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Issue 170 – April 12, 2009

Dear Andy,

Thanks for helping so many of us volunteers understand more about following the Scouting program as it’s intended!

Back in March, you suggested the Troop Program Features booklets to a reader. In addition to being available from the Supply Division, they can also be viewed online at:,-d-,%20I%20-%20III.aspx

Thanks for all you do! (Ralph Clements, Venturing Crew Advisor, Atlanta Area Council, GA)



Dear Andy,

About a year ago, you were responding to a single mom who said she got squeezed out of Scouting because of “father-son” issues. Could that have been Cub Scouting, and a slight misunderstanding? Because of Family Camping and G2SS, issues it could be that a boy couldn’t attend a campout without an adult along. Many years ago, I filled that role for some of my nephews, when their dad couldn’t go. Of course, a boy has to have a buddy, and a non-parent can’t stay in the tent with the boy, so my thinking is that perhaps this may have been a misunderstanding between that mother and what was really being asked of her. When the boy’s a Boy Scout, it’s much easier to attend campouts without a parent present, but in Cub Scouting it just isn’t allowed. (Dan Gross, Southeast Wisconsin Council)

I remember the letter. It was actually the Scout, not the single mom, who was being derided by the Scoutmaster, for an entirely baloney reason. Had it been a Cub Scout pack (which I checked, but I usually leave that stuff out of the Q&As that make it into a column), the situation would have been quite different, just as you propose. BTW, a Boy Scout should be camping sans parents! When parents go camping with their Boy Scout sons, they’ve just shot the program in the foot, turning it into “Webelos III.”

I agree on that “Webelos III” point… I’ve even watched my brother, now a former Scoutmaster, make the proverbial “midnight run” for groceries when the Senior Patrol Leader didn’t tie up his loose ends, and flip pancakes because “the kids don’t do it right” (Um…c’mon over here where the adults are fixing their own breakfast).

But I’ve seen the other side as well… The mom or dad who was so unsupportive that the boy became everyone else’s problem, or the one who’s never prepared, and the one the Scouts themselves can’t motivate to overcome inertia.

Even right now, I have a boy in my Webelos I den who has yet to be brought to a meeting by either of his own parents! We bought him his uniform as a show of goodwill, but still they’ve never lifted a finger to help him—this is a family so dysfunctional that the boy doesn’t know how to relate to his peers or pull his own weight.

But before I get into something resembling Whitey from “Follow Me Boys,” this isn’t that. While I hate to give up on any kid, this last year was like dragging an anchor, including a new step-dad just signing off that he did everything he needed to in his Bear book (and, as you know, we don’t question or challenge a parent).

How many years have you been answering these emails now my Scouting friend? I know I’ve written to you at least a dozen times in the last three or four years! Thanks for not having gotten so jaded that you just respond: “See answer 58… Next…” J (Dan Gross)

Best way for a boy to (safely) learn is to screw up, figure it out, and never make that mistake again! Scouting is one of the few (just might be the only, actually!) places left where we provide a quiet, unobtrusive “safety net” and the opportunity for boys and young men to learn by actually doing, instead of being lectured at or spoon-fed.

My own parents knew almost nothing about the Scouting experiences of my younger brother and me. We went to meetings by ourselves, called Merit Badge Counselors and got to their meetings by ourselves, and even sewed our own patches on our uniforms (Mom showed us how, once, and that was that). Yes, they paid for summer camp, and I’m grateful that they did, but that was pretty much it. So, with all of this inattention, and in a troop that had no “resident Merit Badge Counselors,” how did I make Eagle at age 15, and my brother at 14? Well, they bottom line’s simple: This was our activity and our parents were wise enough to stay out of the way—they didn’t make the mistake of making our goals their own. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…

Are you really telling me that that Webelos Scout did nothing to earn the uniform you all handed him on a silver platter? While I think that that was very gallant of you all, where’s the “buy-in” on the part of the boy? You’re reminding me of one of the questions I ask when I’m wearing my corporate counselor hat: “Who, among us, has ever taken a Hertz, Avis, Alamo, or other car we’ve rented through a car wash?” The answer is, invariably, nobody. Why? Simple: We don’t “own” it, so we have no “personal investment” in it! Unless there a personal investment (doesn’t have to be money–it can be “sweat equity”), who the bloody well cares?!?

