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Issue 363 – August 23, 2013

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Dear Andy,

How much involvement in troop meetings by the adults is too much? In our troop, for example, the Senior Patrol Leader may be describing the activities for an upcoming campout so that the Scouts will be able to pack accordingly, and the Scoutmaster may supplement the SPL’s description with a lengthier one of his own and further admonitions to the Scouts to pack this or that item. Adults also routinely make announcements that, it seems to me, should be made by the Scouts themselves. They’re usually about permission slips, health forms, payments, blue cards, etc., but there’s no reason I can think of why the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders can’t handle this. Is it reasonable to expect the adults to just write down any announcements that need to be made and hand them to the SPL ahead of time, or is it acceptable practice for adults to speak up as I’ve described during meetings? Thanks in advance for your help, and thanks as always for your tremendous service. (Name & Council Withheld)

There are seven parts to a troop meeting (do a websearch for “troop meeting plan”). The Senior Patrol Leader runs six of these seven, and the Scoutmaster provides the “Scoutmaster’s minute” for the seventh and final part. That’s it. Anything else and it’s just not Boy Scouting.

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Hello Andy,

Years ago, I believe the BSA used to state that when troops went on outings, at least one adult had to be BSA-registered, but everyone else going on the outing just had to be 18 or older. Now, I’m told that everyone attending a troop camping trip has to be a registered BSA adult leader and have taken Youth Protection training. Parents, guardians, and other adults who aren’t registered and/or don’t have YPT can’t attend unless the trip’s called a “family campout.” Can you please clear the air on this for me on this? (Bill McClain, West Tennessee Area Council)

Here’s what the latest version of the GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING has to say about leadership requirements for trips and outings: “Two registered adult leaders, or one registered leader and a parent of a participating Scout or other adult, one of whom must be 21 years of age or older, are required for all trips and outings. There are a few instances, such as patrol activities, when the presence of adult leaders is not required and adult leadership may be limited to training and guidance of the patrol leadership. With the proper training, guidance, and approval by the troop leaders, the patrol can conduct day hikes and service projects. Appropriate adult leadership must be present for all overnight Scouting activities; coed overnight activities— even those including parent and child—require male and female adult leaders, both of whom must be 21 years of age or older, and one of whom must be a registered member of the BSA.”

That said, the notion of “family campouts” is just fine and families who like camping out should certainly consider continuing that delightful activity. But Boy Scouts—unlike Cub Scouts—don’t have “family camping” events. Why not? Because this helps to defeat one of the key elements of Boy Scouting: Peer-to-peer relationships.
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Dear Andy,

My troop is getting ready to do the annual planner. In the past, the Scouts selected a merit badge to work on for each month, and the activity for the month related to that merit badge. Yes, we’ve actually done parts of the Plumbing and Auto Repair merit badges while on campouts. I seem to remember a recent column of yours about this issue and, if I remember correctly, you said teaching merit badges as part of the troop meeting was not a good idea. Do I have that right? (John Pinchot)

You’re 100% correct: Holding “merit badge classes” or merit badge instruction inside troop meetings (or while on campouts) is not a good idea because, it has two major flaws that significantly damage the Boy Scout program. The first one’s easy: There’s no place in the Troop Meeting Plan for “merit badge class”—None of the seven standard parts of a troop meeting is accepting of this notion, and a troop is expected to follow the TMP as written. Failing to do this creates mayhem across troops, when all troops are charged with delivering the Boy Scout program as the BSA has established it. The second’s even more dangerous: Such “classes” completely defeat 50% of the goals of the BSA Merit Badge Program by denying Scouts any sense of individuality and initiative.

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Dear Andy,

Our troop has a new Chartered Organization Representative (CR for short) who we feel oversteps his boundaries. We’re not sure how to handle the situation. For instance, can our CR demand that all adult leaders and Scouts be in full class A uniforms, even after our troop committee has decided that it’s better for a Scout to be involved in meetings and activities no matter what his family’s financial situation? (We have a guideline in our troop that states that our expectation is a BSA official uniform from the waist up, only.) (Name & Council Withheld)

Yes, a CR—who represents the chartered organization, which is authorized by the BSA to conduct the Scouting program per its own standards so long as these are compatible with the BSA’s—does have the authority to, among other things, expect all uniformed adult volunteers (specifically, the Scoutmaster and any ASMs) as well as all Scouts to be in uniform. (This can extend to all outings, as well as troop meetings, by the way.) Moreover, since a troop committee ultimately reports to the CR, a committee decision can’t supersede a decision by the CR or the chartered organization he or she represents.

