Where do I find the rules and guidelines for how a troop should operate and the official duties of the troop committee? (Nancy Brunskole)
In the Scoutmaster Handbook, the Troop Committee Guidebook, and any fundamental training course, and for more help, call your local council service center, speak with for your District Executive, and ask for a Commissioner to be assigned to your troop…right away.
We have an Arrow of Light (formerly “Webelos II”) den in our pack that’s finishing up their last achievement and all will earn their Arrow of Light this weekend. Our plan was to have them earn their Arrow of Light rank and cross over to the troop at this weekend’s campout. However, their Cubmaster and the Pack’s Committee Chair don’t want them to leave the pack till February, even though they’ll be fully qualified to join the Troop now, and not have to wait around for several more months. Our troop’s position, if you will, is that the pack really doesn’t have a say in the matter: so long as the boys are qualified to join the Boy Scouts, it’s up to them and no one else. Moreover, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t like the idea of boys being arbitrarily held back. Is there any way to explain this to the pack without alienating them? (Coleman Cain, SM, Transatlantic Council, Berlin, Germany)
You can’t prevent folks from getting bent outa shape, if that’s what they’re determined to do. These boys are absolutely qualified to become Boy Scouts. So if this is what they want to do, it’s a done deal. Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would want to hold ’em back—especially since the whole idea behind the Webelos-Arrow of Light program is to cross boys over into Boy Scouting, and there’s absolutely no “secondary” purpose. These folks need to stick their noses in the Webelos Leader Guide Book for a bit. You’re correct that these people can’t arbitrarily hold these boys back.
I need a bit of advice. I’m Scoutmaster of a small troop—really a patrol. The Patrol Leader is a 13 year-old First Class Scout, voted in by the six other Scouts. He’s a good kid, well-liked by his peers, with the makings of a good leader, and I’ve seen him grow in confidence since he joined the troop two years ago.
I believe in The Patrol Method, and wish to see this Scout given more and more responsibility for running the troop meetings and the camping trips. To this end, I meet with him after troop meetings and call him on weekends in short training sessions to show him meeting planning, campsite setup planning, menu planning, and oversight of Scouts below First Class rank, so he can oversee their need for rank advancement. I do a little at each sitting, since I find that his attention span is limited, as is the case with many 13 year old boys.
I brought up a plan at a committee meeting this week to separate the adults from the Scouts on campouts. We have four men who work with the troop on outings: me, my ASM, the committee chair, and our membership/records guy. I proposed that we either have separate campsites within sight of each other, or put ourselves at far ends of a campsite when we camp. I have noted that the dads still do too much for the Scouts in camp. We’re getting better, but the tendency is still to step in and tell individual Scouts to do a chore, or to just do it for him, so I’m figuring that if a short distance separates the dads from the Scouts, it’ll force the Scouts to do the cooking, clean-up, safety tasks, storage work, and so forth, and my job would be to inspect their campsite after each meal and at other times, and point out to the Patrol Leader what needs to be done.
It seemed like a good plan, but my committee chair would have none of it. He said that, at 13 years old, this Patrol Leader was too young and inexperienced to lead by himself, and that the Scouts’ camping and campsite would be too chaotic. He went on to say that if the dads weren’t right there, at hand, the Scouts wouldn’t cook their food properly and they’d get sick, so the dads are there to give supervision, which they can’t do if they’re not right there with the Scouts. He told me that he’s Wood Badge-trained and they used check lists on how to set up camp, how to set up a cooking station, how to set up the meal cleanup, and other things, and that since I don’t follow these check lists, the dads have to be there or else how would the Scouts get it done right. When I pointed out that everything the Scouts need to know is in their handbooks, he replied that if I continued to do it this way he’d resign from the troop.
I’ve looked in a troop resource guide and a program guide, as well as the Scoutmaster Handbook, but haven’t found what he’s talking about. I found a “Scoutmaster’s Campsite Quick Checklist,” which I could use as an inspection tool, and I’ve talked with other Scoutmasters and read stuff on Scoutmaster blogs saying that good Scout-led troops do camp separately from any adults. I just think that our Patrol Leader won’t really learn to lead unless the Scouts look to him for answers, and not the dads.
