Author Avatar

Issue 185 – July 19, 2009

Hi Andy:

I’ve read a slew of your columns and find several common themes running through the myriad Q&A. One clear theme is follow the requirements and don’t add/delete, because the adults think they can improve on the Scouting program. OK. Got that, loud and clear. And I hope your advice continues to permeate those thick skulls and outsized egos out there in BSA-land.

But “adding requirements” is different from educating our Scouts, rather than simply signing off the requirement. One personal example… For many years at our council’s Sabattis Adventure Camp in the Adirondacks, I regularly did the “ten plants” requirement for First Class. I took books along and the Scouts used these to identify the trees and plants with more specificity than merely Maple or Oak. Then, after they had their list of ten and I’d coached them through any rough spots, I made them do “11.” Specifically, after they had the ten, we’d take a short stroll over to a big rock in our campsite, and I’d ask them to stand on it and then look for just one more plant that they hadn’t listed. After maybe 10 seconds or so of gawking and shuffling, I’d ask them to look down… Lichen! They were standing right on it! Then I’d give a very simple, short riff on lichens and how they’re very ancient and very important to the ecosystem (but stayed away from the arcana of lichen’s complex biology), and then send them on their way with a sign-off.

Many of us practice “teaching moments.” You do it repeatedly in your columns! So…

Learning moment = great stuff!

Blindly signing-off = a missed opportunity to educate our Scouts.

Adding requirements = bad stuff!

I’d like your thoughts on “learning moments,” where leaders, Merit Badge Counselors in particular, might take (or make!) an opportunity to educate beyond simply signing off the requirements, and without crossing the “adding” line. (Mitch Erickson, UC, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Thanks for being a loyal reader!

Yup, just “presenting” and not “inventing” is about 90% of what we need to do to deliver the Scouting program as it’s intended to be! But it’s a “90-90” situation! The remaining 90% of our “job” is to be boy-minded and to always keep at the forefront of our thinking that we are here to serve youth; not the other way around!

Your example of a “teaching moment” is wonderful! My father was a brilliant high school math and science teacher (as well as a devoted Scouter). He often said, “I teach young people how to think; math and science are the tools I use to do this.” I recently met a man who had my dad as a teacher well over three decades ago. He told me that he uses my dad’s teaching techniques when he tutors his own kids! I guess this is how we become immortal! What a wonderful legacy!

“Teaching beyond the requirements” is what we Merit Badge Counselors do! If we didn’t, we have little true lasting value to the Scouts who come to us. If all we do is stay a page or two ahead of the Scout, where’s the lasting value in that? Certainly, we only require that the Scout fulfill the requirements of a rank or merit badge as written, but when we give that Scout an “aha experience,” we become immortal, too! Those aha experiences are what it’s all about. We, as Counselors, have an opportunity to open a door for a young man that may never close. He takes our subject and makes a life-long hobby of it, or he makes an actual career of it!

I remember a Scout in a local troop who, because of what he learned about the out-of-doors in Scouting, went on to college to become a Forest Ranger! Did this happen because he had “taskmasters” who inflicted “requirements” on him… Or was it more because he encountered men and women who opened his eyes to the myriad beauties and opportunities of the outdoor life? I believe it’s the latter.

Some years ago, I was approached by a Scout who, thanks to a misguided local swimming instructor who fancied herself a Merit Badge Counselor, thought he could swim and wanted a “sign-off” for Swimming merit badge. I asked him to hop in the water and show me what he could do, and…Egad, he stayed afloat only because at that time in his young life he had excess body fat that kept him on the surface! He couldn’t execute any stroke the way it should be done! OK, so did I “flunk” him? Of course not! All I said was, “You’re doing pretty well, so how about we meet here for a few more times, just to ‘polish the chrome’ a little bit…” And so we did. By the time we were done, he was a competent and strong swimmer. Fast forward about three years, and I’m attending his Eagle court of honor. He came up to me, much leaner than three years earlier, gave me a bear hug, and told me how I’d inspired him to get better and better, and for the last two summers he’d earned his certification and lifeguarded at a local community pool!

Teach beyond the requirements. Create learning moments. Create “aha” experiences for these young men. The reward for this doesn’t feed the ego or the pocketbook, but it sure feeds the soul!


Dear Andy,

At courts of honor, do Scouts and/or Scouters wear their Order of the Arrow sashes? And, if it’s a Scout with a merit badge sash, which sash gets worn on the belt? (Marmaduke Surfaceblow, Great Saulk Trail Council, MI)

We wear our OA sashes when we’re attending an Order of the Arrow event, or when we’re representing the OA. For all other situations, the OA “arrow” ribbon or the OA lodge “flap” patch on our right shirt pocket communicates that we’re Arrowmen just fine! In other words, for a court of honor, leave the OA sash home. As for wearing any sash draped over one’s belt, this is not only tacky, it’s actually a uniforming gaffe.


