My son just completed his Arrow of Light and became a Boy Scout at age 10-½. He’s always set lofty goals for himself, and worked hard to achieve those goals. His current goal is to make Eagle Scout rank by the time he’s 13, so he can also work on Eagle Palms and earn them before he’s old enough to have an after-school job. The other day, he came home from his Crossing-Over ceremony, pulled out his new Boy Scout Handbook, and proceeded to make a schedule for when he’d need to start working on, and what he’d need in order to achieve this. He told me he was doing this so he’d be sure not to miss his goal simply because he started something too late (He did the same thing when he worked on his Arrow of Light). I want to support and even encourage this behavior in my son. However, when he went to his first Boy Scout troop meeting, he was told by his new Scoutmaster that he wouldn’t be allowed to even start working on his Eagle project until he was at least 14. Can they do this? If my son is ready, willing, and able to start work on the initial ranks, merit badges, service projects, and so on, can they tell him he can’t advance in rank just because they don’t think he’s old enough? He was very upset by this. He doesn’t want to quit Scouts, but he said there’s no point in trying to reach his goal if his troop’s leaders were just going to tell him no. (Vikki Ratliff, parent, Troop 47, Last Frontier Council, Oklahoma City, OK)
Question: What’s worse than an ignoramus? Answer: A self-important ignoramus. And that’s exactly what this Scoutmaster you spoke of is. As is anyone ill-informed enough to agree with him.
Neither he, nor anyone associate with that troop, nor the Will Rogers District, nor the Last Frontier Council has either the right or the authority to impose such a stipulation as you’ve described to me. This is not a matter of opinion. This is pure fact. It’s BSA policy.
There are no “age requirements” for any Boy Scout rank or merit badge. And none may be imposed. There is, of course, a certain order to things, like earning Tenderfoot before moving on the Second and First Class requirements. And there’s tenure-in-rank beginning with the 30 days for Tenderfoot physical fitness and then at First Class-to-Star and beyond. But that’s it.
But don’t try to “educate” these knuckleheads. It’s a waste of your time. You’d have better luck trying to teach pigs to fly.
Your son already displays skills of forethought, long-range planning, step-by-step goal-setting, and final goal visualization. He also had the good sense to discuss his goals and timeline in advance. (Imagine if he hadn’t, and he found out how this troop operates when he’s 12 and a Life Scout!). Be delighted with your son. He’s going to be an Eagle Scout, because he already has some of the important skills he’ll need to get there. Honor his intent and, most important, GET HIM OUT OF THAT TROOP!
Help your son find another troop. He should then present the same goal to the Scoutmaster. Here’s the response he should be looking for: “That’s a great goal, son! And this troop is the place to go for it!” Anything less: Walk away, fast.
The right troop will guide him to taking the proper steps in the proper order, with as much alacrity as your son chooses, because it’s HIS decision and no one else’s.
A local supporter of our troop was told by his local United Way Office Director that his payroll contribution could be designated to the Boy Scouts and, more specifically, a specified Boy Scout troop. After some follow-up by this parent with United Way, he was directed to the District. Is the District obligated to disburse the contribution as requested by the person who made the donation, or was the United Way Director misinformed? (M. Coutts, Chief Lenapee Council, Ann Arbor, MI)
If, in fact, the UW director confirms that a payroll contribution can be directed to a specific single Scouting unit (your troop, for instance), then the BSA council is certainly obligated to complete the chain, and no doubt will. However, it’s probably a good idea for the contributor to make sure that the UW and the council are on the same page. If there’s a glitch, the contributor can always reduce the payroll deduction and make the contribution directly.
Annually, our district holds a “Merit Badge Pow Wow.” I’m a brand-new District Commissioner who’d like a list of merit badges you’d suggest we offer. I’m looking for those that a Scout can earn in a 3-hour session, and those you’d recommend that at least give a good head-start to the earning of a badge. Heretofore, we’ve offered these merit badges, and I’d appreciate any suggestions so we can offer more: Coin Collecting, Dentistry, Electricity, Electronics, Fingerprinting, Music, and Truck Transportation. (Ernie Kuhn, DC, Stone Creek District, Great Salt Lake Council, UT).
