Rule No. 20:
- “Commissioner Charm School” is where, among other things, we learn how to say “Now isn’t that just special,” instead of “Which of you geniuses thought that one up all by yourself?”
Rule No. 21:
- Don’t waste time reading the “Nutritional Content” of a Three Musketeers, Snickers, or bag of Gummi Bears… Nutrition isn’t what they’re for, or what you want, anyway.
In your April 30th column, you received a request from a Scout Mum in the U.K. who wanted to buy some merit badges (her son collects badges—not for uniform wear). I have some extra merit badges earned at the very last minute by Eagle Scouts almost immediately turned 18 and never picked them up. Later inquiry as to these Scouts’ preferences determined that they didn’t want them. I’d be happy to send these to that young Scout, for his collection. So Mum, if you’re still reading this column, just use my email address below and I’d be happy to work things out with you. (Steve Sassi <email@example.com>)
Thanks for your offer Steve, and if, by chance, I should happen to hear from her myself, I’ll be sure to get in touch with you.
In your June 28th column, there was a question about “one Boy Scout rank a year.” I’m wondering if this one-per-year notion is an outgrowth of the new measurement program the national council’s rolled out—“Journey to Excellence”—that measures troops, packs, districts, and councils on a one youth-one rank-one year basis. I’m thinking maybe some leaders mistakenly think this is the upper limit, rather than the minimum standard that it actually is. (James Eager)
Perhaps. However, I’m not sure the Journey to Excellence program’s been around long enough to sway folks into thinking that Boy Scouts advance just one rank per year. I think this is more a carry-over from Cub Scouting where, in fact, they do advance one rank per year, and only earn the highest rank (Arrow of Light) at the stroke of midnight before departing Cub Scouting and moving on (doesn’t this sound like our infamous “11th hour Eagles”?). My own unscientific inquiries (e.g., talking with parents of recently graduated Webelos Scouts, parents of Scouts who are 14 and just earned First Class, Scoutmasters who are telling 16 year-old Life Scouts, “You’ve got lots of time,” Scoutmasters who tell both Scouts and their parents that “I’ll decide when your son is mature enough to understand the significance of earning Eagle,” and so on) and indeed a very common belief is that Boy Scout ranks work just like Cub Scouts! This is a very scary proposition…
About that pack that had $6,000 go missing, this is very sad, but I’ve heard of at least two similar cases, popcorn fund-raising money evaporating and a pack’s account mysteriously going from a healthy sum to zero. So while we’d like to trust people with funds and we’d like to believe that no one would steal from a group like their own son’s pack or troop (or their church), it’s a fact of life that this sometimes does happen. Which means that the best way to deal with this is to make sure that no check can be cashed without two specific signatures on it: the unit’s treasurer and the Committee Chair (and these two must absolutely not be related). Monthly reports to the committee, including all transactions in and out, and why, should be required. Reviewing the unit’s monthly bank statement will uncover errors before they become too far in the past to correct. And if a treasurer doesn’t want to do these things, they get the boot, on the spot. A unit committee or Committee Chair that’s too fearful of taking on a confrontational or “no-show” treasurer is often the reason why this stuff happens. The Chartered Organization Representative and sponsor aren’t to blame, unless they have an active role in the unit’s banking.
In any case, as you’ve pointed out, packs and troops should never carry a “safety net,” “rainy day fund,” or whatever you’d like to call it, in thousands of dollars. That “pot of gold” is both unnecessary for any pack or troop and can prove to be too great a temptation, too often. Units just shouldn’t go there. If they have that much money, put it toward unit operations, or donate it. (Bob Elliott, UC, Northern Star Council, MN)
I agree that the best way to keep hands out of the cookie jar it to have a lock on it…but then, “locks are made only for people who are honest.” The two easiest ways to handle this are both simple, as you point out… Two signatures on all checks, and there’s almost no need for a unit’s account balance to have a comma in it.
Fundamental rule: Money can be a catalyst to corruption; lots of money can be a big-time catalyst.
