed is not a portion of “blue cards” (the three segments are retained by the Troop, the Scout, and the MBC, respectively) but, in fact, the Troop’s advancement reports!

Finally, no merit badge earned by a Scout from a registered MBC can ever be challenged—earned means earned, period. This isn’t “Andy’s opinion”—This is BSA policy.

Dear Andy,

I’m a newbie ADC in a district that has a lot of families who are new to the U.S. Most of the parents in these families don’t speak English, though the kids are learning quickly. Still, many of them have language skill problems because their families are recent arrivals from Eastern Europe. In one of our Troops serving a neighborhood with lots of these families, there’s a problem: There’s no advancement. The Scouts do attend meetings, go on outings, and have fun, but rank advancement hardly ever happens. I decided to go and see what happens at a meeting, so I took the SM and his UC out for a cup of coffee and donuts to get to know them and got myself invited to see things. Well, the first thing I noticed is that they don’t have any flag ceremonies like the Pledge of Allegiance and they don’t say the Scout Oath. It seems that many of the Scouts have problems with these two elements. The SM is a great guy and loves the outing part of Scouting, and so decided not to push it as long as the boys were learning things and growing in character. The families and Scouts are good people and they’re happy, according to the SM, so he’s happy. Now here’s the deal: Most of the Scouts in this Troop were born in the same country as their parents, and so they still see themselves as citizens of their country of birth. Consequently, they’re reluctant to make a pledge to a flag or taking an oath to a country that to them is still not their own country. Sure, many will stay, but they’re in transition. I think this may be related to the Troop’s lack of advancement. How should I tackle this one? What could I or should I say to the UC to coach him in working with the SM? I don’t want to jump in and ruin the UC’s relationship with his SM—They both go to the same church and are old friends, so I figure it would be more productive to work with the UC in any case. (Newbie Commish, Name Withheld by Request)

First off, we have to ask how these young men became Boy Scouts, since one of the Boy Scout Joining Requirements (number 4, in case anyone asks) states: “Repeat the Pledge of Allegiance.” Have these Scouts actually done this, or has someone slipped around this? (As a Commissioner, I’d want to know the answer to this, so that I have a better idea of where these folks are coming from.)

But let’s get to the heart of the matter: In the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States, one expresses his or her promise (another word for “pledge”) to be loyal (another word for “allegiance”) to the American Flag and the country it represents. Since Webster’s considers the word “loyalty” a synonym—a virtual definition, in fact—for “allegiance” and defines “loyalty” as “feelings of devoted attachment and affection,” there should be no problem here, unless these Scouts somehow consider themselves prisoners here. Devotion to, attachment toward, and affection for their new country—the one in which their families chose to make a new life for themselves and in which they will attend school and church, meet and make new friends, play sports, and on and on—should not be a difficult thing. This in no way negates the significance of their country of birth; it does reinforce their bond to America—their new (and in all likelihood, permanent) home. Moreover, a “pledge” (again, according to Webster, in which definitions are based on common usage) is a “promise”—nothing more, or less. Making a promise to be loyal to their new country is altogether a right and proper thing to do, and in no way negates their birth country. In other words, it’s OK to “repeat the Pledge of Allegiance” once one understands what it is that’s actually being done.

As for the Scout Oath (which is also a specific requirement for joining the Boy Scouts of America), this is simpler. In the Oath, one promises to “do my duty to…my country” but “country” isn’t defined. Therefore, one can say the Scout Oath with virtual impunity, as regards the country to which one is promising to do his duty.

The adult leaders and the Scouts in this Troop need to better understand the meaning and intent of both the Pledge and the Oath. Once this happens, any difficulties should evaporate straightaway.

As a Commissioner in California some years ago, I came to know two Boy Scout Troops comprised entirely of Armenian Scouts and leaders (one was Homenmen; the other, Homenetmen). They used their home-country’s Scout Handbooks (written in Arabic), but they were registered members of the BSA. In parades and in Troop meetings, there were two flags: The American flag and the Armenian flag. The Scouts repeated the Pledge of Allegiance to first the American flag, and then honored the flag of their heritage, in Arabic! I also came to know a Troop of Scouts who all had been born in Mexico. They repeated the Pledge of Allegiance with gusto, because this—America, the land of opportunity—was their new home! Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from one or the other of these?

