Rule No. 43:
- Never give a Commissioner a weak cup of coffee.
How do I create my own website for the Communications merit badge? (Scout’s Name & Council Withheld)
You start by asking your Communications Merit Badge Counselor.
My son’s a pretty weak swimmer. He was only recently able to become a “red” (Andy’s note: I’m guessing this is the red half-moon on the buddy tag, signifying “beginner”) swimmer at summer camp. He’s aware that he needs to become a “blue” swimmer and pass the BSA swim test in order to make it to First Class rank, but what if he can’t? He’s a very good Scout…got to Tenderfoot in a few months and already almost Second Class, and this is in a little over six months, so he’s on track to earning First Class in under two years. But what if he can never pass the BSA swim test? I’d hate to think that all these years in Scouting would be pointless because he couldn’t pass one test, and he’d be derailed from possibly becoming an Eagle Scout. Being a leader, I do understand the philosophy of Scouting, and I also know that, in Cub Scouts, boys are never left behind if they “Do Your Best!” How does that play into Boy Scouting? Do you have any suggestions, or is he just going to get as far as Second Class and that’s the end of his advancement trail? (Name & Council Withheld)
Requirements are requirements and the BSA informs us that unless we’re talking about a permanent physical or mental handicap certified in writing by a licensed medical practitioner, no requirement can be altered—it must be met, as written. So yes, unless your son is able, through instruction and personal practice, to master the skills and develop the stamina required to meet the swimming requirements for First Class, he’ll indeed be a Second Class Scout for the duration of his Scouting years. But being a “weak swimmer” and he’s still at least a year away from just being a teen-ager isn’t the end of the world. He can get to First Class the same way you get to Carnegie Hall: Practice, practice, practice. If swimming is going to hang him up, then it’s time for some individual lessons (better in the long run, than group lessons—and I’m giving this advice as a long-time swimming instructor, merit badge counselor, and former BSA Lifeguard Counselor), plus whatever further exercise program of his own design may help him develop the strength and stamina necessary to meet the requirements.
As for being “left behind,” the Boy Scout advancement program is designed so that each Scout advances at the pace he decides to set for himself—there’s no “advancement-in-lock-step” in Boy Scouting. Your son can go as far as he chooses to go! This is in his hands.
One further thought I’ll urge you to focus on: Scouting is not all about “advancement”—the BSA advancement program is just one of the eight methods of Scouting, and it’s decidedly not the first one!
My son presented his Eagle project to our district board last night, requesting their approval so that he can proceed. They grilled him on the details of his project, scope, schedule, time commitments, etc., for over two hours! Now one might think, in light of the grilling he took, that his project must have been “light.” In fact, developing his project and plan has taken him more than one year to formulate, working with the town’s school district and several regulatory bodies. His out-of-pocket costs are already approaching $700. Is it normal for Scouts to go through similar scrutiny? My own feeling is that this is more than excessive. (Name & Council Withheld)
Yup, excessive hardly begins to describe what you’ve described here. When the workbook’s been written, signed by the recipient of the service, the Scoutmaster, and a committee member, it should take maybe ten minutes to read and no more than five minutes to ask a question or two and then sign it off. (I’m saying this based on having personally reviewed well over 100 such projects, across three different councils.) Moreover, I fail completely to understand how over a year and $700 could have been spent before even beginning a project. There are any number of things seriously wrong here.
At some point, the whistle needs to be blown on the people responsible for this over-the-top travesty, so that future Scouts aren’t put through the same gantlet. But I’d also urge you to take a look at your son’s work to date, to try to understand why any sort of project short of building a new classroom complex should take so much to just get to the “green light” point. (I wish I could help more, but there isn’t enough information for me to gain purchase on.)
