Rule No. 39:
- Knowledge and intelligent can be faked; clever and witty can’t.
Rule No. 40:
- On any campout, the gadget most needed will be the one left in a trunk in the parking lot.
First things first. Let’s fix an error…
About those “pumpkin shooters” in your last column: I’m not aware of any BSA policy that restricts Boy Scouts or Venturers from shooting outside of a council camp, such as the restriction for Cub Scouts. In fact, I’m an advisor to a Venturing crew that’s sponsored by a shooting club, where the main activities of the crew are shooting sports. So long as the Scouts meet the specifications of having a NRA-certified range safety officer AND a NRA-certified rifle instructor (assuming they’re shooting rifles), they should be OK. (Ed Hess, Council Board Member & NRA Training Counselor, Tecumseh Council, OH)
Yup, I fired from the hip too fast on that one! Thanks for your sharp eyes. The current BSA long-gun shooting rules are:
”All rifle-shooting activities must have a certified NRA Range Safety Officer directly supervising all live fire on the range. Additionally, the instruction offered must be done by a currently certified National Camping School shooting sports director certified as an NRA Rifle Instructor, or an NRA-certified Rifle Instructor or an NRA/USA Shooting/CMP-certified Rifle Coach. These must be two separate individuals.”
”All shotgun shooting activities must have a certified NRA Range Safety Officer directly supervising all live fire on the range. Additionally, the instruction offered must be done by a currently certified National Camping School shooting sports director certified as an NRA Shotgun Instructor, or an NRA-certified Shotgun Instructor or an NRA/USA Shooting/CMP-certified Shotgun Coach. These must be two separate individuals.”
Can you please provide insights or advice on the new attendance and participation guidelines for earning rank advancements? I’m trying to find norms and standards so that I’ll be able to provide an answer to our Scouts, leaders, and parents, in anticipation of questions arising from the BSA’s new Guide To Advancement. (Sanjay Dhruv, CC, Central New Jersey Council)
I’ve not seen anything the BSA’s ever published relating to “norms” or “standards” as regards Scouts’ attendance or participation. The rule-of-thumb generally followed has been “Do Your Best” (underpinning of both the Cub Scout Promise and the Boy Scout Oath), with the wise understanding that boys and young men who are Scouts are invariably involved in lots of other activities as well (in other words, the boy who is only a Scout, with no other outside interests, is more than extremely rare). Until now, the BSA has been very careful to assert the authority of the national office on all rank and merit badge requirements. But that’s changed, of course, and that’s most likely what’s prompted your very legitimate and important question.
That said, I’m going to briefly share with you my own observations and thoughts on this subject, for your consideration and use if they’re helpful…
In my experience, which includes several hundred Eagle rank boards of review in three different councils, and having served as a Scoutmaster on three different occasions for three different troops, there’s only one thing I’ve ever found Eagle Scouts to have in common: They’re very active in lots of stuff. I’ve yet to meet one of this breed who just “does Scouts” and that’s all. Every one of these Eagles, and most other Scouts I’ve known as well, have been involved and active with bands and orchestras, theater and drama, math and science, basketball, track and field, wrestling, football, basketball, National Honor Society, school government, Model United Nations, school service clubs, youth religious groups, tennis, squash, indoor badminton, forensics, swim team, water polo team, and the list goes on and on and on…and all in addition to their Scouting activities. In the face of these normal and expected teen-age activities, Scouting has historically taken justified pride in being the most flexible of all. Consequently, Scouting isn’t in the business of “dinging” a boy or “kicking him off the team” or “benching” him because he missed a meeting or campout or hike or service project, or two or three or ten of these, because we’re not in the “attendance business”—we’re in the citizenship, character, and mental/physical development business. Our charge as volunteers in the movement is help to create tomorrow’s productive, responsible, happy citizens. We can’t do that if we don’t keep our doors and arms open to these young men, understanding that the “ultimate volunteer” isn’t us: It’s the Scout himself. If he gets sick and tired of our nagging him (instead of positive reinforcement of good habits) or “dinging” him, when it comes to rank advancement (even when he’s proven he can knock off the skill-set required without breaking a sweat), then he’s going to walk…and that’s the very last thing we want to have happen, because then we can no longer instill in him the ideals and values of the movement (yes, we’re a movement; not an “activity”).