Stop “enabling” this boy. He either carries his weight, or he doesn’t. Let the other boys in the den be let down by him, and let them vent their frustration. Any other way is just another “me versus them” situation, and you are the “them”! (My own son, as a young Boy Scout, was the guy in his patrol who was supposed to buy the food for the weekend overnight. He forgot. I could have “reminded” him, or I could have even bought the stuff myself, so that he could “learn the lesson, but no harm to anyone.” I didn’t do either one. His patrol had one very miserable weekend with no food–they had to grub from the other patrols and accept scraps. My son took enormous heat over this, and he deserved it. But everyone survived. Would you like to know how fastidious he is, nearly 20 years later, when it comes to remembering to do stuff?)

Scoutmaster Lem didn’t coddle Whitey, and he didn’t “rescue” him, either. He was there, if Whitey met him halfway, and he supported where Whitey wanted to take the relationship, but he never babied the boy.

Webelos is coming up… The parents’ roles are diminished. This boy’s relationship with his Webelos Den Leader may very well set the tone for his relationships with men and “authority figures” for the rest of his life. Have you thought through how you’re going to handle him…especially how you’re going to handle him relative to the other boys in the den? There’s an opportunity here!


Dear Andy,

I have a question that, in this case, is particular to a requirement for Second Class, but is really a philosophical question that can pertain to requirements in general. Second Class requirement 1 states: “a. Demonstrate how a compass works and how to orient a map. Explain what map symbols mean. b. Using a compass and a map together, take a 5-mile hike (or 10 miles by bike) approved by your adult leader and your parent or guardian.”

We have a Scout who, to complete requirements 1a and 1b, took a hike with his family and subsequently told his Scoutmaster that while on that hike he completed these two requirements. This was approved by the Scoutmaster, based on “Scout’s honor.” Then, since all other requirements for this rank were completed, a Scoutmaster Conference was held and the Scoutmaster informed the troop committee that this Scout’s ready for his Second Class rank board of review.

However, after hearing how that particular requirement was met, two Assistant Scoutmasters came to me (I’m the CC) and, basically, challenged the Scoutmaster’s having signed off on them. Now, we seem to have three different opinions. The Scoutmaster’s position is that, since the Scout told him that he’d done the requirement with his family, and since the Scout’s father, who is a troop committee member, confirmed that it was done, the requirement’s met and that’s that. However, one of Assistant Scoutmasters avers that the requirement isn’t met because Boy Scouts isn’t Webelos, so Scouts can’t complete requirements like this with their families—they must be done with the troop. The other Assistant Scoutmaster has the opinion that if the Scout can adequately explain to the Scoutmaster what he did on the hike and how he oriented the map, shows him the map he used and how the compass was used, then the Scoutmaster can be satisfied that the requirement was met, even though it was done on a family trip; therefore we should recognize the Scout’s initiative in completing the requirement on his own.

Please let me know your opinion, as well as what the BSA says about this (and requirements in general as it pertains to completing any of them outside of the troop with your family). As Committee Chair, I want to make sure we are adhering to BSA rules, especially since we have another four Scouts who only need to complete requirement 1 and they’ll have everything for Second Class done, and some have already complained that we are allowing this family hike to count for this other Scout. I have no problem straightening out whoever is incorrect in this situation, but I need to be straight myself before I can do so. (Matt Riti, CC, Central New Jersey Council)

Per BSA standards: We accept a Scout’s word as being honest; once signed off on, a rank or requirement can’t be withdrawn (we don’t go around un-baking cakes); and if the Scoutmaster has approved the manner in which the requirement and/or rank was completed, then he needs to explain this to the Scout’s board of review in advance, and obtain agreement that they’re not going to pull the rug out from under the kid!

That said, it would have been a simple matter for the Scoutmaster to simply have said, “OK, Scout, show me what you’ve learned…” and let the Scout, with the map and compass he used on his trip, take the Scoutmaster over the course. Duck soup! But this is for “next time.” Not this Scout. What’s done is done, and not to worry, because we’re talking about a requirement for Second Class in Boy Scouting and not a Phi Beta Kappa key!

Meanwhile, I’d sure fire the butt off the Assistant Scoutmaster who went to you instead of having a quiet conversation with the Scoutmaster to whom he reports. Wouldn’t hesitate for a second, and wouldn’t take any excuse.

