Author Avatar

Issue 108 – June 29, 2007

Dear Andy,

I’m just catching up on your recent columns and spotted several questions that were posted to you. You might like to know that your responses are supported and reinforced by very recently added supplemental website pages. Here’s a new BSA link with a wealth of information on rank advancement and the board of review process (see Frequently Asked Questions):

In light of your recent special column, you’ll be interested in the BSA’s three-part answer to the FAQ about what “be active” means, especially the part about it being the unit leader’s job to engage the Scout!

Also, check out resources for Merit Badge Counselors, at:

As always, thanks for what you’re doing! (Craig B., MC, Jersey Shore Council) (I used to be an Owl…)

These are fabulous! Thanks! And they’re going to come in handy in just a moment… read on!

Dear Andy,

My grandson is in the final stages of getting his Eagle project completed. He’s profoundly deaf, and also has severe learning disabilities. He needs to have an interpreter to communicate, but most of all he needs someone who can “unscramble” his words and sentences, so he can be understood. He also needs to have questions asked of him simplified, so that he can comprehend and respond. His mother is the only one who can do this, and our family has letters from several doctors affirming that he needs this extra help. However, when he attempted to have his Eagle project approved, one of the reviewers was most vocal in saying that “it is downright illegal” to have his mother in the interview, and especially at his Eagle board of review. Now this young man has worked very hard on his trail to Eagle. He’s taken no short cuts, despite his challenges. He is simply the hardest-working kid you’ve ever seen, and once he sets a goal for himself, he never quits.

My question, of course, is: Can his mother be present during the board of review, to sign for her son as well as for the people on the review board who will need to have their questions signed so this devoted Scout can understand them and respond, or is this, in fact, “downright illegal”? (K.L., Mt. Baker Council, WA)

The first thing I should tell you is this: I have profound admiration for what your grandson is accomplishing. Advancing through the ranks of Scouting is no simple set of tasks for the unimpaired, and for your grandson to have taken up this challenge despite his impairments is what Scouting is truly all about. My hat’s off to him!

I’m equally embarrassed to learn that some supposed volunteer, who is supposed to be serving youth like your grandson, just doesn’t get it. Whether it’s idiocy or just mean-spiritedness, we’ll probably never know, but there is definitely a solution to this impasse.

Yes, there actually is a BSA policy that parents do not attend boards of review (for any rank), which does make me wonder what method was used for the five reviews from the Tenderfoot through Life ranks!

The simplest solution, of course, is for his mother to attend along with him, which, while exceptional, would certainly not be “lethal,” because in the nearly 200 Eagle boards of review that I’ve personal sat on, I’ve never observed a question asked or answer given that a parent should not hear. Moreover, in a situation such as you’ve described, the “support” needed is hardly parental, and is clearly in the realm of interpretation for clarity of communication during the conversation that will take place. Nevertheless, it is outside BSA policy and I’m sure would need some sort of protracted process to “legalize” it. So, if we can’t go through the front door, let’s see if we can’t find a side door… Maybe there’s a way into success that doesn’t violate the “letter of the law”…

Consider the possibility of a non-relative attending with your grandson: perhaps a teacher who can sign, or perhaps a representative from the Helen Keller Institute, or one from Island County Social Services might be able to stand in for your daughter and help your grandson through the review. The review itself typically takes about a half-hour; this isn’t the Spanish Inquisition, after all! This would accommodate the BSA policy (thereby taking the wind out of that curmudgeon’s sails) and simultaneously provide the interpretations needed.

If this approach is also discouraged, then maybe it’s time to play hard-ball. I’d be tempted to pose this question to whomever tries to stone-wall your grandson: “I’d like you to think about how you’ll be feeling when you see a headline in our local paper that says, ‘BOY SCOUTS DENY EAGLE RANK TO DEAF & LEARNING DISABLED YOUTH,’ along with a detailed story about how he completed every requirement and then you blocked him in his final step.”

If this doesn’t move the mountain, then it’s time to contact your council’s professional Scout Executive—He’ll know what to do next.