A final case-in-point: My wife is a public middle school (i.e., Scout age students) teacher and throughout her 36 years of teaching, in every classroom throughout her entire school system the Pledge of Allegiance begins the school day, every day. This is a mixed heritage/ethnicity school system, with students from around the world and several dozen different non-English languages spoken. In her schools, all students—without exception—will rise and place their right hand over their heart when the Pledge is repeated through the building’s PA system. Virtually every student repeats the Pledge along with the PA; those very few who choose not to are nonetheless expected to stand and salute, out of respect for the country that is educating them and providing a living and a life for their families. Perhaps there is a lesson worth learning here, too?

To answer your second question, as an ADC, your job is to coach your UC on how to manage this Troop, rather than stepping in, yourself. This coaching can be part of a larger gathering, in fact. In your shoes, I’d approach my DC with an idea for a “training module” for the next gathering of your district’s commissioners, and cover the subject there. That way, everybody’s heard the same message, there can be discussion as needed, and all will end up on the same page!

Hi Andy,

My son has been working on the activities in the sports and academics program and has earned seven different belt loops and three pins as a result of his effort. He also has earned his Wolf badge. My Cubmaster called and asked me if we could split up my son’s awards by giving half of them at the upcoming pack meeting and the other half at the next pack meeting. His told me that he didn’t want my son to be cast in an unfavorable light among the other boys in the pack who had not earned as many awards. I told him that it would be unfair to my son to not recognize his efforts at the time that he had earned them. To make a long story short, the end result was that the Cubmaster agreed to present all the awards at the next pack meeting. Unfortunately, no other Cub in my son’s den earned any awards that month and did not receive any recognition at the pack meeting. It seems to me that this is not a “kid problem” but an “adult problem”. I don’t think for a minute that the other kids look unfavorably at my son for his achievements. I do however believe that the other parents and some of the den leaders are a bit upset and perhaps jealous (because I have more time than the average parent to spend with my son in Scouting activities). I don’t want to cause hard feelings among the other parents, but I also don’t want to hold my own son back in his Scouting experience. Do you have any words of wisdom for me? Should I rein in my son on Cub Scouting? (Kay, Occoneechee Council, NC)

The Cub Scout’s “Akela” is his mom and/or dad. If you have the time and interest, and he’s motivated and gobbling it up, absolutely do NOT “rein him in”!!! This is what Cub Scouting—in fact, ALL of Scouting—is all about! But, interestingly, it’s not some sort of race, and there are no losers. Every boy in your son’s Den and Pack has the same opportunity. Some will “go for it;” others may not. Some may take longer; others may do things more quickly. One of the basic tenets of advancement is this: Each boy at his own pace.

Boys themselves like and respect peer achievers. There’s no “boy problem” unless parents and/or adult leaders decide they’re going to make some sort of silly issue out of this. That Cubmaster was way out of line with his “request” and you were absolutely right in sticking to your guns so that your son received the recognition he’d earned and deserved! In fact, this point is actually part of what’s taught in Cub Scout Leader basic training!

So, absolutely don’t hold your son back, and absolutely don’t let the Den or Pack leaders try to get away with that sort of nonsense. Yes, you’re on the right track with your perception about it being the adults and not the boys who have “jealousy problems.” Hang in there, and best wishes to your son! Now that he’s earned Wolf, I’d like to hear that he’s earning a whole bunch of Arrow Points!

Dear Andy,

I’m a District Advancement Chair, and here are some ways that we’ve handled the “religious reference” on the Eagle rank application: For a while, we treated the religious reference in the same way as the employer letter: It’s required if the Scout has a pastor or other religious leader who can speak of his religious observance, but if not, then it’s optional. If a family is “religious” but doesn’t necessarily attend church, we’d sometimes see a religious reference from a family member. Then our council decided that Scouts without formal religious affiliations should provide a “Scout’s Own” letter in which they discuss “Duty to God” and the 12th point of the Scout Law. But even more recently, our council has merged with a neighboring one, and the two councils had differing procedures, so we may change things again in the coming months. (Rick Smith, District Advancement Chair & ADC, Eagle Bluff District, Northern Star Council, MN)

I like your approach to keeping the “religious letter of recommendation” informal; I’m not sure I’d make it “optional,” but, hey, that’s just me! I’m not so sure about the “Scout’s Own” letter idea, though. Heck, by the time the Scout’s ready to have his Board of Review for Eagle rank, he’s already had six reviews and seven Scoutmaster’s conferences, and I’d be hard-pressed to believe that in not one of these eleven opportunities “Duty to God” hadn’t been discussed! So, I’d be inclined to ask for the informal (i.e., non-ordained) letter if there’s no actual church membership and then wrap this up in the actual BoR.