As you can tell from the length of this, I’m perplexed. I still want to go forward, but I don’t want a feud with my fellow leaders. Our low numbers right now make it imperative to have everyone on board. We’ve had issues with having two of our four fathers on each campout, and we need everyone to cover transportation, but I don’t want our Committee Chair vetoing stuff I’m trying to accomplish with the Scouts. Do you have any advice for me? (Name & Council Withheld)
Yup, I do have a few suggestions; let’s keep ’em short n’ sweet…
Just to get this one out of the way, any Wood Badge-trained volunteer who insists on “my way or highway” can go take the highway, if that’s his idea of “Scout spirit.” You don’t need anyone with that sort of attitude around your sons. Tell him that, as Committee Chair, he’s responsible for administration, finances, registration, and so on, and that, as Scoutmaster, you’re responsible for the Scouts and the troop program, so let’s not step on each others’ shoes. If he doesn’t buy into that, he belongs on the outside lookin’ in.
You don’t have a troop; as you pointed out, you have a patrol. Split that patrol, even if that means only two or three Scouts in one patrol and two or three in another, and one Senior Patrol Leader.
After the Scouts elect their Senior Patrol Leader, you tell the remaining six to divide themselves into two groups of three each, and then you walk away and keep all parents away from the Scouts. After they’ve divided up (this should take no more than about 2-3 minutes), they play a competitive game between the two groups, and then another game. After that, each group elects their own Patrol Leader. DO NOT attempt to “assign” Scouts to patrols, and don’t allow any parents to do this either—The Scouts themselves know best.
To get rid of the extra “helicopter” adults, hike in to every campsite—at least two to three miles, with backpacks. Take away their “car camping” (which is really just tailgating with a new name) and they’ll stay at home. You only need yourself and one assistant (like your ASM) and you’ll be just fine.
Each patrol carries its own tent(s) its own food its own stove and fuel tank, and everything else. No “dads-as-mules.”
For any dads that do come along, there’s a rule that they must camp and cook for themselves out of sight of the Scouts, because this isn’t “Cub Scout family camping.” And, during the day, they can go fishing or something, because you and your assistant–and that’s all!—will be working with the Scouts.
Once you get most of these in place, write again and let’s see what we need to do next –
I’m a Merit Badge Counselor (so far…) new to the area, and I’m hearing horror stories about Eagle candidates’ applications not being accepted because the Scouts don’t have all their merit badge “blue cards.” In the many councils other I’ve been affiliated with (I’m a military Scouter, so I move a lot), the only thing needed were the dates the merit badges were earned and the troop the Scout was a member of when he earned them; not the blue cards themselves. I understand that blue cards are important to keep, since they have the necessary information on them, but accurate Merit Badge Counselor, troop, and council records also have that information. So, does the BSA itself actually require blue cards with the Eagle rank application? I don’t believe it does, and I’m concerned that these Scouts are being subjected to over-the-top demands by local troop, district, and/or council Eagle advisors/committees. Can you set the record straight? (Name & Council Withheld)
The Eagle Scout Rank Application absolutely doesn’t require submission of any supportive paperwork for merit badges, and there is also a BSA policy that prohibits deleting from or adding to any requirement—a policy that I strongly suspect would apply to any unit, district, or council that demands more than what the BSA application asks for. That said, every Scout can have as many as five separate “on paper” records of merit badges earned. First, of course, is the Scout’s own “blue card stub”: the third segment of the merit badge application, containing his name, the name of the merit badge, and the signature and date of completion by the Merit Badge Counselor (his troop has a second stub and the original Merit Badge Counselor retains the third). Second, there is the Merit Badge Pocket Certificate (BSA catalog no. 34393) containing his name, the name of the merit badge, the council in which he earned it, his unit number, the date of completion, and his unit leader’s signature. Third, his Boy Scout Handbook, pages 438, 439, and 440 of the 12th Edition, pages 444, 445, and 446 of the 11th Edition) on which the merit badges are listed along with his unit leader’s initials and date. Fourth, there is the unit Advancement Report (BSA form no. 34403) listing his name, merit badge earned, and date earned, on the multi-part form submitted by his unit to the local council service center. And fifth, there is the “Troopmaster” or other software-based advancement record that his unit keeps for each Scout registered.
