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Issue 333 – November 6, 2012

Rule No. 96
Before contemplating your own self-importance, consider the lowly pigeon’s reality check: Yesterday’s heroes are today’s targets.
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Many readers and other Scouting friends spotted me in the October-November issue of SCOUTING magazine, and to all who wrote, THANK YOU!  This was quite an honor, and very humbling.  Among the many letters I received was one, in particular that absolutely dazzled!  If you ever wonder whether you’re making a difference in anyone’s life, read this (be sure to check the date!)…

Hi!

Saw your name and picture in current Scouting Magazine and they rang a bell. You were my Senior Patrol Leader at the National Junior Leader Training Camp at Schiff Scout Reservation in 1958. You were a blessing to Scouting then, and it looks like you still are. Those two weeks at Schiff were one of the real highlights of my Scouting experience. I’m currently the International Representative for the Great Lakes Council in the Detroit area plus a few other things.

Yours in Scouting,

Dennis Waitzman
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Dear Andy,

Our district is struggling with some questions about conducting an Eagle rank board of review. The current GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT (8.0.1.0. and 8.0.1.1.) states that a board of review is neither a re-test nor an examination, and it shall not challenge a Scout’s knowledge, and that there should be “meaningful questioning.” It’s argued here at reviews are incorrect if they are asking questions a Scoutmaster should have already have taught the Scout, long ago. But, if that’s the case, how is a member of the review supposed to know that the Scout himself has a working knowledge of such areas as first aid, or camping or cooking skills, flag etiquette, and so on, if he doesn’t quiz the Scout for answers? Related to this, is it OK for Scoutmasters to “prep” Scouts for their boards of review? (Name & Council Withheld)

Let’s go back to square one: The Four Steps of Scout Advancement… The Scout learns, the Scout is tested, the Scout is reviewed, the Scout is recognized.

Step 1: The Scout “learns” from his peers—his fellow Scouts—how to tie the knots, identify the poisonous plants, etc., etc.

Step 2: He’s “tested” by his leader(s)—can be his Patrol Leader, a Troop Instructor, or (last resort) his Scoutmaster—and the requirements are initialed and dated in his handbook. He repeats Step 2 for all requirements until everything for his next rank is initialed and dated. As part of Step 2, he meets with his Scoutmaster and they talk about how he learned what he learned, how he’s getting along with his patrol, how’s school going, and is he ready for his board of review.

Step 3: He’s “reviewed,” which really means the troop’s committee members (for ranks Tenderfoot through Life, and Eagle palms—the local council determines who sits on Eagle reviews) get to learn about how well they and the Scoutmaster are delivering the Scouting program to him and his friends; they encourage him to reflect on what he’s accomplished, and then they encourage him to continue along his chosen pathway.

Step 4: At the very earliest opportunities, his new rank is acknowledged and he receives his new rank badge and card. In a well-organized troop, the announcement’s made as soon as the review concludes (i.e., while the troop meeting’s still in progress) and he gets his badge and card the following week. (NOTE: At the next court of honor, all Scouts who have advanced in rank and/or earned merit badges are re-acknowledged.)

That’s it. Simple. Straightforward. Uncomplicated. Now let’s see where we go from here…

Right: No board of review for any rank is a re-test, re-examination, or “challenge.”

“Meaningful questioning” refers to asking open-ended questions that allow the Scouts to speak freely and with confidence that (a) what he has to say is important to these men and women, and (2) they’re not “out to get him” and there are no “trick” or “catch” questions (i.e., nobody’s going to ask him a question that makes him the “goat” or embarrasses him).

The notion that “the Scoutmaster should have taught the Scout long ago” is both right and wrong. It’s correct that no questions that require specific knowledge or skills are appropriate at a board of review, because that’s not what this review is for. It’s incorrect to expect the Scoutmaster to “teach.” Teaching is what Scouts do, and that’s why the “EDGE” teaching method is included as a requirement. (“EDGE,” by the way, is ongoing; it’s not a one-off just to complete a requirement! Once the Scout learns the EDGE method, he puts it to use again and again.)

It’s not within the purview of a board of review member to assess whether or the degree to which a Scout knows first aid, the hiking “rules of the road,” how to orient a map, or any other Scout skill, but if he or she is curious, all that needs be done is open the Scout’s handbook to pages 432 through 447 and take a look.

Yes, Scoutmasters should definitely “prep” Scouts before requesting a board of review for them. The “prep” consists of telling the Scout that some troop-associated (or district/council-associated) folks would like to know how well he’s doing, how he likes Scouting in the troop, and what his expectations for himself are, and this will be a pleasant, friendly, open conversation.

No Scout can really “fail” a board of review; that’s simply not the purpose of this process. That is, unless something absolutely unforeseen (and, in all likelihood, bizarre) occurs, such as the Scout blurting out that he’s given up God [by any name] and has taken up devil-worship!)