I’ve been a Scouting volunteer for over 30 years. Lately when I order BSA badges and equipment I notice that “Made in China” appears on many if not most items. We’re the Boy Scouts of America! Why does the BSA national council outsource to China? I saw a couple years ago that the Cub Scout progress badge and beads were recalled because of lead paint in these Made in China products. The BSA needs to only have Scouting gear and insignia that are Made in the USA! I suggest that the BSA come back to the greatest country of all time and support this country and its people who support Scouting with “Friends of Scouting,” and all other monetary donations by American businesses, companies, firms, families, and individuals. The BSA should never have any of the badges and equipment outsourced overseas! (Dustin Fuller, Central Wyoming Council)
As a fellow volunteer, I asked the same question, myself. I wrote directly to Bob Mazzuca, Chief Scout Executive, expressing the same point as yours. The reply I received, from someone lower down on the food chain, was that people aren’t willing to spend the additional money and the BSA has an obligation to buy as inexpensively as possible so that the savings can be passed along. But, between you and me, if I saw a uniform shirt made in China for, say, $25 and a Made In The USA uniform shirt for $35, even with that much of a price difference, I’d pay it! But there are lots of people, so I’m told, who won’t. I hope that you’ll write to Mr. Mazzuca yourself, and that you encourage your Scouting friends to do the same. Maybe the more folks who make their principles known, the better opportunity there may be for a change here. (How about a Philmont garment made in Myanmar—one of the most oppressive of human rights places on the planet? Yes, the pullover was actually for sale at the Tooth of Time Traders!)
Over time, there has been much talk in your columns about the old custom of the “snipe hunt” and how it’s considered hazing in today’s culture. I’d say it’s all in how you approach it. In our troop, the snipe hunt is a well-received tradition that we include in our first-year Scout Camp weekend. It’s actually become a bonding activity between the new young Scouts and their older mentors, who accompany their charges on the “hunt.” After a few hours of working on rank requirements and learning some rudimentary outdoor skills, the young Scouts are sent out to create the tools for their hunt. From twigs and twine, we’ve seen them design and create all sorts of imaginative and inventive contraptions. Their anticipation builds by about dinner time, and the Scouts are excited about their evening adventure to come. At dusk, the older Scouts lead the newer Scouts out of camp, their makeshift nets, traps, and other devices in hand. We adults remain behind in camp and listen to the whooping and hollering as the Scouts try to lure the snipes into their clutches. (A few young Scouts claim they’ve nearly captured a snipe on several occasions!)
Of course, the adults always return victorious (we just have more experience <wink>) and then we all enjoy a late evening snack of “roast snipe” cooked over the campfire (some say it tastes better than chicken!). (Of course this year’s new Scouts will host next year’s first-year Scout Camp, and by then will know the snipe we snacked on was actually Cornish game hen.) We even have a recipe for roast stuffed snipe in our troop cookbook! In essence, I don’t consider our snipe hunt anything more or less than a fun team-building activity for the Scouts that hurts no one. (Incidentally, our local nature center does have a stuffed common snipe on display.) (Scouter in Northern Star Council, MN)
Perhaps simply a different name, to mollify those whose hair catches fire at the mere mention of “snipe hunt” might be in order here. Now I recognize that you haven’t exactly asked a question, and these columns aren’t intended to be a forum, but I nevertheless appreciate your taking the time to help inform our readers that not everything’s always what it’s cooked up to be…not even roast snipe!
Lately, I’ve been sitting on Eagle boards of review, and I’m encountering a disturbing trend: The Scouts appearing before the boards have made very little effort to show up in any type of full uniform. At the two most recent reviews, which I chaired, the Scouts showed up in uniforms consisting of just a shirt; no merit badge sash (they also couldn’t name the merit badges they’d earned), no neckerchief, no Scout belt (in one case, no belt at all!), no Scout pants, no socks, or even handbook.
I’ve read the new GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT section about uniforms and boards of review and understand that while it’s preferred that a Scout be in full uniform, the BSA allows that he should wear as much of it as he owns, and it should be as correct as possible, with the badges worn properly, and that if wearing the uniform is impractical the candidate should be clean and neat in his appearance and dressed appropriately, according to his means, for this milestone, but regardless of a troop’s rules or expectations boards of review may not reject candidates based on their attire.