First, I’m going to answer your question (it’s a good one), and then I’m going to philosophize a bit…
Merit badges that can be completed from start to finish on location, in 3 hours, are: Art, Basketry, Coin Collection (bring collection), Collections (bring collection), Computers, Fingerprinting, Leatherwork (bring item for req. 4), Painting, Sculpture, and Wood Carving.
All other merit badges require something that can’t be accomplished on site (usually off-site visits, for which there is no possible substitute), and so the best that can be done is to provide “partials.” I’m personally opposed to partials, on the simple basis of “if you’re gonna start it, finish it!” Napoleon put it this way: “If you are going to take Vienna, TAKE VIENNA.”
In addition to these, it might be a cool idea to have another segment in the MB event, perhaps called “Merit Badge Smorgasbord” — Here, counselors for merit badges like American Business, American Cultures, Auto Mechanics, Aviation, and others, could have displays and small, hands-on “enticers” (but not for “partials”) to get Scouts interested in their subjects enough to seek out these counselors after the event.
That said, I’ll confess that I’m philosophically opposed to merit badge events such as this. Scouting, fundamentally, is more about the journey than the destination. Consider Philmont treks: All trek crews end up right back where they started; all their experiences and resulting personal growth took place along the trail. Merit badges are about personal initiative and personal discovery. Consider page 187 in the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK. It doesn’t talk about going to classes or taking instruction; it talks about personal selection and personal initiative, and the people the Scouts go to see aren’t called “teachers;” they’re deliberately called COUNSELORS.
When we spoon-feed advancement at any level, we undermine an essential aspect of Scouting. Merit badges, in particular, are about the Scout learning on his own, with the aid and support of a knowledgeable adult guide-and-mentor. It’s not about “earning badges;” it’s all about deciding to gain knowledge and skills, and then going out and doing it! This is a fundamental aspect of the learning model originated by Scouting’s founder, Robert Baden-Powell. This is what has set Scouting apart from literally every other learning model on the planet for the past 99 years, and we err when we depart from it.
There seems to be a current fixation on “Eagle or nothing.” I’ve even seen such slogans as “Every Scout An Eagle.” This is tantamount to “every citizen a president,” or “every soldier a general,” or “every student a Ph.D.” This is, of course, nonsense. Every Scout can and should determine for himself what he wants to accomplish, and then go for it. Some may want the be Eagles, others may be interested in the OA, others may be focused on being a summer camp staffer, and still others may be happy just being a patrol member who is having fun. All of these are just fine, because they’re the Scout’s decision.
Baden-Powell put it this way: “Advancement is like a suntan–Something you get naturally whilst having fun in the outdoors.” This is my all-time favorite advancement quote.
As a Scoutmaster, I didn’t encourage advancement; I encouraged PARTICIPATION.
Woody Allen said it: “80 percent of success in life happens when you show up.” This is my second-favorite quote.
If you think about it, we adults are no different from the Scouts we’re here to serve… Some of us are “square knot hounds,” others fill out the progress records because they figure they might as well get credit for what they’re doing anyway, and yet others couldn’t give a hoot! Why, then, do we expect our sons or daughters to be any different? Do we “push” ourselves as hard as we push them? Maybe we should, as they’d say, Chill Out.
My question is about Scout license plates. I want to pitch the idea to my pack, but I want to make sure I know what I’m talking about. For what, and where, does this license plate funding go? (Kristen Repetti, Pack 822 Secretary, Palm City, FL)
What a great idea! Since auto plates are state-issued, there might be differences, state-to-state, on how these funds are used. Check with your own Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
My son and I have just bridged over from Cubs to Boy Scouts, and we need to make a patrol flag. Is there a regulation size to a patrol flag? (Roy Bishop, ASM, Troop 12, Lincoln Heritage Council, New Albany, IN)
The BSA used to have “standard issue” patrol flags… Back in the days when patrols were named The Screaming Eagles, The Flaming Arrows, The Mighty Owls, and such. Today, we have names often more along the lines of The Gory Gophers, The Pink Floyds, The Goofy Gilligans, and The No-Name Patrol, and patrol flags have become pretty arbitrary (and much more “creative”). I think the thing for your son and his pals to do is to take a look at what other patrols in his new troop have done (size, materials, style, and so on) and then get creative, matching the motif to the name they’ve chosen. Good luck and best wishes to you all as the adventure continues!
