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Issue 70 – February 2006

Hi Andy,

Saw your comments about Merit Badge Counselors not giving written tests. Just to let you know, USSSP website has a 15 page “worksheet” for the Cooking Merit Badge, and it sure looks a lot like a test to me! (Daniel Amyx, ADL, Pack 120

NetCommish Comment: Usually Andy answers the questions here, but in this case I’m going to pre-empt him. Andy’s advice about not doing written tests is right on the money and squares with Baden-Powell’s (Scouting’s founder) advice to leaders reminding them that Scouts don’t need another dose of school and instead we need to give them an outdoor experience with more hands-on doing. Written tests are for school and not for Scouting.

The USSSP website is the product of the U.S. Scouting Service Project’s volunteer team and doesn’t necessarily represent the views of any one Scouting organization. The U.S. Scouting Service Project seeks to share resources of all types related to Scouting. In the case of the worksheets for merit badges, there are dozens of worksheets developed by volunteer Scouters that are offered on our site. They are not intended as a written test or as a substitute for hands-on training and experience. What they are intended to do is help focus efforts on the actual requirements and provide a way to log results. They are not required to earn a merit badge and we don’t recommend that they be used for every Scout or Counselor. Instead they are an additional resource that can be used to help. The bottom-line is that if a Scout uses one of these worksheets, he may be better prepared to answer or show a Counselor how he has met a requirement, but if the Scout doesn’t complete the worksheet, it doesn’t mean he can’t earn the merit badge.

So why do we have these worksheets if they are not required and if we recommend hands-on training? We recognize that not every person learns the same way. Some Scouts are going to learn best from oral instruction, some from hands-on effort, and some from what they see as a visual learner. These worksheets are merely a tool in a larger collection that includes oral teaching, hands-on doing and more. The idea is to find what helps a Scout’s individual needs and learning process.

Remember that our real goals here are character, citizenship and fitness. Merit badges and other advancement are just a method of reaching those goals. With these goals in mind, the idea is to provide a rich environment for learning through a strong outdoor program and in the case of merit badges with opportunities to get a taste or sampling of a career or hobby that might awaken a Scout to something that he pursues for a lifetime or perhaps gives him skills to cope with challenges in life.

And I’m happy to report that in our house I can and do cook thanks to what I learned on my way to becoming an Eagle Scout. Not only that, but the lessons I learned from my counselor came into play during a blizzard a few years ago where I was among several dozen people snowed in at a facility that had no food facilities and due to the storm no electricity. It didn’t take long to organize a few coffee can stoves, teach cooking eggs in a paper cup full of water, and making hot soup/drinks the same way. Fortunately a few had paid enough attention to weather forecasts to bring food stores and with a little Boy Scout magic everyone was eating hot meals in short order. I was a kid that had to learn by doing. Thankfully, my counselor insisted on doing it exactly that way – learn by doing. As a result, in a tough blizzard situation, people stayed healthy.

Hey Andy,

I got a question to ask. I recently transferred to a new Troop, and I’ve just been elected Senior Patrol Leader. This new Troop’s in serious need of some work being done. Their Troop meeting opening needs help, and they need flag stands, patrol yells, and a whole lot of stuff. The first thing we decided to address is our Courts of Honor, because parents will see it (parents don’t stick around for Troop meetings). I’m wondering if you have any good scripts, but mostly if you have any plans for the “props” for a Court of Honor, like candle holders, podium, flag stands, and so on. (Kyle Klosowski, Northern New Jersey Council)

You’re right. A good Troop does need “stuff,” like a Troop flag and American flag, on carrying poles and with flag stands; patrol flags, ceremonial candle-logs, and so on. But what a “hot” Troop really, really needs is SCOUT SPIRIT! You’re on the right track with ideas like patrol yells, opening ceremonies, and so on. And you definitely need some money for the “hardware.” But, simply being told they need yells doesn’t make for good patrols, and getting money for stuff from parents doesn’t make whatever items you get truly part of the Troop. All of this can happen, if you’ve found a way to bond the patrol leaders into a sort of “super-patrol.” Once you have this, everything else gets easier.

