I have a problem I could use some help with… We have a Life Scout who’s completed all of his requirements for Eagle except his conference with me. The problem: He seems simply unable to provide meaningful answers to “conventional” questions associated with the Eagle rank, like “Tell me about your leadership experiences,” or “Tell me a little bit about your family,” and “What do the Scout Oath and Law mean to you?” I’ve known him for about five years, and he’s always been shy, but he’s also been reasonably sociable and does fairly well in school. But as we began our conference, it became apparent that the process would be problematic (“like pulling teeth” is a fair analogy). Even after re-phrasing and simplifying questions several different ways for him, he still gave very little in return. He wasn’t particularly nervous, but he just couldn’t (or wouldn’t?) “get it out.” My thought was that he might just need more time to think, or maybe he’s better at writing than talking, so I gave him, in writing, several clear, specific questions for him to consider and respond to, over a period of a few days, but this didn’t work any better than the talking session.
As I mentioned, he’s completed all the requirements including his leadership service project, and only has our Scoutmaster conference to go before his board of review.
Now I know that if a Scout has done the work for the rank, he has earned it. If that’s correct and that’s all there is to it, do I sign him off and recommend him for an Eagle board of review, knowing that this will probably be very difficult for both him and the board members, or should I take some other approach? To put it another way, would allowing him to proceed be fair to him and/or the board? (Dave Rich, SM, Orange County Council, CA)
How about we start here: This Scout has so far had five Scoutmaster conferences and five boards of review. He should, as a result of these, pretty much understand the importance of speaking up. At the same time, you and the troop committee have had five opportunities to let him know what’s expected of him. This makes me wonder what’s been going wrong up till now. Did things sort of just slide along, without anyone—the Scoutmaster, the committee members who sat on his reviews, or the Scout himself—ever before being concerned about his being so tight-lipped and inarticulate? You’ve all, after all, had five years to work this out. Only you can figure this one out; I don’t have enough information to take this aspect any further.
Another approach: Has anyone called up the Merit Badge Counselor he had for Communications, and asked how this Scout ever emceed a court of honor or campfire, or gave a speech, or taught a skill, or properly introduced someone to a troop meeting, or verbally reported on his visit to a public meeting? Maybe some insights here, from a “third party” who’s supposed to have expertise in communications, might shed some light on what might motivate this Scout to start speaking up. You see, the roadblock that you hit is precisely what that merit badge is designed to avoid (among other important things).
How about his parents? Have you described what you encountered to them, and asked if this is normal behavior for him?
Then there’s also the list of folks on his Eagle application who he listed as references. You can pick up the phone and ask any of them the same question about their observation of his ability to articulate.
Finally, all else resulting in no more in-depth explanation of his behavior at the conference with you, if he’s indeed falling short of your expectations, then he needs to be told this in crystal clear language. Tell him exactly what’s expected of him, and then ask him how much time he’d like for preparing himself for a board of review. Repeat your conference as many times as necessary for him to rise to the occasion and begin conducting himself as if he were an Eagle Scout.
Here’s the deal: If you send him, as he is, into a board of review, and as a result of his unwillingness to communicate, they can’t agree on a unanimously favorable vote, then this Scout is looking at an appeal process that’s hardly the way we want to have our Eagle candidates remember their Scouting experiences.