I understand the first statement: “Preferred” doesn’t mean “required.” I also get it that we can’t refuse to see candidates who don’t come in full uniform, nor can we require them to go and find a uniform…but where does it end? Are we going to eventually have these young men showing up in blue jeans and a t-shirt, on the basis that we can’t refuse them?
We did confirm these two Scouts, because they’d met the requirements and had references from adults who testified to their outstanding character and leadership, and I’m not going to ignore references based on uniform parts or a bad memory at best, even though it sure resembles apathy. I can’t help feeling that the rank’s been cheapened by allowing this, yet we board members considered that we didn’t have the option of asking the candidates to leave, and come back in their full uniforms—even though in conversation we discovered that both Scouts did already own all uniform parts and so did have the option to show up looking sharp.
Do you have any advice on how to go about trying to alter what I keep seeing, while staying within the new advancement guidelines? (I’m about to chew through a nail, but that’ll do too much damage to teeth!) (Christopher Snider, UC, Occoneechee Council, NC)
Perhaps the problem of comportment and attire relates to what the Scout is told about his board of review and how he’s been educated by his five prior reviews. If in those reviews he’s been permitted to dress and act in a sloppy and uncaring manner, there’s little reason why he should come to think his sixth review would be any different. This is the responsibility of his Scoutmaster, Committee Chair, and troop advancement coordinator, as well as that of the other members of each prior review. With further regard to the latter group but not excluding Scoutmaster et al, what has been their own practice, in dressing for boards of review? Do they wear full uniforms and/or jackets and ties, with shoes (not sneakers or sports footwear) to reviews? Or do they show up in t-shirts and jeans, no socks, grubby-looking shoes or foot gear that looks like they just came off a muddy Rugby field? You see, how we set the standard is first and always by our own example.
That said, if indeed the Scout has been educated well and consistently, and shows up for his Eagle review looking like he left his cardboard “Will Work For Service Hour Credit” sign in the lobby, then maybe simply chatting with one another along the lines of, “Hmmm… We’re supposed to be doing a review for an Eagle Scout candidate tonight, but I’m looking around the room and I don’t see anyone who looks like he could be an Eagle-Scout-to-be…” might sent him to the rest room to at least comb his hair. But the bottom line remains the same: The tree will have grown in the direction the seedling’s been bent.
(BTW, this may make an excellent subject for discussion at a Boy Scout leaders’ Roundtable!)
What’s the low-temperature requirement for second-year Webelos camping? A few of us think that it should be 40 degrees or above for Webelos. (Margaret Melando)
The “requirement” is your own good sense.
I’m currently a Unit Commissioner. My two sons have just joined a new troop, and I’ve been asked to become an Assistant Scoutmaster. What shoulder loops and position patch do I wear on my uniform, since I’ll be holding two positions? (Jason Duhamell, UC&ASM, Lincoln Trails Council, IL)
The BSA Supply Division loves guys like you! You now need two shirts… One is your UC’s shirt and the new one has your CSP, troop numeral, and ASM position insignia on the left sleeve. You wear the first one, with silver shoulder loops, when visiting your assigned units, and the second, with the new green shoulder loops, at your meetings and activities of your son’s troop.
The new GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT makes this statement about the responsibilities of the unit advancement chair: “Work with the unit leader and help to support and facilitate his or her vision for advancement.” What does this mean? What happens when the “vision” for advancement is to stall Scouts?
It also appears that a benchmark for advancement is “one rank per year up to Star,” but noticeably absent are references to the Life and Eagle ranks. Is the BSA moving toward slowing down Scouts once they reach Star rank, or am I reading too much into this? (Name & Council Withheld)
If the Scoutmaster’s advancement vision is to “stall Scouts,” take him out back and shoot him.
Too many troops—including parents as well as Scoutmasters—assume that Boy Scouts works like Cub Scouts: No more than one rank a year and the final rank at the twilight of the program (e.g., Arrow of Light received on the same night as crossing over to a troop). So think about the idea of at least First Class at the end of a boy’s first year with his troop and then at least one rank a year to Eagle. In fact, when you re-read the rank requirements, you’ll note that Star, Life, and Eagle can all be earned in less than a year-and-a-half from the time the scout’s First Class!