I recently agreed to be a Unit Commissioner; however, we’ve no District Commissioner and a very skewed Assistant District Commissioner structure in our district, which is heavily Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka LDS or Mormon)-influenced. For instance, there are only two UCs for non-LDS units while there is a full complement of both UCs and ADCs for all LDS units in the district. If there’s a need (and there sure is) for a District Commissioner here, why hasn’t an LDS Assistant District Commissioner stepped up and volunteered to take on this position, even temporarily? I understand that LDS Scout leaders are “called” by their church for their Scouting and other assignments. But the absence of a District Commissioner puts the UC who supports local units in a rather difficult position. It seems to me that we, as adult leaders, whether Scoutmaster or Cubmaster, are to provide the best Scouting program that we can, and making a separation between LDS and non-LDS Scouting is the wrong approach. Do you have any thoughts that might help this situation? (Name & Council Withheld)
Yes, I definitely do have some thoughts on this, having served in virtually all Commissioner positions in districts and councils, and been a both a Cubmaster and Scoutmaster in an LDS-heavy area. Let’s start here, however: Your overarching question needs to be posed to your district’s “Key 2” (although it should be “Key 3” and include a District Commissioner). In the meanwhile, just as in an ideal world Scouting units should be able to almost completely function on their own, even if there were no district or council (the “almost” is because a volunteer network of Merit Badge Counselors, and a few council-paid record-keeping functions are needed, and these are council and district responsibilities), Unit Commissioners should be able to function on their own as well, in serving their assigned units! UCs aren’t expected to “know all the answers,” but they do need the wherewithal to go find the answers they don’t have in their mental and electronic data bases! ADCs and District Commissioners are administrative, or “staff,” positions, whereas Unit Commissioners are the “boots-on-the-ground” line positions, and this is where the action is! So, although you’ve asked for some thoughts but not a suggestion, I’m going to risk offering an uninvited one: As a UC, tend to your flock, serve them well, help them as often as your personal and professional time permits, and don’t worry about the “back forty”—that’s somebody else’s worry!
Can you describe the nature of the Golden Quill? I recently acquired one and can only find it mentioned in the 4th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook. Other than being journalism-intensive, I’m interested in to whether this was a rare award or not.
Remembering back to your own Scouting career, around when did de-emphasis on the uniform begin? I see more and more Scouts in “civvies” in Scouting literature. I picked up a merit badge pamphlet for Cooking and found some of boys shown in it wouldn’t seem to be Scouts if it weren’t that this was a BSA-published book. At campouts, I see a lot of Scouts in all varieties of non-Scout shorts. In the near future, I’d like to try to reverse this trend in our troop and get our Scouts back into full uniform. And relating to the uniform, can official headgear be worn in public buildings like banks (as pictured in the 6th edition of the handbook)?
And if I’m allowed one more question… We might be splitting up our patrols in a few months, because of size. Should we allow Scouts to choose their own patrols? There are a few Scouts who, if brought together, would cause trouble, so some of the adult leaders are opposed to letting the Scouts choose and insist that the committee decides. Is this really something a troop committee is supposed to decide? Related to this, are troops required to place newly crossed-over Scouts into a “basic training patrol,” or can we opt to place a few in each of the experienced patrols, at their choice? (Name & Council Withheld)
Well, you’re going to get your money’s worth… Yes, I’m willing to tackle all of your questions. Here we go…
Golden Quill: First, it’s the Gold Quill. This was an award in the area of journalism first used in the Lone Scout program and later adopted into the regular Boy Scout program, in the very early years of Scouting; however, by Scouting’s half-century mark it had apparently gone the way of the Dodo Bird. You can use an online search engine if you wish to learn more of its history.
There has never been a BSA-induced de-emphasis of the uniform; it remains one of the eight methods of Scouting. What does seem to have happened in various quarters around the country is a fundamental failure to understand that the uniform was made for use at more than courts of honor; it’s not like a military “dress uniform.” The uniform is designed to be worn whenever Scouts are doing “Scout stuff.” I could probably write a thesis on why and how this has happened over the past four or five decades, but the most important point is that it sure doesn’t need to be this way! It’s up to each individual troop (and Cub Scout pack, too, for that matter) to make it happen (although it happens at the council level too, and I’ve seen any number of councils in my so-called Scouting “career” that are uniformed as a culture and those that, as a culture, aren’t). Your own troop can be a uniformed troop easily if you simply decide to make this happen. I’ve written about this in many columns, and I’ve described the specific benefits that can come the way of a uniformed troop, as well. As you continue to read back-columns, you’ll discover more of what I’m talking about.