Here’s one more possible avenue (this is your “desperation tactic”). I’m guessing he’s about 16 or so, and that’s the perfect age for our sons to be struck dumb, recalcitrant, and borderline inarticulate. He may be at that stage in his young life where he’ll do everything possible to be a “minimalist”—He’ll give adults like yourself, his teachers, his parents, and all others, the least possible response, and if you let him get away with it, he’s a happy camper. What he may actually need is a KITA, a “wake-up call,” a “come to Jesus” talk, a “Dutch uncle,” or whatever you want to call it… He needs to break out of that stupor or torpor he’s in and start acting like an Eagle Scout… or he won’t be one! He needs to be told with utmost candor that if he goes before the board in his present attitudinal state, and that board isn’t unanimously positive, his Eagle medal will go flying right out the window. It’s not your job, or the board’s job, to “pull teeth” to get an intelligent word out of him. If you ask him what “Duty to God and Country” means and you get the classic, “I dunno,” maybe it’s time to sound the gong and tell him, flat out: NOT GOOD ENOUGH–That may work somewhere else, but IT DOESN’T WORK HERE. If you can’t speak up about a subject like that, I can’t consider you Eagle material, so make up your mind what you want to do, right now. You can either try again, or this meeting’s over till you come to me with the intention of acting like the Eagle Scout you want to be. And then stop talking. What happens next is up to him. If he chooses to not start articulating, then end the conference right then and there. But let him know that your door’s always open, anytime he changes his mind and wants to do what he already knows he needs to do. (Now remember, this one’s the “last resort”—not the first! If you’ve explored all of the other avenues and still come up empty, then this is where you may need to go. But do explore the other routes first.) Good luck –
Dear District Director: If you could send mea current list of the adults and their positions on the unit committee, I wouldlike to make an organization chart for each child (in this troop) and his parents. Signed: Life Scout.
Dear Scout: Due to privacy issues covered under the policies of the BSA I can only send the unit roster to the Scoutmaster and the Committee Chair. They may make the decision to let you copy the names and positions for your chart.The full roster contains all phone numbers and addresses for all adults and youth in the unit and the unit is the only group that can authorize its use. Signed: District Director.
Yup, you’re out of line. Boy Scouts, in general, do not need to have a personal list of all registered members of the troop committee, etc. In point of fact, the question becomes: What would a Boy Scout need this information for? In any decently run troop, the primary adult contact is with the Scoutmaster and any assistants, and there’s virtually no need to communicate with any other adult associated with the troop, but if there is, they’ll reach out to you. If you have this notion of producing some sort of contact list for the Scout families in the troop, you’re also out of line for not having asked your Scoutmaster or Committee Chair if such a list is, to their way of thinking, necessary. Then, you went barking up the wrong tree when you went to the council service center instead of to your own troop’s adult volunteers. It’s a shame that you’ve wasted your time on a trail destined to lead to a dead end.
That said: Congratulations on becoming a Life Scout and best wishes as your trail toward Eagle continues.
We have a new-Scout patrol that just crossed over and joined our troop. One of the Scouts was voted Patrol Leader and is doing pretty well, but another one was voted Assistant Patrol Leader and is causing trouble. He has hit other Scouts, has bullied them, and has been heard by others (including adult volunteers) using foul language. His fellow patrol members, including his Patrol Leader, want him out of the APL position. Is this possible? Yes, we do use The Patrol Method throughout the troop, and it’s a true godsend to have! But we don’t know if removing a youth leader before his term is up violates any BSA policies, rules, or guidelines.
Meanwhile, this troublesome Scout’s mother is a bit defensive about him, so how do I explain the problems to her when her whole attitude is “my son’s an angel and would never do that”? (Wayne Miller, SM)
To your first question, certainly this is possible, because somebody gave the patrol the wrong instructions to begin with! It does mean that someone’s gonna hafta fess up, but it’ll fix part of the problem faster than you can say Jack Robinson. You see, APLs aren’t elected—they’re appointed by the elected Patrol Leader! That’s right, and you can even check this out in the Scoutmaster Handbook. So tell the patrol there’s a mistake…That the Patrol Leader they all elected is indeed the Patrol Leader, but he gets to pick who he wants as his assistant. And let’s be really smart here… Before you go to the patrol at large, have a private conversation with the Patrol Leader first. Ask him who he’d most like to have as his APL. OK, now tell him about the hiccup and that you’re going to tell little Carlo Cutupski that he’s no longer the APL, and if you do that, is this Patrol Leader willing to speak up and name the Scout he really wants? He says yes, you go on over and make it happen. He says he’s uncomfortable, and so you coach him till he’s up to the task, and then—with him—you go over and make it happen.
But your job’s not done yet. This patrol, being a new-Scout patrol, has a Troop Guide, right? No? Well go read about how that works, in the Scoutmaster Handbook, and then get them one, because here’s what happens next: The Troop Guide, with an ASM or Scoutmaster at his side, takes Carlo Cutupski to one side and tells him, eyeball-to-eyeball that hitting fellow Scouts, bullying his fellow Scouts, and using foul language at his fellow Scouts will have this result: He will call his mother on the telephone and tell her what he did and ask her to come and get him immediately, because he’s being sent home. That’s right, he calls his mother—you all don’t—and he tells his mother what he did—not you all.