Start by getting your Scoutmaster to OK a special “Patrol Leaders Day.” Maybe go skiing, or bowling, or overnight camping, a day hike to a cool destination, or something that tells the patrol leaders that they’re special and important. Your job is to be their leader while you’re out there for the day. Prepare an agenda of specific topics you want to cover while you’re “out there.” Then, ask for each patrol leader to volunteer his patrol for something that needs doing. Here’s an example: Maybe one patrol can take the job of getting a log about six inches thick and about 18 inches long, putting “feet” on it so it doesn’t roll, and drilling 12 holes in the top (to hold the 12 candles for the Scout Law. Then, another patrol makes a similar log (just as thick, but only 6 to 8 inches long, with 3 holes for the 3 points of the Scout Oath), but mounts this one on “feet” that are about 8 inches tall, so that it sticks up behind the “Law Log.” Next, each patrol needs to give itself a name (these need to be pre-approved by the Scoutmaster) and then make its own flag out of whatever materials it likes—this is a patrol project! Give them the maximum dimensions for the flag, but aside from that they can do whatever they like! These can get attached to staves or even broomsticks. They’re brought to every meeting by someone in the patrol (in other words, they’re NOT stored in a “Troop locker”) so that each patrol is always responsible for its own flag.

The Troop and American flags? Resist the temptation to simply ask for the money. Do a Troop-wide fund-raiser instead. Sell Scout popcorn (your council’s service center can help with this), or light bulbs, or Valentine stuff, or do a car wash (on a warmer day, if you can!)…but make sure every Scout participates at some level, and no “excuses.”

Also, make sure every patrol leader is ELECTED. What? You say the Troop is too small to have patrols? Nonsense! Following the rule that no patrol can be smaller than 4 Scouts (6 is just about perfect!), here are some numbers to work with: 8 to 11 Scouts = 2 patrols, 12 to 15 = 3 patrols, 16 to 24 = 4 patrols, and so on. The more patrols, the better. How to “divide” the Scouts into patrols? The only fair way is to let them decide for themselves. Simply tell the Scouts that they need to divide up into X groups of no less than 4 and no more than 6 Scouts each, and they have 15 minutes to do this, then step aside (and the adults have to get out of the way, too!).

Next, ask your Scoutmaster to try to track down a BSA book called WOODS WISDOM. This has lots of great ideas for Troop and patrol activities, ceremonies, and so on. It’s out of print, so this may take some digging.

Go on-line and Google “Scout ceremonies.” You come up with hundreds of good resources.

How well uniformed is the Troop? Shirts only? Start giving out prizes to each patrol that has its patrol members all in full uniform—do this at every meeting, until every Scout shows up with Scout pants, too! Then keep doing it! BUT, these are not individual prizes. Now’s the time to reach into the Troop treasury. When your patrols start showing up in complete uniform, they get small Scout items—pocket flashlights, or collapsible cups, or a patrol first aid kit, or something else they can use while hiking or camping. This means, of course, that YOU have to be in complete uniform at all times, and SO DOES YOUR SCOUTMASTER AND ANY ASSISTANTS—NO EXCEPTIONS!

Ask your Scoutmaster to get a PATROL LEADER’S HANDBOOK for every patrol leader, and make some portion of this book a “training” part of every patrol leaders council (PLC). The PLC should meet right after every Troop meeting — to review how that meeting went and to plan on next week’s meeting.

Establish a “service patrol-spirit patrol” rotation. The service patrol sets up for every Troop meeting and does the putaway at the end of the meeting. The spirit patrol runs the opening ceremony and the closing. And, by the way, tell the Scoutmaster you need a “Scoutmaster’s Minute” (yes, that does mean 60 seconds!) at the end of every Troop meeting (he can buy a book of the same title, to get himself started with this).

Well, that’s more than enough to get you started! Share this message with your Scoutmaster, since you and he are on the same “team,” and you need to be on the same page!

