I have a concern about counting nights camping outside of Scouting activities. Our troop has several of Scouts who aren’t campers and prefer not to do Scouting activities when camping’s involved. By allowing them to count nights outside of troop activities, they could earn almost the entire Backpacking and Camping merit badges outside of the troop and therefore miss out on the hidden benefits associated with doing these activities with the older Scouts and their peers.
I’ve talked to numerous Scoutmasters and Scouting parents on this subject, and the answers I get back are split almost down the middle, with a little more weight given to the idea that nights camping should be done during Scouting activities.
In one of your past columns, you said, “When we spoon-feed advancement…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 century, and we err when we depart from it.”
My concern is by allowing camping outside of Scouting to count, we’re undermining one of the fundamental purposes of being part of a troop.
So, what does “camping” mean? Is it simply pitching a tent and/or sleeping under the stars? I’ve spent a lot of time in the outdoors, and in my experience, there’s much more to camping than just pitching a tent and sleeping under the stars. If that’s all that’s required, these Scouts might just as well sleep in their back yards, and then we rubber-stamp the merit badge! (Bob Zink)
Are you a Merit Badge Counselor for Camping merit badge? If so, then you already know that this merit badge requires a total of 20 days and nights of camping, of which a week (6 or 7 days and nights, depending on how the camp operates) may be done at summer camp (BUT it doesn’t say “Scout camp,” so if a Scout goes to, let’s say, a YMCA camp for a week, that counts!), leaving 13 to 14 days and nights that can’t be at a long-term camp. Since requirement 9(a) doesn’t stipulate that these nights must be done in a Scouting “environment,” anyone insisting on this would be in violation of BSA policy, because this would constitute an addition to the requirement. Further, even requirement 8 doesn’t demand that the cooking be done while on a campout—it could actually be done in a backyard at home on a Saturday afternoon. Now look at the language of requirement 10. It says, “discuss.” So if one were to, let’s say, expect a written report, this would again be violating policy.
In short, when it comes to BSA advancement requirements, whether it be for ranks or merit badges, your opinion and my opinion and anyone else’s opinions just don’t matter, because none of us has the right to change a requirement or insist that some further stipulation be attached to it.
With that essential understanding, let’s see how the BSA defines “camping” by reading the requirement: “Sleep each night under the sky or in a tent you have pitched.” That’s it. Nothing more; nothing less.
In all this, we need to keep in mind that one of the two purposes of Merit Badges is to expose youth to activities that may become careers or hobbies in their lives to come. Merit Badges aren’t intended to make an “expert” out of any Scout. Even Lifesaving Merit Badge is like this — Earning this MB does not “certify” a Scout to be a qualified lifeguard anywhere. But, if this instills in him the ambition to go on and become a Red Cross Lifesaver or a BSA Life Guard, then it’s done precisely what it’s intended to do. Same with Camping. If this MB and your counseling instill in a boy the desire to spend more time in the outdoors, then it and you have done your jobs exactly as the BSA intended when Merit Badges were created over 90 years ago.
I’m having a hard time finding information or a link on the BSA “leadership” requirement. The Star, Life, and Eagle ranks require the Scout to hold a position of leadership for a specified time, or “carry out a Scoutmaster-assigned leadership project to help the troop. We have several instances where a Scout is in need of a position and all are filled, so they’re assigned the position of Troop Guide, where they’re supposed to help where needed with new Scouts, etc. But we’re not very successful at holding them to a task. I would like to know suggestions or a BSA-specific policy in implementing the leadership project. (Mike McKernan, COR & Advancement Chair, Parker, CO)
What size is your Troop? Let’s say it’s 30 Scouts. That means you have one SPL and at least one ASPL, plus five PLs, plus a Scribe, QM, Historian, Librarian, Chaplain Aide, OA Troop Representative, a couple of Den Chiefs (let’s say two), and a couple of Troop Guides (let’s say two). Oh, yeah, let’s not forget a couple of older Scouts who are now JASMs. Let’s see… That adds up to 19. Now, are you truly telling me that more than 19 of your Troop of 30 are First Class rank or higher? And, if you already have a couple of Eagles in the troop, that would mean you have a maximum of only about nine Scouts who don’t hold a “qualifying” leadership position. So, of these nine, how many are there who “need” a leadership position right now, this very instant?