Are we on the same page here? Are we getting this? Are board of review members for Eagle rank being correctly “prepped,” themselves, for what’s supposed to happen and what their roles are? How about troop committee members, for Tenderfoot through Life, and for Palms… Are they coached, as well? Get this part right and everything else will be OK!
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Hello Andy,

Our pack as a very enthusiastic Den Leader. Among other things, he earned his “Range Master” certification. At a recent pack overnighter, at a council camp that had a BB gun range, I, as Cubmaster, allowed our Cubs to use it, under his direction, but I didn’t want this to be a big deal…just an afternoon of safe fun. But now it’s escalated. The Den Leader-Range Master wants to give belt loops for the Cubs who participated at the range, but I don’t want this to be a precedent for our pack, so I’ve refused to sign the cards stating they’ve earned the BB Gun belt loop (the DL-RM now wants to have a pack “archery day”!) because it wasn’t a council-level event. Turns out, he’s already bought the belt loops and card certificates. I’d thought just their punctured targets would be enough for Cubs to feel a sense of accomplishment. The DL-RM claims it was a “council event,” because the folks at the council camp let us use the range. I’ve contacted the BSA National Health & Safety Team, and they were very clear: No unit-level shooting sports for Cub Scouts. Since this was merely a pack trip, I told the DL-RM that he could give the Cubs in his den belt loops if he likes, but that’s all—no other boys in the pack would receive these. The reason why I don’t want to sign off on these is that I don’t think the pack’s insurance will cover that range, and I don’t plan to ever allow this again. But the DL-RM isn’t accepting this compromise. I continue to feel that we shouldn’t open ourselves up to the liability of the pack “archery day” either. Am I wrong for not signing the belt loop cards? Would there have been a better way to handle this? What do I do about “archery day”? (Name & Council Withheld)

You have a maverick on your hands… Let’s review the precise language the BSA uses to describe the only ways Cub Scouts may handle BB guns: “Cub Scouts are permitted to participate only in the following shooting activities. Archery and BB gun shooting are restricted to day camps, Cub Scout/Webelos Scout resident camps, council-managed family camping programs, or for council activities where there are properly trained supervisors and all standards for BSA shooting sports are enforced. Archery and BB gun shooting are not to be done at the pack level. Tiger Cubs, Wolf Cub Scouts, and Bear Cub Scouts are not permitted to use any other type of pistol or firearm, including pellet guns. Webelos Scouts are permitted to use air rifles at Webelos resident camp in accordance to BSA national standards for resident camp.”

This erstwhile “range officer” needs to contact your council and offer his services. He has absolutely no authority to do what he’s done, or plans to do, at the unit level.

Here’s the bottom line: According to BSA safety standards, he’s in violation already. If he doesn’t desist immediately, the packs’ Committee Chair, together with your Chartered Organization representative (i.e., not you!) need to counsel him and obtain his agreement to stop, immediately. Absent this agreement from him, they’ll need to thank him for his services and remove him from his position, to be replaced by somebody who is willing to follow youth protection guidelines and policies.

Should the pack’s leadership not take this action, and an injury occurs, the BSA and your council will leave you all flappin’ in the wind—You will have no protection whatsoever and you can be sued as individuals and your charted organization can be sued as well, and the BSA will not in any way be obliged to defend or support you.

Your pack’s CC and CR need to make it happen and make it stick. Immediately.

That said, the first off-the-mark decisions were in not preventing this cowboy’s use of the range in the first place…by both you and the camp’s staffer(s). It’s OK to “be a nice guy,” but not when it runs in opposition to BSA health and safety standards—that’s what they’re there for!

Finally, we don’t penalize youth for the errors of adults. So sign the cards for all boys who participated.

Lesson learned, now it’s time to move on…
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Dear Andy,

Our son is an 11 year-old sixth-grader; a Tenderfoot Scout about to complete Second Class.

His troop holds an annual fund-raiser. It is designated “mandatory” for all Scouts. Because it’s mandatory, the committee says it can’t “count” toward “service hours” for rank advancement—only “elective” service can count. They also don’t count this all-day event as a “troop/patrol activity” for the purpose of rank advancement, using the same rationale.

Does this make any sense to you? Can a troop actually make an all-day fund-raising event mandatory? If this is allowed, what happens to a Scout if he doesn’t attend? Can he be dismissed from the troop, for instance? In addition, can a troop actually exclude an event like this from advancement requirements? (Name & Council Withheld)

Intricate issue… If, for instance, the troop fund-raiser is how the troop offsets Scouts’ annual dues, then 100% participation would certainly be a legitimate expectation. If it’s for equipment that all Scouts, in each patrol, will get to use during the year in which the funds are raised, then again 100% participation isn’t inappropriate. The same would apply if these funds are helping defray the cost of summer camp for all Scouts. If, however, the funds go into the troop’s piggy bank, “for a rainy day,” then that’s another matter altogether. As a parent, you obviously have the right to know how the funds are being put to use. If you don’t already know, be sure to ask. There’s nothing “secret” anywhere in Scouting.