If you think that that’s a horror story, read on (in the exchange below, I’ve eliminated or changed all the names, so as to protect the guilty, and I’ve also paraphrased judiciously, in the interest of readability)…

Dear Andy,

Until ninth grade, my son was a very active Scout. He earned his ranks, all the way to Life rank, quickly. While serving as Troop Scribe, he set up the troop’s email communication system—this was his idea, and then he made it happen. Then, he became the troop’s Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, and served in this leadership position from March through September, often filling in for the SPL during that time ( Master of Ceremonies of the May Court of Honor, the same at an Eagle Court of Honor, and SPL at summer camp). He was elected to the Order of the Arrow by his fellow Scouts, and subsequently joined the lodge’s ceremonies team.

Beginning in ninth grade, he became involved in school-based activities as well, including marching band, mock trial, swim team, and so on. As a consequence of these additional activities, his attendance in Scouting activities declined. He did attend all the meetings he could (when there wasn’t a conflict with a “mandatory” meet, practice, or event at school), and in this same time-period went on to earn 25 merit badges. (By the way, the Scoutmaster’s “policy” is that merit badges must be completed within 12 months or the Scout has to start again from scratch.).

While in his junior year of high school, my son began work on his Eagle project. Its concept was approved by his Scoutmaster in March 2006, after which he continued to meet with his Scoutmaster for further reviews of the full project plan, after which the troop advancement chair reviewed it two more times.

While in his junior year he was in both the marching band and the school orchestra, in his senior year he dropped out of the band, expecting that this would free up Monday nights for troop meetings, and told the Scoutmaster what he’d decided. But then he was accepted into the county-wide Honor Orchestra, and they practiced on Monday nights. When he told his Scoutmaster what had happened, the response was this: “That will cost you your Eagle, because when you miss meetings like you’re going to do, it shows a lack of Scout spirit.”

On being told this, my son immediately transferred to another troop because they met on Thursdays and there was no conflict at all on that night. His project—still waiting to get started—was reviewed several times by his new troop, and was (finally) deemed ready to be submitted to the district advancement committee for final sign-off.

When his new Scoutmaster met with his previous Scoutmaster to update my son’s advancement records, that gentleman refused to sign off on the tenure-in-leadership position after Life rank, saying it was all unacceptable (even though he’d already accepted two months of that service tenure for my son’s Life rank!). Although this Scoutmaster had never advised my son at any time that his total of ten months of leadership service was unacceptable, the result of this brand-new stance was that my son would not have time to complete six more months of service with his new troop before his 18th birthday.

My son’s first appeal was to his former troop committee, but they voted unanimously to deny credit for that service after allowing my son literally five minutes to state his case and then taking over an hour for discussion amongst themselves that they carried out in private.

My son next appealed to our council’s Scout Executive, and was told that it would take four to five weeks to receive an answer back from the national advancement committee. That was, now, several months ago, and there’s been nothing, and then the Scout Executive was somehow not available when I phoned his office over a five-week period. Finally, I did receive a reply, and it was this: He’ll get back to us when and if “national” said anything.

In a nutshell, does my son have any recourse, and if so, what and how? Everything we’ve done so far has hit a wall:

We can’t find any rules about Scoutmaster behavior, or remedies that don’t involve the troop committee. (Many of the troop committee members agree with the Scoutmaster’s policies on attendance and merit badge completion. Does this make it OK?)

About the things, like attendance requirements, that you’ve said are against BSA policy, if a Scoutmaster does these things, does a Scout or do his parents have any remedy except to leave the troop?

How can we pursue this above our local council? Is it reasonable to get an answer of “when and if ‘National’ responds”? Wouldn’t they respond to every appeal for an extension?

(Worried Dad)

There’s a whole bunch of errors and incorrect stuff described in your letter. I’ll try to deal with everything, one point at a time…

Your son apparently earned his Life rank while an 8th grader and completed his “active” and “leadership position” requirements for Eagle between November of his 8th grade year and September of his freshman year in high school. Both Scribe and ASPL are qualifying positions for Eagle rank, and so there should be no argument there: Even if he changed from one position to another, so long as total time in one or the other of these two positions was six months, and was not removed prematurely, the requirement is considered successfully completed. However, your son apparently did not get any sort of “sign-off” from his Scoutmaster at the time he completed these two requirements. It is, in fact, the Scout’s responsibility to do this, and it’s now most obviously regrettable that he didn’t take this action at the appropriate time.