Can a Den Leader have more than one job? For example: Den Leader and Assistant Cubmaster. And, as Den Leaders, can we assist the pack committee as long we don’t hold an actual position? (Sammy, Bucktail Council, Punxsutawney, PA)
Yes, technically, a person can hold two positions within a unit. But… DON’T DO IT! It makes for messy and confusing leadership. Let’s take the situation you’ve mentioned: Den Leader AND Assistant Cubmaster. So lets go to a pack meeting. Den Leaders stay with their dens, right? But this DL/ACM has pack meeting responsibilities, so he or she is now pulled away from where they’re supposed to be, to handle some other thing at the meeting. Nope. Doesn’t work. Oh, you say, why can’t there be an Assistant DL who can take over for the DL when the DL has to be the ACM? And I’d say, a den of up to eight boys is perfectly manageable by one DL, so the assistant should be the ACM instead, and not an assistant DL, so that everyone has just one job to do. And on your second question, no, DLs do not “help” the committee; it’s the other way around — the pack committee is the support group for the Cubmaster and Den Leaders.
I’ve only recently been introduced to your column and really enjoy your straight answers. But I find an apparent contradiction in two of your answers in your Mid-March 2006 column. In one, you state: “…The notion of ‘passing’ a Board of review contains the subtle but recognizable notion that a Scout can fail it, and this is totally contrary to its purpose.” And then, in a later answer, you say: “The decision as to whether or not, and to what degree, the project was satisfactorily carried out (including the quality of the project report) is neither the unit’s leaders nor even, in fact, the District Advancement Chair; it is the candidate’s Board of Review members who bear this responsibility.”
I fully agree that the purpose of a Board of Review is not to evaluate a Scout, or to retest already signed-off requirements, but to assess the troop’s processes. With this in mind, part of the Board’s responsibilities is to insure that all requirements have properly been met. If they haven’t, the Board can’t sign off on the advancement. It’s important to note that the Scout hasn’t failed, but, instead, it’s the troop process that needs to be corrected. This concept is in accord with the second answer above. (John C. Pierce, ASM, Troop 72, Tecumseh Council, OH)
Although there’s actually no contradiction, I can understand how those two statements might seem at odds with one another. Let’s take the second statement first. This isn’t an “Andy Opinion.” This is what the BSA has to say, in the language found in ADVANCEMENT COMMITTEE POLICIES & PROCEDURES. The first statement, about the implication of “failing” a BOR, is my interpretation of BSA policy, which happens to never use the word “fail” and is silent on the issue of failure. The purpose of a BOR is to confirm, as you yourself stated well, the degree to which the troop has assisted the Scout in advancing in rank, and the Scout’s experiences in doing so. But, returning to the point about evaluating the satisfactory completion of the Eagle service project and the quality of the report, if the BOR determines that something significant is lacking, the BOR may be suspended and then reconvened when the shortfall is corrected. This, then, is not a “failure” but, rather, a hiatus, until the work and/or report are deemed satisfactory. I know this all sounds a little convoluted, and we’re probably putting too fine a point on it. But I hope this helps.
Someone recently told me that a Den Leader must attend a certain number of Roundtable meetings in order to be eligible for the Den Leader Knot Award. Is this true? (Lee Enyart, Sam Houston Area Council, TX)
That’s a big 10-4, with some options! For all five awards—Tiger Leader, Cub Den Leader, Webelos Den Leader, Cubmaster, and Cub Scouter—that requirement is: “During your tenure for this award, attend a Cub Scout leader Pow Wow or University of Scouting or at least four roundtables.” You’ll find this on the progress cards for each award.
I’ve been searching for a ceremony for new Scoutmaster. Do you have any suggestions on where to look? (Mike Driscoll)
There’s no “official” ceremony that I’m aware of, but here’s a very nice one, created by Merl Whitebook, of troop 1 in Tulsa, Oklahoma (I found this on the Scouter’s Network website), with some slight editing by me:
“I am not a very important person, as importance is commonly rated.