When his mother arrives, you, as Scoutmaster, plus one other adult troop volunteer, give the Scout to his mother when she arrives and tell her this: “Until your son can keep his hands to himself and not hit his fellow Scouts, with the possibility of injuring them, he is not permitted to return; however, if you are able to assure me that he will not harm others physically or verbally, he is welcome back…but not tonight. Tonight has ended for him, right now, and you’ll kindly take him home. No further discussion is needed tonight, thank you, and now I need to get back to the other Scouts of the troop so have a safe drive home.” Then turn and walk away.
Got it? Good, because that’s how to do it.
When making an ax yard out of rope, how do you make a “door” to enter and close? (Mike Bowman)
Two stakes in the ground, maybe four feet apart, four feet high. Length of rope (or continuation of “corral” rope) clove-hitched around one stake. Eye splice (or small loop with bowline knot) at other end, looped over other stake, to form a visual “barrier.”
Then, in the same way that’s done on a waterfront: “Permission to enter ax yard.” “Permission granted. Enter.” “Thank you.”
Our troop has a Scout with several disabilities. He’s unlikely to be able to meet the swimming requirements for Second Class and First Class ranks. We do know about how to go about alternative requirements for ranks, but we don’t know what to do here. This Scout has almost no vision at all and his eyes don’t close, and he has a lot of trouble staying upright when he’s on ground that’s not perfectly level. How do we create alternate requirements for him? Is there a published or Internet resource for ideas? Or maybe others of your readers might have ideas? (Name & Council Withheld)
Can we start by your telling me what this boy’s legal sight classification is, and his ability in water under the supervision of a professional water safety or swimming instructor? Is swimming his only problem? Can he take hikes, walk by himself, etc.? Are there any mental challenges, or is this purely physical? Finally and most important, have you brought his case to the attention of your district’s advancement committee yet?
For reasons of confidentiality, I’d prefer not to say what type of syndrome he has. I can tell you that his vision is very poor—in talking with his vision teacher, I’ve learned that he may be able to see about three to four feet with his glasses, but if it’s very bright outside, he can’t see at all, and he can’t blink. If there’s limited light, then he has to feel his way along, just like a blind person might.
He has brothers who are swimmers, and one of them is a life guard. But this boy would rather stay in the kiddie pool with the toddlers, where he feels safe.
He does OK with short hikes, taken slowly, but he can’t backpack without significant help along the trail and in the campsite. He’s also not strong, so he usually can’t carry more than a light day-pack.
He has trouble with both his fine and his gross motor skills, so that tying knots and lashings are a real challenge.
He’s been in the same den-become-patrol since Tiger Cubs, and his friends help him out a lot.
Our district advancement committee knows all about this Scout, and they’ve told me the steps to take for alternate requirements, but we haven’t been able to come up with any ideas on our own. That’s why we’re hoping for a resource, or reader feedback, which you’ve generously offered. (N&CW)
OK, here’s the deal… Somebody’s going to need to spill the beans to someone—preferably on the district advancement committee—and then you all—you, the Scout, his parents, a district advancement committee representative, and maybe even his life guard older brother!—and get the necessary signed medical forms completed, followed by some solid brainstorming on what this boy can do in exchange for the swimming requirements, understanding that the alternatives must be both challenging and achievable. Then, take your ideas to the council advancement committee, for final approval.
You all absolutely cannot arbitrarily create alternate requirements on your own without obtaining permission to do so from the district and council advancement (now called “youth development”) committees. The method for doing this is described in the Boy Scout Requirements book, and the BSA also publishes materials that deal directly and explicitly with Scouts who have disabilities.
I’m actually going to recommend that any reader interested in suggesting an alternative remember that there’s no “bucket” of alternative requirements that we can simply dip our cups into—every Scout’s situation under these conditions is invariably going to be unique in some way, and must be dealt with on an individual basis, to be fair to all concerned.
Several times in the past couple of years, you’ve spoken about Scouts and power tools and you’ve consistently said, “Want to avoid the whole issue? Use hand tools.”
