SAVE THE DATE! SATURDAY – MARCH 8th. If you’re in the area, consider signing up for the Greater Alabama Council’s UNIVERSITY OF SCOUTING! It’ll be held on the campus of Jefferson State Community College, 2601 Carson Road in Birmingham. I’m honored to have been asked to be their keynote speaker that day, and I’ll also be facilitating two sessions—“The Most Common ‘Ask Andy’ Questions” and “Solving Problems.” It’s sure to be a great day, and I’d enjoy meeting you there!
I’m a troop Committee Chair. I read your column regularly and it’s helped shape many of my approaches to Scouting.
I’m blessed to work with an excellent, active group of volunteers who truly attempt to deliver a great program. I’ve been with this troop for just over a year, and have been CC for about three months. In a troop as old as we are, there are, as you can imagine, a number of long-standing traditions. Fortunately, the group is graciously open to change on a number of things.
One of the traditions that the troop has had for number of years is in regards to boards of review for Star and Life ranks. They hold them outside the troop, using leaders from other troops and the community at large. The reason for this, I’m told, is to prepare Scouts for the rigor of an Eagle board of review as well as to prepare them for speaking to a group of adults that they’re unfamiliar with. I have some concerns about this practice and would like to change it, but I’m meeting some resistance. In my mind, by holding these boards outside the troop, we’re robbing ourselves of two very important opportunities: to get to know the Scouts as they mature and to use these boards to help the committee determine the health of the troop—especially as we’re making other significant changes. I sit on Eagle boards, and I honestly don’t see what we’re “preparing” them for—they’re pretty informal. Another concern I have about this practice is that these external boards take some time—weeks if not months—to coordinate. I believe this to be contrary to the charge in the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT that they should be held as soon as possible after the Scout has completed his requirements. Can you provide insights here?
Another tradition that the troop has is also regarding advancement for all ranks. They have a fairly formal process where once the Scout has completed his Scoutmaster conference, he’s to contact the Advancement Chair, who issues an advancement form that the Scout must complete, copying the dates of his rank achievements onto the form so that the Advancement Chair can review and sign it, agreeing that the Scout is ready to request their board of review. The Scout then contacts the troop’s “board of review coordinator”—an Assistant Scoutmaster—who then schedules and chairs the review, either within or outside of the troop depending on rank. The Scout will not be granted a board of review unless this procedure is followed. My concern here is threefold. First, we’re asking the Scout to complete this form that contains the same information that’s contained in his handbook. This is redundant. Second, by making the Scout follow the process of requesting and completing the form required for advancement, I believe that we’ve added a new requirement, contrary to the statement that “no council, committee, district, unit, or individual has the authority to add to or subtract from advancement requirements” found in the BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT. Finally, I want to move the responsibility for scheduling the boards to the Advancement Chair since the GTA is fairly clear that Assistant Scoutmasters should not be sitting on boards of review.
The last tradition I have concerns with has to do with our Scouts’ “achievement binders.” Each Scout is given a binder when he joins the troop and is expected to keep it up to date and organized throughout his time in Scouting. It contains useful items such as the calendar, troop roster, camping checklist, etc. It contains a place for him to log his camping nights and service hours. It also contains pocket folders to keep his signed merit badge “blue cards,” advancement cards, rank cards, etc. I think that having a tool for organization is an excellent idea, although I think that many of these things should already be tracked in the Scout’s handbook. My real concern is that the Scouts are expected to present this binder at each board of review, where it’s scrutinized fairly deeply. In one review, the members didn’t review the Scout’s handbook for more than a few moments, but spent a considerable amount of time going through how things were organized in his binder. One member of the review even wanted to decline the Scout’s rank because his binder’s cover page was torn and the binder was in disrepair. (I was able to intervene in that case, but again, I don’t want us to make this process difficult. It should be an area that we want to see a Scout succeed; not provide opportunities for failure.)