Hi Andy,

I’m a Life Scout; I’ll will be Eagle in a few months. A couple of questions have come to my mind about Eagle Scouts… A friend of mine is also almost Eagle, but he doesn’t go to church. He’s been told that, for Eagle, our council expects him to get letters of recommendation and one of these must come from a religious educator, such as a pastor or reverend. Does this mean that he can’t earn the Eagle rank, because he has no faith? (Jeff Forehand, Life Scout, Bay Lakes Council, WI)

Going to church is certainly encouraged by the BSA, as is being a member of a church, temple, or other religious body. But neither of these is, nor have they ever been, a requirement for any rank or even for participation in Scouting. The BSA’s own words are these: “Scouting is absolutely nonsectarian…”

More important for your friend, the “religious” reference asked for on the Eagle Scout Rank Application does NOT stipulate or even imply that the person he chooses to name must be a religious educator or leader or even ordained. ANYONE who can speak to your friend’s religious beliefs—which means his fundamental belief in God, a Supreme Being, a Prime Mover, or by any other designation—is perfectly acceptable as a writer of a letter of reference in this dimension. Now, who says “he has no faith”? Are these your words, when what you really mean is that he’s not a member of any particular church, temple, or other place of regular worship? Do you know, and does your friend know, that neither membership nor even regular attendance at a church, temple, or other place of worship is a “requirement”? If he needs further clarification on this point, tell him to write to me. If his council gives him any flak, be sure he writes to me!

Hi Andy,

Should a boy come back to a Pack meeting to receive some yet-to-be presented activity badges after he’s received his Arrow of Light award and crossed over to a Boy Scout Troop? I know this seems like an odd order, but apparently some boys in our former Pack completed all their Arrow of Light requirements prior to their crossover, but didn’t attend their “last” official Pack meeting as a Webelos Scout to receive their earned-but-not-presented badges/awards. Is there something in the BSA’s advancement guidelines that can provide a better awareness of the proper order of things, so that Pack leaders can run the program in a more correct order? (B.B.)

The answer is implicit in the BSA’s advancement policies: Boy Scouts don’t receive Cub/Webelos Scout awards, Cub/Webelos Scouts don’t receive Boy Scout awards, Venturers don’t… well, you get the idea!

It seems a pity if it was the Pack’s advancement chair (or whoever’s responsible for buying the awards for Pack meetings) who didn’t buy the activity badges that the Pack’s Webelos Scouts were to have received before they graduated to a Boy Scout Troop. But done is done. In Scouting, we move forward; not backward. On the other hand, if you’re telling me that there were some Webelos Scouts who failed to attend the Pack meeting at which they would have publicly received their AoL and participated in a “crossover” graduation ceremony, and they’ve joined a Troop since then, Cub Scouting is still a thing of the past; however, they should still be given (via mail or personally delivered) their earned badges, so that the AoL can be sewn on their new Boy Scout shirt. But they don’t go back to a Pack meeting anymore. They’re Boy Scouts now.

Dear Andy,

I just came across your columns—they’re wonderful and full of great advice and knowledge! I’m 29, an Eagle Scout, and a former Marine, and I’ve just became active in Scouting again, with a Troop. I was recruited by another Assistant Scoutmaster, and so far it’s all the fun I remember having when I was a Scout (only this time I get to bring my folding chair on camping trips!). I just read in your December 2005 column about the Eagle Scout and keeping Scouts active, and it made me think about a Scout in our Troop who just the other day said he didn’t want to attend meetings anymore–He wanted to only go on our campouts. The Troop of course told him he couldn’t do this—He must both come to Troop meetings and go on campouts, if he expects to advance in rank. After reading your comments, I think I’ll go, sit down, and talk with this Scout, and find out what it is that he doesn’t like or does like about meetings. There must be something there… Maybe he’s bored, or maybe just doesn’t like something specific. Either way, he deserves to be asked what it is that is turning him off to the meetings. Thanks for the wisdom. (Joe, Leilich, Capitol Area Council, MD)

Welcome back to Scouting! I couldn’t be happier that you’re involved, and the ASM slot is a terrific one for someone with your background. Enjoy that folding chair, too!