Can you please give me some ideas of activities Cub Scouts can do to commemorate the February Boy Scout anniversary week? (Chris Sears)
February is when all packs should be having their Blue & Gold banquets. The B&G is, in fact, a “birthday party” celebrating the birth of Scouting in February 1910 and Baden-Powell’s birthday in February 1857! Of course, the other big thing all packs and troops should be doing in February is attending Scout Sunday (or Sabbath)!
Have you ever heard of an alternate or relaxed standard for the swimming requirements for Second and First Class besides the provision for a physical or mental handicap?
I have a 12 year-old avid Scout who cannot, will not, and probably never will be able to swim. He’s very enthusiastic about Scouts and his family is very involved. I’d hate to lose him because of no chance of advancement. Any ideas? (Mike Donovan, SM, Otetiana Council, NY)
Nope… Requirements aren’t “relaxed,” nor would you want them to be when one’s life or the life of another might be at stake, which is the case with swimming.
If you’re willing to take a few more moments, would you consider describing to me what this boy’s problems are, with regard to swimming? If you can do this, I might be able to make some suggestions that could help overcome the problems. (Please also keep in mind that “advancement” is one of eight methods of Scouting, and it’s not even the first of the eight.)
I’ve talked to the boy and his mother, and he has no interest or ability for swimming at all. As far as I know, it’s not a fear of water—just no interest in anything or activity related to it. His brother had similar tendencies (not quite as extreme) but he knew what he had to do and did earn Eagle. I’d welcome any suggestions.
Interesting situation. Unless this apparent lack of interest by this “avid” boy is masking some latent fear or frailty (or has something to do with competing with his older brother), I’d simply explain to the boy—in his parents’ presence—that it’s OK to not be interested in something like swimming or camping or hiking or first aid or whatever, so long as he understands that without any interest in learning these skills he can figure he’ll be a Tenderfoot for the duration of his Scouting time. Only Scouts who tackle new skills and learning, to improve themselves in a whole battery of ways, advance through the ranks; those who would prefer to be bench-warmers spend their time collecting splinters.
I’m an ADC who also services a Scoutreach unit in my district. Recently I visited with the Scoutmaster and during our discussion, he said he was having a hard time getting adult male
help from his church—the troop’s sponsor. Some of the men have promised him help but haven’t shown up at any meetings. It’s a small troop, with about eight Scouts, that may soon fold if more adult help can’t be found. Any suggestions? (Art Seel, ADC, Indian Waters Council, SC)
This Scoutmaster needs coaching help to understand that the least effective way to recruit adult help is to ask folks to “help out.” People need to be told what the specific role, responsibilities, and estimated time commitment will be before they can be asked to take on the job. The Scoutmaster also needs to “buddy-up” with the Pastor, so that the two of them, together, can approach and recruit identified candidates.
I love reading your column! I’ve gained a lot of very useful information from you in my five years as a Cub Scout leader. Now, my son’s moved up to Boy Scouts, and I’d like to know if any person offering to teach the merit badge on Archery or any of the Shooting Sports must be BSA certified in these areas. (Nancy Brock)
Contact your district or council advancement committee; they can explain in precise terms exactly what’s required to become a registered Merit Badge Counselor for these or any other subject/skill areas. Keep in mind that such counselors may already exist. The Scoutmaster has a master list of all registered MBCs in the area. Scouts earn merit badges only with MBCs; not with parents (or even troop leaders) merely willing to teach a subject. For a mother concerned about her son’s safety, this should be very good news!
Do you know what type of knot hangs down from under the Scout badge “scroll”? (I’ve got a Scoutmaster that wants to know this real bad… I think it might involve an Eagle court of honor. (Bill Casler, Great Alaska Council)
The BSA simply calls it “the knot”… But double-check me in the handbook.