Besides, no troop is in any way obliged to miraculously produce a leadership position for a Scout simply because he needs on to advance. There’s no “entitlement” here. Maybe a Scout has to wait a bit, till the next round of troop elections. This isn’t such a bad thing, because in the interim, that Scout can show by word and action that he’s the right guy for the job, when it comes available!
Point well made about who “needs” a position at this instant! In fact, we have only two Scouts who need a leadership position, who don’t happen to have one right now. And, in checking, we do have two slots open—Historian and OA Representative—so there are my two positions!
I’d still like to get some specifics on that clause, “…or carry out a Scoutmaster-assigned leadership project to help the troop,” because we still have instances where Scouts were assigned as Troop Guide and really didn’t do much. Maybe this is our fault since we use it as a catchall, easy-out option. Any insights you can offer will be appreciated! (Mike McKernan)
The Troop Guide position has a specific set of responsibilities: Troop Guides mentor and coach the Patrol Leaders of new Scout patrols. This isn’t a “one size fits all” position. An alternative to using this as a “bucket” is the Instructor position, BUT this implies that the Scout holding it actually has teaching skills AND has a skill or knowledge worth teaching! If not, the troop is under no obligation whatsoever to put a Scout in this slot simply because he “needs” it. If it doesn’t benefit the troop, then it doesn’t happen.
On the Scoutmaster-assigned leadership project, this is pretty broad but it is leadership-related and not just another “service project.” I’m reluctant to give an example, because it can become a “rule,” but I think I’ll risk it here… Suppose one of your Scouts came back after going to your council’s NYLT youth leadership training course and said, “Hey, I learned some new stuff, like ‘EDGE’ and ‘SMART’ that I think our Patrol Leader could put to good use, and I’d like to organize a one-day training session for them on how these work and how to apply them!” Would I take him up on that, and count it as a “Scoutmaster-assigned leadership project”? You bet! Particularly when I look at where the initiative came from!
As a long-time unit- and district-level Scouter, it’s occurred to me that nobody I know in the program has ever been asked to provide any input to a performance evaluation for members of the professional staff. I’m wondering just how the performance evaluation system works for professional Scouters, and how volunteers enter into the system, if they do at all. (Dave Baltes, Samoset Council, WI)
From hearsay (which can be a dangerous thing!), I’ve picked up that paid staff below the Scout Executive are ultimately evaluated by the SE, and that the SE is evaluated by the council’s executive board (which is, of course, all volunteer).
I need to get some information about the structure of adult leaders in a Boy Scout troop. I want to know who is in charge: Is it the Scoutmaster or the Committee Chair, and what’s the line of authority? Any information that you can get me on this will be very helpful. (Jeff Lambert,Istrouma Area Council, LA)
The two key pieces of BSA literature that you’ll want to check out are the Scoutmaster Handbook and the Troop Committee Guidebook. You can also check out the training syllabus for “Boy Scout Leader Specific Training” and the syllabus for “Troop Committee Challenge.”
You’ll find it interesting that the literature/training materials don’t really talk about “who reports to whom,” as you’d find in a corporation or perhaps the military. That’s because the relationship between the Scoutmaster (who is responsible for the troop’s program—meaning troop meetings and outdoor activities, etc.—and for training the Scouts in leadership skills) and the Committee Chair (who, with his or her committee, is responsible for supporting the troop’s program) are actually more partners than anything else. Remember, also that one of the reasons why the Scoutmaster isn’t an actual member of the Troop committee has to do with separation of responsibilities–from a practical standpoint, neither one “reports” to the other, although the Committee Chair in concert with the Chartered Organization Executive Officer or Representative, does have ultimate “hire-fire” authority.