You “get it”! When in doubt, ask the Scout—That’s the only way to find out what’s going on. And, if it should turn out that he tells you meetings are boring, take it a step further and ask him what Troop meetings have to have in them so that they’re NOT boring? And then (this is the icing on the cake) ask HIM to take charge of that “new” thing—whatever it is!

Dear Andy,

I have a small diplomatic situation: The grandmother of one of our Tiger Cubs wants him to receive every belt loop and pin available, including “rewarding” him for stuff he did last summer—before he was a registered Tiger Cub in our Pack! We, the Pack’s leaders, agreed unanimously that we’d only count activities from the day that this boy joined the Pack. But, how do we deal with this grandparent? She’s very controlling and defiant! (Linda)

Ooo…Sounds like Grandma wants to make a “Christmas tree”! Dontcha just love folks more interested in the ornaments than how straight the tree grows!

First off, you made the right decision about what counts and what doesn’t. Now, the one to speak with Grandma is the Tiger Cub Leader, but be sure to have the Pack’s committee-person who’s in charge of advancements present at the same time (for support, as a “witness,” and to “outnumber” Grandma, too!). The conversation should be absolutely straightforward: Boys registered in the Pack may earn belt loops, etc., but this is not “retroactive”—the requirements are to be completed as a member of the Pack, and nothing done before the actual date of registration counts, period. For support and backgrounding beforehand, the U.S. Scouting Service Project website has an excellent description of advancement philosophy, stipulations, and requirements. Go to

If Grandma still doesn’t “get it,” well, although she’s actually damaging her grandson, there’s not much more you can do except maybe talk to the boy’s parents and hope that they’ll see the light, even if Grandma doesn’t. If that doesn’t get anywhere, just stop—You’ve had all the proof you need that these people fully intend for this poor boy to list every belt loop on his college application some day!

Hello Andy,

We’re looking for something to give us some ideas on service projects for the Life Scout. Can you help? (Vicky)

If you mean Eagle Scout service projects to be completed by the Life Scout, he can Google “eagle Scout project ideas.” This will give him more citations than he could read in a lifetime! But, after he does this, he’ll want to sit down with his Scoutmaster and/or Troop advancement chair and talk about what he’s interested in and what might be done right in his own back yard—for the Troop’s sponsoring organization, his local school, church, or temple, or his town, itself.

But, if you mean service projects for a Star Scout on the trail to life, only “service hours” are required, and he can complete the six hours required by helping another Scout on his Eagle project, with his church’s youth group, with a service club at his school (if he’s in high school, he should check to see if there’s a Rotary-sponsored Interact Club that he can join and participate with), but he wants to get his Scoutmaster’s OK before he puts in the time.

NetCommish Comment: I would highly recommend a visit to The Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project Planning Guide at You may also want to look at where we have some guides on projects. On a related note, we also have a site that promotes service projects and lists projects Troops have accomplished for the Service to America Award and Good Turn for America Award. Some of these may also give you ideas of things that can be done with a Troop’s help.

Dear Andy,

I’ve asked and looked around and I just can’t find out what “powdered resin” is. Do you know? It’s called for in the Cub Scout Bear elective no. 12—to make a bird caller. I ended up getting a powdered water putty, but I’m not sure this is right. (Kathleen Cassidy, Bear DL, Pack 2, Gateway Council, MN)

Somehow, I think you’re looking for powdered ROSIN (not “resin”), and you can buy this at most well-equipped sporting goods stores (look in the Baseball section).

