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Issue 338 – December 7, 2012

Dear Andy,

A troop I’m the Unit Commissioner for went to camp this past summer and, while there, held several boards of review for advancing Scouts. The problem is that several of the reviews had older Scouts as members. The troop’s Committee Chair claims he was told by “someone” that older Scouts could sit on the boards, but of course he can’t “remember” who told him this nonsense. At any rate, one of the troop’s other adult volunteers complained to the council staff about this, with the result that the council people mandated that the Scouts be “re-reviewed” due to “illegal” boards.

I met with the troop’s Committee Chair and advancement coordinator to ask if they’d like me to determine whether the Scouts needed to have a second review, pointing out that they should have used only committee members for the reviews, per the Guide to Advancement, especially since this troop is large enough to have committee members who aren’t serving as ASMs as well.

I’ve tried to do my own research on this. I’ve reviewed the BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT. I can sure see where the troop erred, but I think the Scouts reviewed have already been through this, and that by making them sit through another, it adds another requirement for them, makes the troop’s adult leadership look incompetent, and repudiates the Scouts who sat on the reviews this past summer.

My own solution would be to allow the Scouts to advance, because the reviews met the general guidelines, but advise the troop that any further boards of review must be among committee members, only. What are your thoughts? (Name & Council Withheld)

Well isn’t this a fine kettle of poissons, as my French colleagues used to say! I suppose we need to start with the stuff that went wrong, and then we’ll talk about next steps. So here we go…

Boy Scouts don’t sit on boards of review for other Boy Scouts. Ever.

Until just very recently, the only people qualified to sit on boards of review for all ranks except Eagle were registered members of the troop committee.

Assistant Scoutmasters aren’t troop committee members. These are two distinct positions, each with its own “position code;” moreover, no adult volunteer is permitted to hold two positions in the same Boy Scout troop except for the CC-CR combination.

Neither Scoutmasters nor Assistant Scoutmasters, nor Commissioners, sit on boards of review, except that, if invited to do so, Commissioners may sit on Eagle boards of review.

When someone (like that CC) is “told” by some unidentified source something that seems to make no sense or raises even one eyebrow, the immediate response is: Please show me that in writing by the BSA.

On matters of advancement, our “opinions” are irrelevant. The BSA has prescribed policies and procedures for the advancement program that we’re obligated to follow to the very letter. (If you disagree with a policy, write to the BSA Advancement Team and express it; don’t simply enjoy the whim of arbitrarily violating it.)

No board of review that employs youth in lieu of registered committee members has “met the guidelines”—It has violated BSA policies.

Boards of review that aren’t held as prescribed by the BSA short-change the Scout and short-change the troop as well. “Illegal” isn’t the issue; rigorously providing the Scout with the Boy Scout program as written is the issue.

As for whether or not these reviews should be re-done, I would encourage the troop committee to do this. It should be explained to each Scout that, being human, the troop’s Chair made a mistake. This mistake meant that the troop’s committee members didn’t get to hear from the Scout about his experiences in the troop, what he thought of the program the troop is delivering to him, how much fun he’s having, and what he’d like to achieve for himself next. Then, do the review, so that the Scout gets to speak up to the right “audience” and they get to hear how good a job they and the Scoutmaster are doing straight from the mouths of the Scouts. Then, on completion, use the original “review” date when submitting the troop advancement report, so that the Scouts aren’t penalized for an uninformed adult’s mistake.

Thanks, Andy. At a meeting last week, the committee decided to have the Scouts do another board of review. I like your idea of proposing to the Scouts that these reviews will give the members of the troop committee the chance to hear straight from the Scouts how they feel.

I can’t disagree with anything that you’ve provided, and as usual thank you for your well researched response and your well thought-out proposal.

I’m new at this troop, and in conversations with the new CC, heard that the troop has used Scouts as review members for a long time. I think the issue blew up when their new advancement chair took the issue to the district and council rather than discussing the issue within the troop first.

I’ll use this experience to educate troops in the future on the benefit to the unit that a board of review gives to the troop committee. Am I on track to say that a board of review is one of the steps to advancement, rather than one of the requirements of the rank?

Yes, you’ve got boards of review right: They’re confirmations of requirement completion but not requirements in and of themselves (which is why an Eagle board of review can take place after a young man’s 18th birthday and be perfectly legitimate). Go right back to the fundamental four steps of Scout advancement: The Scout learns, he’s tested, he’s reviewed, he’s recognized.

BTW, should someone ask you why Eagle is different, you can tell them that this is so that special people—a school principal, the executive officer of the chartered organization, the town’s police chief, the Scout’s minister or rabbi, etc.—can be a member of the review, in addition to a troop’s Scouter-types.
Hey there Andy!