Thanks. Unfortunately, this whole thing came about because one of the parents got their shorts all in a bunch and I want to be able to put this to rest. Your email has given me the guidance for doing so. (Matt Riti)

Scouting is an educational movement first and foremost, and whatever we do, we need to ask ourselves, “What lesson-for-life with the Scout take away from what I’m about to do to/for him?” (It’s more likely, by the way, that the lesson won’t be all hunky-dory if it’s a “to” him, and probably a lot more life-enhancing if it’s a “for” him.) Meanwhile, any erstwhile assistant who doesn’t know who he or she reports to, and needs to have a kind word with from time to time, needs to be on the outside lookin’ in.


Dear Andy,

Where can I find the statement that once a Cub enters the Webelos level he doesn’t go back and earn credit toward the Tiger, Wolf, or Bear badges? (Rhonda Hitt, Greater Alabama Council)

It’s unlikely that you’ll find the statement you’re looking for, because the BSA tries to provide positive policies and not negative laws! It’s all over the place that Tiger is first grade, Wolf is second grade, and so on, and it’s also all over the place that a boy can join Cubs at any age and grade and that when he does, he earns the Bobcat (which every Cub does) and then goes to work immediately on the achievements for his age/grade.

For a boy of Webelos age and grade to “go backwards” to earn Tiger, Wolf, or Bear stuff is silly–it’s obviously to “get the badges” and that’s 100% the wrong reason to even think this. This would be like starting high school by doing Kindergarten skills.

Tell the parent to not waste the time on that stuff, because the Den Leader’s not going to sign off on it and Cubmaster’s not, either, and neither is the Committee Chair. End of story.


Dear Andy,

What can you tell me about the “Bronze Bighorn” Exploring award? (S. Kienitz, District Advancement Chair, Bay Lakes Council, WI)

I can tell you that that award was apparently discontinued some years back.


Hi Andy,

I took the Powderhorn training course, and was given the device. I’ve been wearing it hanging from the button on the left shirt pocket on the tan uniform, but the Centennial uniform doesn’t have a button on the left pocket. What do I do? (Greg Franck, ADC, Northwest Suburban Council, IL)

Yup, there’s no button, and the BSA hasn’t yet come up with a solution for you. If you wear the Powderhorn thingy all the time, why not just tack it on with some thread? Yeah, you’d have to take it off when you wash or dry-clean the shirt, but it’s decision-making time, my friend! (BTW, it fits just fine on the Venturing uniform shirt!)

Powderhorn’s a fun course! Took it a couple o’ years ago. Got to fly cast and fire hand guns. Hoo-Hah! Life’s good! J


Hi Andy,

I’d love to get a copy of your Silent Signals! Are they something along the lines of standard infantry hand and arm signals? Pretty cool! (Marc Garduno, Troop Committee, Del-Mar-Va Council, DE)

Just Google “Scout silent signals”! Or find a handbook from, say, ten years or so ago. Check this out:

Have fun with these! They’re a blast to use, and Scouts like ’em because they’re like having a “secret code”!


Dear Andy,

I noticed our council office is distributing green shoulder loops with the new Boy Scout uniforms. Should every troop member—adult and Scout—change from red to green? What’s the scoop? (Dee Vazquez)

Well, the red ones will be discontinued in time, so certainly, if you’re buying new ones, buy the green.


Dear Andy,

In regards to Requirement 2 of the Eagle Scout Rank Application—“Demonstrate that you live by the principles of the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life. List the names of individuals who know you personally and would be willing to provide a recommendation on your behalf”—there are four specific groups listed, with an area for “Two other references.” My question is on the first two groups: Parents/guardians and Religious. What should happen if one of the parents is the Religious (leader/clergy)? Should the “Religious” parent be listed and then the other parent for Parent/Guardian? (Michael, Brady, Troop Chaplain)

Good question. When it comes to your son, which do you put first: Parenting or religious (leader/clergy)?

BTW, Did you know that the “Religious” reference need not be ordained; simply someone who can comment on your son’s observance of his religious responsibilities?


Hi Andy,

Is it acceptable for Scouts who are First Class rank or above to sign off on rank requirements for lower-ranking Scouts? We’re a “Scout-led troop,” and lower-ranking Scouts are told to go to a First Class or above Scout for requirement sign-offs. Then, at the Scoutmaster Conference, the Scoutmaster simply checks the requirements and discusses them with the Scout. Is this correct? (Mary, Gelbach, San Diego Imperial Council, CA)

Sounds like your troop’s got it right! To fine-tune (ever so slightly), you may want to direct those Scouts to their Patrol Leaders for sign-off, because this will bolster the Patrol Leader position and provide concrete evidence that a leadership position really means something important! Thanks for asking a great question!


