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Issue 381 – January 23, 2014

Dear Andy,

It seems, of late, that boards of review are being treated more like job interviews—a discovery process that’s very difficult to keep from devolving into re-testing—rather than what I think the BSA intends for them to be: more like job “performance” reviews where, in conclusion, Scouts are given, in effect, merit promotions. (As an employee of a business, one of the things I must do before my yearly performance review is to write a summary of my accomplishments for the year, which is then used as part of the discussion on accomplishments relative to requirements or goals during the review.) So I’m wondering: Would it be a bad thing to have Scouts do something like this before their Scoutmaster conference or board of review? Or would that be considered adding to the requirements? (Mark Barfield, MC-Troop Advancement Coordinator, Orange County Council, CA)

You’re absolutely right that boards of review for rank advancement shouldn’t resemble a “job interview” and should absolutely not be any sort of “re-test” (re-tests are strictly forbidden by the BSA). But they’re not a “performance review” either!

Boards of review are conversations between the Scout and members of the troop committee. They’re not “Q&A” sessions, involve no “grilling,” and the Scout is not there to “defend himself” or even “evaluate” himself (except in one particular area, which I’ll discuss in a moment)—his record of accomplishments has already been confirmed by the record in his handbook, the troop’s advancement records, and his Scoutmaster. Thus, he has nothing further to “prove” to anyone.

The true purpose of a board of review is for the committee to learn first-hand how well the Scoutmaster (and any assistants), and the Patrol Leaders Council are delivering the Scouting program to the Scouts of the troop; understand how well the troop is providing advancement opportunities for the Scouts (e.g., enough camp-outs and such to give Scouts the outdoor skills opportunities they need); and how the Scout is generally enjoying the program and his peer relationships.

(The one exception in which a conversation about how he’s doing—a “self-evaluation,” if you will—is in the area of “Scout spirit.” That’s because it’s really only the Scout himself who can provide accurate information. Not even his Scoutmaster can do this except on a very superficial basis at best, because the most any Scoutmaster will ever realistically see is about 1% of any Scout’s day-to-day life. This makes it pretty much OK—in my experience—to ask a Scout how he’s doing when it comes to living by the Scout Oath and Law…so long as this isn’t turned into a protracted series of inquisition-type questions.)

Thanks, Andy! First of all, I agree with you that re-testing is bad and reviewing the process is an important goal of the board of review. However, I’m curious about what circumstances might occur in which a Scout can fail a board of review. Not that I want to ever want to fail a Scout, but I’m puzzled: Why is there the opportunity to fail a Scout in a board of review, especially since the true purpose is for reviewing and improving the process?

The BSA published a 25 minute training video called “Judgment Calls: Reasonable Expectations, Active Participation, Scout Spirit, and Positions of Responsibility,” which I thought were subjects for evaluation during reviews for Star and Life rank. Am I mistaken in this? (Mark Barfield)

I’ve watched that video. Yes, “board of review” is mentioned in it about three or four times—always more or less in passing; never with any inference of finality of any sort. In fact, that video seems far more oriented toward the Scoutmaster than toward board of review members. So let’s revisit board of review dynamics…

When a Scout participates in his board of review, the reviewers already know going in that (1) he’s completed all requirements for the rank and (2) his Scoutmaster has verified this Scout’s readiness to advance in rank. Therefore, unless something entirely unexpected occurs, there’s no reason I can think of for why a review wouldn’t have a successful outcome. (I’ve had the delightful opportunity of sitting on 185 Eagle boards of review across three different councils for Scouts in dozens of different troops, and not one of these has ever had less than a positive outcome.)

Let’s keep foremost in mind that a board of review is essentially a confirmation and affirmation. Unless, as I mentioned, something completely unexpected and in opposition to Scouting principles happens during the conversation, there’s absolutely no reason for him to “fail” or for this to be considered even a possibility. Let’s also remind ourselves that the Scoutmaster is permitted to be present at a review, for the express purpose of answering or expanding on answers to questions the reviewers might have.