So here’s my single guideline: Look only at the individual Scout; see only the individual; understand only the individual; each one by one and one at a time. Each and every young man who crosses the doorstep of Scouting is unique, and lives in a world and environment unique to him and him alone—there is no other like him in the world and we dare not apply an arbitrary measure in this one particular dimension we call “active.”
I just received and read the latest issue of ”Scouting” magazine, and I have a question. On page 15, “ADVANCEMENT FAQs” the question proposed is: “Could (a Scout working on Tenderfoot and Second Class, or Second Class and First Class) receive both ranks at the same court of honor?” and the answer is, “Yes.”
I’ve thought that Scouts are supposed to receive their next ranks earned at the earliest possible time, ideally at the very next troop meeting, and that courts of honor were supposed to be a recognition of what they’ve accomplished since the troop’s last court of honor. Have I got that all wrong? Are we supposed to hold back their advancements until there’s a court of honor? (In our troop, we have four a year, which means a Scout who has his board of review a week after the current court of honor would have to wait nearly three months to get his badge and card, and that seems wrong.) (Name & Council Withheld)
I’m delighted to tell you that you’ve got it right! Both the Scoutmaster Handbook (page 122: “Immediate recognition is a powerful incentive of the BSA’s advancement program. A Scout should receive his new badge as soon as possible after his achievement has been certified by a board of review. A simple ceremony at the conclusion of a troop meeting or during a campout is ideal…”) and the Troop Committee Guidebook (page 31: “When a Scout advances, he should be recognized as soon as possible—preferably at the next troop meeting. He is recognized a second time at a public…court of honor…(where) all Scouts who have advanced since the previous court of honor are honored.”)
Keep in mind that what I’ve just quoted from both of these seminal publications don’t represent “a” way of managing advancement recognition; they are the way to do so—no alternative to this has ever been proposed by the BSA.
Now some Scoutmasters, Committee Chairs, or troop advancement coordinators may be shocked by this. After all, they may be saying to themselves, our courts of honor are where we carefully label, stuff, and line up the Ziploc™ plastic bags with each Scout’s ranks and merit badges in them, so that we can call each Scout up to the front of the room, announce his advancement, hand him his plastic bag, shake his hand, and applaud him. Is Andy really telling us we’ve been doing this wrong since time immemorial? And the answer is… Yup, that’s exactly what I’m saying. But it’s not me that’s telling you all this… It’s the BSA, in foundational literature you need to re-read, so that you can confirm the quotes I’ve just given you and then change what you’ve been doing and get it right for the Scouts you’re there to serve! And, take a look: It’s actually a simpler process than you’ve been using, because all that’s needed is a printout or program that lists each rank beginning with Tenderfoot and the Scouts who’ve earned that ranks since the last court of honor. When the court of honor’s master of ceremonies states the rank to the audience, the Scouts who earned it all come forward, by name, face the audience, and receive Scout handshakes and a round of applause led by the Scoutmaster! Same thing for merit badges, etc. Simple, honorable, and respectful of the audience’s time (and attention span!). Troops all over the country do it this way, and it’s worked for years. So don’t “try” it…DO IT!
I’ve seen two “square knot” emblems that I’m not familiar with: Are they official? One is a white square knot on a light blue background; the other is brown on a gold background. Do you know anything about them?
Also can the NESA life member Eagle square knot be worn along with the regular Eagle knot? (Mike Bowman)
The first one may be a limited council edition, or an “unofficial” emblem. It sounds like it may be the “Antarctica Service Medal,” which is not a BSA-recognized emblem. The second is equally mysterious and for this one I haven’t a clue!
On wearing two Eagle Scout square knots, nope: Only one should be worn, says the BSA, so choose the one that fits your NESA membership status.
NetCommish Comment: If these two knots are what you are talking about, I can give you some additional information – and Andy is right on the money.