I do not have great wealth, or control of a big business, nor do I occupy a position of great honor or authority. Yet I may some day mold destiny. For it is within my power to become an important influencer in the life of a young man. All about us are young men… Scouts! They will be the builders of tomorrow, in our community and our country. We, through or covenant with the aims of Scouting, can by our mentoring and example show them the way…the path to that future, so that a hundred years from now, it will not matter what our bank accounts held, nor the sort of house we lived in, nor the kind of car we drove. But the world may be different because we were important in the life of a young man… A Scout!”
“Now, please raise your hand in the Scout Sign and repeat after me…
I, __________ (state your name),
Promise to uphold the ideals of Scouting,
And to further the goals and values of the Boy Scouts of America.
I will at all times do my duty to God and my Country,
And obey the Scout Law.
I will help the Scouts in my charge to become physically strong.
I will challenge the Scouts in my charge to be mentally awake,
And teach them to be morally straight, through my own example.
I will, for the remainder of my days, remain true to this oath.
(SHAKE HANDS–LEFT HAND!) Congratulations, Scoutmaster (NAME)!”
Do you know of any rules for allowing a Scout to finish the Eagle rank after age 18, due to a physical hardship as a result of an accident that lasted about a year? (Todd Davidson, Circle Ten Council, TX)
There are no formal rules that I’m aware of, but there’s an opportunity. This young man will need significant assistance. First, he’ll need to get a detailed medical report from a lettered physician or clinic or hospital (or all!), describing in layman’s terms but very precisely the nature of the physical limitation, when it began and what caused it, when treatment began and the nature of the treatment, the duration of the problem (specific date), and the young man’s present state of health. This document should also specify precisely what his limitations are/were during his “downtime.” If he wasn’t able to attend school, for the same reasons of physical limitation, then a letter from his high school stating this, and providing precise dates, would be helpful as well. Third, it’s important to know exactly what requirements for Eagle rank had been completed, and what remained, at the time the limitation began.
He should not obtain all of this information in a vacuum. Two people should be contacted right away: the District Advancement Chair, and then your Council Advancement Chair. These are the people who will ultimately write the cover letter and provide the supporting documents to the national office. They may have some further suggestions for this young man.
One of the keys will be this: Exactly what requirements were still outstanding at the time of the injury or sickness, and were the limitations imposed by this of sufficient severity to have prevented him from completing those requirements. For instance, even Scouts confined to wheelchairs can create, design, plan, give leadership to, and complete an Eagle service project; but if he needed, let’s say, Lifesaving merit badge, this would be quite impossible while in a wheelchair. The national council will wish to take nuances like these into consideration in making a determination. Their decision is usually final, and not subject to further appeal, so this young man will want to load all cannonballs into a single cannon before taking his shot. Good luck to him!
When I first agreed to become the Cubmaster, I found a list of awards that a Cub Scout pack could earn. Now that I’m two weeks away from officially becoming the Cubmaster, I can’t find this list! Where can I get a copy of all the unit awards that are available for a Cub Scout pack? (Shanon Mettlen, CM, Pack 178, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)
Your best source is the Cub Scout Leader Book, which you’ve no doubt bought already, in preparation for one of the most rewarding positions in all of Scouting.
About your Mid-April column, the BSA did away with not letting women in the Scouting movement over six years ago. So if the chartered organization doesn’t have any rules against a woman being in the troop it sponsors, then she has a right to step forward. As a former Scoutmaster, I’ve seen fathers come over with their “little Johnny” and then couldn’t keep their hands off (or mouths shut) at meetings and campouts. I’ve had to pull them aside and, with some tact, tell them to back off or leave, and remind them that this is Johnny’s troop and patrol; not dad’s, and that dad’s “job” is to sit far away and let Johnny burn those eggs and take a half-hour to set up a tent! So please don’t dismiss a mom who wishes to join a troop as a leader! (Don McDow, ASM & UC, Greater Alabama Council)
Actually, women have been in the Scouting movement for 76 years… Remember Den Mothers? Then, in 1973 (that’s 33 years ago), women started serving as Cubmasters.