As Scouters, are we not expected tohelp train the youth, and prepare them for the “outside world,” including getting jobs and adult life? I believe this training should also include how to use tools—both hand and power. I’m in manufacturing, and we do have hand tools, but the vast majority of our tools are powered, because they’re quicker and they allow the user to employ mechanical muscle versus physical muscle. Limiting Scouts to using only hand tools doesn’t prepare them for adult life. What should be done here is to use these Eagle Scout projectsas a learning opportunity, where older, trained Scouts can train the younger ones how to properly use power tools.
Training as a trainer, and training for the trained! And of course, just as the Scouts were (hopefully) trained in the use of hand tools, progress from the known to the unknown: hand tools to power tools. (Lee Donlon,MC, Last Frontier Council, OK)
Nice idea and well thought-through; however, for Eagle projects, the Scout is the one in charge and nobody else—ever. The minute this Scout and his helpers are “taught” by adults, in the middle of his Eagle project, he’s just been effectively taken out of the cat-bird seat and reduced to the level of “learner” when he’s supposed to be the leader. Moreover, there’s nothing in the Boy Scout Handbook about the use of power tools, and except for chain saws, the Guide to Safe Scouting is silent as well, so let’s stick with the Scouting program and let those other “life lessons” come from elsewhere. I understand and support your good intentions. It’s equally important to remember that Scouting is an educational movement, certainly, with three specific aims: Citizenship, Character Development, and Physical Fitness.
Do you mean that part of a Scout’s project planning isn’t supposed to be that everyone working on the project has the proper training? And if he finds out that they aren’t trained, getting them the proper training? Sounds to me like you’re expecting him to plan very poorly. And if the (non-required) “requirement” of only using hand tools is followed, you’re actually limiting the good a Scout can possibly do.
You say, “The minute this Scout and his helpers are ‘taught’ by adults, in the middle of his Eagle project, he’s just been effectively taken out of the cat-bird seat” Oh? So, if I’m planning a pack overnight, go through my planning checklist, and see we need someone BALOO trained, and I get someone to go to the training, that means that now I’m no longer the campout planner? Tell this to my Committee Chair and Cubmaster! They expect me to continue, but I’ll show them your insight next time.
You also say, “Let’s stick with the Scouting program and let those other ‘life lessons’ come from elsewhere.” That’s a very narrow view about an organization claiming to be providing leadership of our future leaders. Maybe we should quit using computers (power writing tools) and make the boys all use pencils, maybe chalk and blackboard, or crayons, to minimize the possibility of them getting an owie or ouchie, too.
Pardon the tone, I guess I’m just grouchy today. But I still think limiting our level of training is counterproductive—like limiting us to only tying square knots (they’re actually reef knots). (Lee Donlon)
You’re allowed to get grouchy anytime you want, so long as there’s still an intelligent dialogue. If you’re a regular reader, you already know that I can get pretty exercised, myself, from time to time.
Anyway, I’m talking specifically about Eagle projects, which is invariably where this question rears it’s head. Teach these skills any other time and we’re OK and on the same page. Moreover, we’re not talking about an Eagle candidate giving un-trained helpers chain saws, nail-guns, and two-handed reciprocating saws, and then turning ’em loose! But at the same time, we’re not going to let even the most well-meaning adult take over the Scout’s project by turning it into his personal classroom lecture! That said, there’s absolutely nothing to prohibit a Scout on the cusp of his project to call on a competent adult (or fellow Scout, for that matter) to pre-brief his helpers on how to do something with power tools. Let’s also remember that it’s the rare power tool that’s actually lethal if we simply apply the sense God gave us, and for those who are unsteady, it’s pretty difficult to damage any thumb but your own with a common claw hammer.
And yes, I do have a “narrow” viewpoint if by this it means that I stick to the traditional Scouting program and it’s three primary aims. Power tools simply aren’t needed in order for a youth to enjoy every single aspect of Boy Scouting.
Oh yeah, just so we’re clear on this: Reef knots and square knots are identical; the difference is that the term, “reef knot,” pre-dates the term, “square knot.”