Finally, since I’ll likely be discussing your responses with our troop committee, I wonder if you can include your thoughts on the statement that a 13 year-old Scout is generally not mature enough to be seeking Life rank.
There have been two avenues of discussion in this arena…
The first is that there’s no way a Scout could have actually developed the skills that he’s been signed off on and the reviewers like to see the Scout stay in a rank for a period of time so that the rank will mean something.
The second is in regards to leadership and Scout spirit. The stance is that a 13-year-old is scarcely mature enough to have demonstrated leadership and Scout spirit in regards to mentoring younger Scouts.
Again, I am proud to work with this group of volunteers and know that everyone has the same goal in mind. I just see a few areas where I think a little course correction may be needed and am looking for some affirmation on whether I’m on the right track or not. (Name & Council Withheld)
Thanks for being a loyal reader and for making the time to write.
I’m delighted to learn that you’re now Committee Chair of a troop that has adult volunteers open to changing troop “traditions.” As CC, you have the opportunity to not only educate your fellow volunteers on the correct way of administering the BSA advancement program but also to–in a word–insist on making changes. That’s because, second only to the head of the chartering organization and/or Chartered Organization Representative, the Committee Chair is charged with getting it right. In the case of this troop, its “traditions” are significantly far afield from standing BSA policies and procedures and absolutely require immediate course correction.
Begin by purchasing at least one copy (several copies would be better) of the 2013 GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT (SKU 618673). At $11.99, these are easily affordable. Check with your local council’s Scout shop or order them directly from www.Scoutstuff.org.
This book used to carry the title, “…Policies and Procedures.” It’s now called, “Guide…” Don’t, however, allow this title change to mislead anyone. What it contains are indeed policies and procedures; it’s not a package of “guidelines” subject to opinion, discussion, or alternative methods.
You mention several “traditions.” I’m afraid that I must point out that, however well-intentioned, all are wrong. The GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT will describe what your troop should be doing. I’ll highlight these areas but leave the detailed reading to you and your fellow volunteers. What I’m going to devote most of this conversation to is the “why” behind each one. We’ll go in your order…
All boards of review–from Tenderfoot through Life ranks plus Eagle palms–are to be conducted by registered members of the troop committee. (In exceptional situations, a non-registered adult may be substituted for a registered MC, but this should be a rarity; not a standing procedure.) Your troop’s notion of “using leaders from other troops and the community at large” is in violation of BSA policy. This isn’t my “opinion” or subject to discussion or alteration. What your troop is doing is wrong. It’s also mistaken, because there are, as you already know, no “rigors” associated with boards of review for Eagle rank. All boards of review, for all six ranks, are conversations; not inquisitions. There is no re-testing, and there are no “challenges.” As for “preparing” Scouts for “speaking to a group of adults that he is unfamiliar with,” this happens at every single board of review because committee members don’t interact with Scouts on any sort of regular basis. Therefore, the boards of review from Tenderfoot through Life ranks already accomplish this, as do merit badges like Communication. You’re exactly right that this inappropriate practice is robbing the troop committee of both seeing the “products” of the troop program as planned and carried out by the Patrol Leaders Council under the guidance of the Scoutmaster and developing an understanding of how well the PLC is delivering Scouting’s promise to these young men. You’re further correct that all boards of review should occur no less than monthly and preferably sooner–in fact, they should occur within a week of the Scoutmaster signaling to toe troop’s advancement coordinator that a Scout is ready to advance in rank. Taking “weeks if not months” to schedule any board of review is anathema to the purpose of the BSA advancement program.
When a Scout is ready to advance, the Scoutmaster (not the Scout) notifies the troop advancement coordinator that a board of review should be scheduled as rapidly as possible. (It can even be on the very same evening as the troop meeting in which the Scoutmaster informs the advancement coordinator–after all, it only takes three registered MCs to conduct a legitimate board of review.)