The BSA had a standing policy that Scoutmasters were to be adult males; however, defending that policy (even though 100% successful at all court levels, including the Supreme Court, for many years) was horribly costly (in the millions!) and so in 1989—that’s 17 years ago—all gender restrictions with regard to any registered adult position in the BSA were dropped.
What you don’t know (and couldn’t, because that Den Leader’s letter was abridged for brevity) is that she clearly indicated that her joining a troop had more to do with seeking her own “life fulfillment” through Scouting than with supporting her son. Leaders, to my mind, are mentors, counselors, teachers, coaches, guides, and more… They’re definitely not “fulfillment seekers” except with regard to feeling the fulfillment that comes with helping our youth to grow into adulthood.
Moreover, as she, herself pointed out, the men in the troop she sought to join weren’t so much opposed to this as they were uncertain as to how to proceed, this never having happened before.
C’mon, now… Do you really think I’m so provincial as to “dismiss” any woman (or man) who’s volunteering to make a difference with the youth we serve in Scouting?
Your Mid-April column had a Q&A about a woman who wants to get involved with her son’s new troop but senses some reluctance among the male leaders. I appreciated what you said about boys wanting and needing male leadership but I disagree that this woman should be advised to do anything less than become an assistant Scoutmaster with all the rights and privileges thereof.
The men in this troop have a responsibility and a commitment to welcome any qualified person to their leadership, if they are cutting this woman out merely because she is a woman they are dead wrong. Don’t we all observe the same basic rules? Is there anything in any policy anywhere that says men are to be preferred as leaders over women or that troops can have an all male leadership policy? I think not. If this were a man in wheelchair (not to equate being a woman with a disability) who had received implicit messages that he was not welcome as a leader because of his disability, would you have given him the same advice? The men in the troop in question are sending their Scouts some negative messages to how women should be treated, and probably missing out on a qualified, motivated leader. I believe this woman should certainly assert her right to be a part of the troop’s leadership, to enjoy Scouting on an equal footing with the men in the troop and with her son. All this can be done without unpleasantness, and if the men respond in a negative and un-Scout-like manner, then this mom has the opportunity to show her son and his fellow scouts how these conflicts can be resolved peaceably.
I was disappointed with your response. This situation, while sadly common, shouldn’t be allowed to go unchallenged. I speak as a male leader who, at one time, thought women didn’t belong in Boy Scouting, but knowing and working with capable, motivated and talented woman leaders has changed my attitude.
On the other hand, you hit the nail on the head by encouraging this mom to let her son have some distance from her in his troop, a hard needle to thread for men and women. Scouts should be able to live their own lives without a parent breathing down their neck. (Clarke Green)
Thanks for writing, and expressing your point-of-view so well. I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. In fact, I personally know any number of competent, dedicated women who are troop Scoutmasters and ASMs, JLT/YLT Scoutmasters, NJLIC/YLSD Scoutmasters, and on and on. So, why, then, did I make the recommendation to this one woman that I did, you might wonder. Her letter to me, as printed in the column, was shortened slightly, and that shortening dropped the very strong implication that her reason for wanting to continue into Boy Scouting had nothing to do with supporting her son or even with “serving the movement,” but was more along the lines of finding herself and validating herself. To my way of thinking, these aren’t healthy reasons, and were likely to get in the way of her own son’s involvement and personal growth. Had these motivations of hers not come out so strongly, I might well have offered entirely different suggestions!
(And Clarke wrote again…)
That helps fill in the blanks a bit, thank you. I guess many of us started as Scouters with some misguided or selfish motives. Not too many survive for too long on those motivations. But I still will press you to make some kind of statement that condemns the kind of attitude the male Scouters in that troop are apparently holding. Folks look up to you and I think your advice, while sound in that particular situation, could be taken as an endorsement of a wrongheaded attitude towards women in Scouting.
If you take a good look at that mom’s original letter, you’ll observe that the guys in that troop were actually more confused and unsure about what to do than actually opposed to the idea of a woman leader. So, taking that along with my opinion that a parent joining Boy Scouts for “personal fulfillment” (other than the satisfaction of helping youth grow) is a little bit off the mark, I think I’ll stand by my call on this one.