Regarding the specific “Scout in a bank with his cap on” drawing, in the 6th edition of the handbook, I think it would be helpful to remember that that edition was published four decades ago, so I somehow seriously doubt that the general population of current Scouts and their leaders will be drawing any uniform-wearing inferences from it, any more than they’ll draw inferences from the drawing, three pages later, showing a Scout removing his hat as he enters a church. Although I have a pretty extensive library of handbooks, I’m really not going to go searching for pictures of Scouts in or out of uniform in them. The one that counts operationally is, obviously, the current 12th edition; the others are nice historical references. And about headgear, Scouts, just like everyone else, remove them when they’re indoors—simple as that (this is in the area of essential manners).
Patrols: Time after time, Scouts continue to prove that they can choose their own patrols and patrol members vastly better than any adult or group of adults. Let them alone. If you have, let’s say, 20 Scouts, the Senior Patrol Leader simply says, “OK, Scouts, form yourselves into groups of no less that four and no more than six Scouts each, and no Scouts left out,” and then he walks away while the Scouts do this. The adults don’t interfere. End of story.
If a Webelos (aka Arrow of Light) den joins the troop together, obviously they become a patrol, elect their own Patrol Leader, and are assigned a troop Guide who advises the Patrol Leader (but never ever supersedes the Patrol Leader) and an Assistant Scoutmaster for oversight-at-a-distance and guidance to the troop Guide “with a feather-light touch.”
Further on this subject, if you’ve never been the last one in a string of kids, or the last one picked in choosing up sides, or the smallest guy on the team, or the youngest kid to make it past the cut, you’ll absolutely never understand why you never, ever feed a freshly-minted Scout to a patrol of Scouts who have been around the block once or twice.
What’s required to be an Eagle project advisor? Can he or she be a non-Scout person? Here is the answer I gave to a Life Scout. What did I omit or should have added?
“To answer your question about the requirements to find a project advisor and technical advisor for your Eagle project, there are no set requirements but these key points should help for your success to Eagle trail… The Eagle advisor’s job is to help Life Scouts get through the process of completing the Eagle project and assist them on their way from Life to Eagle. He/she is someone who is familiar with BSA rules while giving you guidance throughout your project. He/she would be someone you look up to as your mentor and that you are comfortable working with him/her. The technical advisor is someone who will help you with the technical aspects of the project itself and also needs to know the rules of the BSA (most importantly the safety rules).”
Thank you. (Huong Do, Orange County Council, CA)
I’d say your answer is accurate; nothing needs to be added, subtracted, or changed. However, it also may need to be understood that an “Eagle advisor”/”project advisor”/”technical advisor” is not mandatory, so far as the BSA is concerned. People who help out by being advisors such as you’ve specified, especially for such a short amount of time, don’t need to be registered members of the BSA because these advisory positions aren’t in any way official; they’re all informal. That said, I’d certainly encourage these folks to register, and to spend 15-20 minutes online completing Youth Protection Training.
Like many Scouters, one of the “hats” I wear is Merit Badge Counselor. Recently our district advancement committee has been publishing email addresses in the Merit Badge Counselor list, so long as the MBC agrees, which I do. Now, I’m in the midst of my first e-merit badge, and want your perspective.
First, I applaud the use of technology. Better to have an email message than an indecipherable voice-mail to initiate the merit badge process. And I don’t mind receiving an essay to review ahead of time. But I drew a line in the sand when a Scout asked me how he could get his “blue card” to me, so I could sign it—I got the impression that he’s on a trajectory toward completing the entire merit badge via email, and we’ll never meet face-face.