Hello Andy,

In our Pack and Troop, we use a “monkey bridge” for the Webelos-to-Scout crossover ceremony. Over the years, I’ve received may requests for the Bill of Materials for a monkey bridge, and at one time I had a copy from somewhere, but with time it’s disappeared. Where can I look for and retrieve a copy of the Bill of Materials—spars, different thickness of ropes, stakes and building instructions? (Bob Schatke, ASM, Troop 7, Salt River District, Grand Canyon Council, Tempe, AZ)

I don’t have what you’re looking for, but maybe another reader does! CALLING ALL READERS! If you can help Bob out, shoot me an email and I’ll publish it!

Dear Andy,

Is there a “standard” Webelos-to-Scout crossover ceremony? I’ve found several different ceremonies, and they all state that they’re “unofficial,” which leads to the question: Is there an “official” ceremony? (John Walker, SM, Troop 419, Crockett, TX)

Fortunately, in this case there’s no “official” ceremony, that I’ve ever heard of, so you can employ as much creativity as you’d like, and the Webelos would enjoy and take meaning and memory from! Allowing for “full creative license” there are a few things you’ll want to preserve. First, with a real or mock-up “bridge,” you’ll want to make sure that only Webelos Scouts who are actually joining your Troop (or multiple Troops, as the case may be) “cross over.” That is, this is a ceremony for those proceeding on to Boy Scouting, more than merely graduating from the Pack. So, the next thing you’ll want to make sure remains an element is the greeting by the Troop’s representative(s) on the “Boy Scout side” of the bridge. This is usually the Scoutmaster, but you certainly can include one or more Scouts (often the SPL’s a “receiving team member”). The last element is based on my own experience, which strongly advises that each Webelos Scout’s parents “cross” with him, so that they get the idea right away that their active support and participation are important parts of the whole package.

NetCommish Comment: To quote an old Commissioner friend, the rigidity is built into to the program, the flexibility is all yours. In many areas like ceremonies, there aren’t official ways to do things. What works well in one situation doesn’t always work well in another. You have to assess what works best for your area and your unit. For example, if you are in the country you could do an impressive outdoor ceremony with a bridge over a stream or creek. For a unit in an urban environment this might not even be a possibility and instead a small symbolic bridge on a school stage or in a church fellowship hall might be the best approach.

Dear Andy,

I’ve been a Unit Commissioner for just over two years, and I feel that part of my job is to make sure the Scouts I’m involved with wear the correct insignia in the correct places. But when I politely ask someone to remove a patch that’s incorrectly placed, the response is usually “mind you own business.” Last summer at Scout camp, I saw a young Scout wearing three purple youth religious award knots! After I stopped chuckling, I went to his SPL. I told the SPL that this display wasn’t in line with BSA insignia guidelines, and I politely asked him to take care of the situation. But dealing with adults is another matter (I suppose that the bottom line is that adults will wear what they want, come hell or high water). Any thoughts about this, Andy? Also, I’ve noticed that there are a couple of older Scouters (over 60—maybe closer to 65) who wear the Explorer Gold Award square knot, but according to Mike Walton’s website, that award wasn’t created until 1976, and these Scouters were a lot older than 21 by 1976! I’ll probably not ask them about it, but what’s the lowdown on wearing this knot? (Ol’ Andy’s not gonna print yer name, but you know who you are!)

As a Commissioner, the only thing you can do to yourself that’s worse than becoming known as “the council cop” is making a reputation for yourself as “the patch police”! Why? It’s petty—simple as that!. I’d sooner you shot yourself in the kneecap! Here’s my recommendation: CUT IT OUT!

As a Commissioner, your dealings are with unit leaders—Scoutmasters, Cubmasters, and Committee Chairs—and not directly with Scouts, so leave ‘em alone. Your primary job is to help these leaders deliver the best possible Scouting program to the youth they serve. You provide the big picture, the vision, the guidance—and you leave the details to them. If you want to help in the uniforming and badge or badge placement areas, the best you can do is be a shining example, and let it go at that.

As for those guys wearing the Explorer Gold Award square knots, remember that, until 1959, this red-white-and-blue striped badge with the silver knot on it also represented the Explorer SILVER AWARD, and they’re sure old enough to have earned that one.