Dear Andy,

Is a co-ed Venture crew part of the troop, and are awards for the Venture crew members presented at troop Court of Honor? (It seems weird to have girls receiving awards at a Boy Scout troop function.) (Liz Brandt, Troop Committee Member, Grand Canyon Council, AZ)

A Venturing crew is a separate unit of Scouting, just like a Boy Scout troop, Cub Scout pack, Varsity Scout team, or Sea Scout ship. In the BSA, crews and ships are both co-ed; Boy Scout troops and teams, and Cub Scout packs, are not. The Venturing crew should be having their own meetings, their own activities, including their own courts of honor, because they’re absolutely not a “part” of anything—they’re a separate and free-standing unit. They have their own charter, their own unit committee, and their own elected youth leaders.
A Venture patrol; however, is quite different (notice, also, the nomenclature difference: Venture versus Venturing). “Venture patrol” is a designation sometimes (i.e., it’s not mandatory to do this) given to an older group of Boy Scouts within a troop. A Venture patrol is decidedly not co-ed; its members are Boy Scouts. A Venture patrol functions right along with the other patrols in the troop, excerpt that they will—on their own—have more rigorous and more high adventure-type activities and trips, in addition to the regular troop activities and outings that they participate in as well.


Hi Andy,

I have an “adding to the requirements” question. It relates to high adventure camps. Our troop goes to a council-owned high adventure camp in Canada. We have stipulated that, in order to go to this camp, a Scout must have completed First Aid and Swimming merit badges. The council has its own set of requirements to go to this camp, but these don’t include these two merit badges. So, doesn’t this fall under the BSA policy that a troop may not add to a requirement (e.g., putting a metric value on what constitutes “active”)? This has come to a head because our troop plans to take a four-day out-of-state trip where there’ll be boating and fishing available. So, the troop’s adult leaders announced that, to attend this trip, a Scout must (a) have a parent attend, (b) be First Class rank or higher, and (c) have completed both Swimming and First Aid merit badges. One aspect of the problem arises out of the fact that we’re a small troop and the Webelos who just crossed over won’t qualify, which effectively means that quarter to half the Scouts in the troop won’t be allowed to go. Your thoughts on this? (Tim DeFrees, Wm. D. Boyce Council, IL)

“Adding to/subtracting from requirements” pertains to advancement. Placing prerequisites on or having qualifiers for trips, activities, and so on doesn’t fit this policy. For instance, there are age requirements for taking a Philmont trek, attending a national or world Jamboree, and so on, and these don’t fall under that policy. Sometimes prerequisites or qualifiers are necessary in order to assure the safety of the group as a whole. This is a good thing, because they mean that everyone going on the particular trip will have a set of skills fundamental to the safe enjoyment of the activity.

That said, there is sometimes the temptation to place too heavy a burden of prerequisites on potential participants, and I believe–based on what you’ve described here–that this may have happened in the case you’ve described. Typically, foundational prerequisites, such as having completed all of the First Aid and swimming requirements for First Class rank suffice, because merit badges are, for all intents, “electives.” Even Jamborees require nothing beyond age and ranks; having earned specific merit badges might well be considered excessive.

Further, for Boy Scouting in particular, having mandatory parent-of-the-Scout attendance would be considered not only excessive but not in keeping with the methods or goals of the Boy Scout program. The GTSS matrix of what each program—Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturers—requires for participation in specific activities is reasonable and prudent, and adding further qualifying burdens could certainly be considered over-kill.

Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat requirements are spelled out precisely; there is no reason to go beyond these–they’re tried and true and have been successfully in place for decades.

Moreover, the intent of the vast majority of troop-level activities is to be as inclusive as reasonably possible, so that added restrictions in the name of safety—restrictions that will virtually guarantee that at least half of the Scouts in the troop won’t be able to attend—suggest that the activity contemplated is counterproductive to the purpose of outings in the first place.

Yes, a unit committee might be considered to have the power to impose such prerequisites, but we well know that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Therefore, I believe your troop’s best solution to this impasse is to re-think the activity and alter it so that more, rather than fewer, Scouts can participate.