There’s a Cubmaster in my district who, because he’s an Eagle Scout, declines to go to training. Unfortunately, he’s allowed to do this without complaint by our District Executive, who, instead, wants to take training to him rather than encourage this Cubmaster to get trained along with everybody else. Is this “normal”? (Name & Council Withheld)
Well, the bottom line is that we’re all volunteers here, and so no one can force us to take training. Of course, there are consequences for this. Like, an untrained Cubmaster sure doesn’t help a pack earn the Quality Unit award. And having an outing involving water activities but not having anyone trained in Safe Swim Defense will result in your tour permit being denied. And so on. There are Eagle Scouts who “get it” and those who don’t, and I’m afraid that the gentleman you’re describing is in the second group. Since the BSA sorta frowns on holding a gun to someone’s head to get ’em to training, there’s not much you or anyone else is going to be able to do here. Sorta like trying to teach a pig to fly—It wastes your time and annoys the pig.
There’s a matter that’s weighing heavy on my mind… We have a Scout who gave us a fit at summer camp. We’re a troop that’s just two years old, so—at age 13—he’s one of our older Scouts. While at camp, his Firem’n Chit was “pulled” after he’d made a torch out of a bug spray can, and then his Totin’ Chip for throwing a knife (we have made him retake the Firem’n and Totin’ classes over again). He is now going for his Star rank, and I must say that, recently, he’s shaped up a bit. But he still does one thing that is, I think, his one defiance of me and the other leaders: He doesn’t wear his troop neckerchief like all the other Scouts in the troop. When he “lost” his, we gave him a new one and I told him to wear it, but he never has. As a Patrol Leader, he’s setting a poor example of Scout Spirit, in my opinion, and I’m having trouble supporting him going before his Star board of review. Obviously, I can tell him that this could impact on him, and he’d straighten up for a brief time, to get what he wants. But, up to now, he’s been told repeatedly to no avail. We have only one more troop meeting before the board of review and I don’t feel it would represent his true spirit if he wore the neckerchief just that one time—he’d be doing it, I believe, just to get Star, and then he’d most likely revert back to his old ways. I’m inclined to deny him rank and then tell him why… Not so much that it’s the neckerchief, per se, but that his direct lack of respect toward the adult leaders in the troop, even aside from it being general troop protocol to wear the neckerchief. Can you help me? I’m open to any suggestions or ideas. (Bill Fleming)
You’re the Scoutmaster, right? That makes you the “gatekeeper” to advancement in rank for every Scout in your troop. Your tool is the Scoutmaster’s Conference. That’s when it’s “showdown time” for the reluctant and equally for the encouragement of Scouts who “get it.”
No Scoutmaster worth his salt will allow a “questionable” Scout to slide through his Scoutmaster Conference, hoping that maybe the board of review will not “pass” the Scout—That’s not the board’s job.
The Scoutmaster’s Conference is always the final requirement of a rank, before the board of review (which is mandatory, but not in the category of “requirement”). It’s the time for you, the Scoutmaster, to ascertain whether a Scout is truly ready to advance to the next rank or not. You and you alone must determine whether or not each Scout is ready or not, based on your conversation with him, your observations of him during the interim between now and his last rank advancement, and your own sound judgment (meaning “evaluation” and not “here come de judge”). So, with regard to your “problem Scout,” don’t walk small.
Start by asking straightway, “What’s going on here… You’re a smart guy and you know what’s expected of you, yet you seem to have a problem living up to those expectations. What seems to be the problem?” Then, let him talk. Maybe you’ll tell him he’s got to “deliver” for the next specific number of troop meetings before you’ll consider him ready to advance, maybe you’ll say something else. But, whatever it is, make the call. YOU are HIS role model? What lesson will you teach?
Either I’m just looking in the wrong place or there isn’t much about “positions of responsibility” for Boy Scouts out there beyond the standard troop positions. I have two questions on this subject:
1) Can the troop make patrol positions such as Assistant Patrol Leader, Grubmaster, Quartermaster, or Scribe “positions of responsibility” for rank advancement? (One observant parent noted that these Scouts work harder than our troop Bugler and Librarian, and I couldn’t dispute her!)
2) I’ve heard that the Scoutmaster can create special positions or assignments for Scouts who don’t have standard positions of responsibility (they’re all taken, for example). Where might I find guidelines as to what should be included in such a special position or assignment?