One way you can legitimately help your units improve their uniforming is to conduct the annual uniform inspection that’s part of a Unit Commissioner’s “job.” And, when you do this, keep it positive—don’t ding the delinquent; reward the right!

Dear Andy,

My son took “fast-track” Den Chief training from one of the Assistant Scoutmasters in his Troop, and then he was told that he could begin to serve as a Den Chief starting right away, which he did. Then, two months into being a Den Chief, he took more formal training at our council’s Pow Wow/University. Now, his Scoutmaster is telling him that the first two months don’t count, and he can’t advance in rank for another two months. Is this correct, or is his Scoutmaster is just being petty? (Kathie DeFrancesco)

This isn’t about being “petty”—This is about being DEAD WRONG.

A Scout begins his “term of office” in a leadership position on the day he’s elected or appointed to the job. Period. Sometimes, Scouts start their leadership positions with no training at all, and pick it up along the way—Being trained is NOT a requirement for holding any leadership position and it’s certainly not a prerequisite for “tenure” (as in, for rank advancement). Based on your description, your son’s Scoutmaster may need to take some training himself, so that he doesn’t mess up again, and also so that he can fix the problem he’s just created by apologizing to your son for getting it wrong and then giving him back those two months.

Meanwhile, I hope your son continues on as a Den Chief—This is a challenging and simultaneously rewarding and fun leadership position!

Dear Andy,

Can a Pack Committee Chair remove a Den Leader from that position without support of the Pack’s committee? Can a committee chair “suspend the rights” of a Den Leader and then tell the entire Pack that this is “due to “circumstances” and yet provide no explanation of those “circumstances”? (Susan Yenne, Bay Area Council, TX)

I sure hope you’re not that Den Leader! What a lousy and un-Scout-like thing to do to another human being. The “removal” of a volunteer from a specific position is supposed to be managed with 100% grace and diplomacy, and certainly not carried out in public! This is demeaning, insensitive, and the antithesis of what Scouting’s all about. Did this pinhead Chair even consider how something like this might impact on the Den Leader’s family members?

Technically speaking, it is the sponsoring organization that has ultimate say-so as to who the volunteers in the Scouting unit they sponsor will be. It is tantamount to imperialism and dictatorship for a committee chair to independently and arbitrarily attempt to remove a unit volunteer without the full collaboration of the sponsor’s head, their designated representative (that is, the person who is registered with the BSA as the Chartered Organization Representative), as well as the committee at large. Frankly, unless this Den Leader violated some specific BSA policy, removal without consent is a virtual impossibility. This may need to be brought before your council’s Scout Executive. Check it out.

Dear Andy,

In our Troop, we’re having an ongoing discussion about the BSA policy on smoking. Where can I find the actual official wording of the BSA smoking policy? (Dennis Kamin, SM, Troop 300, Yukon, OK)

Get a copy of the BSA’s GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING (No. 34416D) and check out Section IV: “Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Use and Abuse.”

Dear Andy,

I think there’s a recognition award and knot for starting a new unit. Where can I get the application form? (Reed Summers, ACC, Trapper Trails Council, ID)

This new recognition—which has a really cool “square knot”—is called The William D. Boyce Unit Organizer Award and you can find out more about it at Get the application from your council service center (Yes, they’ve been published by the national office and are available).

Dear Andy,

In my son’s Troop, we’ve had problems lately with the Scoutmaster and the Scouts not being able to work together. We held a committee meeting to advise the Scoutmaster of this, and we were hoping that he’d step down as a result. But he didn’t. Instead, he went to the Troop’s Chartered Organization (which is made up of personal friends of his) and he’s managed to stay on as Scoutmaster. I’ve personally tried to go to the higher ups, but with no luck. My next chance is YOU. By the way, this Scoutmaster is also a Cubmaster of the Troop’s “sister Pack.” So one question I have is, can one person hold both of these positions at the same time? It seems unfair for the Cubs and the Scouts when the meetings are held on the same night, and he runs back and forth between the two, doing everything himself and allowing no one else to be in control of anything. PLEASE HELP! (My son is in his last year working toward Eagle.) (R.K., Twin Rivers Council, NY)

Ouch! Running back-and-forth between a Troop meeting and a Pack meeting? What nonsense! Anyway, here’s where the Troop committee went wrong: They “hoped” for a resignation. What they should have done, if he wasn’t willing to carry out the wishes of the committee is this: FIRE HIM. Yes, a unit committee can do that. But, they absolutely must have someone ready to step into that slot immediately, that very day.