Best thing to do right away if you have a son in the program: Contact the council advancement committee and (gently) ask what the local procedures and expectations are… We sure don’t want any nasty surprises!
Have you ever heard of a Cub Scout being kicked out of his pack even though he’s done nothing wrong? Yes, there was an issue, but it was between his parents and one of the pack’s committee members, who decided to retaliate against the parent by de-registering her son (who never, ever was a discipline problem of any kind)! The local district and council verbally signed off on this expulsion without any warnings or contact of any kind to either the Cub or his parents—it was all done behind the scenes and came as a total surprise to our family.
Aren’t there protocols that must be followed before expelling a boy from Scouting—especially if the boy’s completely innocent and has had a record of being a stellar Cub Scout? What can the parents do to fight this, when the higher-ups in the district and council are all involved? Is this the BSA way? Can you help? (Name & Council Withheld)
Yes, I’m aware of lots of discord and rancor between parents of boys in Scouting units, to the point where the mess between the parents slops over and affects their sons, too. I’ve often wondered how parents can get themselves into such entanglements without it occurring to them that, somehow, this is going to spill over into other parts of their lives, to the point of ultimately interfering with their own sons’ Scouting experiences. Even more unfortunately, when this happens, “Scouting” is blamed instead of the actual guilty parties—parents who somehow let themselves get out of control.
Without question, this isn’t “the BSA way.” It is, however, the way of angry people who can no longer think rationally, and there are no true “innocents” because the “victim family” was just as much involved in the discord as the “punishing” folks! What a pity, because it’s our sons who are the big losers here!
No, there’s no real recourse with your son’s original pack, and besides, what kind of a “Scouting life” do you think your son’s going to have when the issue—whatever it was—still refuses to go away! (Dr. Phil puts it this way: You can be right, or you can be happy… take your pick.)
So, what to do… Find another nearby pack and re-enroll your son, but this time just let him be a Cub Scout. Or, if he’s going to be 11 years old soon, just wait a little bit and then he can go straight into a Boy Scout troop, where he can do stuff on his own, without heavy-duty parental involvement. You absolutely must let the other stuff fade from memory; if you continue to allow it to get in the way, it’s going to sour your son on a lot more levels than just Scouts!
As a Scoutmaster, I’m experiencing some unique viewpoints on how various rank requirements should be fulfilled…
At a troop meeting the other night I had a Scout approach me asking to be signed off for the Tenderfoot requirement of identifying poisonous plants. He then handed me three photographs—one each of poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak—that he’d downloaded from the Internet. I asked him to identify them, and he said, “Three poisonous plants; can you sign me off now?” So I asked him how he’d identify these in the wild; his response was that that’s not part of the requirement. I next asked if he had ever heard the expression, “leaves of three—let it be” or “berry’s white—poison in sight,” and his response was, “Nope; now, can you sign me off, please?”
Then, another Scout asked to be signed off for identifying ten local animals, and he handed me some photos he’d downloaded from the Internet. When I asked him if he could tell me anything about the animals in the photos, his reply was, “Nope, but here they are, so can you sign me off?” I explained to this Scout that we’d be covering this requirement on our next camp-out, and that in the visitor center of a nearby preserve there’s a diorama of local animals that he could go and actually take photos of, but the next thing that happened was that his mother interjected herself into this conversation and, for all intents, demanded point blank that I sign her son off on this requirement. Instead, I turned to the Scout and asked him to identify the animal that had made the track shown in one of his photos. Not unexpectedly at this point, he couldn’t. So I asked him about the badgers in one of his downloaded photos and asked what he’d learned about them living in our area. He knew nothing.
I’m disturbed that I’m having Scouts, and now their parents too, believing that by merely downloading Internet photos, these Scouts have been bestowed of instant intelligence. Personally, I see no value in showing photos, whether from the Internet or any other source, and demanding credit for requirements like these. I have reviewed on multiple occasions with the Scouts just what the intent of the requirements are, and how to fulfill them, including use of available resources.