Hi Andy,

My question relates to the “square knot” for the Cub Scout Arrow of Light rank. I was a Cub Scout in the mid-1960’s, and bridged to Boy Scouting in 1968, when I earned what was then called the Webelos rank and then turned 11 years old. At that time, the Webelos rank was symbolized by what is called, today, the Arrow of Light (rectangular badge with arrow and sun with seven rays). What I’d like to know is simply am I eligible to wear the square knot for this rank? (Mark Dettinger, National Capital Area Council, MD-VA)

Absolutely! Head for your nearest Scout Shop, buy whatever you need, and sew ’em on. You earned it: You wear it if you choose.


Dear Andy,

I’m starting to work on my Eagle project. I went through all my badges and I thought I was done with all of them, but I have a question about one: Camping merit badge. Because I’m in sports during the year (I’m 16 years old), with games and practices almost daily plus games on the weekends, I did most of my 20 camping days-and-nights required for this merit badge over three summers: I had a total of 16 days-and-nights over three years. But now I’m told that summer camp can only count for one week. I started working on this merit badge over five years ago. I’m very disappointed that I’ve worked so hard and now, with my sports, it will be hard for me to finish up Camping merit badge in a timely manner!

When I look at the 20 day-and-night requirement, it says, “you may use a week of long-term camp towards this requirement.” It doesn’t say you can only use one week, is that right? It doesn’t limit it to only one week.

Also, I understand that if you started doing a merit badge and then its requirements change, you have the option of doing it the old way or the new way. Is that right? (Scouts Name Withheld, Circle Ten Council, TX)

The maximum number of summer camp (i.e., permanent/resident/long-term camp) days-and-nights that can count toward the 20 needed for Camping merit badge is 7. They don’t have to be consecutive. You can count 6 from one summer plus 1 from the next summer, and that adds up to 7. The rest of the 20 days-and-nights (14 in all) can’t be from a summer camp—they’re done on Scout-related trips where you’ve pitched the tent yourself (or with a buddy, of course) or slept under the stars.

Your Merit Badge Counselor should have explained this to you five years ago. But you’re a smart guy, so how difficult is it to read the requirement and figure this out for yourself? Come on, now… This isn’t rocket science; it’s reading the requirement for a Boy Scout merit badge.

So, Yes, you’re definitely limited to one week—seven days and nights—of summer camp. That’s exactly what that requirement means.

When a merit badge’s requirements change, there’s an “overlap period” during which time it’s your choice as to which requirements you want to complete. But that period doesn’t last forever. In the case of Camping merit badge, the “old” requirements expired a long time ago (like, a couple of years ago), so you do need to complete the merit badge following the current requirements, as written.

Your best bet is to sit down with your Merit Badge Counselor right now, and see exactly where you are, and what you have remaining.

But here’s the real deal: I’d find it incredibly difficult to believe that, in the past five years, you haven’t camped with your troop or patrol for 14 days-and-nights. That’s only 3 days-and-nights a year, or three one-nighters, or one one-nighter and one two-nighter, a year. If you’re not camping 3 days-and-nights a year, except for summer camp, I think you’d have to admit that you’re really not camping much at all! So, let’s get out there and go camping! Isn’t that why you joined Scouts in the first place!

And, before you use “sports” as the reason why this is so tough, I have to tell you that I’ve personally met many, many Eagle Scouts who earned 12 letters and earned Camping merit badge and Eagle. No one ever said it’s a no-brainer; but it’s a long, long way from impossible.


Hi Andy,

I sure wish our Senior Patrol Leader would be a little more crisp, and actually barking out, “Troop, ten HUT,” rather than just mumbling barely above the din. Fortunately, we have a new Senior Patrol Leader, and I hope to get him off to the side and encourage him to get and use a whistle to get the troop’s attention. Putting up the Scout sign usually “calms the natives,” but it takes a while for all the Scouts to get the idea. Blowing a whistle, on the other hand, gets everyone’s attention, and then using “Sign’s Up!” might prompt a quicker response from the Scouts. I actually got this idea from a book by Jay Mechling, a professor of American studies at UC Davis, in California, who recounts his experiences with a troop at summer camp. The Senior Patrol Leader of that troop used a whistle to get everyone’s attention before making announcements and transacting troop business. This past weekend, I used a whistle during an outside exercise in building cooking fires, for Fire Safety merit badge, and it really worked in getting the Scouts’ attention, so that I could speak. (John Rekus)

NO! NO WHISTLES! They’re for referees, umpires, and drill sergeants! They have almost no place at all in Scouting, except as emergency signals (three blasts…you know the rest), or if a game’s being played that needs such a signal.