Thank you for being a resource to those of us who haven’t been around the Scouting block very many times! (Mike Ritzman, SM, Circle 10 Council, TX)
Good questions! Let’s see if I can help…
Regarding leadership positions that qualify for advancement to Star, Life, and Eagle, these are stated clearly in the Boy Scout Handbook, the Boy Scout Requirements book, the Eagle Scout Rank Application, and a whole bunch of other places. They are inviolate. So, No, a troop can’t just “make them up,” regardless of what anyone might have to think or say. The only patrol-level position that counts is Patrol Leader. Period. The answer to any parent (or anyone else) is simply this: These are the requirements and they apply to every Scout who’s ever been, including the five million across the country today, and if troops started to make this stuff up, chaos would reign and mayhem would run rampant.
I find it difficult to believe that there are so many First Class, Star, and Life Scouts in a troop that multiple Patrol Leader positions, plus SPL, ASPL (maybe even two of these), Scribe, Historian, Quartermaster, multiple JASMs, multiple Instructors, Troop OA Representative, multiple Den Chiefs, multiple Troop Guides, and Chaplain Aide aren’t enough. These can account for at least two dozen qualified positions without even breathing heavy. Besides, the troop doesn’t “owe” any Scout a leadership position, just because he wants one so that he can advance! A Scout earns his leadership position—It’s a privilege; not a right. Let him earn it—Don’t just hand it over on some silver platter!
But, let’s say that you actually do have a troop with more than two dozen eligible candidates who are qualified to assume significant leadership responsibility in the troop and haven’t been elected or appointed yet, and they’d really like to make a difference for the troop by tackling some special project that will demonstrate their leadership and team-building skills, and their keen sense of responsibility. In that case, the Scoutmaster might ask them what they think the troop could use most, and then see if the Scout can turn this into a leadership project or assignment of some sort. No, there’s nothing in writing on this, and that’s deliberate—There are some pretty smart folks who designed the advancement requirements! The Scoutmaster and Scout will have to work this out for themselves, and that’s as should be!
Can a person serve as both Den Leader and treasurer on the pack committee, and can a person serve both as Cubmaster and as Webelos Den Leader? (Rhonda Hitt, Greater Alabama Council)
Holding more than one registered position in a unit is a really dumb idea. That’s why the BSA Adult Volunteer Application states specifically that only one registered position in a unit may be held (the sole exception being the COR-CC). whole idea is to get more parents involved, to share the load; not fewer, where responsibilities start to mount up, which leads to martyrs, complaints, dropping the ball, double-dipping, and a whole mess of other ills and mistakes that doing just one volunteer job and doing it well solves.
What’s the oath Patrol Leaders take when they’re being sworn in as Patrol Leaders? (Jill Eriksen)
While holding the staff of the troop flag in his left hand, the Scout raises his right hand in the Scout sign and repeats, “I promise to do my best to be worthy of my office as Patrol Leader, for the sake of my fellow Scouts, my Patrol, and my Troop.”
Can an Assistant Scoutmaster attend a board of review (not Eagle)? And, where can I find this in BSA policy? (Bob Moravsik, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)
Yup. And so can a Scoutmaster. Eagle or any other rank—Makes no difference. Of course, they’re observers only. They don’t ask the Eagle candidate questions, and they don’t “vote.” It can be found in, among other publications, Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures.
I was referring to non-Eagle boards of review: Tenderfoot through Life. Eagle is covered in policy, but the other ranks are not. Our district people say that Scoutmasters and ASMs can’t be present because the procedure is confidential. I need to quote policy. “Ask Andy” is not authoritative. Do you have the policy quote? (Bob Moravsik)
Of course I’m not “policy,” and don’t care to be! That’s why I told you specifically where the policy is: Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures (BSA Catalog No. 33088C). Now I’ll tell you again: Your local district is full of beans. Whether Tenderfoot or Eagle (in this regard, it makes no difference), the SM and/or ASM may attend exactly as I’ve described.