Regarding the use of the term “mandatory,” it strikes me that the adult volunteers of this troop have forgotten that the very first “volunteers” in Scouting are the Scouts themselves. No boy has any obligation to show up for anything, if it’s dull, boring, stultifying, or smacks of an inflexible, authoritarian mentality. “The floggings will continue until morale improves” simply isn’t present anywhere in Scouting, and never has been.

In all the BSA literature, handbooks, and guidebooks, in all the training courses I’ve taken or taught or course directed, locally and nationally, I have never, ever encountered the term, “mandatory” as pertains to volunteers. Yes, there are requirements. It’s required that certain skills and knowledge be acquired in order to advance in rank or complete a merit badge, but not even these are “mandatory”—A Scout can have a jolly time in the program without ever completing a single rank or merit badge! A young man can have a happy seven years in Boy Scouting without ever holding a leadership position. And, when a Scout decides to be “helpful” and “friendly,” and he “does a good turn” (whether daily or not), he’s doing so because he decided to; not because someone told him it’s “mandatory.”

Many other extracurricular youth programs (sports and music are good examples) indeed have some necessary (but actually not “mandatory”) aspects to them. Don’t show up for practices or rehearsals, for instance, and you’re likely not to play (on the first-string team, or in the orchestra or band), but this is a choice.

Besides, where does this troop draw the line on “mandatory”? Let’s suppose the Scout is hospitalized or otherwise incapacitated… what then? Or, let’s suppose he has obligations that quite obviously supersede the troop’s “mandatory” event (a team meet or game? A musical performance? A grandmother in the hospital? A part time job? A religious obligation? And the list goes on…). What then? Is he booted out of the troop? Is he “penalized” in some other way? In short, when it comes to volunteers, “mandatory” is actually impossible to enforce.

Finally in this regard, the notion of not crediting a Scout with having “toed the line” because he actually did show up to help flies in the face of everything Scouting stands for. It is entirely, completely, 100% misguided.

So, what to do…

My suggestion, in the face of a troop with adults who fail to comprehend the aims and goals of Scouting itself, is to wash your hands of them and find another troop for your son… a troop where the folks there get what they’re there for, and deliver the Boy Scout program as it’s intended: With enthusiasm, good cheer, fun, adventure, challenges for youth, and all with an eye toward the future lives of the young people they’ve committed themselves to help grow into happy, productive, responsible citizens.

When you find this troop—and it does exist!—run; don’t walk. ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

Our council has started a policy that, to register each year, your YPT has to be valid for the entire year that you’re registering for. This ultimately means YPT ever year, instead of every two years, per the YPT standard. For example, if you take YPT in June 2012, you can register for 2013 because the training is valid till June 2014. But, to register for 2014, YPT will expire before the end of the year, so you will need to take it again in 2013.

Personally, I’m in flavor of this. But I’m getting push-back from people saying that “no one can change or modify a National policy.” My response is that this is true for areas that affect the Scouts, but when it concerns adults the council can lay on additional requirements, and this council policy simply means that every registered adult is YPT-certified all the time, and this is a good thing. So, what to you think? (Georg Dahl)

While it’s 99.9% accurate that no individual, unit, district, or council can alter a national policy, the .01% exception to this is in the area of health and safety… If a local policy is even safer than a national policy, this is permissible. So, the council is permitted to make this stipulation. For the “push-back” people, maybe just a simple reminder that 15 to 20 minutes online is hardly odious and far less time than they’ll devote to any other Scouting endeavor. Failing that, try this: “So it’s OK with you that your son is under the watchful eye of some adult whose YP training has expired… Do I have that right?”

Good luck with this. Personally, I think it’s a bit over-the-top, but that’s just me. I’m sure, in this complicated and litigious world, there’s a more than valid rationale behind it!
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Dear Andy,

Our troop has an adult volunteer who verbally abuses the Scouts. He consistently talks down to them, and has resorted to actual bullying tactics on multiple occasions. Several parents have complained to the Scoutmaster about this, but he insists that YPT only applies to physical abuse. Having taken YPT and carried out further investigations of BSA policy, it’s clear to me, and several other parents, that what this adult leader is doing is in the category of emotional abuse of minors. The question is this: What do we, as parents, have the right to do, to stop this? (Name & Council Withheld)

You’re absolutely correct that this is emotional abuse, and the action to take is this: ALL parents together meet in-person (no emails!) with the Committee Chair and Scoutmaster to demand that this abuse stop instantly or you ALL will immediately remove your sons from the troop. Take nothing less than complete and instantaneous cooperation for an answer. You all owe it to your sons, and the volunteers of this troop owe it to your sons as well, to provide the finest Scouting program on the planet. (Yes, I’m dead serious: They cooperate and stop this crap, or you’re all out of there.)

Happy Scouting!

Andy

Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to askandybsa@yahoo.com. Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 333 – 11/6/2012 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2012]

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About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner. He has previously served in a number of Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and Senior Patrol Leader as youth member. His awards include: Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard & Cliff Dochterman Awards, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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