Can you offer any insights into dealing with the mentality of doing the absolute minimum and expecting that that’s all that’s necessary to be signed off? (Robert Shannon, SM, Western Los Angeles County Council, CA)
I can understand your frustrations, especially with the expectation that merely finding and downloading photos from on-line sources somehow satisfies the requirements you’re referring to. The other annoyance, of course, is a parent who starts insinuating himself or herself into the situation—parents have no place in a correctly executed advancement process except as guides and mentors to their sons. (Of course, if there were something materially wrong with a unit’s approach to advancement, or any other aspect of Scouting as delivered by the troop, parents would have every right and even an obligation to speak up—these are, after all, their own sons whom they’ve committed to your care!)
Perhaps we need to take about three steps back, here…
First, let’s consider the way the BSA expects requirements to be fulfilled. Requirements, says the BSA, are to be completed in accordance with the way they are written; nothing less and also nothing more. These are not “minimum” requirements—they are the requirements, period. So, when a requirement says “demonstrate” it means demonstrate; not write a report, describe, or show a picture. When a requirement says “explain” or “describe,” it means just that. When a requirement says “discuss…” it doesn’t mean demonstrate or write a report; it means have a conversation about… Therefore, when a requirement says “identify,” it’s important that everyone agrees on what this term means. The standard dictionary tells us that to “identify” means “to recognize as being a particular thing; to verify the identity of; to (biologically) determine to what group a given specimen belongs. Among the synonyms of “identify” are distinguish, determine, and describe. The Boy Scout Handbook itself shows pictures of various flora (see pages 138 and 139), but merely reading these pages doesn’t mean that a Scout has the ability to “identify” local poisonous plants; it simply means that he’s read about how to identify them. Now, what he needs to do to meet the requirement—”Identify local poisonous plants…”—is to be able to point out, from a larger group of random plants, or pictures of plants, those which are indeed poisonous and those which aren’t. The easiest way to do this, of course, is on the trail; however, a back-up set of photos that can be shuffled and resented to the Scout (in an indoor inter-patrol competitive game, perhaps?) is certainly a reasonable substitute.
So, to a Scout (or parent) who says, “Here are three downloaded photos, can you sign me off now?” the answer’s: “Nope… But here are some more photos and if you and your patrol can identify the poisonous ones in the game we’re going to play next, I’m happy to initial your handbook!”
Meanwhile, perhaps a “new Scout parent orientation session”—conducted by your troop’s Committee Chair while you’re back-stopping your Senior Patrol Leader in the troop meeting room—is in order, so as to not only describe how Boy Scout advancement works, but how parents can support their sons most positively.
My son is a Bear Cub Scout, and he’s asking, “How can I get more badges for my uniform?” He’s very into badges, and not just Arrow Points—he’s looking at things like the Sea Scout Award and that sort of thing. Most of the badges I’ve looked up online are for older boys, and I’m not sure what he can qualify for at his level. I’d appreciate any help you can give. (Kim Bowman, Mid-America Council, IA)
It’s cool that your son is enjoying Cub Scouts and “earning badges” is definitely OK! He does need to focus on earning the Bear badge (which I assume he’s already done) and then completing electives to earn Arrow Points (he can earn so many that, sewed on his shirt, they’ll go right to the bottom of it!). As for the Sea Scout ranks, Boy Scout ranks, and so on, he needs to do a little more reading, so that he learns that when he becomes a Boy Scout or Sea Scout when he’s 11 years old (or earns the Arrow of Light in a year or so), he can start earning those ranks and merit badges. Meanwhile, he needs to stay with the program he’s in, because its challenges are just right for his age and grade!
Is it required that an Eagle Scout say the “Eagle Charge” at a Court of Honor? (Ted Longsworth)
No, it’s not. The “Eagle Charge” is a ceremonial nicety; nothing more.
Everything I’ve found about wearing a Religious Award medal states that it should be worn above/over the square knot. We have an Eagle Scout who has earned all four levels for his faith. Can he, therefore, wear all four at one time (in addition to his Eagle medal) in a row over his left pocket, or is he only allowed to wear the last one earned? (Roger Englund, ASM, Potawatomi Council, WI)
Per the BSA’s Insignia Guide (2009-10 Edition), page 51, medals are worn pinned in a single row of up to five immediately above the top seam of the left pocket, and below any square knot badges. Since the Eagle Scout to whom you refer has earned a total of five medals, yes, it’s acceptable for him to wear that number. He might, however, want to consider the idea of wearing the Eagle medal and the highest level religious award medal, these being the most important (the other religious award medals are smaller and may be more distracting to the eye than wearing the two dominant ones). This is a personal decision on his part, and whatever he decides will be just fine, I’m sure.