Dear Andy,

Could you please answer a question that has recently caused quite a bit of uproar within my son’s troop? This issue is causing so much trouble that both the Advancement Chair and Committee Chair have stepped down from their positions because of it.

We all agree that one of the main duties of the Advancement Chair is to “arrange for a board of review” when requested by a Scout. Where the disagreement comes in is whether that includes selecting the adults to serve on the board.

At the most recent “round” of reviews (which was a total disaster—We had 11 of them around a single troop meeting, using two simultaneous boards, because we were trying to rush everything through before a Court of Honor) one of the review members got it in his head that this was a time to quiz, retest and criticize the Scout being reviewed. The Advancement Chair did her best to stop him, and later attempted to establish a procedure to make sure this whole thing never happens again—both the mass reviews and the inappropriate questioning.

So, at the next committee meeting the Advancement Chair asked two committee members to join her in being a basic board, advising that she’d be selecting others, as needed, to round out the boards. She had printed, and gave the committee members, the BSA guidelines as well as a BSA board of review training document that detailed what’s expected at boards of review. This was to assure that we would have a basic number of committee members trained and ready to sit on reviews when needed.

I believe that, as Advancement Chair, she’s the one to select who serves on boards of review, but apparently her plan hurt the feelings of some committee members who weren’t selected, and now all heck is breaking loose, because these other committee members seem to think that they have the right to choose who sits on the reviews. So, can you please tell us who has the responsibility of choosing who sits on boards of review for Tenderfoot through Life (we all agree that the Eagle review is done a little differently). Your help would be much appreciated. (Karry Carter, Great Saulk Trail Council, MI)

Of course it’s usual practice for a troop’s Advancement Chair to assemble the members of a board of review. Think about it: Who else would do this, in a troop that has a designated Advancement Chair?!

For Tenderfoot through Life ranks, and for Eagle palms, the members of the review will be registered members of the troop committee, per BSA policy. BSA literature states over and over again that boards of review aren’t tests, and that testing and quizzing have no place in boards of review. Therefore, if a member of a review insists on pursuing this line of questioning, rather than follow BSA policy, he or she should be asked to leave, immediately.

However, the request for a board of review comes not from the Scout but from the Scoutmaster. After a Scout has concluded his conference with his Scoutmaster, the Scoutmaster will advise the troop Advancement Chair that the Scout is ready for his board of review to advance to the next rank.

Boards of review are for the purpose of determining how well the troop and its youth and adult leaders are delivering the Scouting program—they’re, in effect, “tests” of the troop; not the Scout. Anyone who fails to understand this would not be considered qualified to be a member of a review.

Boards of review for all ranks except Eagle should last no more than about 15 minutes; shorter most likely for the three foundational ranks. This is, by the way, specified by the BSA.

The wise Advancement Chair of a troop struggling with these policies and concepts would be well-advised to have no less than four registered committee members populate a board of review, so that if a problem reveals itself and a member must be asked to excuse him or herself, there are still three qualified members of the review (the BSA stipulates that between three and six may sit on a review; not more or less).

“Training” is hardly necessary among adults who understand that they’re there to serve the youth of the troop, and not the other way around. If, in the face of “judicially-thinking” people, who like to cloak themselves in black robes, training is considered necessary, what may really be necessary is a change of people—remove those who refuse to follow the program and replace them with people who understand their responsibilities. Typically, a brief orientation as each review team is convened should be all that’s needed. Nonetheless, I’m sending you a very accurate presentation, that describes in detail how boards of review are to be conducted.

When as many as a dozen Scouts all need boards of review at the same time, this tells me that the troop’s adult volunteers, including the Scoutmaster, don’t quite understand that a Scout advances as soon as he’s ready, and it’s the responsibility of the adult volunteers to have the infrastructure in place for this to happen. Sound like you all may need some training in how to schedule!

By “mass boards of review” I do hope you’re meaning sequentially or consecutively, and not multiple Scouts in the same review! The latter is a clear violation of BSA policy. If sequentially, then eleven Scouts at about 15 minutes each amounts to about three hours of reviewing, so the idea of two “teams” to do this while a 90-minute troop meeting’s going on isn’t unreasonable. Or, some Scouts arrive early, so that you’re not running late into the evening. This is a matter of logistics, and it’s not impossible!

On the other hand, you all also need to keep in mind that we don’t have boards of review to “get ready” for courts of honor! Courts of honor are not when Scouts receive their badges and rank or merit badge cards! They receive these in troop meetings–the soonest troop meeting after the merit badge card is handed in or the board of review is completed, in fact! Courts of honor are for public recognition of achievements since the last court; not to hand out badges and cards!

Good luck with getting yourselves straightened out, and I’m a bit disappointed to learn that two people who were getting it right turned the zoo over to the animals!