In the BSA book, Boy Scout Requirements, for merit badges phrases like “make an appointment…” and “At the first meeting (with your MBC)…” Clearly, the requirements, as envisioned by BSA, are that face-face discussions are important. I believe it’s a good thing to force at least one face-to-face meeting for a merit badge. Since I’m the ultimate authority, with my signature, I can indeed force that meeting. On the other hand, we have that pesky sentence, “You are expected to meet the requirements as they are stated—no more and no less” hanging over our heads. Is making the Scout walk five miles in a blizzard uphill both ways really part of the requirement? How does one achieve a proper balance?
A few years ago, I was taken aback the first time I encountered a computer-composed essay, which the Scout showed me “live” on the laptop he’d brought with him. However, since this was for the Environmental Science merit badge, I thought on reflection: How better to show environmental awareness than to not print that essay. Progress and change are part of our Scouting lives and we need to adjust to the times.
Your perspective on what we Merit Badge Counselors must do and what we really should do for our Scouts in this new electronic communication age would be appreciated (Name & Council Withheld)
You raise interesting issues, and I believe they’re all addressable. Let’s begin with the cold fact that there are no “e-merit badges.” Electronic communications should in no way supplant the personal conversations between MBC and Scout. The initial Scout-to-counselor contact (to set up the first face-to-face meeting) hasn’t changed: This is to be done by phone or in-person; not via email. Moreover, there’s no intention, or plan in place that I know of, to convert the learning-by-doing process between Scout and counselor into some sort of “electronic classroom” or even “electronic consulting session.”
Moving on, for me there’s simply no place in Scouting for words like “forcing” or “making” Scouts to do anything. The Scout is expected to complete the requirements as stated, and that’s it. If indeed there is some requirement, somewhere, that states the Scout will “walk five miles in a blizzard uphill both ways,” then it’s the MBC’s responsibility to provide the Scout with the insights, knowledge, and skills necessary to do so successfully, and then it’s up to the Scout as to whether or not he’s willing to complete a requirement like this, remembering always that whatever he chooses, that’s his decision to make. No one “forces” him to do anything. (Now I’m guessing that you really didn’t mean “forcing” or “making” but this is a guess—the language we choose to use colors our communications, and establishes tone.)
Which leads into the further point that some “pesky sentence” isn’t really “hanging over your head.” That particular sentence is your watchword, so that if one Scout completes a specific merit badge with you, in Florida, while another Scout completes the same merit badge with a counselor in Okinawa (yes, there are American Boy Scouts in Okinawa), both Scouts have fulfilled the identical requirements. Would you have it any other way?
Let’s always keep at the front of our thinking that the purpose of merit badges is not to make experts of teen-aged boys. The two primary purposes of the BSA merit badge program are: To give these boys the opportunity to initiate contact with and then work with adults whom they’re not familiar with, and to expose these boys to subject-matter that may become a career or life-long hobby. That’s it!
Thanks for raising interesting points and taking the time to write. It’s a fine thing to adjust to the times by utilizing new tools for detail-work, but we can never lose sight of the overarching goals of what we’re here to accomplish.
How many merit badges can a Scout ask to start at one time, and how many can a Scout have open as partials? Is there limit? I believe the answer is: It’s unlimited, and a “partial” never expires. If a Scout has until his 18th birthday to finish a merit badge, then there’s a likelihood that the Scout lost interest in some merit badges and so might have “partials” for them, but he can still start new ones, even so. (Brian Skotynsky)
There’s no BSA-stated limit on the number of merit badges a Scout can be working on at any one time, nor does the BSA authorize any person, unit, or other to impose an arbitrary limit. A Scout has until the day before his 18th birthday to work on and complete Boy Scout merit badge and rank requirements; so sez the BSA.
How long should the average Scoutmaster conference take? (Jacqie)
For Tenderfoot through First Class, maybe 5-10 minutes, tops. For Star and Life, about 10 minutes. For Eagle, maybe 15, tops. For Eagle Palms 5. Refer to the Scoutmaster Handbook, and do keep in mind that Scoutmaster conferences are about more than just the young man’s life in his patrol and troop life.