The first is a local District knot that was approved by the local Council and not available for use anywhere else. The second is an unauthorized Antarctica Service Medal Square Knot. Mike Walton has a great write up on this latter knot at http://www.scoutinsignia.com/fakeknot.htm
We have a pack parent who just purchased a blue school jacket, to which he’s sewn on the American flag, den numeral, CSP, Quality Unit, and World Crest. The jacket looks as if it’s part of the uniform and now he’s adding all the rest of the patches his son is earning, as well. I want to make sure this is something that’s OK. Is he breaking any BSA insignia rules? (Manuela Valle
pack advancement coordinator, Western Los Angeles County Council, CA)
He needs to look in his son’s handbook. These go on his son’s uniform shirt.
Probably due to the new Cub Scout “Meeting Resource” Guide book, we have some packs that are now calling their 5th grade Webelos “Arrow of Light Scouts.” This can’t possibly be correct, because these Scouts haven’t earned their Arrow of Light rank yet. That would be like calling a Life Scout an “Eagle” Scout. Am I off-base on this? Shouldn’t they still be called Webelos II? Where can I find information on this new designation? (Leigh Ann Bostian, UC, Marin Council, CA)
That’s indeed what the BSA is now calling 2nd year Webelos Scouts (check out www.scouting.org).
In the November-December 2011 issue of ”Scouting” magazine, on page 10, there is a photograph of nine Scouting youth and adults, all making the three-finger Boy Scout sign or the two-finger Cub Scout sign. But the Cub Scout, both Webelos Scouts, and one adult Cub Scout leader giving the Cub sign are wrong: They have their lower and upper right arms at right-angles, like the Boy Scouts sign, instead of holding their arms straight up with no bend at the elbow. Why does the BSA allow such photos to appear in their official magazine? Don’t they understand that they are sending the wrong message to a million or so volunteers? (Hal Facre, SM, Transatlantic Council, Germany)
Of course you’re correct: The Cub Scout sign is done with the right arm fully extended, as you describe; not like shown in that photo. As for how this sort of thing happens, I can only guess, of course. My guess is that it somehow slipped by the editorial reviewers. Unfortunate, no question; but it’s going to happen from time to time—they’re human, too, and there will be occasional human mistakes. (Did you also notice that the two male leaders look more like they’re giving the British Scout sign—with tucked elbows—than the American Scout sign? And then there’s the Scout who’s wearing a “dress tie” with his uniform shirt.)
These errors not withstanding, ask any peace officer, lawyer, fire-fighter or military officer or non-com about how well TV shows accurately depict correct uniforming or correct procedure—even those claiming to be “procedural dramas”! Mostly, when they watch these the errors are so rife that their hair catches fire as they watch the glitches! Of course, these shows are “entertainment” and not made for their “instructional value.” Maybe we need to cut ”Scouting” magazine a little slack, too, because although it’s aimed at helping us dedicated volunteers, it’s decidedly not a training manual.
In reading your latest columns I notice that you’re keeping an informal tally of readers’ letters about the BSA’s new Guide to Advancement regarding the new guidelines on defining “active”
As our council’s Advancement Chair, I finally broke down the walls of resistance with the older, very simple rules of what constitutes “active”: Registered in his unit (registration fees are current), not dismissed from his unit for disciplinary reasons, engaged by his unit on a regular basis through Scoutmaster conferences or personal contact), in communication with the unit leader on a quarterly basis, and “Units may not create their own definition of active…” Now they’ve tossed out the simple, easy to understand guidelines and given it to the Scoutmasters to make up their own versions of active.
I had really made some people listen and understand that what they were doing was incorrect (e.g., “I won’t sign your Eagle application because you haven’t been to a troop meeting this month, or you didn’t participate in the troop service project, so I won’t let you advance until you show me you’re active.”) I hear this kind of stuff probably as much as you do, so I started the “Top Myths of Scouting” flyer and then had them out at a leaders meeting and at Life-to-Eagle presentations, and Wow! would I get an earful from the “established” leaders: “What is this?” I could then really explain it to them and ask why they’d be putting so much more on their Scouts than the BSA required, which often would then be followed up with, “Then I won’t sign them off for Scout spirit if they don’t show up at these types of activities!” which, of course, would be a great opener for, “What is ‘Scout spirit’?” followed by: “It’s what you do when no one’s looking!”… It’s how a Scout lives his life outside of troop meetings and such: That’s the purpose of Scout spirit; it’s not how many times he attends a troop activity.
