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Issue 353 – April 20, 2013

Dear Andy,

I’m a Cubmaster. Our pack is planning a camping trip for our Cub Scouts and one of the Webelos Den Leader who’s also an Assistant Scoutmaster, wants the Boy Scouts of the troop he’s associated with to come camping with the pack. We brought this up at our pack leaders meeting and we all agreed: No. Our biggest reason, which we explained to him, is the age difference between the Cubs and the Scouts, but he’s still pushing to do a joint camping trip. We need your advice on this, and I’m hoping we can put this to bed once and for all. (Name & Council Withheld)

This isn’t a good idea, from both standpoints. First, for Cubs to camp, it’s one boy-one parent (or other adult designated by the parent), whereas in Boy Scouts, just two adults in total are all that’s required. So there’s the first non-match. Here’s the second: In Cub Scouting, the boys and their adult partners all interact together; in Boy Scouting, the adults stand back and away from the Scouts as they interact amongst one another. Third, parents usually cook for or with the Cubs; in Boy Scouting, the Scouts prepare their own meals and the adults cook separately and away from the Scouts. Fourth, Boy Scouts want to interact among themselves; not with boys who aren’t old enough to be Boy Scouts yet. Fifth, the activities Boy Scouts participate in on camping trips are appropriate for their ages and grades, making these instantly inappropriate for boys not yet completed the fifth grade. Sixth, Boy Scouts sleep in their tents with other Boy Scouts; Cubs typically sleep with their parents. Seventh, sending Boy Scout out to camp with “little kids” undermines the Boy Scout program. There’s more, but this is enough. Stick to your guns on this: No dice.
Dear Andy,

In the past, you’ve said many times that the Scoutmaster’s the one who signs Scouts’ blue cards so they can start merit badges. In our troop, our Scoutmaster isn’t able to attend summer camp this year. Can he designate an Assistant Scoutmaster to sign any blue cards needed while at summer camp? (John Pinchot, Longhorn Council, TX)

There’s an easier way that keeps everything according to plan. Before they head off to camp, each Scout conferences briefly with the Scoutmaster, tells him what merit badges he’d like to earn while at camp, and the Scoutmaster gives him signed blue cards for whatever he’s selected; then the Scoutmaster signs a bunch of blank blue cards and gives them to a responsible adult, to use as needed if a Scout needs an extra, changes his mind, or finds that a particular merit badge session’s filled up. That adult keeps a record of these and gives it to the Scoutmaster when the troop returns from camp.
Hi Andy,

A Scout, who had stopped attending meetings at another troop some six to nine months ago, just transferred into our troop. He’ll turn 18 about two years from now. I’ve personally known him since his Bear year in Cub Scouts, and I know he was an involved Scout in his former troop in the past, particularly with campouts and other outings, and he also regularly attended most patrol and troop meetings too—until he stopped a while back, as I mentioned. He was never particularly into rank advancement, and although he’s 15, he’s still First Class. He’s even mentioned to me and his parents, too, that Eagle isn’t a high priority for him, even though he seems to really enjoy the Scouting program overall. His parents are okay with this, but they’re still concerned that he may regret that decision some day, after it’s too late to fix it. They’ve asked me to speak with him about this—not to try to change his mind, but just to try to make sure he considers his decision carefully. Can you give me some ideas on what to talk about with this young man? (Name & Council Withheld)

Let this Scout become comfortable in his new troop. Give him some time to bond with the Scouts, form some friendships, and get involved in showing up and participating. Remember, for yourself, that advancement is one—but only one—of the eight methods of Scouting.

After he’s acclimated a little bit, and is signed up to attend summer camp with the troop, get to know him a little better by having a Scoutmaster conference with him, but use this conference to ask questions. Resist the temptation to “lecture” him; allow him to describe his interests: favorite subject in school, sports he likes to play, outside interests, etc. Then, do a little homework and see of there’s a merit badge or two that match his interests… maybe Robotics, or Sports, or Public Speaking, or Theater, or something else that’s a good fit. Give him a blue card and merit badge counselor’s name, and suggest he pursue the merit badge—not to “advance” but to have fun and learn some new stuff. Take it slow and gentle. Let him get his “sea legs.” When he starts to enjoy some success along this path, suggest another merit badge. Meanwhile, see what he might like to do to help the troop—maybe Troop Guide for a new patrol’s Patrol Leader, maybe Instructor in something he enjoys doing, maybe Webmaster—but keep the word “advancement” out of the conversation. Let this happen quietly and naturally, so that, after a few months, he discovers for himself that Star rank is within reach. Then help him get there.