Dear Andy,

Can OA help in Cub to Boy Scout cross over, if so in what way or is there a ceremony they can help in? (Joyskey)

Your local Order of the Arrow lodge well may be involved in ceremonies like this! Contact your council service center to get the name of the Lodge Chief, then call him up and talk it over!

Hi Andy,

In your recent column, you answered some questions regarding the old Exploring program (Compass-Anchor-Wings, Circle-V, etc). If people are interested in learning more about the long history of the various BSA “older youth” programs, they can visit my site:

Here I record the history and development of these programs, including information on the awards (with their requirements), program, uniform, literature, etc. (Michael Brown)

Terrific site, Michael! If my readers want to learn about some very interesting “pre-Venturing” programs, check out Settummanque’s site!

Dear Andy,

Back in the ’80s, “Program Helps” contained pages that had three Scouting activities on the left (they were 3”x5” index card size) and a Scoutmaster’s Minute on the right side. Is there any way to get copies? These were great to enhance the Troop program or a District Camporee. Yes, I’m looking for actual Scouting magazines from the 80s, or just copies of the Program Helps section. These were unique in that they changed every year instead of starting over again with a new year like they do now for the most part. (Dale Mellor, UC, Kickingbird District, Last Frontier Council, OK)

If any of my readers can help Dale, you can contact him directly at this email address:

Dear Andy,

I’ve had to resign as Scoutmaster, because I just could take this sort of stuff anymore. There are people spreading rumors about one of our more active adult Troop members, saying she took money from a Cub Pack (that whole thing was cleared up a year ago!). There’s someone working behind the scenes to get our sponsor to have me removed. Our CC still hasn’t filed an adult application—it’s been a year! Our Advancement Chair’s son has started work on his Eagle project without getting my signature. I’ve been doing our rechartering for the past three years because no one else will. The person who’s been working behind my back to get rid of me recently became a member of the OA, and had nothing to do with our troop—to my knowledge, his application never came to me, and I have no idea who signed it. Our District Executive told me that the people who are spreading the rumors will be asked to leave the committee, but they were supposed to have been asked a year ago and still nothing’s happened! I’ve asked the Scouts and their parents to use a form I developed to keep track of service hours, and the four “problem” committee member/parents simply refuse. I have no idea how to get these people to work with us or to follow the program. As a small family owner, I’m now concerned about what rumors these people are spreading in the community about me!

I’ve stepped down as Scoutmaster. I don’t trust these other people not to do whatever they could to get rid of me, and so I guess that’s why I am so depressed, disgusted, and disappointed. I am not “Super Scoutmaster,” but I think I did a good job, using what we learned in Wood Badge. I think I’ve made the Troop stronger and better organized, but I really can’t explain how much we did, how much we enjoyed it, and to have to get out of Scouting because I fear for my business and reputation. These people want their sons to be Eagle Scouts, and they will do whatever, and as little as possible, to meet the requirements—that’s my gut feeling.

I think Scouting is important, for a lot of reasons. I threw all my resources at the disposal of this Troop, and it’s just so hard to feel like I did something wrong. I’ve asked and asked, what have I done wrong? and no one will answer. Yet, I was one of two people this year to get the Scouter of the Year Award in our District. I hope I earned it. (Name Withheld)

I’m sorry you’re relinquishing the Scoutmaster position in your Troop. It’s obvious that you’ve done good things. It’s also obvious, however, that your disillusionment has diminished the good feelings you should be having about a job well done. Nonetheless, you may find yourself in a Scouting position again, at some time in the future. So, in order to help you avoid and/or diffuse the possibility of these types of things cropping up in the future, I’m going to describe on a case-by-case basis EXACTLY what you, as the Scoutmaster, might have done:

– Couple spreading rumors: Nothing.

– Guy trying to get the CO to remove you: Nothing.

– CC who hasn’t filed an adult application: Nothing.

– “Renegade” Eagle projects and dubious advancement chair: You are one of the signatories on the Eagle project application. Your signature must go onto the project workbook before the project is begun. Don’t sign, if you have a problem, and continue to not sign until the project is OK as far as you’re concerned. Period.

– Annual rechartering: Nothing—This isn’t the SM’s job.

– Parents who are “just there for their sons”: Get over it. Of course that’s why they’re involved! Weren’t you, for your son? Of course you were, and that’s a good thing!

– New adult OA member: This sounds really screwy. The only time an adult can be nominated is at the time of the annual Troop OA election, over which the SM presides, and the SM’s signature is required on the adult nomination form. Call the lodge officers, if you want to find out what happened, and who signed what.