Is there a belt loop for geocaching? (Robin Daynes)
All the available belt loops and pins may be found right here, under “Academics and Sports”: http://usscouts.org/
A while back, I wrote to you describing a situation, and after a back-and-forth where you advised me and I argued, I realized that you were exactly right with what you said about my units. So I’m writing to tell you that, by following your advice, the units I serve have really straightened up, and I’m even going to summer camp to observe the troops over two nights, and the best part is they’re excited by that prospect.
I have just a couple of more questions…
I have the Administration of Commissioner Service Fieldbook, and I see the section on conducting uniform inspections. I’ve done these in the past, when I was an Assistant Scoutmaster, and was able to do so very well, but I have a new wrinkle. The Cub Scout pack that I serve has a “waist-up” uniform policy. I’ve counseled them about this before, and even suggested a new pack policy when they asked for my help writing one, but in they just don’t seem to be willing to change. The answer I get is, “We’re not uniform police.” Now I don’t want to go in there as the bad guy and just mark everyone off for no pants, socks, or belt, and I really do want to encourage them to strive for full uniforming, because it encourages unit pride and is one of the eight methods of Scouting. Do you have any advice on how to encourage this, besides the old “give-em-a-candy bar” method?
In this same regard, is there any difference between conducting a uniform inspection for youth versus adult leaders, Cubs versus Scouts? (Chris Snider, UC, Occoneechee Council, NC)
I’m delighted that the result of our “conversation” ultimately proved helpful to you!
On uniform inspections… B-P put it something like this: A boy can be a Scout without ever having a uniform, but what boy with Scouting in his heart wouldn’t want to wear his uniform proudly. The boys, of course, aren’t the problem. It’s (no great shock here) the parents, once again. It may be helpful to bring in someone from the district training committee or team, to explain that the uniform is indeed one of the actual methods of Scouting, and that, particularly for Cub Scouts, full uniforms are no-brainers, because simple navy blue pants and an eight buck web belt-with-brass buckle are hardly hardships, so let’s get with the program and have those boys lookin’ sharp! An adjunct to this might be to find a nearby well-uniformed Boy Scout troop and ask their Patrol Leaders and SPL to help out and do a uniform inspection, boy-to-boy. Or, maybe you might consider the “buddy system,” where the boys themselves check one another and then exchange the inspection sheets (like they do at school, when the teacher says to exchange test papers with another pupil, for grading)… Now let’s think about how to buddy up a Cub with each of the pack’s leaders! And my fourth thought here is to recognize that not one of the 13 objectives for a pack in the new “Journey To Excellence” program has to do with uniforming, and so maybe, as UCs, we need to chill out and focus on the other seven Scouting methods.
I’m well aware Scout service projects are to be for a religious institution, school, or community, and not for anything of a commercial nature. Here’s the situation… I recently caught up with an old classmate from high school who was once a Scout, himself. As we talked, he mentioned that he’s one of the owners of a campground about two hours’ away, with group campsites and access to a river, a lake, and a state bike trail. We talked further, and he’s willing to negotiate camp fees for our troop in exchange for small service projects at the campground, like clearing sites, maintaining trails, and so on. Because this camp is a business, are Scouts still claim service hours? (Jim Kangas, MC, Northern Star Council, MN)
Life Scouts going for Eagle are asked to exclude businesses and also the BSA (e.g., local council camp, etc.) when carrying out their Leadership Service Project. But that’s about the only solid statement made on this subject. The situation you’re describing—your troop providing “sweat equity” in exchange for reduced camp fees—sounds virtually identical to the National Order of the Arrow Trail Crew program at Philmont, in which Arrowmen crews spend a week rehabilitating trails and then (the reward!) a second week trekking for a reduced rate of $150 for both weeks. Consequently, it seems to me that there are two interwoven options for you. The first one is to simply say that the Scouts in your troop who participate in giving service to this camp will personally earn the right to attend at a reduced rate. The second one might be to establish that any Scout who gives service but doesn’t personally use the commensurate reduced rate, who, instead, transfers his “credit” to another Scout, is indeed providing legitimate service…to the troop! In these ways, I think you may have a “win-win” outcome!