I’ve been struggling with an issue that, at first, seemed pretty straightforward. Maybe it still is. The issue is bell-ringing for the Salvation Army. I could probably just have said that, and you’d know exactly what I’m talking about, but I’ll go into it anyhow…
The BSA is pretty clear on the policy regarding soliciting for other organizations, and has even used bell-ringing for the SA an example on the reverse side of the Unit Fund-Raising Application: “Youth members shall not be permitted to serve as solicitors of money for their chartered organizations, for the local council, or in support of other organizations. Adult and youth members shall not be permitted to serve as solicitors of money…Boy/Cub Scouts and leaders should not identify themselves as (such)…in The Salvation Army’s Christmas bell-ringing program. This would be raising money for another organization.”
I realize that a good solution would be to encourage Scouts (and leaders) to ring the bells out of uniform; however, I’ve seen many cases of packs, troops, and even councils promoting Scouts/Scouters to “wear their uniforms while ringing the bells.
So, my question is this: Are these councils and units promoting activities that are in opposition to BSA policy, or is there some exception that I just haven’t been able to find anywhere? (If there’s no exception, I’m just amazed that so many units and/or councils would either not be aware of the policy, or just be completely disregarding it.) (Phil Cohen, UC, Connecticut Rivers Council)
The key point, of course, is that anyone—Scout or otherwise—can solicit funds for any non-BSA organization anytime they want to; however, they’re doing so as individuals and they’re not to associate the BSA in any way with a non-BSA organization. End of story. If you happen to notice folks getting this wrong, your best be is to note the unit number and contact your Scout Executive directly, wasting no time in doing so.
I’m hoping you can comment on the duties of a troop’s Quartermaster. Our troop doesn’t always have a Scout to do it; thus, the committee has a member who’s generally the point person for equipment, etc. What’s reasonable to expect of this committee member, especially if he doesn’t attend all campouts (to note damage or new needs)? We just might not always have a Scout who’s the Quartermaster, and while that’s not ideal, that has to be OK. But what should this adult expect from the Scouts and leaders, as to being notified about what’s broken, torn, needed, etc., and how should that be communicated and kept track of?
Past committee member-quartermasters, after outings, have encountered a totally messy trailer, wet ground cloths and tents, missing parts, empty propane tanks, and so on, and then it was implied that it’s his responsibility to have equipment and supplies up and running for the very next month’s campout. Obviously, this isn’t fair or right, but what would you suggest for handling responsibilities, and how would this be best managed, without creating a ton of forms, paperwork, and creeping bureaucracy? (Name & Council Withheld)
You’ve asked a good question. I’m going to give you the “perfect world” answer, and then you can modify it as needed…
The very best thing an adult volunteer with a troop can do, with regard to Quartermastering, is to show up at some troop meetings and get to know the Scouts… from a distance. Eyeball ’em. Watch for the quiet, studious ones. Ask the Scoutmaster and any ASMs which Scouts in the troop they’d trust with their best pocketknife or favorite Nalgene bottle. Ask the Senior Patrol Leader the same questions. Narrow down to about two or three Scouts who seem to fit the mold of organized-detail oriented-responsible-friendly (not necessarily in that order), and run those names by the SPL and Scoutmaster, with the understanding that you’re going to recruit one of them for the QM slot, and then train and mentor that Scout for the next six months. With that green light, start with your first choice, sit him down, tell him what others think of him and how those factors make him an excellent candidate for QM. Tell him the responsibilities of the job, and let him know that you’ll be there with him, every step of the way, but in the background as a sort of coach: It’s THE SCOUT who gets to do the job, and you’re there to “cover his 6.” Get a yes from one, and then ask him who he’d pick as an assistant (maybe show him the other names on your own list, but let the choice be his). With success here, you now have two Scouts who can work together, and the assistant will be trained to take over the QM position as top dog, in six months.
OK, that part’s done. Now, what does a QM do…?