Now, I’m saddened to see a reverse course on such a simple thing to follow; what had been clear black-and-white. Now, the newest way is grayer than ever and will surely fan the flames of, “I’m the Scoutmaster and it’s my way or highway.”
So put another notch on the dark side of the new advancement guidelines. I’m truly sorry so many hard-working volunteers put so much time and energy into this new guide and messed this one part up so badly.
The issue of “active” has been a weapon used against Scouts by thick-headed Scoutmasters (and others) for way to long. The new guide has a bunch of great changes, and I hope somehow the National Advancement Committee revises this one section. (Shawn Stiner, Advancement Chair, Scenic Trails Council, MI)
You’re not alone on this one… Any number of fine Scouters like you have written, and all about the same issue: Turning a former national requirement over to individual units. Whether there will be a further change or not isn’t showing up on my “crystal ball.” Please continue to make your observations on this known, at as high a level as you care to—This is how we folks in the trenches can make a difference for the units and Scouts we serve.
Although I’ve yet to receive a letter in praise of that particular change, I will without reservation mental evasion endorse our need to follow it in all ways within our compass: It is the national policy now. Moreover, we need to recognize that while there may always be a few renegades, tin gods, ambushers, and saboteurs, they ultimately represent a tiny fraction of the BSA’s volunteer corps; the vast, vast majority of our Scoutmasters and others involved with Scout advancement are getting it right, year after year, Scout after Scout.
I notice that the BSA’s new Guide to Advancement states that the Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project must have sufficient hours to show the candidate’s leadership. But in the 2011 Boy Scout Requirements booklet it states that the project should be the Scout’s “best possible efforts.” This may just be a clarifying change of wording, but it does seem to raise the bar a little bit, which I think is totally appropriate, especially in a time when the Scouting program is under criticism for its values by certain political factions. To ask for “best possible efforts” in showing leadership while organizing service to others appears to me to be a slightly new focus, and one that should be taken note of.
By the way, of the approximately 450 Eagle Scouts who annually earn that rank in our council, the average total man-hours for an Eagle project is approaching 200. Your thoughts? (Jim Jenkins, CC, Mesa, Arizona District
Yes, the BSA’s newest Guide to Advancement contains a fair number of revisions, which I’m sure will all sort themselves out over a little bit of time. As for “best possible,” I’ve sort of always personally considered that an irreducible standard, anyway… (Didn’t we used to say, as Cub Scouts, “Do Your BEST!”?) But that’s me…
As for “hours,” I’m not certain I’d personally be looking for some huge maximum number… Not when the workplace focuses on completing the task to the objective, which means that team leaders who hit timelines with least effort (i.e., maximum efficiency) get rewarded more than those who either take “forever” to get the job done or “work long, hard hours” to complete a task that gets morphed into a burdensome chore. But, again, that’s me. Let’s see what happens…
On Boy Scout uniforms, the star above the pocket flap or square knot emblems means what? The color of backing means what? How many of these can you wear? (Sorry to ask this stupid question but I can’t find any reference about them. If you have a reference, I’d appreciate a copy or the website where I can get it. (Jorge Lugo, MC, Central Florida Council)
For everything you’d ever want to know about uniforms and insignia go to: www.scouting.org/scoutsource/Media/InsigniaGuide.aspx
Thanks for tracking me down and for taking the time to write. There are no “stupid” questions here… Just smart readers who’ve figured out where to get some answers!
I’ve appreciated the thoughts expressed in your columns, but this time I feel the need to ask you something that’s a bit more “open-ended” this time… In your opinion, has Boy Scouting gotten away from the original Scouting skills that made it what it is (or was)?