I just finished reading Commissioner Helps for Packs, Troops, and Crews (No.33618A) and I’m a bit confused. On page 13, under the heading “Den Operations,” it states: “It’s in a den where boys receive the greatest value from Cub Scouting.” I thought building the bond between Scout and Parent/Family was the primary purpose from Cub Scouting. On the same page, the book encourages a Commissioner to “have (the) Cubmaster make sure Den Leaders fill den meetings with activities that help boys advance.” I thought most Cub Scout advancement was NOT to be done in Den meetings!
Finally, it talks about “patrol parents.” On page 15 (Parent Participation), it book recommends that a Commissioner should “encourage the idea of having patrol parents.” Yet on page 21 (Youth Attendance) the “patrol parent” idea is defined as “The patrol parent is a person who can keep an eye on the patrol and keep in touch with other parents.” The book does not define how a parent “keeps an eye on a patrol.” Any ideas?
Perhaps I’m reading this incorrectly. Your thoughts would be most appreciated. (Wes Bucher, Pennsylvania Dutch Council)
I have what may be an older edition of the same book (Catalog No. 33618C – 1999 Printing). None of your citations is in the book that’s in front of me right now, as I’m writing to you. It would appear that some re-writing’s been done in the past seven years. This means I’m going to have to “fly on instruments” here to give you some insights here…
To begin, let’s remember the title of the book, particularly “HELPS.” It doesn’t say “rules” or “rulebook,” it says, “HELPS.” Let’s keep that in mind as we review each point you’ve raised.
Yes, the central purpose of the Cub Scout program is to strengthen the boy-to-parent(s) bond. So why would someone say that the den is “…where boys receive the greatest value from Cub Scouting”? Beats me! Maybe whoever wrote that was a bit over-the-top in his or her personal enthusiasm. Maybe something else. We’ll probably never know. So, let’s just keep out face aimed at True North and move forward. Hardly a cause for alarm.
Activities that aid in advancement, such as flag ceremonies, or visiting or doing things that match requirements that say, “With your den…” is perfectly OK, as always. The Cub Scout Sports and Academics (belt loops and pins) programs are also fine in-den activities. If the statement that’s throwing you seems a bit too dramatic, simply stick to the basics, where you know you’re on solid ground.
A “patrol parent” is a good thing, kept informally, because, nowadays, it’s difficult for a patrol to operate completely independently. Scouts usually need transportation, and maybe someone to accompany whoever is designated to buy the food for a hike or camping trip. That’s where a patrol parent can really support his or her son’s patrol. But making it more formal than this simply isn’t necessary and would actually to begin] to encroach on The Patrol Method and the principle of leadership of youth by youth.
Be sure to keep in mind that while some BSA books state policy, this one is about informally and diplomatically helping units succeed, and not about “enforcing rules.” Take it lightly and gently, don’t allow yourself to get your knickers in a knot, relax, and do your chosen Scouting job.
I have a question concerning BB guns and archery patches earned at Cub Scout Day Camp. Our Assistant Cubmaster tells me that this patch may be earned only once a year, but I can’t find anything anywhere stating this, only that this patch or pin or belt loop can be earned only at a BSA camp. Is this correct? (Name & Council Withheld)
Oh baloney! Cubs can earn BB or archery or whatever non-rank patches (unless we’re talking about Cub Scout Sports belt loops, which have age/grade-specific requirements for each of the Cub Scouting levels) as often as they like, and just sew them on their patch vests. That Assistant Cubmaster has forgotten what it’s like to be a boy!
Can you please tell me the minimum age and and/or any other minimum requirements (school grade, etc.) to become a Boy Scout? (David Shimbo)
A boy can become a Boy Scout if (a) he’s 11 years old, or (b) he’s completed 5th grade. Either one works!
In an earlier column, responding to parents in a troubled unit, you said to them: “Why am I not saying, ‘stand up and fight’? Simple: The only way to correct a corrupted organization is from the top. Attempting this ‘from within’ is invariably a useless effort in futility.” To this I say Amen! But, a question: What do you mean by “from the top”? Do you mean the Commissioner? (Adam Reno)
Commissioners have only the power of education, persuasion, and diplomacy. Like Eisenhower as Supreme Commander, our greatest skill lies in our ability to bring disparate point-of-view together for the common cause.