There’s a way to teach how the Scout sign works. Teach it. Then, get out an old handbook and teach “silent signals.” The Senior Patrol Leader teaches his Patrol Leaders, and they, in turn, teach the Scouts in their patrols.

Why so adamant against whistles? The Senior Patrol Leader in that book used a whistle very effectively, and that’s what prompted the idea. I’m familiar with silent signals and I do think they have their application, but when there’s a rambunctious group of noisily chatting boys, a whistle can be very effective in overcoming the noise, so that important information can be relayed rapidly and efficiently. Your thoughts? (John)

I’ve already described why whistles in Scouting aren’t ever needed except perhaps in games or competitions that need them.

Start by using the Scout sign. That’s what it’s for, for goodness sakes! It’s more effective, when used properly, than any whistle or shouting, “Sign’s up!” But it has to be taught and, once taught, it has to be used all of the time, not just part-time. It’s easy…

Last month, I was the invited guest of a troop running a one-day troop youth leadership training workshop. There were approximately two dozen Scouts in the room. When my turn came, I went to the center of a rather crowded, noisy, rambunctious roomful of Scouts, stood at attention, raised the Scout sign, and remained silent. Some Scouts saw me right away, and returned the sign, going quiet. Some raised the sign and kept on talking. Others didn’t see squat. I remained in position. A good, long minute into this, some of the Scouts realized that I wasn’t budging. They quietly elbowed their still-talking neighbors. Some caught on. Others needed further “notification” by a fellow Scout. Finally, all but one Scout got with it. This one I stared at, while holding my position. He went quiet but didn’t put up the sign. I waited. His fellow Scouts signaled for him to put up the Scout sign. He didn’t. I held my ground. Finally, realizing that nothing was going to happen until he got with the program, and with his fellow Scouts now elbowing him to “get with it,” he raised the Scout sign. So, with everyone in the room now silent and with the Scout sign up, I lowered mine and simply said, “Thank you”…

We then proceeded into the program I was to facilitate. It required going outside, so I asked the Senior Patrol Leader to ask the Patrol Leaders-for-the-day to take their patrols outside to the parking lot. They all went out in rather chaotic non-order, and started milling around and talking amongst themselves, as teen-aged boys will do. This time, the Senior Patrol Leader stepped to the front, with me behind him, and we bother raised the Scout sign. Now, the Scouts started to get it. They quietly began raising the Scout sign, and hardly had to “nudge” anyone! The time was cut in almost half. Again, this time, the Senior Patrol Leader said, “Thank you,” and turned the floor over to me…

The Senior Patrol Leader and I gave the Patrol Leaders copies of “Silent Signals” and told them that they had five minutes to teach four or five specific signals on the sheet to their patrols. We noticed that the Patrol Leaders now used the Scout sign to quiet their patrols and get their attention, whereupon they took them to a quiet place away from the others and went over the signals. Five minutes later, the Senior Patrol Leader raised the Scout sign, and used the first silent signal to arrange the patrols in horseshoe fashion (takes two signals to do this). After the patrols assembled themselves, we took a moment to point out that the next group of signals would be responded to in total silence–not even whispering. The Senior Patrol Leader took them through several formations, and then gave the “winning” patrol—quickest and quietest—some small candy bars: One for every patrol member. We play this game a second time, and a third, each time rewarding the winning patrol (not every patrol won anything!).

Following the game, we all went back inside, to the original room. The Senior Patrol Leader raised the Scout sign, every Scout responded in kind nearly immediately, and the session following mine began…

As their Commissioner, I visited a troop meeting two weeks later. Guess what the Senior Patrol Leader was doing… Guess what the Patrol Leaders and Scouts were responding to…

Here’s one key to success: NEVER permit anything short of perfection (including NEVER shout, “Sign’s up!”)

Second key: The Senior Patrol Leader talks only to the Patrol Leaders… He DOESN’T talk to the entire troop unless it’s an announcement. That is, all instructions come to the Scouts from their Patrol Leader, who gets it from the Senior Patrol Leader.

Fundamental: Scout will do exactly what they think you expect of them, so expect the best and it’ll happen. These are smart boys.

B-P said it: “Any man who can’t get his point across to a group of keen boys in five minutes should be taken out and shot.”

(BTW, If you’re having trouble being heard by a “rambunctious group of noisily chatting boys,” you lower your voice; you never raise it. But you knew this, right?)