Note of caution to ALL Scouts: When you’ve completed a rank requirement—ANY rank requirement—get those initials and date in your Handbook!

The Scoutmaster’s “policy” that merit badges have to be completed in 12 months is totally, utterly bogus. The BSA makes no such stipulation, and no Scoutmaster (or anyone else, for that matter) has the authority to override a BSA policy.

Second cautionary note to Scouts: If you’re told something, even by your Scoutmaster, that doesn’t seem to make any sense (like, your Handbook doesn’t say what you’re now being told), CHECK IT OUT. Don’t blindly accept anyone’s word for a difference between what your Handbook says and what they’re saying.

“Scout spirit” is NOT about “attending meetings.” Once again, your son’s Scoutmaster was way out of line. Neither a Scoutmaster nor anyone else below the national level has the authority to alter the advancement requirements established by BSA. The BSA does not require attending a specific number of meetings and the Scoutmaster is, by policy, not permitted to add a specific number or ratio as a personal requirement.

Your son’s new Scoutmaster forgot a major aspect of what he signed on to uphold: Scout’s Honor. Merely asking your son to describe his leadership experiences would have sufficed. If, however, the new Scoutmaster felt that some sort of further narrative about your son’s leadership positions was in order, he might have asked any of the Scouts themselves, from your son’s former troop. That’s all that would have been necessary, and the new Scoutmaster could have initialed your son’s Handbook and signed your son’s Eagle rank application with impunity. It is incredibly unfortunate that no one knew this. It would have saved an awful lot of grief and unnecessary extra work.

Sometimes figuring out where to go on an issue like this is difficult. Most of us tend to want to go to the folks we know for help, or, when that fails, we want to go immediately to the highest level available. But in this sort of situation the best place to start with is the district advancement committee and/or chair. The district does have the power to override an inappropriate decision at the unit level. If this step had proven unsatisfactory, the next level would be the council advancement committee and/or chair. In your case, when the appeal reached the Scout Executive without these intermediate reviews, he might have directed you to the correct district and/or council people, but he didn’t, and so the situation is a little more difficult to resolve. I’m not sure I understand or agree with the next step taken, which was that the Scout Executive apparently sent this on to the national advancement committee. In most councils, a Scout Executive would have worked this in-house first, knowing that the national office would expect to see that before responding.

NO “EXTENSION” IS NECESSARY. The tenure situation is fixable in your son’s present troop. Assuming he’s completed the necessary merit badges, his Eagle project (with sign-offs), and the other requirements (references, statement of life purpose, etc.), and had his Scoutmaster’s Conference all before his 18th birthday, he’s qualified to have an Eagle board of review. (The board of review, not being a “requirement,” may be conducted after a Scout’s 18th birthday.)

Now, one question: Has your son been given a copy of the “appeal” the Scout Executive says he sent to the national advancement committee? I’ll bet not. Well GET IT! DEMAND IT! But, in the meanwhile, contact your council or district advancement chair IMMEDIATELY and ask them to get this mess fixed.

The actions of the Scoutmaster in your son’s old troop sure seems up to a lot of healthy questioning, based on the account you have given. As a volunteer, his “contract” with the BSA is to “promote…the ability of youth to do things for themselves and others…teach patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues.” If a Scoutmaster isn’t using the methods of Scouting (advancement being one of the eight methods) to achieve the goals of Scouting (citizenship, character, and fitness), then it sure raises some questions about exactly what is he doing and why.