– Slow-moving DE: Nothing.

– Non-used service hour form: This is simple—If this is what you’ll accept, and nothing else, simply stick to your guns. Period.

– The four “rumor-spreaders”: Nothing.

– Scouts who do “as little as possible” in meeting requirements: It’s impossible to “do as little as possible.” The requirements are the requirements, no more and no less. There’s no “above and beyond” and no one can or should expect this.

– Getting no answer to your repeated question, “What have I done wrong?”: STOP ASKING. This is the reverse of “begging for the compliment” and just as ineffectual. Besides, only you really know whether you’ve done the job you set out to do or not, and if you do believe that, then you don’t need anyone else to tell you so.

– You “hope” you earned the “Scouter of the Year” recognition. I don’t get it, my Scouting friend—You beg for the compliment, but then when you get it, you start to question it. One of my favorite questions to ask an Eagle Scout candidate at his board of review is this: “Do you believe you should be an Eagle Scout?” And if the candidate doesn’t instantly and enthusiastically answer “YES!” I have to wonder what the heck is going on in his head!

Now, let’s answer one more question: Why have I said “Nothing” so many times? Simple. The SM’s job is program/program delivery-related. It is not administrative, nor one of coordination of adults, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the “politics” of the parents, except as these politics might impact negatively on the Troop’s youth and the Scouting program you’re delivering. So, it seems like you were focusing on, or at least giving a lot of attention to toe wrong stuff. Stick to the RIGHT STUFF—The SCOUTS THEMSELVES. And, as far as rumors and rumormongers go, who you are and what you do speaks more loudly than any mere words of theirs, however malicious.

­Hi Andy,

I have a problem as to where Scouts wear their Eagle Palms. I know they’re worn on the Eagle medal ribbon, but that’s only worn on formal occasions. Is there a place the Eagle Palm can be worn on informal occasions? As an adult, I can wear the Palm pinned to the Eagle square knot; is there anything like that for the Scouts? (William Manuel, MC, Troop 979, Dan Beard Council, New Miami, OH)

You’re right on the money! Boy Scouts wear their Eagle Palms only on the ribbon of their Eagle medal. That’s it. No, there’s no other place on a Boy Scout’s uniform that they’re worn. It’s equally true that adults can pins Eagle Palms on their “square knot” badge, if they choose to. Check the BSA INSIGNIA GUIDE if you like.

This shouldn’t be any immense hardship for your Troop’s Scouts. The Scout uniform is made to be worn on all occasions; not just Troop meetings and courts of honor. In a perfect world, your Scouts will be wearing their uniforms while hiking and camping, too—This is what identifies them as Scouts and not just a bunch of teenagers gone camping. So, from a practical point-of-view, stuff that’s pinned onto uniforms and not actually sewn on has a nasty habit of coming loose and getting lost while the Scout’s busy being a Scout!

Hi Andy,

I’m looking for a written test to administer for the cooking merit badge. Any leads? (Mike Rauh, ASM)

I’m hoping you never find any such “written test,” and if I ever come across one, I’ll do my level best to burn it straightaway!

You’re a COUNSELOR. You’re not a schoolroom teacher or examiner or any other such thing. You’re working with just one or two Scouts at a time (I hope!); not a roomful of ’em. You’re actually counseling them; not lecturing or trying to turn this (or any other merit badge) into some sort of “Scout School.”

That’s why the first several requirements for Cooking MB use the term, “describe,” and not “take a written test.” “Describe” means VERBAL; not written. “Describe” means the Scout and his Counselor have a CONVERSATION.

Boys don’t join Scouting so that, in addition to grade school and high school, Sunday school, Hebrew school, and such, they can now go to “Scout school.” They join (and stay in) because Scouting’s NOT like school… It’s visceral, verbal, tactile, energetic, active, conversational, and learning-by-doing (and messing up and doing it again till it’s right). Neither is Scouting about “passing” or “failing” (which “written tests” are made for); Scouting’s about learning and doing until requirements are completed.

So counsel your Scouts. Avoid tests and lectures and such and focus on hands-on learning, with you as their guide. Teach through asking questions, of course, but make the questions building-blocks to learning; not inquisitions. That’s what Scouting’s all about—Creating in the boy the desire to learn for himself, then watching him go!

Happy Scouting!


Got a question? Send it to me at – (Please include your Council name and home state)

(January 2006 – Copyright © 2006 Andy McCommish)


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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