Young people are excellent “readers.” They’ll do exactly what they perceive we expect of them, by “reading” us. If we want them to “get it” that we’re expecting their very best, then we communicate this by our actions (no words!) and they’ll respond. Now here’s the kicker: They WANT us to expect this of them, and we lose their respect if we don’t. And, just like our recent investment accounts, the “respect balance” can disappear in an instant, and it takes a very, very long time to build it back up again.


Dear Andy,

Our committee came up with a rule for Scouts who have conflicting commitments, such as a Scout activity versus a school or team sports event, in which the Scout is a team member. The rule states that the Scout must present the conflict to the Scoutmaster, and it’s his decision to approve or not approve letting the Scout miss all or part of the troop activity. My questions are: Can we actually impose such a rule, and can we actually forbid a Scout from attending that other activity?

Our Committee Chair brought up the idea that we need a rule for Scouts in these types of conflict situations. Various possible approaches were discussed at length, and the committee ultimately agreed on this stipulation: “When there is an issue where a personal agenda item conflicts with a Scouting event, it must be discussed with the Scoutmaster at least one week prior to the Scouting event; once the discussion takes place, if the Scoutmaster grants approval, then the Scoutmaster will send the parent to the Committee Chair; an Assistant Scoutmaster or the Advancement Chair to fill out a form that will then be attached to the Scout’s permission slip.”

What do you think of this approach? (Rich)

OK… So, what happens if a Scout simply ignores this charming and Scout-spirit-imbued edict? What happens when a Scout simply announces to his Patrol Leader or whomever, “We’re playing an away game next weekend and, as the (Drum Major of our school’s award-winning marching band, Captain of our team, etc.) I’ll be on the field and not the troop’s hike,” and doesn’t “ask for permission”? Or, what happens when a Scout says, “That sounds like a great overnight camp-out next weekend, but my grandparents are visiting from out-of-state and we’ll be having a family get-together, and that’s where I’ll be”? Or, what happens if the Scout does actually “ask” and the Scoutmaster says no, and the parents say, “You must be joking! Scouting’s a volunteer organization and our son is the volunteer! So guess what: He’s going to the game/play/debate, etc.”?

In other words, not only is this edict inappropriate, it’s outright contrary to the spirit, purpose, intent, methods, and goals of Scouting. On top of this, it’s totally unenforceable, because there’s absolutely nothing a Scoutmaster, Committee Chair, Advancement Chair, or anybody else can do if a Scout shows up when he’s able and doesn’t when he’s not, and that’s that.

Boy Scout activities must be “magnets” that attract and keep boys and young men coming back again and again. If it’s an exciting, engaging, challenging, and fun program, this will happen. But it won’t happen 100% of the time, because the typical Boy Scout isn’t a “Scout nerd”—He’s into all sorts of stuff! That’s precisely what we want! When you attempt to legislate participation, it’s identical to relieving yourself into a well-oiled and operating fan. Stop wasting your time and energy in the wrong places.


Final comment: Any number of parents have recently written to me about the pack or troop their son has just joined. They notice, based either on their own experience in the program as a youth, or on what they’ve read in their son’s handbook, that the unit their son’s now in isn’t delivering the program as written. Sometimes, it’s little stuff; sometimes it’s major. When it’s little stuff, like good parents, they let it go on the basis that there’s probably little overall harm, and I’m betting they’re right. But what about when it’s pretty major? What then? Well, here’s the deal: There are really only four paths you can take when confronted by a unit that’s presenting a corrupted program (or none at all)…

1 – You can do nothing, knowing that your son isn’t getting Scouting, but let’s not “make waves.”

2 – You can immediately go find another unit, get your son to transfer over to it, and let these turkeys alone.

3 – You can convince yourself that you can, as a parent, or as a “middle of the road” volunteer, change the unit “from within,” ignoring the greater likelihood that your attempts will find no purchase, you’ll be the locus of animosity and rancor which could spill over to your son, and that ultimately you’ll leave in frustration and your son still will not have had the kind of experience you had in mind for him.

4 – You can work your way, quietly and as rapidly as possible, into either one of two “top dog” slots—Chartered Organization Representative and/or Committee Chair—then pull in some new leadership who has a clue as to what they’re really supposed to be doing, get everybody to training so you’re all on the same page, and then throw the rascals out.

Your call.
Happy Scouting!



Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)(April 12, 2009 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2009)

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About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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