88 years ago, Baden-Powell wrote that “The Scoutmaster guides the boy in the spirit of an older brother.” He also wrote that “He (the Scoutmaster) must realize the needs, outlooks and desires of the different ages of boy life.” If we apply what Baden-Powell said to this situation, it might be along the lines of a Scoutmaster should understand that, as a boy grows older, he will need to be involved in his school and its activities as well as Scouting, and the Scoutmaster will be sensitive to those needs and–like an older brother–help the Scout along the road instead of telling the Scout he’s making a choice of forfeiting a rank by exercising the very qualities of good citizenship that Scouting seeks to promote. If we look at Scouting as goals-based, and if the Scout is showing promise in his character development and citizenship as demonstrated by his activities, how can an “older brother” (that is, Scoutmaster) reasonably use that as a basis to deny advancement?

Baden-Powell also wrote, “Let the Scoutmaster remember that in addition to his duty to his boys he has a duty also to the Movement as a whole. . . . Scoutmasters must necessarily be above petty personal feeling and must be large-minded enough to subject their own personal view to the higher policy of the whole.” Finally, Baden-Powell had this to say, “Where a man cannot conscientiously take the line required, his one manly course is to put it straight to his Commissioner or to Headquarters, and if we cannot meet his views, then leave the work.” in other words, if a Scoutmaster is not willing to work within BSA’s advancement policies, then perhaps it is time to move on.

Dear Andy,

In the Eagle Scout rank requirements, item 4 says, “While a Life Scout, serve actively for a period of 6 months in one or more of the following positions of responsibility…” Does that six months have to be continuous, and in one position, or can a Scout have two months in one position (earned Life rank four months into a position), and then four months in another position. Also, can the tenure in a leadership position have a gap?

I’m asking these further questions because my son’s former Scoutmaster has now decided to not give leadership credit for time during the summer, when the troop doesn’t meet. Is this normally done?

(Worried Dad)

The BSA national advancement committee positions on your questions are as follows:

1. It is not necessary for tenure in a leadership position to be for one, continuous six-month period of time so long as the total time adds up to six calendar months.

2. The leadership position may change within the tenure period.

3. It is definitely not appropriate for tenure to be “suspended” over the summer months, or during any other period (e.g., a holiday, etc.). If the total time in one or more qualifying positions adds up to six calendar months, the tenure is considered completed.

Further, unless the Scout has been removed from a leadership position short of the required tenure, he is considered to have completed the tenure-in-position successfully.

Dear Andy,

You guessed right about my son completing the requirements for active participation and leadership prior to entering high school, but those requirements weren’t signed off because his Scoutmaster at that time made a practice of not signing off on anything until the Scoutmaster Conference. He’s actually stated in an email letter, “I sign tenure, leadership, Scout spirit, and review merit badge blue cards at the Scoutmaster Conference.” I don’t know what would have happened if my son had asked for the signature at the time of service (and he may have tried), but the Scoutmaster is intimidating and sarcastic to the Scouts, and I believe my son, as well as all other Scouts in that troop, would have been told that the Scoutmaster alone makes the decision on when things are signed off.

If a Scoutmaster tells a Scout something different from what’s in the Handbook, what can that Scout do? If the Scoutmaster refuses to award a merit badge based on his “12 month rule,” what recourse does a Scout have? Pointing out the error, to this Scoutmaster, would not be productive—In fact, it would make the Scout a target for the Scoutmaster’s ire.

We did get the District Advancement Chair (DAC) involved, when my son’s new Scoutmaster told us that the old Scoutmaster refused to sign the Handbook. I believe the new Scoutmaster involved him first to help resolve the issue, before we even knew there was a problem, but the outcome was the same: The DAC told us to request a meeting with the committee of my son’s former troop, and then, after that meeting and negative decision, the DAC sent this message to my son’s new Scoutmaster: “As the District Advancement Chair, I will not overturn the Troop XXX Committee. Please tell the (Family) not to call or email me on this, as I have gone over the info that was supplied.”

So, even if the new Scoutmaster had signed the Handbook, the District Advancement Chair would not have accepted it. The DAC sent a message to my son saying to stop working on the project because he, the DAC, would not approve the proposal because the six-month leadership requirement had not been met.