The reason I’m asking is because I have recently been asked to serve a new pack and troop in a sort of inner-city environment (with a note that although no one in either unit has ever so much as pitched a tent, they’re going to go camping in a couple of weeks), and I’ve been asked to provide “outdoorsmanship” advice for them. This makes me wonder just how much I should be “advising” these new volunteers on what I’d consider pretty basic Scout skills, and what I should figure they can learn for themselves. (Unit Commissioner, Council Withheld)
First, let’s understand that this is an advice column: You have a problem or question; I try to help… When I feel the urge to write on a specific opinion, observation, or point of view of mine, I do so in a separate column, clearly labeled as such. There are a few of these sprinkled from time to time among the more than 250 advice columns. That understood, I’m willing to take a crack at the question…
Since the initial thrust of your question was about Boy Scouting, how about we start there… If you review the past fifty or sixty years’ or more worth of handbooks, you’ll probably notice that while certain foundational Scoutcraft and campcraft skills have changed over the years. For First Class rank in the 50’s, for instance, a Scout needed to be able to send and receive either Morse code or Semaphore, in a specific amount of time with no more than a set number of errors. But Morse isn’t even used at sea any longer—marine being the last bastion of this communication method. Meanwhile, other skills for Scouts have been introduced, such as how to light a lightweight camp stove (such paraphernalia didn’t even exist, back in the day), and so on. That said, the degree with which these skills are taught, from one Scout to the next, and the degree of proficiency developed, will vary depending on the extent to which the adult volunteers are trained, and willing to encourage this.
The responsibility of Unit Commissioners is to encourage Scouting units to deliver the best possible Scouting program they’re able. Some are more able than others, usually based on amount of training and degree of commitment. Encourage leader training—adult and youth—and you encourage the best Scouting has to offer.
Interestingly, I was an “inner-city” Scout before that label even existed, in the most densely populated region of the country, yet what I learned about hiking, canoeing, camping, cooking, campcraft, and Scoutcraft stood me well hiking and canoeing the Adirondacks, the upper Missouri River, California’s Sierra Range and King’s Canyon, and the Colorado River. So the “inner-city” part of the equation is, in my experience, minimal, and certainly secondary to having leaders—both Scouts and adults—who know their stuff and are willing to impart their knowledge and skills to others.
As for new leaders considering unit camping, if in Cub Scouting they’re going to need BALOO training and if in Boy Scouting the IOLS (introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills) will be paramount, and your best efforts as Unit Commissioner will be devoted to convincing them to take this training before venturing out.
I had some former den members past visiting with my Bear Cub Scout den and a question was brought up that no one had an answer for. It was kind of funny with all the parents and their smart phones around, and still no one found the answer. Here it is: When did belt loops come into the Cub Scouting program? (Larry Unsworth, DL, California Inland Empire Council)
Probably 25 or more years ago. (That’s worth assigning to your den to go find the exact answer!)
I have an “etiquette” question… My son’s a Boy Scout, and so I often attend the beginning of his troop meetings to listen for announcements (as many parents in the troop do). I’m an Eagle Scout, and have been saying the Scout Oath and Law with the troop (Scout sign and everything), but I’m not currently a leader in the troop, and consequently not in uniform (I’m Cubmaster of my younger son’s pack). Is it appropriate for a “former” Eagle Scout to do this, or should I be at the troop meeting as a parent and not participate in their opening ceremony (other than the Pledge of Allegiance)? (Russ Porter, Hudson Valley Council, NY)
First, you’re not a “former” Eagle Scout; you’re an Eagle Scout, just as you stated at the outset. As to whether one repeats the Scout Oath and Law (showing the Scout sign, as you point out) consider what sort of example you want to set and what message you want to deliver. If you know the Scout Oath and Law, and know how to hold the Scout sign, I can’t for the life of me think of a good reason why not to do it, regardless of what you’re wearing or where in the room you happen to be standing. (You can take the boy out of Scouting, but you can’t take Scouting out of the boy!)