First, he takes an inventory of all troop equipment, and divides everything up into three groups: (1) Stuff that’s clean, undamaged, and needs no repairs, (2) stuff that’s dirty and/or damaged but cleanable/repairable, and (3) stuff that’s too far gone and must be tossed and replaced. Group 1 goes back in the locker. Group 3 gets tossed, and the QM makes a list, with prices (he does some “dry shopping” on line and/or at a store), which he presents to the troop committee for funding, and then he (with you) goes out and buys what’s needed. Group 2 he presents to the troop committee, Scoutmaster, and SPL, telling them that since the Scouts messed the stuff up, it’s the Scout who will clean and/or fix the stuff so that it can go back in inventory. So that the QM isn’t made out to be “the bad guy,” it’s the SPL and Scoutmaster who inform the Patrol Leaders what they and their patrols have been assigned, to clean and repair, and return to the QM in, let’s say, two weeks (of course, there’s an exact inventory of what patrols got what gear).
While this is going on, the QM, with you, confers with the SPL and Scoutmaster on what might be needed in the near future that the troop doesn’t have in inventory, and then he develops a plan to buy what’s needed.
Also while this is going on, the QM, with your guidance, makes up a gear sign-out/ sign-in sheet. This is the form that will be used every time a piece of equipment is checked out (inspected by the QM or his assistant and the Scout who’s checking it out, so that they agree up front on its condition–taking a photo, if necessary). Then, when the item(s) come back, they’re inspected by the QM or his assistant and accepted back ONLY if it’s clean and undamaged. If it needs to be cleaned or repaired, it’s the responsibility of the Scout (and his patrol) who checked it out.
Finally, it’s your job to make it perfectly clear to all adults associated with the troop that these new procedures apply to them as well, no exceptions.
There are only two locker keys: The QM has one and you have one. That’s it. (Any more than two and you’re asking for big trouble.)
Well, there you are: A mini-“QM Handbook”! Go for it!
What’s your take on a “Life Scout service project”—sort of mini-Eagle project for Star Scouts on their way to Life? (Name & Council Withheld)
That’s a big NO. Time in service to others is what the Life rank requirement says. A project akin to what’s required for Eagle—“mini” or otherwise—is absolutely the wrong way to go. This isn’t my opinion; this is what the BSA states. Somebody needs to read the bloody handbook.
The BSA manual states that a Life service project can take place for Scouts who don’t have a leadership position between the rank of Star and Life (this is only in place of this position requirement and shouldn’t be used as an additional service requirement, as you’ve stated). (N&CW)
May I respectfully urge you to read a little more closely… That “project” is a leadership project to benefit the troop, making it very different from “a service project” in the usual sense.
(NOTE: The letters below were written prior to the new GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT; however, the issue is no less relevant for that.)
My son just finished up his Eagle project and is now awaiting his final Scoutmaster conference then his board of review. I’ve read your “What’s ‘Active’ All About” column and agree wholeheartedly with you. However, our long-time Scoutmaster, who has just retired from that position and intends to join our new Scoutmaster for my son’s conference, is holding over my son’s head his own rules of “active” and wants to see my son show up at meetings more often, plus more campouts. My son’s completed all his requirements and has more than earned his way to finishing up, but like most teenagers (just shy of 17) he’s on his high school’s crew team, which trains year-round, he’s an active member of a religious group for high-schoolers, his church and its youth group, plus community service through our local library.
I’ve sat down with my son to show him the rules, your column, and the exact definition of “active” according to Advancement and Recognition Policies and Procedures, BSA 2010. He agrees that what they’re trying to make him do is wrong. I told him that it’s completely his decision, if he wants to confront them about this and make his case for the unfair treatment and breaking BSA national rules. I told him that he’d need to do this himself, but that I’d come in as a last resort. I am leaving it totally up to him about what he wants to do, but he’s justifiably scared of the consequences. What should he or I do? (Name & Council Withheld)
There’s a very large bus rolling with a vengeance straight at your son. This is absolutely, positively not the time to leave him standing there in the middle of the street, alone. This is precisely the time for your son’s father to stand up on his behalf, and champion him.
You do this by having a private, personal conversation with the two Scoutmasters—former and current—showing them exactly the same source material you showed your son, and telling them in crystal-clear language that if they persist with their own renegade demands you will take this straight to the council advancement committee, whereupon their “rules” will be overturned and they will have embarrassed not only themselves but the entire troop of Scouts they’re supposed to be serving.
Your son deserves nothing less than your 100% support—out in front.