Our next appeal was to the Scout Executive, who told us that he would put a cover letter on my son’s written request for an extension, and forward it to national. I have requested a copy of this, but since he has ignored weeks’ worth of calls and emails, I do not expect him to send us anything.

We spoke with one of the people who had been in that troop committee meeting, and he said that the decision hinged on my son’s not having held the same leadership position for a continuous six-month period, to that he wasn’t eligible at all!

In order for my son to complete his project and earn his Eagle, he’ll need an extension. He’ll be leaving for college out of state in August, he’ll need to define a new project that can be completed if he takes the January “intersession” off (his first project had a fundraising phase that, with the procurement and building phase, made the total project time over a year long). He’ll also need someone to tell the DAC that his leadership time does count, or the project will never be signed off.

What’s the next step for us to get an extension? Meet with the Council Chair or Council Advancement Chair? No one we’ve spoken with so far seems to understand that the Scoutmaster is out of line and doesn’t have the authority to change the BSA rules. We’ve been told more than once that the Scoutmaster is the ultimate authority and can do what he wants! (This seems to be true—With no one to stop him, he IS doing whatever he wants!)

Apart from the extension, we are concerned about what this Scoutmaster is doing to the Scouts in the troop, and to the Scouts who leave the troop. We know several Scouts who have left the troop, and most of those have left Scouting altogether, because of the atmosphere in the troop. (Bullying by the Scoutmaster is, and has been, a huge problem. One boy left the troop in his first year because he was forced, along with other young Scouts, to move their campsite and tents in the middle of the night in the pouring rain, al the while the older Scouts stood around under cover.) The troop’s activities are planned by the adults. At the last meetings my son attended, before changing troops, the Scoutmaster had the Scouts doing calisthenics. Until my son switched troops, and saw that there was a different way of doing things, he thought that all troops, and all Scoutmasters, were like this, and—by extension—that this is what the BSA supported in Scouts and Scoutmasters. This Scoutmaster is training scouts, and Assistant Scoutmasters, to do things his way, or no way.

Who is responsible for fixing things? The troop committee won’t. Some of the parents “hang in there and keep their heads down” until their son makes Eagle.

(Worried Dad)

Abraham Lincoln said it: “IF YOU WANT TO TEST A MAN’S CHARACTER, GIVE HIM POWER.” The Scoutmaster you describe is an example of what Scouting is NOT about. The head of the sponsoring organization needs to be informed of this man’s conduct, but if he or she refuses to act, that’s the end of that sorry tale because the sponsor owns the unit and is responsible for the adults who lead it. The Scout Executive is powerless, because the council doesn’t own the unit, the sponsor does. Unless there has been a direct violation of a Youth Protection policy or something akin to that, removal by anyone but the head of the sponsoring organization is virtually impossible.

Who can override the Scoutmaster (and the troop committee as well) on advancement-related issues? The district advancement chair and committee, of course. If they don’t act or act favorably, the next step is the council advancement chair and/or committee. Hopefully, at one of these steps concerned leaders will try to see the Scout’s side of the issue and give him a fair opportunity.

Who told you that “The Scoutmaster is the ultimate authority”? The Scoutmaster? Baloney! The BSA is the ultimate authority. Period

What should a Scout do when his own Scoutmaster is making up new requirements that are at odds with what is in the Scout’s Handbook? If the Scoutmaster does not resign, and is not removed, then the best course of action for the Scout is to find another troop, where the BSA policies and program are followed.

As for your statement that “parents hang in there and keep their head down,” we know that most people try to avoid conflict. It is natural to try to avoid conflict, but sometimes we have to take a stand when we see something that seems wrong. When good people start to ignore bad things to avoid conflict, they are unwittingly becoming enablers of bad conduct and in turn responsible for it continuing.

What should YOU SON be doing right now? FINISH HIS PROJECT. This shows initiative and is a concrete act of good faith. And, it means he gets it done before August!

Meanwhile, here’s what YOU can do: Contact Mr. Terry Lawson, National Director of Advancement at the BSA national office in Irving, TX. Make this a formal letter. Provide specific and dates and time-lines, and the precise age of your son at the various incidents and intervals (school grade isn’t as accurate, so don’t use that). Make this your own appeal, on behalf of your son.