Our district is struggling to get good turnout for our Cub Scout events. We hold a “Cub Fun Day” in the fall, and a Chuck Wagon in the spring. We’ve been holding them on Saturdays, and our attendance is slipping. At first, our programs didn’t provide as much interest as they might have, and this hurt us. But even when we’re now having some really fun events, participation is still low. My theory is that we’re up against the sports activities that prevail on Saturdays. So my idea is to try them on Sunday. I’m wondering when other districts around the country hold their events. Do you know of any successes on Sunday afternoons instead of fighting for space on Saturday? Or is it a bad idea to hold Cub Events on Sunday afternoon? (Ben Dibble, Daniel Webster Council, NH)

Sunday afternoon is a great idea, unless you can find a “dead zone” between seasons for the Cub Scout age group. I wouldn’t worry about what others are doing–Put the idea out there and see what happens! (sometimes, we reach a point where we need to say, “Well, how can it be any worse?”)

Dear Andy,

Because showing up for our troop’s annual fundraiser is mandatory for all Scouts, our troop committee says this can’t count toward “service hours” for rank advancement; only “elective” service can count. I would have thought that “service is service,” whether it’s for the troop or any other organization. Can you help us out here? (Name & Council Withheld)

Sounds to me like somebody’s trying to split hairs when it’s not necessary. We’re trying to instill in the youth we serve the idea of helping others as a life-long ethic. Creating a division like this is, in my opinion, defeating the larger purpose. How is helping one’s own troop conceptually different from helping one’s own neighbors or our larger community. Isn’t one’s troop a “community”? Remember that Scouts are Scouting’s first volunteers—they’re not under any obligation to show up for anything! So, do we really want to tell them, “Show up to help your troop, but don’t expect any acknowledgement of this!”? What’s worse, even, than this is the whole notion of essentially “working for pay.” This happens when you tell Scouts: “Show up and get credit for ‘time served’.” How about simply SHOW UP BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT SCOUTS DO!

Base the concept on service-for-credit and what will you eventually get? No Second Class or Star or Life Scouts who’ve already “served time” or completed their service projects because you’ve made credit for service time the “benefit”. You’ll also get no Tenderfoot or First Class or Eagle Scouts because they either don’t need “service time.” In other words, splitting hairs and making the incentive “service hour credit” is the fastest way I know to shoot yourselves in the foot! Think it over.
Dear Andy,

Back in one of your October (2012) columns, you said, “No BSA volunteer is authorized to refuse a Scout a ‘blue card’ when he asks for one, or to refuse to provide the name of a council-registered Merit Badge Counselor (NOTE: MBCs do not need to be associated with your son’s troop—he can go to any Merit Badge Counselor on the council or district list.)

However, the Scoutmaster Handbook says that the Scoutmaster is to “approve” the blue cards. It specifically says that a boy can work on a merit badge “assuming he has approval.”

The March 2012 Advancement Newsletter also appears to continue the muddying. I understand the purpose behind having the Scout speak to the Scoutmaster to let him know he wants to work on a merit badge and to get the information for a Merit Badge Counselor. However, the Scoutmaster is saying that he wants the Scout to meet with the Merit Badge Counselor first and then come to him for the blue card. He doesn’t want to sign the blue cards that are currently requested because he says the Scout shouldn’t be working on that many merit badges at once. He feels that he should complete them before starting on another one. Several of the merit badges in question have requirements for the Scout to do something or track something over a period of several months, which would mean “merit badge dead time” until the time-period ends. The Scoutmaster won’t budge unless I can show him a BSA policy on this. Can you help? (Name & Council Withheld)

Thanks for taking the time to write about an interesting situation. Before addressing it, let’s get something straight: We’re not talking about just “any” Scouting volunteer and “blue cards”—we’re talking about Scoutmasters. Scoutmasters sign blue cards; blue cards aren’t signed by ASMs, committee members, or anyone else. Yes, the card says “Unit Leader.” However, this is purely to accommodate Coaches of Scout teams, Skippers of Sea Scout ships, and Advisors of Venturing crews, since all three of these unit-types can have young men earning merit badges, in addition to Scout troops.

There is no “muddying.” The BSA National Advancement Committee is attempting to guide Unit Leaders into understanding that “approval” doesn’t mean “in my infinite wisdom I’ll decide if the Scout is ‘worthy’ of attempting this (or any) merit badge.” If, however, you perceive “muddying,” I’m happy to advise you that the wording on the blue card will shortly be changed, so that this misinterpretation will be significantly reduced if not eliminated altogether.

Of course, the Scoutmaster you’re describing has it backwards. I’ve just checked four editions of the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, dating back over six decades. They all cite these four steps: (1) The Scout has an interest in a merit badge subject, (2) He discusses this with his Scoutmaster (aka Unit Leader), (3) The Scoutmaster gives him a signed application (aka “blue card”) and a counselor’s information, and (4) The Scout contacts the counselor and begins work. In the current edition, refer to page 123, which states this in unequivocal language.

Further, BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS (any edition) states the same. In the 2012 edition, refer to pages 20-21, including this statement: “…any Boy Scout…may earn any (merit badge) at any time.”

More, the 11th edition of the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK states the same steps (refer to page 187).

With these resources in your quiver, put the onus where it belongs: on the Scoutmaster. Insist that he show you—in writing by the BSA—that the procedure he’s following is acceptable, and that a Scoutmaster may restrict the number of merit badges a Scout chooses to work toward concurrently. He won’t be able to do this, of course, and that should conclude the conversation on this. If this Scoutmaster still “refuses to budge,” fire him.