I am interested in the Varsity Scout program. Can you tell me if this program can be run as a Varsity Patrol with in an existing Scout troop, or does it have to be a separately chartered unit? (Nigel Andrews)
Varsity Scout teams are units unto themselves, the BSA informs us; Varsity isn’t organized on a patrol-within-a-troop basis.
The BSA has just published a brand-new Guide to Advancement. I’m not sure you’ve seen it yet, but I was thinking about it when you answered a question in your October 10th column about an Assistant Scoutmaster sitting on a board of review. If you check out the wording in point 1 of Section 220.127.116.11, and then contrast this with what’s in Section 18.104.22.168, Assistant Scoutmasters, or even Scoutmasters, may now participate in non-Eagle boards of review—just not for their own troop—so long as the criteria in 22.214.171.124 is met. Also, there’s now an entirely new way of defining and assessing “active.” (Robert Randolph)
Yes, that nuance you mention is certainly accurate; however, when asking about boards of review, all those who’ve ever written to me are asking about such reviews in their own troops; not in somebody else’s, which is of course why I responded as I did.
I didn’t mean to come across a sounding like I thought your answer was incorrect, and I agree that that reader was asking about Assistant Scoutmasters sitting on reviews for Scouts in their home troop. I was just passing along this new revision, so that you can “show it in writing” with the latest material. (RR)
No umbrage taken, I assure you. And of course I’ve looked over the new way of assessing “active,” and I believe the task force that had to deal with that hairball did its level best to cover all bases and be as fair as possible to the busy Scout.
Are there boys who’d like to be Scouts who live in remote areas without a troop? If so, how is that handled? Can a remote boy join a Scout troop via the Internet, and if so, how does he handle advancement, etc.? (Ben Hayes)
There’s an excellent article on Lone Scouts in the “Scouting” magazine archives: www.scoutingmagazine.org/issues/0110/a-lone.html
Who picks the people who sit on Eagle boards of review? Our troop’s advancement coordinator says he’s the only one who can choose. Why are Scouts allowed to choose for all other ranks’ boards of review? I read that the Eagle board of review must have at least three members and no more than six members, all of whom must be at least 21 years of age who don’t necessarily have to be registered in Scouting so long as they understand the importance and purpose of the Eagle rank, plus at least one district or council advancement representative, when conducted at the unit level (at the unit’s request, this individual may serve as chair). However, our advancement coordinator chooses only from our committee. “Why would I pick an outsider?” he says.
One current Eagle candidate would like to have one of his high school teachers on his review. Why does the BSA say that? For Eagle, review members don’t have to be registered in Scouting, and why can’t a Scout choose or at least request someone to be on the review? (Dave Bennett, Great Sauk Trail Council, MI)
What you read about the composition of a board of review for Eagle rank is accurate. All boards of review except Eagle are specifically comprised of no less than three or more than six members, typically selected in collaboration between the troop’s Committee Chair, the advancement coordinator, and often the Scoutmaster. When an Eagle board of review is carried out at the troop level, it’s proper to have a district or council advancement representative present also; in fact, that part is mandatory.
We’re informed by the BSA that Scouts are specifically prohibited from choosing or requesting specific members of their board of review for all ranks, including Eagle.
The wise chair-to-be of an upcoming Eagle board of review will definitely reach out to the community in a variety of ways. It should go without saying that the first person to be invited is the head of the troop’s chartered organization, so that that person can see first-hand the kind of program the troop’s adult volunteers are delivering for the youth of the community. In similar regard, the Life Scout’s school principal, clergy, and team coach are also most appropriate. Then there are the town’s police or fire chief, or even mayor or a town council member. The purpose in doing this is to share this “mountaintop” experience with others beyond the troop. It’s not to gild it or puff it up beyond the bounds of normal importance but, rather, to expand the knowledge of “the rest of the world” as to what sort of young men Scouting produces! To do otherwise is to think pretty small and narrow. Start thinking broad and deep, and watch what happens!
Finally, with thanks to our USSSP Webmaster, Michael Bowman, and with credit to “TUNDRA” The Comic Strip and Chad Carpenter, the cartoonist, for “making my day,” here’s something just a little different to close today’s column…