Dear Andy,

We’ve contacted the District Executive and he passed us to the District Commissioner. I forwarded your email saying that leadership service is complete if the Scout hadn’t been removed prior to the end of service, and that the new Scoutmaster could sign off the service requirement. But the District Commissioner told me that your statements “do not reflect official BSA policy.”

This, I think, will be the crux of our appeal for a time extension: The service time was complete for both positions, my son was not removed from either, and his service time was recorded in the troop computer, so he has a total of ten months’ service time, and, meanwhile his service project proposal should have moved forward at the district level.

We have an email from the Scoutmaster stating that he signs all requirements at the Scoutmaster’s Conference, so the troop and district position that the service wasn’t complete because the book wasn’t signed isn’t defensible:

We bought a copy of Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures today, and have a Scoutmaster’s Handbook, but we can’t find where it says that if a Scout hasn’t been removed from office the requirement’s met. (We also didn’t find anything that says that if the Scoutmaster doesn’t sign the book at the time of service, the requirement was NOT met).

In Chapter 10 of the Scoutmaster’s Handbook, it does say this: “When a Scout successfully demonstrates that he has completed a requirement, his leader acknowledges that fact and records the achievement with the troop scribe. The scribe keeps track of every scout’s advancement progress in the Troop/Team Record Book or with a computer software program.” While this Scoutmaster would NEVER entrust this to a SCOUT (the troop scribe does almost nothing. My son was the first to take roll in a long time, perhaps ever…and anything extra he wanted to do was shot down immediately, along the lines of “if I want you to have an idea I’ll give it to you.” I believe he acquiesced to my son starting the email system because he didn’t think he would actually do it!). The ADULT who keeps track of rank and service and badges in the computer DID have it recorded as late as September of 2006 (for service completed in 2003), but then deleted it when the Scoutmaster decided that the service didn’t count.

We submit that, according to the Scoutmaster’s Handbook, the recording of the service past the time of the service makes it official (the Scoutmaster has defended his deletion as a “corrective action”—that the service was being recorded in the computer when the Scout was elected or appointed, and was not removed if the service was inadequate—but it seems to us that the Scoutmaster should bear the repercussions of both of these errors; not the Scout.)

The District Commissioner is unlikely to be of any assistance. His email response to me, without sitting down and discussing the issue, was:

“My understanding of the appeal process is as follows. You and your son appealed to the local unit committee, which did not find in your favor. You appealed to the district advancement chair, who did not find in your favor. You appealed to the council advancement committee, who did not find in your favor. You appealed to the national BSA. They have not ruled on your appeal. Any questions you have about the appeal should be coordinated through the council advancement chair, Mr. (name deleted).

“Aside from the appeal process, any other questions or concerns about Troop XXX. . . or the volunteers within that unit should be in writing, so as to allow appropriate response from all parties.

“I am truly sorry that this situation has turned out as it has and has been so painful to you. You and your family will be in my prayers.”

Most of this refers to our appeal to have the leadership service time recognized, although we’ve not submitted anything to the council yet. Our understanding from you is that National BSA policy would be to recognize service if the Scout had not been removed, so the troop committee shouldn’t have been involved, and the district advancement chair was in error when he directed their involvement (and then refused to overrule them).

On Page 25 of Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures, under Time Extensions, it says that a petition for extension should be submitted to National Boy Scout Committee, through the local council.

Almost finally, two more questions for you –

– Is there a preferred form for this petition?- Is there a document we can refer to regarding the policy of awarding service if the scout is not removed?

I’m sorry for the long, and repeated, emails. You’ve been a knowledgeable source who clearly puts the Scout first—and we are grateful for your help.

(Worried Dad)

It’s regrettable that your District Commissioner is so uninformed of BSA policies, particularly advancement policies. I can perhaps forgive unit committee members for being uninformed, although I cannot forgive them for making the anti-youth development decision they apparently did. It’s even more regrettable that district people who are specifically responsible for safeguarding and sustaining the BSA advancement policies and procedures appear to be as uninformed as that District Commissioner.