Using the subject matter of the video, a group of reviewers might have asked the Scout about his “active participation” in the past few months and discovered from the Scout that he’s largely been absent from recent troop meetings and outings. This might sound ominous until the Scoutmaster speaks up, explaining that the Scout completed his stipulated “active” tenure some months ago and now it’s baseball season for him, so he met this requirement some time back. Or, the reviewers might wonder why the Scout performed minimally, in their estimation, as a Patrol Leader, until the Scoutmaster explains how he or she failed to review the responsibilities of the position with the Scout beforehand and didn’t provide coaching or guidance during his tenure. Again, no “failure” here.

So, use boards of review not as a “final gantlet” for the Scout but, rather, as a way to evaluate how well the troop as a whole has been supporting the Scout and providing opportunities for personal growth the Scouting way.
Hi Andy,

Is the “50 Miler” award solely for Boy Scouts, or can a Cub Scout earn it too? Also, are adult leaders eligible for the award, or is it just for the Scouts?

The swimming requirements for rank advancement are usually done at summer camp. If a Scout hasn’t gone to camp this summer, or if he couldn’t complete the requirements for reasons other than disabilities, what are other avenues he can pursue? This is happening to a Scout I know who did go to camp but wasn’t a strong swimmer and couldn’t pass the test. So he signed up at the YMCA for lessons, and the swimming instructor there said that if he would give her the requirements she would make sure that he learned them, passed the tests, and she’d sign off on them. When brought this idea to his troop, they said that this wouldn’t suffice since no troop leader would be administering the tests. I’d think this would have sufficed or that a troop leader should have asked when the test would be administered and be there to witness it so it would be “official.” This Scout has completed all of the other requirements for First Class; this is the only thing holding him back. If camp is the only time he can “officially” do this requirement and none of the other leaders is able (willing) to personally work with this Scout “off-season,” then he has to wait another six months to pass this—six months that he could have used to fill a leadership position to advance further. Is there an official BSA policy on this?

Last, as a Cub Scout leader, one of my jobs is to help the Webelos with their transition to Boy Scouts. I don’t want to trash-talk other troops that I may not agree with, but on the other hand I don’t want to promote any troops that are off the mark. Is there a diplomatic way to handle this? My approach would be to highly recommend the troop that my son’s in, but it would be difficult to answer the question of why I’m supporting a troop that’s two towns away and not the one in my town or a neighboring town. Related to this, do I even bother to tell the other troops that I’m not recommending them, and how do I tell them that I think the way they’re run is completely the antithesis of how a troop should be run? Thanks for your help and I apologize for the randomness of these questions. (Name & Council Withheld)

The “50 Miler” is a Boy Scout recognition. That said, remember that the patch for this isn’t one that goes on any uniform—it goes on one’s backpack or elsewhere.

The First Class swim test situation is totally soluble and doesn’t require a “BSA policy” to make things right. When the Scout and his YMCA instructor are confident that he can meet the requirements of the test, they can invite the Scoutmaster or other troop leader to visit the Y and watch the Scout perform! It’s a no-brainer and gives the Scout an opportunity to demonstrate how far he’s come along. All it takes is a caring troop.

As for recommending one troop over others, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, so long as you describe the troop rather than compare the troop. As in, “You may want to check out Troop XX. They employ the Patrol Method, the troop is Scout-run, the Scoutmaster is friendly and takes a very supportive approach to all the boys in the troop, and they have an outdoor program that supports advancement for the Scouts.” The other thing you can do is describe what to look for and what questions to ask when checking out troops. This way, if anyone asks you, “What about the troop around the corner?” you can encourage them to check it out along with Troop XX so they can make an informed decision. In short, keep it simple and keep it clean. That’s the Scouting way!
Dear Andy,

What can be done if a troop’s Chartered Organization Representative and Scoutmaster are operating contrary to Scouting ideals, including creating divisiveness, showing dishonesty, plotting to promote selfish gains, and discriminating between the Scouts? (Name & Council Withheld)

Absent specifics regarding actual behavior of the CR and SM, my best recommendation is to discuss these problems with the head of the troop’s chartered organization. This is the “executive officer” as listed on the annual charter documents: The pastor if a church, president if a civic organization or PTO/PTA, etc. Remembering that the chartered organization is the actual owner of the troop, the head of that organization has highest authority regarding all adult volunteers.