At the unit level, “from the top” means as Chartered Organization Representative and/or Committee Chair: The two (often linked) seats of true authority and power within the unit.
In a Cub Scout pack, how does the advancement and award coordinator look up the list of boys who achieved their awards and those who didn’t? (Name Withheld, Three Fires Council, IL)
All Tigers, Cubs, and Webelos in your pack should be recording their achievements in their respective handbooks. You can ask their den leaders to compile a list of where their den members are along the advancement trail, and then give a copy of that list to you. This gives you a dated “baseline.” Then, from then on, ask you den leaders to give you monthly updates, so you can get the patches, belt loops, etc. in time for the upcoming pack meeting.
I’m looking for a company that specializes in making troop flags. I know they exist, but I’ve Googled till I’m blue and can’t find anything on the net. Do you happen to know of a website that does this? (Doug Murphy, SM, East Texas Area Council)
The very best resource for troop flags is the BSA! The National Supply Division can do everything you need! Call them at 1-800-323-0736 and ask for help and an order form!
Last night one of my Life Scouts was failed in his Eagle board of review for failure to wear his uniform pants. This is a 4.0 GPA student with perfect attendance, elected Senior Patrol Leader. The scout of course is crushed. He’s prepared for years and now failed. We have two additional scouts going in for Eagle boards of review and my Scout was told that if he and the other two scouts from our troop show up two days from now in uniform pants then they will pass him. Please provide me with some insight on the uniform issues noted above and what you would do. (Anthony Osborne, SM, Lincoln Heritage Council, KY)
Frankly, I’m shocked that the district or council representative who sat on that board of review permitted this travesty to happen. The only BSA stipulation regarding uniforms, if we’re going to go to the mat over this, is that the Scouts should be “as correctly uniformed as possible.” The BSA absolutely does not require or demand a full uniform, or any at all, for that matter; therefore, this cannot be considered legitimate grounds for denying a Scout his rank advancement, if everything else has been done to the letter. This Scout has the immediate right of appeal, and this should go straight to the top, which would be your council’s advancement chair (I’d send a CC to the Scout Executive, too, by the way). Refer to Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures.
Further, it is a BSA policy that the chair of this board of review must present the Scout—in writing—with the precise reason why his review was unsuccessful, including a time-line for re-review. This chair is about to look like a total dunce, if the uniform is the sole reason, and any council advancement chair worth his or her salt should rake that ignoramus over the coals. Refer to the same publication.
From a practical matter, of course this Scout should appear in two days, wearing official BSA pants along with the rest of his uniform, and that should be the end of this unsavory matter for him. However, if you’re up to the challenge, this should be brought to the attention of the council advancement chair, so that other Scouts don’t have this happen to them in the future.
That said, let’s examine who could have prevented this miscarriage in the first place…
The council/district advancement committee, by making sure that all of its members know and follow the BSA national policies and procedures.
The troop itself, by being fully uniformed, with no exceptions.
The troop committee, by using all previous boards of review to advise Scouts of expectations.
The Scoutmaster, as a constant role model and by using Scoutmaster’s Conferences to counsel Scouts on proper attire for boards of review.
The parents, by supporting the troop as well as their sons, making sure that their sons are properly equipped and uniformed.
The Scouts, by using their own good sense and asking themselves, “What does an Eagle (or Tenderfoot, or Star) Scout look like—What are the members of this board of review expecting to see walk through the door?”
A footnote: I’ve personally sat on nearly 200 Eagle boards of review, in different districts across three different councils. In all of this, only twice did a Scout show up sans uniform pants. In the one case, we held off the review until his parents arrived with the pants that were in his closet at home, so he could change. In the second case, since there was a troop meeting in progress at the time, the Scout swapped his non-uniform pants with another Scout of similar size, who was wearing his complete uniform. Bottom line: I’ve never had to participate in an Eagle board of review for a Scout in partial uniform!
Have a question? Idea? Suggestion? Thought? Something that works? Just write to me at AskAndyBSA@yahoo.com. (Please include your COUNCIL or your TOWN & STATE)
(January 10, 2008 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2008)