Advancement isn’t something a Scout “must” do—it’s something he finds he likes doing because it feels good and makes him feel good about himself! Give him time, keep the “pressure” off, and let him discover this for himself.

As for his parents, let them know that what’s most important is for their son to have a good time and enjoy what Scouting has to offer. Ask them to back off on advancement and give her son “room” to “own” his own progress—it’ll mean a whole lot more to him this way! Besides, being a First Class Scout means he has all the skills and knowledge to take care of himself and others in an outdoor adventure environment, and there’s a lot to be said for that!

Dear Andy,

Does the BSA have any organizational requirements for a group of “Parents of Venturing Crew XXX,” to hold the unit’s charter? Does BSA require that they adopt bylaws or any sort of written agreement, hold any assets, maintain their own insurance, or to incorporate with the state (or form a 501(c)(3) organization? We can right now offer what’s required in the BSA Annual Charter Agreement, including a place to meet, and a trained Chartered Organization Representative to vet the adult volunteers. Do we need more? (Name & Council Withheld)

Your very best resource for these questions is going to come from the professional side. Get in touch with your local District Executive: He or she is trained and knowledgeable in exactly these areas.
Dear Andy,

I’m a Scoutmaster. We’ve had a question come up in our troop that I can’t find any information on what the right thing to do is. It’s about “service hours.” Can the eight hours required for Citizenship in the Community merit badge also be counted toward the six needed for Star and Life advancement, or are those considered two separate requirements, so tat the hours for advancement would be in addition to the hours for this merit badge? (Bill White)

Let’s start here: Cit-Comm req. 7 is between the Scout and his Merit Badge Counselor; the troop has no direct involvement with this. As for the second aspect, there’s no language in either the Star or Life req. 4, or the Cit-Com req. 7, that says these service times are mutually exclusive. Consequently, it strikes me that completing the merit badge requirement would certainly satisfy the rank(s) requirement—so long as the Scout receives approval from his Scoutmaster in advance of carrying out rank req. 4. (the Scout doesn’t need Scoutmaster approval for the Cit-Comm requirement, obviously—this comes from the Merit Badge Counselor).

“Make-work,” as it’s often called, is something we try to avoid in Scouting, because it promotes the concept of tedium and makes for bored (and ultimately boring) Scouts. Some folks accuse this approach of being “double-dipping,” but that’s just words—ask yourself: In the workplace, if you can accomplish two goals with a single task completed, would your boss chastise you for this, or would he or she give you a pat on the back for creative thinking and planning?
Dear Andy,

The Scoutmaster for our son—a Tenderfoot—recently asked me if we regularly go to church. My answer was no; although we, and our son, do occasionally attend (we’re religious, but not in a heavily organized or disciplined sense). I did mention to him that our son, while a Cub Scout, completed the God and Family religious emblem for our denomination. His response, however, was that since our son didn’t know anything about Hail Mary’s (yes, I’m serious, and he wasn’t talking about football passes), our son would be ineligible to earn Eagle. I pointed out that we’re of the Episcopalian faith, and so this would be inappropriate in any case—it’s not a part of our liturgy or tenets. His reply was that a Boy Scout should be reverent, and “reverent” means being active in his church. When I reemphasized the God and Family emblem he’d already earned, the Scoutmaster’s reply was that this doesn’t count for Boy Scouts and my son will have to redo it before he’ll receive credit for it. Taking this one step further, I pointed out that, instead of repeating “old” work, my son is already planning to earn the God and Church emblem, which is appropriate for his age and school grade. But that didn’t fly with this gentleman. What do we do? (Name & Council Withheld)

That so-called Scoutmaster doesn’t understand how the BSA defines “reverent” and has re-defined it incorrectly. I get the strong feeling there’s not a lot of knowledge there, and even less understanding. My suggestion: Go find a troop that has a Scoutmaster who understands his role and what the BSA’s rank requirements actually say, as well as what the BSA’s “Statement of Religious Principles” actually means. Your son deserves a lot more from Scouting than this misguided Neanderthal has the knowledge or sense to deliver. By the way, your son gets to wear the God and Family religious “square knot” badge on his Boy Scout uniform—right now!
Dear Andy

Where do we sew my son’s Blue & Gold patch on his Wolf Cub Scout uniform? (Leslie Belcher)

How about putting it in a “memory box” for your son? You see, not every single patch a Cub receives needs (or is intended) to be worn on his uniform! Cub Scouting has patches for everything—from Pinewood Derby to Raingutter Regatta, from B&Gs to clean fingernails, and there’s no way all of these will fit on a Cub’s uniform. However, if there’s no patch (yet) on the right pocket of his uniform shirt, it can be sewn there–but just one patch goes there! Check the inside back cover of his Wolf handbook. Please resist the temptation to just sew it on randomly—some parents I’ve seen have take the absurd approach of sewing the on the back of their son’s shirt, turning the shirt into resembling a quilt!