Dear Andy,

I’ve been given this situation: A Cub Scout’s date of birth is in December 1999; he’s now age 9 and has just completed 3rd grade. In the fall, when he starts 4th grade, he’ll also start his Webelos I year. Since he’ll be 10 in December 2009, and assuming that he’s earned Webelos rank by then, it’s possible he could complete Arrow of Light by June 2010; therefore, he’d be eligible to be a Boy Scout by then (he’ll also have just completed 4th grade). I’m considering that while this might be within BSA policy on Boy Scout joining requirements, it may not be in the boy’s best interests.

I believe that boys generally do better when they’re with their own age-and-grade group, so that if a boy’s been held back in school, it’s usually for a good reason, and that that reason suggests that he’d probably be more successful in a den that matches his grade more so than his age.

Checking BSA policies on this, I’m guessing that the option of “earn the Arrow of Light and be age 10” is probably there to accommodate those boys whose 11th birthday may not happen until later (spring during 5th grade or summer following 5th grade, but, taken literally, the policy doesn’t to rule out this boy joining a troop sooner than that.

If you have further clarification, I’d appreciate it. (Joan Tengler-Boyd, Bay Area Council, TX)

Unless the parents have some compelling reason why their son should leave his den behind, he’d be better off in the long run sticking with his friends until they all graduate together.

The Webelos Scout program is an 18-month program. Next year, from September through late May or mid-June, this boy will earn the Webelos badge, but not Arrow of Light. He’ll be completing the fourth grade by then, and he’ll be 10-1/2 years old. This doesn’t qualify him to be a Boy Scout. So, he becomes a Webelos II in September 2010 and completes his Arrow of Light requirements by February 2011, at which point he’ll be 11 years old, both of which qualify him to be a Boy Scout (even though he won’t have completed 5th grade), so that’s when he should cross over, with his den, and they all become a Boy Scout patrol together, and stick together through the Boy Scout program.

Stick to your guns on this—you’re offering the best way for this boy to complete the Cub Scout program and then move on. Any faster movement will isolate him from his friends and set him up to be a lonesome low man on the totem pole in a troop.

Thanks for asking a very important question!


Dear Andy,

I thoroughly enjoy your articles and has really helped keep my Scouting compass pointing North. Thank you.

Recently, I’ve had a few challenges as a new Assistant Scoutmaster, and I need your guidance.

I have a Scout I’ll call “Scotty.” He was in my Cub Scout den for four years before he became a Boy Scout. I have a friendship with his parents and, I’d thought, a good relationship with him. However, Scotty’s been disrespectful to me lately. I sense that he thinks that if his father’s around, then he has the freedom to not listen to me. At a recent camp, Scouts weren’t allowed to carry knives until they had completed the camp’s Totin’ Chip course. I asked Scotty for his knife and his immediate response was “No!” I explained the camp policy to him and still “No!” Eventually, after enough back-and-forth dialog he gave me the knife. But then, just a few days later, he had another knife! We repeated the earlier scenario. Then he decided that he wanted to go barefoot in camp—another violation of camp policy—and this resulted in a cut on his foot.

Scotty appears to be lacking Scout spirit. So, if he asks me to sign off on his Scout spirit for Tenderfoot, should I comply, or should I explain my concerns to him and ask him to come back in a month or some other specified period of time? (Name & Council Withheld)

It’s completely normal for a Boy Scout-age boy to need to begin asserting his independence and individuation. What you’ve observed with Scotty is not necessarily about you so much as it’s about Scotty and this part of his maturation process. Unfortunately, in Scotty’s case, he may not have a good handle on how to do this, so some of his attempts are coming up on the negative side. Roll with it—and get clever.

Obviously you and Scotty do have a relationship, or he wouldn’t feel trusting enough in that relationship to give you lip. Your job is to be smarter than he is. Don’t let your own ego get in the way.

Scotty doesn’t need “explanations”—he needs firm actions and an understanding of consequences. Trying to “reason” with him is futile; let him know where the line’s drawn and then stick to it. You can be assertive without being a grump or overbearing!

For instance, “Hey Scotty, I need to borrow your knife… OK, I’m gonna be ‘borrowing’ it for the rest of the week, or until you earn your Totin’ Chip—earn it and you’ll get your knife back.”

Footwear? That’s a no-brainer: “Scotty, you can go barefoot anytime you want, inside your tent, and outside your tent, you wear footgear. End of story.” To have let him get away with his stuff, when it’s safety-related, is borderline negligence. You’re the adult here; what you say, you make stick. Stop dealing with Scotty as if he were a rational adult and start responding to the eleven-year-old boy that he is!

Besides, where’s Scotty’s real leader—his Patrol Leader? This is who should be working directly with Scotty and his fellow patrol members; not an Assistant Scoutmaster. Re-read that section of the Scoutmaster Handbook again if necessary.