I’ve been a Unit Commissioner for almost four years, and recently had an unlikely run-in with several upset parents whose sons are members of a troop in our district.
It seems that this troop’s new Scoutmaster doesn’t believe that any of the Scouts earned any of their ranks or merit badges, and so he’s going to make the Scouts re-do all of them. When told in concrete terms by our District Executive that this is wrong and that once a Scout has the rank or merit badge, it can’t be taken away, this Scoutmaster said that he disagrees with this and intends to proceed as he described. Further, he refuses to respond to all e-mail messages and phone calls—he’s actually told the Scouts’ parents that he keeps a “Do Not Answer” list with their names on it because he, as he put it, “doesn’t have time for them.” He’s also recently told a new Eagle Scout in the troop that he wasn’t “Eagle material,” with the admonition, “Be prepared, because you’re going to pay for this.” This same Scoutmaster cancelled this troop’s summer camp reservation (it was, obviously, a week that all the Scouts in the troop had off at the same time) and chose a week during which most of the Scouts would need to return to school mid-week—needless to say, summer camp this last summer was a total bust.
Finally, it became revealed that the Scoutmaster and Chartered Organization Representative have formed an alliance: These two agree on a plan and simply proceed without any sort of communication with the troop committee. And they have the parents on the committee afraid to speak up for fear that they, or their sons, will get kicked out of the troop.
And the icing on this particular cake is that this Scoutmaster has no training, refuses training, and has stated: “I have all the training I need.”
This troop’s problems and complaints go on and on… As their Unit Commissioner, I’ve told the parents that instead of letting their sons just get fed up and drop out of Scouting entirely, they need to transfer to a troop in which their sons can grow, in a healthy Scouting environment.
I’m a Commissioner; not a cop; I can’t fix this problem for them. So how do I let these now-spineless parents know that they do have a say in what kind of troop their sons are in? (Name & Council Withheld)
What a fortunate happenstance that these parents finally spoke up! This is unquestionably a renegade who has inserted his own warped sense of what Scouting should be, in place of what Scouting, in fact, is. In light of his steadfast intent to stick with his own miserable way of thinking, one of two things must happen: Either he is removed from the troop, or the Scouts of the troop are removed from him.
All the parents of these miss-treated Scouts, with you at their side, need to immediately go to the head of the chartered organization (aka “sponsor”) and the troop’s committee chair, in an in-person meeting. At this meeting, there are a few brief descriptions of how this man is abusing the BSA program and, as a consequence, abusing the youth the chartered organization has committed to serving, followed by your own confirmation that what has been described is not only accurate but is merely the tip of the iceberg. Based on this, the immediate dismissal of this man will be proposed, and requested without equivocation, further investigation, or time-delay: This action must be immediate, and the statement on this must be crystal-clear. Parenthetically, if would be nice if one of the parents was willing to step into the Scoutmaster role, receive the necessary training, read the necessary manuals, and then go to work rebuilding the troop and was must be miserable troop morale. But this isn’t mandatory in order to have this meeting, because, in this instance, no Scoutmaster is better than what the troop must presently endure.
The likelihood is that, in the face of a roomful of upset parents, immediate action of the type requested will be acted on without hesitation, especially with confirmation from you (and the District Executive too, if available). But there’s a slim chance this won’t happen. If it takes this turn, then the response by the parents happens right there, at that same meeting, and it’s this: “Mr. Chartered Organization Head and Mr. Chairman, unless this Scoutmaster is removed before the very next troop meeting, we will all—every one of us and more who couldn’t be here tonight—remove our sons from your troop, never to return. At the next troop meeting, we won’t be dropping our sons off outside, as we usually do; we’ll be coming into the troop meeting room with them, and if that man is there we will take our sons by the arm, execute a u-turn, get back in our cars and drive away, and that’s the last you’ll see of us. Have we made ourselves clear? Good.”