If there is a larger group of parents unhappy with the conduct of these two people, then the correct course of action is to schedule an in-person meeting with the CO head, to expose the problem and agree upon a solution (up to and including replacement of these two people). It’s always better, in such meetings, if you have people amongst you who have already confirmed their willingness to step into the roles you wish vacated.

As you pursue this, be absolutely certain to not use email or letters. What you’re seeking to do must be done face-to-face. Pick up the phone to schedule the meeting, and be sure that as many of you as humanly possible attend (choose several date/time options in advance, so that this can happen).

If anyone wonders if “the council” can do this for you, the answer is: No. Only the head of the CO can make this happen.

If, on conclusion of the conversation with the head of the CO, resolution hasn’t been reached and you’re all still unhappy, then you’re obligated to remove your sons from this troop so that they’re not subjected to further un-Scout-like behavior and transfer your sons into a troop properly managed.
Dear Andy,

Our Venturing crew is planning to go to a local martial arts school to learn some self-defense moves. Is that okay? (I know fighting isn’t allowed, but Judo and Aikido are approved.) (Name & Council Withheld)

Yes, for Boy Scouts and Venturers the defensive martial arts of Judo, Aikido, and Tai Chi are permitted, so says the GTSS. Enjoy!
Hi Andy,

I’m hoping you can settle a small debate for me… At a combination Wood Badge beading ceremony and Venturing Silver Award presentation, I ran into a Sea Scouter at the regional level. We were having a discussion of the aspects of the Sea Scout uniform, and the subject of a National Jamboree patch came up, and how these are generally not worn on a Sea Scout uniform. Then he noticed the 1997 National Scout Jamboree patch that I wear on my field uniform. We dug out the BSA’s GUIDE TO AWARDS & INSIGNIA and found this:

“A jamboree emblem is worn above the right pocket by a Boy Scout, Venturer or Scouter who is registered to attend or attended the jamboree as a registered participant or staff member. Both a world and a national jamboree patch may be worn: one current national jamboree patch above the right pocket and one current world jamboree patch on the right pocket.”

The term, “current,” became the focus of our ensuing conversation. I was indeed a registered participant at the 1997 National Jamboree. But I’ve not attended a Jamboree since then. I am entitled to wear that patch (in the right place, of course)? My Sea Scouter friend’s position was that because it’s not the current National Jamboree it should be removed.

While I know this one doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, I just want to have an answer that settles it, if possible. So… what do you think, Andy? Do I owe an apology to a long-time Sea Scouter? Or did my brain actually get this one right? (Chris Snider, D.E., Anthony Wayne Area Council, IN)

The BSA isn’t entirely clear on this… If “current” truly means “current” then wouldn’t one remove the Jamboree patch as soon as the Jamboree’s over (and it’s no longer “current”)? Usual practice is to wear the last one you’ve attended, it being the “most current” for the individual.

Frankly, I’d rather see an “old” Jamboree patch in its proper place than see some random patch put there simply on the basis of “available space.” I’ve seen everything there, from World Conservation bears to BSA Lifeguard to NAYLE/NJLIC shields, and the list goes on and on… I also personally wish the BSA Supply Division would stop selling those idiotic “Totin’ Chip” patches shaped like mini-OA flaps, that I’ve seen worn on BOTH left and right pocket flaps! Anyway, we probably have bigger fish to fry… Or at least I hope so!

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. 381 – 1/23/2014 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2014]


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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