Thanks! I’ve spoken with him about this, and he now understands why the Scout should come to him before connecting with a Merit Badge Counselor. I appreciate your column very much.

OK! And be sure all Scouts know they definitely can work on more than one merit badge at a time! (Let the Scoutmaster know, too!) For instance, a Scout can get started on Personal Fitness, which has a three-month time-line and then, after he’s started his 90-day exercise program, there’s no reason why he can’t knock off, say, Scholarship and a Citizenship in the interim. Just like at summer camp: On Monday, Scouts sign up for Swimming in the morning, Canoeing in the afternoon, and Nature or Wood Carving (or both!) at the nature and handicraft lodges! Same way back home! Otherwise, doing just one merit badge at a time, in sequence, can be a delightful exercise in boredom and time-wasting. These Scouts should be targeting their 15th birthday to complete Eagle; not their 50th!

Dear Andy,

When a District Chair steps down, or there is no District Chair, who takes over these responsibilities until a new appointment? I thought I’d read that it should be either the District Commissioner, or the District Executive. (John MacKinnon)

Since the District Chair’s slot is primarily one of delegation and follow-up, in addition to overall leadership, it may not make sense to put someone in that position (e.g., camping chair, advancement chair, etc.) who already has a boat-load of responsibilities. Maybe pick someone who’s in a committee/sub-committee slot, at least on a temporary basis. Make it somebody who’s friendly, fairly well-known, and can delegate…a consensus-builder, if you will. Then, leave it to the D.E. and the district’s Vice-Chair for Nominations to find a permanent replacement. ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

One of the Scouts in our troop lost his Totin’ Chip. His mother emailed me that he wants to carry his knife at Fall Camp this weekend, and wants to know how to replace it. What do you suggest? (Patrick Lesley)

I suggest a quiet conversation with Mom… It’s time for her son to “Scout-up” and ask for a replacement card all by himself.
Dear Andy,

My son crossed over into a Boy Scout troop earlier this year and is working towards Second Class. He’s also in his school’s 6th grade band. He’s eager to start working on merit badges, so I suggested one that has to do with school (e.g., Reading, Scholarship, Music, etc). So at the troop meeting last week he asked his Scoutmaster to sign a merit badge card for Music so he could contact a counselor. But the Scoutmaster wouldn’t sign the card until my son makes First Class rank—he was really disappointed! I didn’t think a Scout needed to be a certain rank before he could earn merit badges. If there’s no rank requirement for merit badges, do you have a suggestion for resolving this issue? (LG)

Pick up, or borrow, a copy of the 2012 book, BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS ($4.99 at your Scout shop or Turn to page 20, where it says, “There are more than 100 merit badges, and any Boy Scout…may earn any of these at any time.” Then, privately and quietly, show this to the Scoutmaster and request that he sign and give your son a merit badge “blue card,” so that he may contact a registered counselor and begin the work required. (Don’t impose this responsibility on your son. The Scoutmaster, although most likely well-meaning, has already road-blocked your son, so it’s now time for you, as the parent, to step in and help this situation correct itself.) ________________________________________
Hi Andy,

In a recent column, you said, “No Scoutmaster has the right or authority to deny any Scout from starting any merit badge, at any time. This is clearly stated on page 2 of BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS-2012 (and prior editions as well). ‘Approval’ and the statement on the application—”…is qualified to begin working for this merit badge”—simply mean that (a) the boy is indeed a Boy Scout and (b) is duly registered and dues-paid as such… No “reinterpretation” of this is permitted, by anyone.”

I’m afraid I’m going to have to quibble with you on this one. There’s now one exception that I know of, and it’s strictly an age issue. One of the requirements to earn the SCUBA merit badge is to be a certified SCUBA diver and present your C-card (permanent or temporary) to the Merit Badge Counselor. The certification agencies require a student to be 12 years of age before they can earn their Junior SCUBA certification, or 16 for their Senior. While the Junior certification would qualify, it still means the Scout can’t legitimately earn this merit badge before his 12th birthday. Where this gets hairy is that the Scout could start the other aspects of the merit badge before 12, but can’t finish until his 12th birthday. In practice, this merit badge is usually earned by having the Scout earn the C-card, the pre-req merit badge, and CPR, and then bring those cards with him to the merit badge session. (James Eager, ASM, Gulf Ridge Council)

Sorry, but I don’t buy the “quibble.” We expect Scouts to have read the requirements beforehand, and if they haven’t, the Scoutmaster might choose to take the extra time to review them with the Scout, but it’s still the Scout’s—and only the Scout’s—decision on wanting to start a merit badge. If there’s an age, physical ability, mental capacity, or other issue to be dealt with, that’s for the Scout and his Merit Badge Counselor to discuss and work out. There is absolutely no room whatsoever for a Scoutmaster to insert his own opinion, judgment, or anything else—his job is to build enthusiasm for advancement, not deflate it.

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to 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. 338 – 12/7/2012 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2012]


About AskAndy

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

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, 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 Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

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