Yes, troops exist only to serve youth and if they don’t do this then they deserve to be walked away from without hesitation. You already know, and these miss-treated boys’ parents need to know: The very first “volunteer” is Scouting is their own son!
I’m currently completing Leave No Trace Trainer training. The BSA has a patch for LNT Trainer. Where is it worn? (Art Aigner, CM, Greater Niagara Frontier Council, NY)
If it’s a “position patch” (i.e., akin to Cubmaster, etc.) it’s worn on the left sleeve below the unit numeral, if there is one, or the CSP if there isn’t—but don’t be tempted to wear it along with some other position patch; that would be a non-no. If it’s some other sort of patch, then it’s for the right pocket.
When was the District Award of Merit knot established, and by whom? (Maynard Pumphrey, Chief Seattle Council, WA)
The DAM was established by the BSA, as a district-level recognition for distinguished service, to be presented by local councils, in 1970.
I’m a long-time reader and hope that you’ll take the tone of this message as intended: with tongue planted firmly in cheek. In your September 29, 2010 column, in response to the Scout with the ladder question, you said: “…thanks for using what I’m guessing is your mother’s email address, otherwise, as an adult (Scouter or not!) I wouldn’t be able to respond to you directly, per youth protection guidelines.”
As you, yourself have said on many occasions, please show me where it says that. Presumably, you’re suggesting that this would violate the prohibition of one-on-one contact; however, if you read the full provision, it appears to be talking about in-person contact, and that would seem consistent with the goal of preventing abuse. If, indeed, direct email contact is prohibited, then telephone contact would have to be prohibited as well, I’d think. In this regard, I can’t imagine a good Senior Patrol Leader not having regular phone contact with his Scoutmaster! Having a parent or other adult listen in on an extension isn’t practical; in fact, email would actually be preferable to phone contact from this perspective, since a record of the conversation would be made. I’d think that if the BSA intended to prohibit electronic or telephonic communication without involvement of a third person, they would have stated this explicitly. (Paul Silich, CC, Northeast Iowa Council)
The GTSS and YP guidelines point out that a minor and an adult (for instance, a Scout and a Merit Badge Counselor) need to have a “buddy” present (can be a fellow Scout, the Scout’s parent, a family member of the MBC, and so on) and that one-on-one conversations between adults and youth (like a Scoutmaster’s conference) need to be in plain view and never in isolation. These are easily satisfied when it’s a person-to-person situation, but what do we do when it’s not, such as email, texting, and telephone conversations? Both the GTSS and YP guidelines are seemingly silent on methods to be employed, yet the fundamental principle hasn’t gone away, wouldn’t you agree?
While others might take this fairly lightly—a sort of “hey, what’s the big deal or harm?” attitude—do you really think I have that luxury or latitude? Nope, I sure don’t! Look at your own letter (and yes, there were a few others, too) when I merely err on the side of caution! Now imagine the uproar I’d create if I flouted YP guidelines! Can’t do that, my Scouting friend, because, following the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” I’ve like-it-or-not become a role-model for Scouting’s True North, and doesn’t that begin with something as fundamental as this?
So, whether “practical” or not, I insist on a third person if a Scout calls me (I’m an active Merit Badge Counselor) and my wife is on an extension phone at home if I ever have the need to place a call to a Scout (actually, I prefer using voice-mail!), and when it comes to emailing, I insist on a third person as well, and there’s never any texting.
Not so long ago, but before the wide-spread use of email and cell phones, I was a Scoutmaster. I can tell you with absolute sincerity that the Senior Patrol Leader and I did not have any need to make phone or email contact in-between meetings or events—there was never anything so urgent that it couldn’t wait till the PLC meeting, troop meeting, or parking-lot conversation before heading off on an outing! So, looking back on a National Quality Unit troop that consistently earned the National Camping Award as well, I’m at a loss to try to concoct a scenario in which a Scoutmaster and Senior Patrol Leader would need to talk by telephone (or other method) on some sort of regular (several times a week?) basis.
Thanks for reading, and bringing this important point up. I hope I’ve explained my point-of-view, and why I must have it, in an equally positive tone!
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.