“Lacking Scout spirit”? Baloney! He doesn’t even know what this is yet! Your job is exactly the same as how Baden-Powell described it a hundred years ago: Find the good in Scotty (and every Scout) and bring it out in him.

Thanks for the insights. I agree with you but, while I may be clever, Scotty’s not stupid. After I “borrow” the knife for the week, how likely is Scotty to loan me anything ever again after that?

“Loaning” you stuff isn’t the point… We don’t make a habit of adults getting Scouts to assist us; it’s sorta backwards. This is simply a way to get the knife out of his hands and into yours. The point is to avoid hitting a log-jam, and to think twice as fast as a smart Scout. That’s what we adults are supposed to be able to do! So, like I said, you tell Scotty, “The way to get your knife back is to show me your Totin’ Chip.” He’ll get the idea.

B-P put it this way: “Any adult who can’t make himself understood to a bunch of keen boys in five minutes should be taken out and shot.”


Dear Andy,

OK, I “get” that Boards of Review (and—now I learn from you—even Scoutmaster’s conferences) aren’t re-tests; they’re verifications that a Scout’s done what’s been checked off. But where do some of the checks and balances come in, with regard to not passing Scouts through to their next rank merely for “just showing up”?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m part of an anti-hardliner group in our troop that wants to lead with common sense and fun, and my co-leaders and I consciously try to dissuade those who would goose-step into the troop and want to have the Scouts sweat out every step of their advancement journey.

But at the same time, we’re hearing parents ask, “Why should we pass this Scout through when he can’t even tell us why he’s in Scouts, or what his favorite, or hardest, merit badge has been?” and so on. Granted, sometimes it comes down to poor interpersonal skills on both sides, but more often it smacks of arrogance or dispassion by the Scouts, because they know they’ll get passed through and, of course, even make Eagle. Sometimes this is because Mom or Dad is so vested in the troop, is a great volunteer, or such, that the Scouts and their parents both know that nobody’s going to stunt the boy’s advancement.

Please, help interpret so I can help keep other adults from getting disillusioned (and keep them active), and other Scouts from being confused or de-motivated. Wasn’t Cub Scouts just about “doing your best,” or listening to a presentation, and doesn’t Boy Scouts kind of require a little more motivation and some sort of application of effort? It doesn’t seem fair that some families dig in while others ride on others’ coattails or just thumb their noses at doing what’s appropriate (be it performing a skill, taking part with a group, keeping order at meetings, etc.).

As you can probably tell, it’s just a few Scouts that come to mind as I write this, but there are always at least a few in this situation. We’ll be making Eagle Scouts out of kids who probably couldn’t tie more than three knots, know how to help someone who’s injured, or cook more than a hot dog.

And, to anticipate a common response, yes, the leaders are active and try to get the Scouts to do things, but as some of these things are inevitably done as a group, it’s really hard to single out mopes who kind of trudge along and come for their attendance mark. There must be some degree of holding their feet to the fire…

Although this applies to all advancements, I know there are adults in the troop who aren’t necessarily thrilled by the prospect of young Eagles who really haven’t done much and just want this entry for resumes and college applications.

I know you’ve probably tackled this before in various forms, but we could really use some fresh light on the subject here. And, as a future Scoutmaster, I want to see things kept together and moving forward, and perhaps simply get some peace of mind on this. (Name & Council Withheld)

OK, one-at-a-time here…

“Checks and balances” aren’t parts of the Boy Scout advancement process. There are four (and only four) steps: The Scout learns, he’s tested, he’s reviewed, and he’s recognized. Notice that “he’s re-tested” or “re-quizzed” or “re-checked for competency” isn’t among those four steps. Once his handbook is signed, or his “blue card” is signed, that’s it. These signatures or initials mean he’s completed the requirement(s) and he never, ever has to do them again in a “test” or “re-test” scenario.

When we consider “active” we often forget that a Scout simply can’t advance without showing up—somewhere! He shows up for ten events for First Class; he meets multiple times with his Merit Badge Counselors; he works at service projects; and so on—some activities we may not necessarily observe because we are not there! It would be unreasonable to “ding” the Scout simply because we weren’t there to observe him!

(What’s this about parents doing boards of review? No, I don’t mean parents of the Scout; I mean parents and not troop committee members. I hope you folks know that nobody except registered troop committee members sit on boards of review, with the sole exception of Eagle.)

When I hear about Scouts reluctant to speak up, I instantly wonder what the review members have done, or not done, to make this Scout unwilling to speak up. If you all for one minute think that a Scout doesn’t know which was his favorite merit badge, or hardest, or whatever, you’re all smokin’ something with no label on it. What’s happening is that he’s refusing to talk to you. Improve your reviewing methods and you’ll see an improvement in your Scouts’ responses. For example, stop asking “why” questions (e.g. “Why are you in Scouts?”) and ask “What” questions instead (e.g., “What troop activities have you liked the most?”) because “Why” questions invariably put the person questioned on the defensive (this happens with adults, too, by the way).