As for a troop establishing a “from the waist-up” uniform “guideline,” this is completely counter to BSA principles. The Scoutmaster, any ASMs, and all Scouts are expected by the BSA to be in uniform, and this means head-to-toe. Check any handbook—Boy Scout, Scoutmaster, whatever you like—and you’ll never, ever find any mention of “alternatives” to the uniform, anymore than a boy can play a league or team sport wearing his team uniform “from the waist-up.”

That said, you also happen to be correct in stating that the BSA doesn’t “demand” uniforms. However, that would be forgetting that the uniform is indeed one of the Eight Methods of Scouting. This means that its importance is right up there with advancement, outdoor experiences, adult role-modeling, etc.

The troop committee has used the old saw of “finances” as their rationale for half-a-uniform. Unfortunately, this just doesn’t cut the mustard—especially not when boys these days (and adults, too) are wearing Nikes, Reeboks, etc. that cost two and three times the price of Scout pants and have iPods, cell phones, and tablets that cost even more. But before we go to the mat about price, has anyone considered—allowing for the moment that “price” is a driver—a “uniform exchange” in which shirts and pants are passed from Scouts aging out to Scouts in the troop? Or how about a troop fund-raiser to get uniforms for all Scouts (and adults too, if needed)? Or how about contacting your council: Many councils have or know of uniform exchanges, and will be happy to help you all.

So the bottom line is this: The CR’s definitely not “overstepping his boundaries” and the troop has made a mistake that’s quickly soluble by rolling up your sleeves and taking affirmative action. In fact, one action would be to collaborate with the CR to find a way for all adults and Scouts to be in full uniform via means other than straight family out-of-pocket money. This way, everybody wins!

Thanks, Andy. We do have a small uniform closet that the Scouts can pull from. We have many boys who are legitimately in financial difficulty, with many who are in single-parent homes. There are also those who have purchased the full and complete uniform upon registering for Boy Scouts, but at this age grow so quickly that the parents say they just can’t afford to buy new pants as quickly as the boys grow. Not to mention that the uniform pants get torn up at camps. (N&CW)

I understand. As a boy who was an “inner city” Scout, whose father was out of work much of the time and whose mother didn’t work, I had a paper route before I was a Scout and also sold Christmas and other greeting cards in my neighborhood to earn money. I bought my own uniform (all of it) and my mother showed me how to sew the necessary patches and badges on it. This means I’m not a very good listener when it comes to parents whining about the cost of Scout pants and such, when their sons could earn the money, or the troop could do a fund-raiser. And I’m an especially bad listener when I hear stuff about “they grow out of their uniform” when we know full well these boys grow out of everything! Finally, I’m an absolutely terrible listener when it comes to the idea that the Scouts pants will “get torn.” Torn pants can be sewn (I know–I did it when I was 12). Besides, the “convertible” pants can be worn as shorts (with Scout socks, of course) when they become too short (I know about this, too: I was six feet tall as an eighth-grader). Longer pants can be borrowed from aging-out Scouts or rescued from uniform exchanges. In short, if a boy is encouraged and empowered to get himself in uniform, he’ll find a way.

As for parents who try to rationalize why their sons aren’t up to snuff and looking sharp, tell them that this is OK… If all they want is half a Scout. It’s sort of like telling their sons that aspiring to remain a Second Class Scout forever is OK, too.

“Allowing” sloppiness of dress is no different from telling Scouts they don’t have to “Do Your Best” as long as they do what’s adequate. Will they make the basketball or baseball team if they just “do what’s adequate”? How about grades in school? Will “adequate” work result in scholastic success? Is their church really going to confirm them if the learn half their catechism? Will their temple approve a Bar Mitzvah when the boy can’t read from the Torah? C’mon. Let’s stop with the excuses and get with the program.

You all have an opportunity here to instill pride, teamwork, a sense of belonging, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of resourcefulness. GO FOR IT! To do less is just that: Less.

Thanks, Andy. We’ll try to work on some solutions. Price is always the biggest hurdle.

Maybe you need to know that “the pants are too expensive” rationale is older than the hills! It was around over a half-century ago, and it’ll never completely go away because it’s an “easy” excuse. But the cold fact is that what these parents are really saying is that they don’t see any value. (People will always—always—find the money to support what they believe to be of value.) Unfortunately, parents who don’t perceive “value” can often be the result of lackadaisical leadership by a unit’s adult volunteers. (Andy’s Rule No. 48: “Want to create half-hearted Scouts? It’s easy: Just wear a half-hearted uniform.”)