I read and enjoy your columns frequently, and sometimes they make wonder about how our troop committee is handling boards of review. We attended a summer camp back in June, all the Scouts were busy with advancement stuff and I was busy as well, attending the adult trainings that were offered. We get back from camp and one Scout—the Scoutmaster’s son—asks one of the Assistant Scoutmasters for a Scoutmaster conference. So the two of them sit down and have a chat about the troop, the Scout’s goals, and so on. At the conclusion, the ASM tells the Scout that he can have his board of review the following week. So the next troop meeting rolls around and the other of the two ASMs in the troop decides to sit down with this same Scout, because this ASM “heard something” about this Scout’s behavior while at camp. So they have a conversation, and the Scout doesn’t recall any “bad conversations” or “bad behavior” with any of the Scouts or adults while at camp. The ASM goes on to elaborate on how important it is to respect all adults, leaders, and so on. But the review’s eventually set up. Meanwhile, I ask our Committee Chair, who was at camp with the Scouts that week, what happened that out of the blue needs to be discussed and resolved, months later. She (the CC) had no idea about any of this.
So the Scout comes out of his board of review with “pointers” that he should “work on” for “better leadership,” and he’s told that he must apologize to some other female troop parent, who was at camp. The Scout’s parents have no idea about any of this—no one has ever spoken to them, immediately after camp, or in the months following, and to them the notion of forcing their son to apologize for something no one remembers seems absurd.
So here’s my question: Can a troop’s board of review actually hold back this Scout’s rank advancement if he fails to apologize to this person? (Yes, I know we have other and more serious issues to deal with, like why wasn’t this addressed on the spot, but we’re a young troop with a lot of untrained committee members.) Can you suggest anything here? (Name & Council Withheld)
Let’s start here: Where’s the Scoutmaster in all of these “tempest-in-a-teapot” goings-on? Sounds like a lot of in-fighting among the non-com’s, and not much help to the Scout himself.
Second, what’s the story with the “offended” parent? If she doesn’t remember what anyone’s talking about, either, then throw the whole thing out and advance the Scout to his next rank, end of story.
If the review members extracted an agreement from this Scout that he’d apologize for whatever he’s supposed to have done and only then will the board of review sign off, then the Scout needs an advocate to tell the review members to go pound sand down a rat-hole. This is tantamount to extortion, especially since no one seems to remember what the apology’s for. Bottom line: Pass the Scout on the rank, and move on. There are much bigger fish to fry. And consider dumping that buttinski ASM and delayed-reaction “offended” parent while you’re at it.
I’m 17 and I’ve completed my tenure as my troop’s Senior Patrol Leader and I’m looking for my next job in the troop. Is Junior Assistant Scoutmaster a possibility? The Scoutmaster Handbook gives only a brief description of this position, so I’m hoping you could explain it a bit more. Would I still be part of the troop and doing things with the other Scouts? Or would it be more a position with just the adults? The reason I ask is because I still want to be active with the Scouts in my troop, while at the same time taking on a serious role as a leader. (Scout’s Name & Council Withheld)
The JASM, although selected by the SPL, actually works in partnership with the Scoutmaster. This is a serious leadership position. The JASM doesn’t “out-rank” the SPL, but he may take on special responsibilities that the SPL can’t manage and do everything else he’s supposed to be doing. At 17 and with SPL experience under your belt, you’re an ideal candidate for this position and I hope you consider it. Just like the SPL and ASPL, a JASM isn’t a patrol member any longer; he’s a significant youth leader of the troop, and within a few short months becomes eligible to be an Assistant Scoutmaster on his 18th birthday!
Now while leadership can be fun, you still want to have time for just plain fun with other guys your age. That can be almost impossible as a JASM, so, here’s an option: Find a nearby Venturing Crew and be a member of both! A Venturing Crew is usually high adventure-focused and to be a Venturer you can’t be younger than 14, and you can stay in this program right up to your 21st birthday! Oh, and did I mention that Venturing is co-ed? Well it is! Contact your local council service center, tell ’em the town you live in, and ask for the contacts for any Venturing Crews reasonably nearby. You’re 17, so I’m guessing you have a driver’s license. Maybe you own (or have access to) a car, and this way even if meetings are a little farther away, you can drive to them. Check it out! This could give you exactly what you’re looking for!