“Do your best” is only for Cub Scouts? Think about the Scout Oath. What are the fourth through eighth words? This is each Scout’s personal best…it is not some arbitrary “standard” set by some well-meaning but misguided adult who thinks he’s wearing black robes.

Adult volunteers don’t “make Eagles.” Scouts earn ranks. Your job is to encourage; not to spoon-feed. Your job is also to stick to the requirements exactly as written, and neither wink nor tell ’em “drop and give me twenty.” Hikers must trust their compasses or they’ll get themselves hopelessly lost; we adult volunteers must trust the Scouting program as written or we risk the same unhappy result.

“Young” Eagles? OK, show me the “Young Eagle Application.” Oh? There is none? That’s right: Each Scout advances at his own rate, and if one Scout decides he’s going to earn Eagle by 13 and another by 18, they’re both Eagles. Period.

Last item: Read my column: “Special-Are We Really That Smart.”

Thanks for the information!

As for the “parents” slip, I meant to say committee members—in particular, those conducting boards of review. Considering your comments, I think the “four steps” concept brings it clearer. I think some of the “fast-tracking” on merit badges that’s been done doesn’t sit well with various people, be they parents, committee members, uniformed leaders, and so forth. I’ve witnessed a few “one-night merit badge wonders” myself. Sometimes what’s learned is questionable, which, of course, turns into dubious “testing.” (Oh, and thanks for putting the “checks and balances” theme to rest—it makes clear that folks might be concentrating a little too much on the wrong end of the process. (N&CW)

Take the training-read the literature—This is the most energy-efficient way to get it right! This includes more than just the Scoutmaster! The more everyone’s on the same page, the smoother things go.

“Fast-tracking” merit badges? I don’t understand… Yes, there are some merit badges that can be done in one or two meetings, and there are others that take a minimum of three months, and there’s a whole bunch in-between. But we don’t short-circuit the requirements! If a requirement says “write and deliver a five-minute speech,” then that’s what needs to be done; we don’t tell a Scout, “Well, just stand up there and yak for a couple of minutes and we’ll consider that one done.” If a requirement says “swim 150 yards,” we don’t tell the Scout, “Well, swim across the pool and if you don’t drown we’ll consider that one done.” If the requirement says, “Camp 20 days and nights,” we don’t tell the Scout, “Well, if you can do a weekend that’s enough proof that you know how to camp.” Our job is to assure that the requirements–all requirements–are completed just as they’re written, no more and certainly no less, or the only one’s we’re short-changing are the Scouts themselves. This isn’t about either “being soft” or about “taking the hard-line;” it’s about following the program the way it’s written. If folks don’t or can’t grasp that, they either change or they’re fired. Period.

The closer you all tack to True North, the better Scouting experiences the youth in your care will have!


Dear Andy,

What’s BSA policy on the use of email to contact Scouts? We’re considering using a troop email distribution system to communicate upcoming events and important information. (Joe Hale, Jr.)

I know that councils can provide Scouting units like your with guidelines on websites, but I don’t know about email usage. Check with your local council; they can help you best with this. There’s also information on Internet usage available at the BSA website (

That said, I’m not sure I’d recommend doing this at the Scout level. Adults, for committee meetings and upcoming agendas, or distribution meeting noted or minutes, fine. But, don’t we want Scouts to show up at troop meetings? If we tell them about events and such coming up via email “blasts,” we’re taking away an important reason to show up, I’d think. Now, for those Scouts who are unable to show up for a while (conflicting sports season, for instance), email might be a great idea—It helps Scouts who are absent but not by choice.

Think it over some more… And, by the way, have you posed this idea to the Patrol Leaders Council, to see what the Scouts themselves have to say?


Dear Andy,

I started out as a Tiger Cub Den Leader and now I’m at the Bear level. My son and the other core members of our den will be moving to Webelos next year, and I’d like to stick with them through Arrow of Light. However, my younger son will be starting Tigers next year! I’m really torn about whether I stay with the den that I’ve had for the past three years, or start over with my younger son. Both want me to be their Den Leader. My wife is willing to take over whichever den I don’t cover. I ‘m wondering if you have any guidance in making a tough decision like this. Thanks. (Chris Sears, Buckskin Council, WV)

Wow! That’s a difficult decision, to be sure. I’m assuming you’ve been side-by-side with your older son pretty much from “day one.” Now, you have a year-and-a-half to go, to see your older son through the remainder of his Webelos program (I’m assuming, of course, that you’re following the 18-month program, which I’d absolutely encourage you to do, and not run it out to a full two years).

Our sons come first. That one’s a no-brainer. The question is: How to do this without burning yourself out! And, of course, you don’t want to short-change your younger son, who probably has expectations of your being with him the way you were for his older brother.