(And Clarke wrote back…)
Fair enough…Thank you. You handle some sticky situations in your column with great sensitivity, yet you pull no punches when something is just plain wrong. I want to reiterate my great appreciation for your work. With that in mind, I offer this situation for your comment:
Over time, I’ve come to appreciate that one of the more important processes a Scout undergoes in becoming an Eagle is the development, presentation, and approval of a project. This process is challenging for a good reason: It’s a real test of the Scout’s maturity and leadership ability. I’d rather not see things like Life-to-Eagle seminars that parents are encouraged to attend with their Scouts. In some cases, it’s difficult to keep parents from having an undue amount of input in the process (sort of like a parent write a college application essay for the student).
We’ve had a bit of a dustup over a district advancement chair who wants Scouts to “vet” their project with him before they present the idea to their Scoutmaster or troop Committee. His reasoning is that if he pre-approves the idea then he won’t have to turn a Scout down or ask for changes to the proposal later on. But, as a result of this method, I’ve had Eagle candidates’ projects rejected because “It’s too similar to another project and we want more variety in the district” and “We’ve done enough projects for that organization already.” I can’t find any language in advancement literature suggesting that either of these is a valid reason for disapproving an Eagle Project.
I am also uncomfortable about a District Advancement Chair sitting in on an Eagle Board of Review, especially when they chair the board, supplanting the troop’s own advancement chair.
What’s chapter and verse on these two issues?
First, Life-to-Eagle seminars, workshops, whatever, that parents attend is one of the more stupid and time-wasting ideas I’ve heard of yet! Heck, I don’t even think they’re necessary for Scouts! Everything’s in writing… in the Handbook, on the application for Eagle, in the project workbook, online at thousands of sources, and on and on! All the Scout needs to do is read. Plus, he has a Scoutmaster, and a troop Advancement Chair. How much more coddling does he need? The answer should be: None. It’s not “our job” to turn Scouts into Eagles by strapping them on litters and carrying them through the process — Becoming an Eagle Scout is the job of the Scout, and the Scout alone.
Second, I’ve seen Eagle projects handled in various ways, in different councils and districts, and I can assure that there’s no “perfect” method! The idea of a project concept “pre-screen” by the district advancement chair (“DAC”) is actually a pretty good one, because it saves a Scout from the frustration of doing a full write-up and then having it turned down or significantly altered in some way, for some reason neither he nor his troop’s leaders had thought of! When the pre-screening is working well, only the concept is discussed between the Scout and the DAC and, on conclusion of that conversation, the Scout knows he’s on the right track and can go full-bore. The best way to do this that I’ve seen is for the Scout and his Scoutmaster and/or advancement chair to confer on the concept first, and after they’re all comfortable with it, then the Scout takes it to the DAC, and has a conversation.
That said, whether it’s via the pre-screening method or the post-write-up approval process, or both, such reasons for not approving a project as similarity to another project, or to legislate variety, or multiple projects for the same organization are all malarkey! NONE of these is a valid reason; these are merely the personal idiosyncrasies and predilections of one person (the DAC) who’s perhaps grown a bit too big for his britches, and should absolutely be taken to a higher level (e.g., the council’s advancement chair).
While advancement committees appreciate, encourage, and enjoy creativity on the part of Eagle candidates, and always hope to see something unique, or carried out uniquely, this is only a wish. It cannot and should not be legislated.
Third, it’s BSA policy that, when a troop-level Board of Review is conducted for the Eagle rank (as contrasted with district- or council-level Eagle BORs, which a council is at liberty to do), a representative of the district and/or council must be present. However, there’s nothing that says this person must “chair” the BOR; it is, in fact, a courtesy to ask the troop’s own advancement chair to conduct the BOR.
The BSA book, ADVANCEMENT COMMITTEE POLICIES & PROCEDURES, is worth the price and will help a lot. Check with your Scout Shop or buy it online at www.scoutstuff.org.
Got a question? Send it to me at AskAndyBSA@yahoo.com – (Please include your Council name and home state)
(Mid-May 2006 – Copyright © 2006 Andy McCommish)