The first thing that needs to be done is get the Scoutmaster and any ASMs in full uniform—no exceptions (including no “Oh, I forgot” excuses). Then, the Scoutmaster announces to the Scouts that the “waist-up” notion is gone, and all Scouts are encouraged to wear complete uniforms to all meetings. Next, start rewarding patrols with special privileges, small trinkets, or even bite-size candies, when the entire patrol is fully uniformed (in other words, reward the positive and never criticize the negative).

Here’s an idea on the idea of “full uniform”: One of the things the Patrol Leaders Council decided on, the last time I was a Scoutmaster (I’ve been a Scoutmaster three times, in three different troops) was that ANY complete uniform was OK. Here’s what I mean… We had several Scouts who also played sports and frequently didn’t have time to change before a troop meeting. So the PLC said, “If you show up in your complete Little League, PAL, Pop Warner, or other uniform, that counts!” We even had two Scouts who sang in a boys’ chorus, and they’d show up (in season) wearing blue pants, black belts and shoes, white dress shirt, and red bow ties…and this was counted, too! In short, it worked! Interestingly, it also eliminated all “embarrassment” about uniforming, and the Scouts got to see what else their fellow Scouts were into. It became a great team-builder.

Then—and this was a Scout decision too—we started wearing full uniforms everywhere! And brother, did this pay off! Our Scouts appeared in TV broadcasts at televised ballgames we attended (while other non-uniformed and “shirt-only” Scouts weren’t even approached by the TV crews). We were in the official video for a National Jamboree. On a district-wide camp-out, some mountaineering school instructors spotted our Scouts (they were the only ones in uniform, out of over 200 other Scouts) and invited them to spend an afternoon learning how to rappel…for free! Our Scouts were selected to lead town parades, conduct opening ceremonies at council events and awards dinners, and speak at Rotary Club meetings. When we participated in a town clean-up day, our Scouts were the only ones photographed and got special coverage in the local newspapers (paper and online, both). And the list of benefits and “ego-boosters” goes on and on…

Yes, we had Scouts whose parents started out reluctant to “get with the program,” but we also had fund-raisers and provided financially strapped families with—not money, but the actual missing uniform parts, and sometimes camping gear, too. We encouraged our Scouts to find jobs mowing lawns, babysitting, pet-sitting/walking, shoveling snow, and raking leaves, and this list goes on… Many bought their own camping gear, as well as their uniforms, with what they’d earned.

It all begins with this question: We adult volunteers in Scouting have an obligation to the boys and young men entrusted to us. The obligation is to instill values that can last lifetimes. What values do we want to instill, and how are we going to set the example and encourage these young people? Make this decision with your heart and you know you’ll make the right one.
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Dear Andy,

I’m a long-time reader of your columns; now I have a need of my own that I hope you can help with.

Our troop is embroiled in a conflict among our committee members that’s hurting our troop overall. Two of our committee members are a married couple, one of whom is also District Commissioner. Because of this second role, this gentleman is constantly questioning and challenging our Scoutmaster and how he manages the troop and Scouts, and he does this publicly. You’ve said many times that the troop committee isn’t a policy-making body; however this committee member-DC refuses to accept that. His steadfast position is that the committee supports the Scoutmaster and also the Patrol Leaders Council in program-related areas, and also has final say-so in all policy and leadership decisions. So, when he doesn’t like what the Scouts are doing, he takes the Scoutmaster to task in front of the rest of the committee. Do you have any suggestions for clearing this up? (Name & Council Withheld)

The problem, of course, is that the committee member who’s also a District Commissioner apparently isn’t able to “compartmentalize” his volunteer roles. Further, he seems to fail to realize that District Commissioners don’t set (or even “interpret”) BSA policy and neither do troop or their committees. In fact, the District Commissioner position is administrative in nature—in a correctly staffed and run district, DCs have no unit-level contact except in exceptional situations (and yours isn’t one of these!).

Any BSA-published troop organization chart clearly shows that there is no “line of contact” (solid or even dotted) between a troop committee and the Scouts themselves (be it the PLC or individual Scouts). “Policy and leadership” issues have never rested with a unit committee. Policy is set by the BSA; youth leadership is determined via elections of the SPL and all PLs, and all other youth positions are the responsibility of the Senior Patrol Leader (the committee has absolutely no input on these aspects).

If this gentleman is unwilling to follow standard BSA procedures and policies, he must be removed from the troop roster of volunteers. Removal is the responsibility of the Chartered Organization Representative and Committee Chair, and no time should be wasted in carrying this out. Unless this is dealt with quickly and directly, the troop as a whole will be damaged.

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. 363 – 8/23/2013 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2013]

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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 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: 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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