Maybe a reasonable (perhaps not perfect, but reasonable) approach might be for you to train a replacement Webelos Den Leader, so that you can become his or her assistant. This would take the pressure off you for the 18 months to go. Then, you could pick up with your younger son, be his Tiger Den Leader, and still be at least part-time (maybe not every meeting, or maybe not as much to take care of at every meeting) for your older son’s den. This way, you could then give more time to your younger son’s den, while still being in touch with your older son and his den friends.

The advantage to backing off a bit with the Webelos den is that many more parents are involved than at the Tiger, Wolf, and Bear levels…parents will now be “counselors” for the various activity badges that the Webelos Scouts will earn. This means that, in a Webelos den run right, the Den Leader becomes more a “choreographer” and has less of an active role than in previous years. This may give you just the “room” you’re looking for, and the freedom to handle the Tiger den.

Now, to get “technical” here for just a moment, there’s a BSA stipulation that we can’t be registered in more than one position in the same unit (i.e., pack, in your case). So, to be perfectly “legal,” you may want to consider being an “unofficial” assistant to the new Webelos Den Leader (whom you select, and help get trained), and this way you register as a Tiger Cub Den Leader, keeping everything straight.

This isn’t perfect, of course, but it may be a way to provide fair distribution of your time, training, and talents for both sons.

Remember, also, that your wife can be the Tiger-partner for your younger son, and then she can be the primary “Akela” at home when he works on Wolf and Bear achievements and electives! This can also help keep things in balance.

When your older son and his den graduate into the Boy Scout troop they select, 18 months from now, you can register with the troop as an Assistant Scoutmaster if you like (that way, you can still guide them, but from a bit of a distance, which is appropriate in Boy Scouting), but the main point here is that you’ll be free and clear to stick with your younger son and his den—he’ll be a Bear by then—and it’s definitely OK to hold two unit-level positions so long as it’s two different units (in your case, a pack and a troop)


Dear Andy,

My son’s a Scout in a troop of about 55 Scouts in seven patrols, and he’s coming into his second year. When he and his den originally crossed over and became a patrol, they decided on two goals: First, that they’d all work together to earn First Class rank and, second, that they’d find a way to pay their own way to summer camp (about $200 per Scout, in our council). Their Assistant Scoutmaster-advisor checked out various fund-raising ideas that wouldn’t interfere with any fund-raisers normally done by our troop or neighboring troops. The patrol chose several ideas, their designated ASM presented it to the troop committee for approval, and invited any or all other patrols in the troop to join in. The committee approved, the other patrols decided not to participate, and the proper form was submitted to the council service center.

The patrol’s first fund-raising venture was to sell hamburgers and hot dogs at a town-wide community event. Next, with prior approval by the highway department, they sold baked goods, snacks, and coffee at a rest stop on the last day of a three-day holiday weekend. Then, they took on a grounds clean-up project for a local company that paid them for their services. Finally, they again sold snacks and such at a local golf tournament.

From the beginning, it was understood that no Scout in the patrol had to do any of these if he couldn’t or didn’t want to participate.

A while ago, in a committee meeting, the Scoutmaster committee members were reviewing how much money each Scout in the patrol had in his account. The amounts ranged from $200 up to $380, except for one Scout, who chose not to participate. He had $50, which had been assigned to his account when he joined the troop, but that’s all. The Scoutmaster and committee then asked why the others had so much money in their accounts, while one had almost none, so the Assistant Scoutmaster described the background (as I’m doing here).

After much debate, the committee decided that there will be no more patrol fund-raisers; that all such efforts from now on would be at the troop-level only. The rationales were that it’s not fair to the other patrols or Scouts, not all patrols have ASM-advisors willing to guide patrol fund-raising, these patrol-level activities diminish the role of the troop as a unit and increase the possibly of patrols being too independent of the troop, and the Scouts will burn-out from too many activities.

However, they also decided that this doesn’t apply to trek crews going to high adventure camps.

After further debate and a troop-wide parent survey, the committee decided that patrols can do one fund-raiser a year, but that’s it—despite the fact that the majority of the parents liked the idea of patrol fund-raisers!

Personally, I see no negative effects on the Scouts, the patrols, or the troop. What do you think? I’m looking for an objective opinion here. (Bill Yoder, Mason Dixon Council, PA)

Thanks for posing a very important question!

What folks may not realize is that the fundamental building-block unit of Boy Scouting is not the troop! It’s the PATROL! The patrol is all-important. Without patrols, there is no Scouting! Without The Patrol Method, there is no Scouting! Without elected Patrol Leaders, who lead their patrols with guidance-with-a-feather from the Scoutmaster (or in the case of new-Scout patrols, and Assistant Scoutmaster through a Troop Guide), there is no Scouting! Yes, it’s truly that important. Show me a troop (which is nothing more than the “umbrella” under which patrols operate) that has strong patrols, and I’ll show you a strong troop! Show me a troop that thinks it’s the Big Mamoo and I’ll show you the world’s oldest Patrol Leader!