The fact of the matter is that this is a Troop problem, and doesn’t need “higher ups” except and unless you have a Commissioner assigned to your Troop. So do it again—call a meeting with that Scoutmaster—but this time do it this way: Make your observations and requests strictly BEHAVIORAL. You can’t, for instance, ask him to “be nicer to the boys” because “nice” can’t be assessed or measured. But you can be very specific as to behavior, like this (I’m making this stuff up, of course):

  • We need for you to be in 100% attendance at Troop meetings— No leaving the room (except for a potty break).
  • We need you to not swear or use foul language at any time (this is a BSA policy).
  • We need you to always have a member of this unit committee with you when you speak to a Scout individually (two-deep leadership is also a BSA policy)
  • We need for you to _________.
  • Etc.

Don’t ask him to “try.” These specific things must be carried out beginning immediately and every time without exception. Then, if he refuses any one or more of these, the Committee Chair simply says, “We’re sorry that you cannot comply with our requests, and we accept your resignation accordingly.”

That’s it. Game over. But now you have to stick to it—No turning back, no second thoughts, no “one more chance.” It’s done. And the entire committee has to brief in advance of doing this, so that you all are of a single accord with no exceptions.

Remember also: The committee does not need to “take a vote” on this, and even if they try, the SM has no vote (he’s not a member of the committee) and neither do any ASMs.

Dear Andy,

I’ve recently volunteered to be a Counselor for the Auto Mechanics Merit Badge (I own and operate an automotive repair facility in my “spare time,” like 60 to 65 hours a week!). What I’m looking for is an online source for the depth of some of the MB’s requirements, like “explain the difference between electronic and pointed ignition systems,” or “explain how a carburetor and fuel injection systems operate,” and so on. How in-depth are these answers supposed to be? What should I be requiring of these fine young Scouts? (Keith Cullen, ASM & MBC, Troop 211, Old Pueblo District, Catalina Council, Tucson, AZ)

I’m delighted to learn of your Scouting involvements, and I hope you enjoy them for many years!

From a BSA pamphlet for Merit Badge Counselors written nearly 50 years ago (some good things don’t change): “The big idea in a nutshell is that through exploring in merit badge areas, a boy can build his world larger…the implications of the merit badge idea are that a Scout begins to think ahead, to take an early step in planning a full, worthwhile life; eventually finding that lifework that can lead him toward his greatest happiness and usefulness.”

This is perhaps why so many merit badges include a requirement about discovering for himself what careers might be available to a Scout that involve the skills and knowledge gained in the particular subject matter he’s been learning about and working on. The implications for you, as the Merit Badge Counselor are significant. Meeting the requirements won’t mean the Scout’s become an expert in the field; he’s not qualifying for a job or position. What he’s doing is learning in an engaging way about something he wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to if it weren’t for Scouting in general and the merit badge program in particular. “Do your best” has always been advancement’s byword, and it sure applies here. In helping your young charges learn about auto mechanics, you’re not so much a “tester” as a “friendly mentor.” How much should a Scout learn, at what level of detail? That answer’s easy: He should learn as much as you’re able to impart to him, with your own expertise and experience. This can even go beyond the requirements, so long as you don’t demand or insist that the Scout demonstrate knowledge or skills that exceed the requirements. So, the ultimate “decider” on depth of knowledge, and the primary imparter of that depth, is you. You’re the Counselor; this is your decision. Go with your heart and you’ll always be right.

Happy Scouting!


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

(February 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.

Read Andy's full biography

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