Neither Scoutmasters nor Assistant Scoutmasters are permitted–by policy–to participate as a member of a board of review. There is no exception to this policy. (The GTA isn’t “fairly clear” on this point; it’s perfectly clear.)
The notion of demanding that the Scout prepare documentation of his previous advancements, etc. is inappropriate (the troop committee already is maintaining such records) and onerous (the Scout’s handbook, with initials and dates on pages 432 through 445 is already enough). Your troop’s demands for additional “paperwork” on the part of the Scout is rampant bureaucracy and irrelevant as well. We aren’t here to “teach” Scouts how to fill out forms and shuffle paper; we’re here to encourage and support self-development and achievement–expeditiously.
Scouts aren’t “granted” boards of review; they’re accorded boards of review. (This isn’t the Supreme Court–this is a group of volunteer men and women whose aim is to help young men develop character, citizenship, and fitness.)
The idea of giving Scouts a binder for their advancements, calendar, and such is a nice thought. To then use this as a point of examination and criticism is–in two words–absurd and antithetical to Scouting’s aims and goals.
(Personal aside: As a working Commissioner, I’m sometimes asked to deliver the “Scoutmaster’s Minute” at the end of the troop meeting. I will frequently have a “best-looking handbook” prize in my pocket. It will be awarded to the most beat-up, dog-eared handbook in the room! Why? Simple: This mean’s the Scout’s actually read and used his handbook! The “pristine” ones never win. Got me? )
Maturity: Nowhere in any BSA requirement, or even as a statement in the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT or the SCOUT HANDBOOK or BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS (any annual edition) is “maturity” mentioned. To include “maturity” as a requirement is (1) adding to requirements and (2) an exercise in hubris. Regarding (2), by what standard will “maturity” be assessed? In short: This is nonsense. The standard for rank advancements is absolutely straightforward: Has the Scout completed the requirements, as set forth by the BSA? If the answer is affirmative, then the advancement happens.
Neither is there an age requirement for any rank or merit badge. As long as he is registered and in good standing (i.e., dues paid) and has not reached his 18th birthday, a Scout upon completion of the stated requirements is eligible to advance in rank or receive the merit badge. Again, this is BSA policy; it is subject to neither “opinion” nor alteration, for any reason.
Moreover, the notion of linking “age” and “maturity” is utter nonsense. (This is tantamount to claiming a rookie Little League player’s home run is disallowed because he’s not mature enough to understand the significance of slamming one out of the park.)
As for the notion of holding a Scout back from advancing so he can “develop” his skills: Horsepucky. If he’s demonstrated the skill and as a result completed the requirement, that’s it. If the troop’s program is outdoor-oriented, active, frequent, and challenging, all Scouts will automatically put to use what they’ve learned.
Moreover, the BSA has already stated the time-in-rank requirements: Four months for Star and six months each for Life and Eagle, and three months between Eagle palms. No one is authorized to tamper with these stipulations.
Besides, if you do a little bit of arithmetic you’ll notice quickly that it’s possible for a Scout to reach the rank of Eagle before his 13th birthday. If the BSA didn’t want this to be possible—based entirely on the motivation and diligence of the Scout himself and no one else—the requirements would be different. The fact that they’re not doesn’t give anyone permission to meddle with them.
Okay, I think I’ve covered all that you’ve asked. Now the job is yours. The volunteer men and women associated with this troop need to immediate course-correct. Not “little-by-little” but instantly. This isn’t subject to a “vote.” This isn’t subject to “well, we’ll fix this one but leave that one in place.” All of this needs to be fixed if you’re going to deliver the Scouting program as the BSA (and the Scouts!) expect you to.
As Committee Chair, you have the opportunity to get this troop pointed toward Scouting’s True North. Please resist taking “maybe” or—worse—“well, this is the way we’ve always done it” for an answer.
Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to email@example.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. 384 – 2/10/2014 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2014]