Yesterday, my son and his troop went to one of our local pools to qualify for the BSA swim test and also work on merit badges. I’ve spoken with every leader he’s had since Webelos about how my son needs extra help with the swim test requirements due to a level of hydrophobia. He likes to be in the water but doesn’t like his head under the water if he can’t touch or feels unsafe. He does fine if he has a life jacket on or uses his snorkel. When they were testing yesterday, he was told he could wear a life jacket or use his snorkel, but only during practice. Everything that I’ve read says nothing about snorkel or life jacket use, neither a “can” nor a “can’t.” Wouldn’t this mean that he can use his snorkel for his BSA swim test? (Name & Council Withheld)
Based on your description, no, your son won’t qualify for the BSA swim test while using a snorkel or any similar apparatus, or a life jacket or PFD. Moreover, ultimately you really don’t want him to, because becoming competent in the water isn’t a “Scout skill”—It’s a LIFE SKILL.
If your son were clinically diagnosed as aquaphobic by a licensed health care provider, there might be an advancement path for him through the BSA’s provision for alternate requirements. But this doesn’t appear to be the case. What we most likely have here is a boy who doesn’t want to put his face in the water or his head under the water, and has found or has been given stop-gap devices to compensate.
So here’s my very best recommendation: Find a competent swimming instructor (your local Y is a good resource) and sign your son up for private swimming sessions (do not put him in group lessons, even though they’re less expensive). Tell the instructor, privately, what you’ve observed, and then let him of her take it from there.
Is the Senior Patrol Leader supposed to be a patrol member? If not, when the Scouts play games and such, which patrol does he team up with, or how does he participate? (Shaye Larsen)
The SPL is definitely not in a patrol; the SPL runs the troop, by working with the Patrol Leaders. When there are inter-patrol games, the games are run by the Senior Patrol Leader. He’s not a participant; he’s the leader of the troop.
In reading through your columns, I came across one relating to snipe hunts. When I was on my first Scout camp-out in the late 1960s, I was sent to locate and bring back a “left-handed smoke shifter.” In the back of my mind, I was pretty sure there was no such thing; however, I still had a doubt… after all, I was just a Tenderfoot, so what did I know? Maybe there really could be one! So I went out looking… There were several other troops in the area, and I was feeling rather foolish out there looking for this thing, and embarrassed to be asking Scouts from other troops if they knew where I could get a left-handed smoke shifter (not surprisingly, no other troops seemed to have one). As I was trudging back to my troop’s campsite, one of the adult leaders from another troop called me over and handed me a paper cup impaled sideways at the end of a skewer. Then he showed me how, by rotating the cup180 degrees, I now had a “right-handed smoke shifter” too! Proudly, I carried my prize back to my troop. You should have seen their faces! I had the whole troop gathered around me in surprise and awe… Seems I was the only Scout who’d ever brought back a smoke shifter! To this day, I thank that leader for helping a young Tenderfoot, and no, I’ll never send a Scout on such a quest! (J.M.)
Great story and what a fabulous leader and cool “solution” to your quest! I still have mixed emotions about the loss of smoke-shifters, bacon stretchers, snipe hunts, and the like… They’re now considered a form of hazing, and that’s understandable, but the absence of these today has diminished some “rites of passage” that I’m not certain did any permanent damage to us, and they did put us “in the know” and a sort of official member of “the gang.” I went through these in the 50’s, when we also had other stuff that would likely light folks’ hair on fire if I described them. Did they make me a “stronger” boy or “better” Scout? Probably not. But they did make my bond with my patrol and troop all the stronger and not necessarily in unhealthy ways, in my opinion.
However, one thing we’ve lost along the way that was entirely positive and definitely bond-creating and special is the “Tenderfoot Investiture Ceremony.” If we were to bring back to Scouting any one thing other than decent singing, to my mind it should be this, in a darkened room, with candles only, and ceremonial language that definitely bonded the new boy to his troop, and the troop’s leaders, as a full-fledged Scout.
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