The patrol you’ve described is as close to a model, ideal patrol as I’ve ever heard about. They took exactly the right actions for themselves. This patrol should be held up to the other patrols in the troop as the model that all patrols should be emulating. This patrol is upholding the finest aspects of the Boy Scout program, and should be rewarded for their planning, actions, and results!

Instead, the opposite has happened. This tells me, with clarity, that the people who cut this patrol off at the knees don’t understand the Scouting program, its purpose, or its methods. This is an absolute pity, because the uninformed are doing damage to the very Scouts who are getting it right!

Instead of denying this patrol further opportunities to take care of itself and its members, the erstwhile adult leaders of this troop should be encouraging all patrols to follow the example these Scouts have set!

In short, they’ve got it exactly backwards! What an absolute miscarriage!

Dear Andy,

Is there a time limit on merit badges? (Ian Hayes)

Yup…It’s the Scout’s 18th birthday. That’s the only time limit! This is despite all those “urban legends” about “good for a year” and other baloney. This is a BSA policy; not my “opinion.” Moreover, once a merit badge requirement is initialed as completed, it never has to be repeated, for any reason, and that’s also BSA policy.


Dear Andy,

I first want to thank you for all the work you do. I have gone back and read almost every column you’ve written. I appreciate the straight-shooting answers!

I have twin sons. One joined Scouting as a Tiger and went on to earn his Arrow of Light; the other tried Scouting as a Tiger and, because of ADHD and Autism, he and I weren’t able to handle the meetings and so he dropped out at that time. However, over the past several years he’s matured considerably and, when his brother joined a Boy Scout troop, he asked if he could join, too. I told him I’d love for him to join! My wife and I had a personal meeting with the Scoutmaster, to describe our son’s challenges, and he told us that there’d be no problem with him joining and participating. So he joined up and was assigned to the “new-Scout patrol” with his brother and the other boys who crossed over from Webelos. (Try to ignore the “new boy patrol”—I have a problem with that, but that’s another issue.)

Since I was a leader in my son’s pack I volunteered for the troop, and I’ve completed all the necessary to be a committee member. Over the next several months I’ll be completing the training to be an Assistant Scoutmaster. Meanwhile, I’ve explained to my sons that although, as their Webelos Den Leader, I signed off advancement requirements, I won’t be doing that for them in Boy Scouts—They’ll go to another leader for that.

In a fairly recent column, you talked about Boy Scouts not being “Webelos III” and that camping should be sans parents. I had planned on camping with the troop. The troop has a rule that the leaders and parents camp in one area and the patrols camp in a separate area, and that Scouts (other than SPL) aren’t allowed in the leaders’ area except with special permission, and parents are not to go into the patrols’ area except in the case of danger. Since the one son doesn’t have much experience camping, I’d planned to keep an eye on him from a distance. How does this sound to you? (David Kincannon)

PS, I purchased the movie, “Follow me Boys,” from the Scout store and it’s become one of my favorite movies. In fact, for our last den meeting before cross-over, we had a movie night and the whole den watched it together!

First, it’s supposed to be called “The New Scout Patrol,” until they pick a name for themselves, and then that’s the name that sticks—enough with the “newbie” and “probie” stuff—that’s for TV!

No boys new to Boy Scouting have “much experience” when it comes to camping, so please, please don’t become a “Hovercraft Dad”! Give both your sons “room”—They’ll make mistakes, but that’s part of the learning-by-doing process that’s an integral part of Boy Scouting!

Do, however, keep a watchful (however, distant) eye on your ADHD son, as any wise parent would do, to make sure that his impulses don’t put himself or another Scout in jeopardy… But, other than that, do your level best to relax and get to know the other adults along on the trip!

There are lots of good movies that inspire Scout-type motivations… Try “October Sky,” “Miracle,” “Remember The Titans,” and even “Stand By Me”!


Dear Andy,

A Scouter in my district has received the National Certificate of Merit. I was shocked to learn that this national-level award doesn’t have a “square knot.” What can be done to change this? (Name & Council Withheld)

First, congratulations to that Scouter for receiving a National Certificate of Merit. These are rare as hen’s teeth! As for “square knots,” the only one in this overall category is for the Honor Medal, involving the saving of or attempting to save life at considerable or extreme risk to self. None of the other levels of heroism or meritorious service have this. However, it doesn’t have to remain that way! To present your point of view, and support for same, consider writing directly to the BSA’s Chief Scout Executive, Bob Mazzuca, at the national office in Irving, Texas.