Is a currently registered Merit Badge Counselor for a particular merit badge a counselor for that merit badge for any Scout in or out of his own council or district? (Mark Gould)
Yes, a registered Merit Badge Counselor may counsel any Scout, from anywhere, on his or her merit badge(s).
Our troop just had three Scouts take a First Aid Merit Badge class with a new Merit Badge Counselor and some of us—namely, the Scoutmaster, Assistant Scoutmaster, and me, the troop’s advancement coordinator—aren’t comfortable that all the requirements were met. Do we have the right to quiz the Scouts, even though the Merit Badge Counselor they worked with throughout has signed them all off on having completed the requirements? (Steve Ricard, Narragansett Council, RI)
Thanks for asking a very important question! The direct answer is: No you don’t. Once the merit badge is earned, so long as the MBC is duly registered, it’s keepers…Done deal…End of story. You do not have the right or authority to “quiz” or in any other way challenge the Scouts on requirement details. Nor should you be asking the devious and dubious question, “Well, do you think you honestly earned that merit badge…?” That’s playing head-games and is not cool.
And, just so we’re clear on this point: That place for the Scoutmaster’s signature after the blue card’s been signed by the MBC is an acknowledgment of receipt and recording; it does not signify that the Scoutmaster has in any way tested or re-tested the Scout, or “approves” the earning of the merit badge.
That said, you absolutely have the right to have a gentle conversation with the Merit Badge Counselor, to learn a bit about what he taught, and how he taught it. Do keep in mind, however, that if you followed normal procedure your Scoutmaster is the one who gave those Scouts the name and contact information for this MBC, so if it’s confirmed that this one’s getting it right after all, then keep sending your Scouts there, and if not, then choose another MBC for your Scouts.
You also have both the right and the obligation, if indeed, any MBC is short-changing the Scouts, to bring this up to whoever manages the MBC list for your district. Do this diplomatically—we’re talking about a volunteer’s reputation here!
We were given the signed blue cards at a troop meeting, and when we asked one of the Scouts how it went, he said, “Great! We were done in two hours!” Surprised by this response, I met with the Scoutmaster and Assistant after the meeting so that we could discuss this, and none of us thought that two hours was an appropriate time to cover all of the requirements. But we weren’t sure what to do next, so I wrote to you. Sounds like we did the right thing by not quizzing the Scouts! Thanks! (Steve Ricard)
You did the right thing, my friend!
But… and this is a BIG BUT… I agree with you that two hours seems pretty quick. I’d sure be tempted to have a conversation with the Scouts (not a “quiz”) about the experience. By this I mean: Did these three Scouts—in simplistic terms—walk in completely prepared to explain, demonstrate, show, and describe every one of the symptoms and solutions required to earn this merit badge and then just did so on the spot, or did they listen to a lecture by the MBC for two hours? Merit badges are supposed to be self-directed discovery-and-learning opportunities. They’re not supposed to be “classes” or “class-like.” They aren’t supposed to be “Scout school.” If, in conversing gently with these Scouts, you discover that it was more like a lecture class and less like guided discovery-and-learning, then you may want to have a conversation with the MBC, asking him what training as an MBC he or she has had and perhaps ultimately explaining to him that you don’t wish for your Scouts to “go to first aid school,” and that you can’t recommend him or her to any more Scouts in your troop if it’s going to be a classroom-style situation. If , as a result of this conversation, the MBC upgrades his or her methods, then everyone benefits!
If our troop holds a fund-raiser dinner, with the Scouts serving the meal and bussing the tables, is it OK for alcoholic beverages to be served in one room, with the Scouts remaining in the room where the food is served, that has no alcoholic beverages permitted? The two rooms are next to each other with an open doorway, and looking through that doorway you can see people drinking beverages. (We want to comply with the policies of the Guide to Safe Scouting, but is this stretching it a bit?) (Name & Council Withheld)
Here’s the GTSS statement, per the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America:
“It is the policy of the Boy Scouts of America that the use of alcoholic beverages and controlled substances is not permitted at encampments or activities on property owned and/or operated by the Boy Scouts of America, or at any activity involving participation of youth members.”
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