Go here:

You’ll find the following (all of the following text in italics and quotation marks being that of the BSA):

Question: For the Star, Life, and Eagle Scout ranks, how is “Be active in your troop and patrol” defined?

Answer: A Scout is considered to be active in his unit if: 1. He is registered in his unit (registration fees are current), 2. He has not been dismissed from his unit for disciplinary reasons, 3. He is engaged by his unit leadership on a regular basis (Scoutmaster conference, informs the Scout of upcoming unit activities, through personal contact, and so on).

“The unit leaders are responsible for maintaining contact with the Scout on a regular basis. The Scout is not required to attend any certain percentage of activities or outings. However, unit leaders must ensure that he is fulfilling the obligations of his assigned leadership position. If he is not, then they should remove the Scout from that position.”

Per the above, and based on your description of your son’s activities in his troop and the dates inclusive of those activities, your son has met Eagle rank requirements 1 and 4.

Thus, when in earlier communications I advised you that your son met the stated requirements for both active tenure and tenure in a qualified leadership position, I wasn’t putting forth some idiosyncratic opinion of my own—I was advising you of the BSA stance on such matters.

As regards the Scoutmaster’s claim that he withholds his signature on requirement completions until a conference with the Scout at some later date, this is spurious and doesn’t conform to what is obviously meant to be contemporaneous. Inspecting of the structure of the completion tracking pages for rank requirements in The Boy Scout Handbook (438 through 449) reveals that the BSA intends for the unit leader’s initials and date to be contemporaneous with the completion of each individual requirement. No policy is needed here; the “reasonable man” point of view is all that’s needed. In other words, a reasonable man would initial and date the appropriate requirement(s) box or boxes on the Scout’s completion of same, and only an unreasonable man would arbitrarily withhold this from the Scout.

The passage from the Scoutmaster Handbook that you cite is important, and the operative word is “records.” It is the Scoutmaster’s obligation to have a completed requirement recorded. Whether this is done by the Troop Scribe or someone else is of lesser importance. It is obvious that your son’s Scoutmaster ignored this instruction.

Finally, your District Commissioner’s claims are absent all understanding, in these ways: (a) he failed to recognize that the unit committee’s members were uninformed of BSA policy, (b) he then failed to allow for the unfortunate possibility that the district advancement chair was equally uninformed, and (c) he incorrectly relied on the council advancement committee’s being informed and they were not..

Now I’ll tell you what is most troubling about this whole mess: After the District Commissioner had an opportunity to help this Scout and elected not to do so, he had the audacity to say he was going to “keep you in his prayers.” If he wasn’t willing to talk to you, the statement probably feels more like salt in a wound than anything approaching comfort. From just reading what you relayed, the statement on its face comes across as insensitive, inane and hypocritical. Perhaps it was well-intentioned, but it sure comes across wrong.

To all my readers, especially Scout dads and Scout sons: Scouting doesn’t have some sort of “exclusive” on folks that just don’t get it. We encounter misguided people throughout our lives, in education, religion, the workplace… and we learn to deal with them. In Scouting, however, there is sometimes a disconcerting “disconnect” – We’re told that “Eagle is a worthy personal goal” and yet we occasionally run into people who for their own personal reasons attempt to set up roadblocks and ambushes on a path that’s been laid out clearly by the architects of the Scouting advancement plan. While we might wish to devote energy to understanding the motivations behind such actions, the better course of action is to TAKE ACTION so that arbitrary roadblocks are taken out of the pathway and the road is clear once again. In the regard, the pathway leads upward. When there’s a problem at the unit level, go to the district; it at the district level, go to the council; and so on. But, most of all, do not feel that you have to tolerate injudicious approaches to the advancement process. Napoleon put it this way to one of his generals: “If you’re going to take Vienna, TAKE VIENNA!” No, this is not saying “go to war;” it’s saying: TAKE ACTION.

Happy Scouting!


Got a question? Send it to me

(Please include your council name and home state)

(June 29, 2007 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2007)


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

Comments are closed.