Dear Andy,

PLEASE HELP! I have a Scout who’s completed all requirements for the Eagle rank except—as far as the troop’s adults are concerned—serving actively in a position of leadership. Three years ago, his family moved a full two-hour drive away, and so, being dependent entirely on his parents to get him to troop meetings, he makes only about two a month now. As a result, he’s missed troop elections and so hasn’t been elected to Patrol Leader or Senior Patrol Leader since becoming a Life Scout. This means that the Scoutmaster has to either interrupt the usual election process or assign this Scout to a leadership position. The Scoutmaster assigned him to three different leadership positions since he became Life, but although he’s had the “title,” this Scout has shown no leadership effort of his own, even when he’s at a troop meeting or outing. Consequently, the troop advancement coordinator and the committee as a whole are in agreement that he’s not fulfilled the leadership expectations of a Life Scout on the cusp of Eagle.

His parents are putting pressure on both the Scoutmaster and the committee to grant him a board of review; their rationale being the financial burden of driving him back and forth. How do we resolve this situation without hurting the Scout?

The family still does their best to drive their son to as many troop meetings as they can, and he participates in about half the outdoor program activities, but he never misses summer camp. Your obvious question is likely to be “why?” and the parents’ response would be that it’s important for their son to get his Eagle rank with the Scoutmaster he’s always known, even though we’ve many times suggested that they find a local troop in his new home town. The parents simply claim that there isn’t a “good” one there. What do we do? (Committee Chair, TN)

I can understand the logistical difficulties here. I also can review with you the options. First, an elected position isn’t mandatory to fulfill Eagle rank requirement 4. In any Boy Scout troop, a Scout may serve in the appointed position of Order of the Arrow Troop Representative, Den Chief (for a den and pack closer to home!), Scribe, Librarian, Historian, Quartermaster, Chaplain Aide, or Quartermaster, to name most of the opportunities here. He must, however, “serve actively for a period of six months” and even though these six months do not need to be consecutive, the total active time-in-position must add up to six months.

Moreover, every youth leadership position in a troop has an adult “shadow” to show the way to good leadership and meeting responsibilities, which is something you all may have overlooked, at least with regard to this Scout.

But, all in all, this isn’t a problem for the troop to solve for the Scout, or even, necessarily, for his parents to solve for him. If he’s truly “Eagle material,” we’d expect him to find a way to solve his own problem. If he’s unable to solve the problem, he may simply not be “Eagle material,” and only he can decide this. The troop certainly doesn’t “owe” him a position, and the troop would be making a serious mistake if they chose to wink at his inability to show up. As for carrying out the responsibilities of the position, this is also largely up to the Scout, because—despite what I observed a moment ago—no one can open the top of his head and pour “leadership responsibility” in there!

That said, being present at 50% of meetings and 50% of outings should not, in and of itself, be a deal-breaker. Any number of the positions I’ve listed don’t require being at each and every meeting! The smart Scout will figure out how to do the job even though he’s there half the time… We have telephone, email, IM, fax, and a whole host of ways to stay in touch these days! Besides, with an Assistant Scoutmaster assigned to him, as a guide, he should be able to figure out a path to success. The neat thing is that, when he figures it out, he then “owns” it, and no one can ever take that away!

It’s perhaps time to throw away thoughts of “entitlement” and replace them with solution-focused action—by the Scout. Sounds to me like a good subject for a Scoutmaster’s conference!


Dear Andy,

A Scout had signatures on his Eagle project from the Scoutmaster, Committee Chair, and beneficiary, but the council advancement advisor told him the project was “too big” and that he should divide it into two and let another Scout do a part of it. The project involves correcting a drainage-and-mud problem at a local playground. The Scout really can’t correct the problem without doing both parts of his project. He estimates it will take two days, with six helpers working six hours one day and four on the second day. The time doesn’t seem excessive and the skills—laying bricks and then sod—aren’t demanding beyond a Scout’s or helper’s general ability. The Scout, who was all pumped up about doing this, is now dismayed and uncertain as to how to proceed. He can’t just do part of it and meet the beneficiary’s needs, but how can he get another Scout to work with him to finish it? Shouldn’t that Scout have his own project anyway? What next? (Name & Council Withheld)

It’s a standing BSA policy that two (or more) Scouts can’t share the same project. If this project cannot be reasonably divided into two, meaning that each one would be complete in and of itself, then it’s one project, and that’s that. The Scout and a supporter from his troop (for example, Scoutmaster, Eagle advisor, Advancement Chair, etc.) needs to get back with the probably well-meaning but equally a little bit misguided council person right away and tell him that (a) a “half-project” is meaningless in terms of having a viable end-result and (b) this young man understands the work and is prepared to carry it out, so who are we to diminish his vision and goal! If this is what he wants to do, he should go for it, and we should get out of his way!

Happy Scouting!



Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)

(July 19, 2009 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2009)

Letters to AskAndy may be published at the discretion of the columnist and the editor. If you prefer to have your name or affiliation withheld from publication, please advise in your letter..


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.