That said, another option is the red “patch vest” made exclusively for Cubs!
Dear Andy,

I’ve read a number of your columns regarding earning merit badges and I frequently see you saying that a Merit Badge Counselor’s signature on the “blue card” is the only thing needed to for the Scout to earn the badge. Of course, this is based upon the assumption that the Merit Badge Counselor is registered, trained, and understands his or her role in the Scouting program. So my question to you is this: When should the advancement chair or Scoutmaster challenge a Scout on the completion of a signed blue card? I’m asking because I’ve sat through several “merit badge university” and/or summer camp merit badge classes with my son and know for a fact that not every requirement was completed, even though the card’s signed as complete and the Scout’s told he completed the merit badge.

An example is a Scout who was told, while at camp, that he completed the cooking merit badge, even though he hadn’t done any work prior to the camp and—from discussions with the Scouts—they’d only cooked twice in class. When it was brought up to me—I’m the Committee Chair—by our troop advancement coordinator, I challenged him to review the requirements with the Scout and discuss whether or not the Scout felt he’d met the requirements, but the response I got from the advancement coordinator was that the counselor signed off on the card and told the Scout he’d earned the badge, so that’s that.

Unsuccessful in my argument, I desisted and didn’t stand in the way of the Scout receiving the badge. However, I believe there’s a time and place for the adult leader to question the completion of a merit badge—the challenge is where to draw the line. I would like your thoughts on when and where to draw that line. (Name & Council Withheld)

First, let’s always keep in mind that we’re not in the business of “punishing” a boy for the faults of adults. Second, it’s a BSA national policy that, once a registered (in any council) Merit Badge Counselor has signed a Scout’s “blue card” as completed, it stands—no one has the right to rescind that merit badge or refuse to give it to the Scout, to challenge the Scout, or to re-test him in any way. Done is done.

So, to answer your question about “when should (anyone) challenge a Scout on…a signed blue card?” the answer is: Never.

That said, we can absolutely acknowledge that there are Merit Badge Counselors “out there” who aren’t getting it right. In fact, I remember my own son, when he was a Tenderfoot, and some yahoo counselor for Wood Carving told him (I was standing right there), “Carve me a ball-in-box with a three-link chain and I’ll give you the merit badge.” Seriously. No joke. Needless to say, I went to the district advancement committee, related this conversation, and asked that this MBC either be re-trained on how to counsel or removed from the MBC list.

So there’s your option…opportunity, in fact. When you’ve witnessed a MBC violating his covenant with the BSA and the Scouts he or she is supposed to be counseling by either short-changing them or exceeding the requirements, report this where it needs to be reported, and ask for corrective steps. If it’s at a merit badge fair or university, or a solo MBC from “the list,” then you’d go to your council or district advancement committee. If it’s the council’s summer camp, then you’d go to the camp’s program director and camp director, following up with the council advancement committee.

But we leave the Scout be. It’s unfortunate, because, mostly, Scouts get short-changed. But, if we’re diligent, it may happen once and then it’s over. And in the broader scheme of life, we need to weigh the importance of a single merit badge earned by a teenager—all merit badges are essentially introductions to subject matter; they’re not intended to make experts out of Scouts. ________________________________________
Hi Andy

The troop my son chose to join last year failed to tell us that they only allow Scouts to earn merit badges in troop classroom settings, at camps, and at district or council events—no “solo” Merit Badge Counselors at any time; not even via the Buddy System. I only found out about this troop “policy” at the parent orientation two months after my son had chosen this troop. The troop remains steadfast: They absolutely won’t allow my son to work on a merit badge outside their “policy” boundaries. I know and understand the BSA program, but I’ve never heard of anything like this. Is there something they may know, that I don’t, that gives them license to restrict merit badge pursuit as they have? (Ron White)

Ever heard the story about God, and how He likes wearing a uniform and playing Scoutmaster?

These folks, although I’m sure they think they’re inflicting this nonsense “in the best interests of the Scouts,” are on some strange planet called “Scouting OUR way.” They’re bad news. Get your son out of that troop fast as you can, and tell him this doesn’t mean he’s a “quitter”—it means he’s not going to put up with people who know better but insist on continuing to do it wrong.

Here’s what the BSA says, and this is national policy: Any Scout can earn any merit badge he wants, any time he wants, with any registered merit badge counselor he wants.

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. 353 – 4/20/2013 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2013]


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.

Read Andy's full biography

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