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Issue 390 – March 25, 2014

Dear Andy,

Our troop that is advancing Scouts that haven’t met the requirements. During a recent board of review, it was evident that a Scout advancing to the rank of Star did not even know the basics: the Scout Law, Oath, Motto, or Slogan. Yet our Scoutmaster and committee are signing off on these requirements. Can a Scout who’s coming before his board of review for Star be held back for not knowing basics like these? (We’ve checked. This isn’t a singular learning disability issue and he’s not the only Scout who doesn’t know these. Most of our older Scouts don’t even know the basic knots! We are not doing them any favors by advancing them this way. How do I put a stop to this practice? (Jeff Mathewson)

Your question seems straightforward, but it’s actually an enigma and I need some help before I can comment. Here’s the deal…

Assuming this Scout joined the troop in the usual way, that is, from a Cub Scout pack, he knew the Oath, Law, etc. in order to earn his Arrow of Light in the pack. Then, he demonstrated this identical knowledge again when he had his first Scoutmaster conference to join the troop and receive his “Scout” badge. Since then, he’s had three more conferences and three boards of review: for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class ranks. To put this in further perspective, although it’s fairly standard practice to ask Scouts to repeat the Oath, Law, etc. at the start of a board of review, we recognize that, while doing this for Tenderfoot req. 7, this isn’t an actual requirement for any rank beyond this through Eagle and Eagle palms as well. So I sure hope nobody decided to “flunk” this Scout! (If you did, you’d better be telling me why, when this recitation isn’t required for the rank. Besides, how did he get through the first three conferences and reviews?)

Now here’s an even weirder issue… I’m guessing he’s been in the troop for at least a year. You all meet once a week except maybe for the summer months, so that’s maybe 30 to 40 troop meetings he’s attended. At most all troop meetings, the Scouts and at least the direct contact (i.e., uniformed) adult volunteers recite the Oath and Law at the start of the meetings. So—assuming you’re a pretty normal troop—after doing this some three dozen times or so, how in the world did he have a “brain freeze” at the start of his review for Star?

I’m going to ask you to tell me a little more about this troop and what’s going on, and how you handle boards of review (they’re not “interrogations” are they?), and then I’ll do my best to help you all out.

(BTW, the best way to assure that Scouts “know their knots” and all the other Scoutcraft stuff included in the three foundational ranks isn’t to re-test them in reviews (this is actually a violation of BSA policy), but to have indoor and outdoor experiences where they actually get to use what they’ve been learning along the way. The “short term” for this is: Scouting.)

Thanks, Andy. To answer your main question: No, neither this nor any other Scout has been held back. Like you, I’ve wondered why Scouts can recite the Oath, Law, etc. at the beginning of a meeting and then not have a clue when asked to repeat it these on their own. Then again, I guess I’m “guilty” too… I can’t recite The Outdoor Code unless it’s in a group setting and we’re all doing it together. When I ask myself why I can’t do this on my own, I guess I’ve never taken the time to actually read, study, and learn it by heart. Maybe, as you’ve suggested, this may be what’s happening with our Scouts.

But one problem I know we have is that we’re signing things off before the Scout has really learned—that is, internalized and comprehended—what he’s supposed to know. Case in point: the simple square knot. We demonstrate how to tie it, assist the Scout while he’s tying it (give him the old “right over left, left over right”) and then, on the spot, sign off that he knows it.

This “knowledge blank” is even more prevalent among our older Scouts—the ones nearing Eagle—who continue to not know the very basics. From what I have read, they can’t be denied rank advancement because they can’t demonstrate their knowledge of prior requirements, but is this right?

I also have problems with merit badge universities. I don’t believe Scouts are actually earning the merit badges. With classes of 20 or more Scouts, maybe a third of them participate verbally. Instead, they fill out a worksheet during the class and are handed the badge at the end of the day. There’s no one-on-one with any Merit Badge Counselor. (I once asked a Scout as we were leaving a merit badge university whether or not he felt he truly had earned a particular badge. His reply was, “No. I paid seven dollars and bought it.” When I brought this up to the university committee, the answer I got was, “If you don’t like it, don’t send your Scouts.” So when I tried to disallow our Scouts from going, the troop committee overrode me on the basis that, if all other Scouts are “buying” these badges, why shouldn’t our Scouts be able to do this too?)

I hate to say it, but it seems to me that many of the Scouts earning Eagle these days just don’t have the devotion (or the knowledge) that I remember seeing 15, 20 years ago. (Jeff)

Let’s start with memorization. Everybody’s brain works differently. Some of us know the Gettysburg Address by heart after reading it just once. Others have to hear it said before it implants in the grey matter. In a crowd, most of us can sing the National Anthem, but ask for a solo and we’re lost after the first line. (Happened to singer Robert Goulet, among many others, at the 1965 Cassius Clay [later Muhammad Ali]-Sonny Liston bout, when he muffed the “dawn’s early light” lyrics.) Many stage actors are intimidated by Shakespeare. If they, for instance, brain-freeze after “To be, or not to be…” they can’t ad lib because the whole bloody audience knows what comes next!

In a board of review, do you all just sit there while the Scout stands up, raises the Scout sign, and is expected to recite the Scout Oath and Law as a solo, or—boards of review intended to be informal conversations—do you all stand up and say these with him? (After all, aren’t you all on the same team, and seeking the same positive result?)

Let’s take a look at the Scout Motto: Instead of having him repeat this, wouldn’t it be more interesting to ask, “Well, (Scout’s first name), we know the Scout Motto is ‘Be Prepared’…what does this mean to you, personally?” and “How are you ‘prepared’ in your daily life?” Same with the Scout Slogan… I’d much rather know that a Scout tries to help someone else at least once a day than have him demonstrate his memorization abilities.

Same with knots. How do board of review members know a Scout can’t tie a square knot? You don’t re-test him, do you? I sure hope not!

The best way to help Scouts remember what they’ve learned is to create activities and events that reinforce these. Are there knot-tying relays, by patrols, in troop meetings? How about orientation hikes with map-and-compass? (Or do you all just go car-camping?) How about fire-building competitions while camping? How about the Senior Patrol Leader and a couple of Instructors (meaning: Scouts, not adults) simulate a “first aid situation” in the woods, and each patrol, one-at-a-time, gets to solve the problem, and then the SPL leads a “thorns-and-roses” debrief with the Patrol Leaders afterwards? In short: If you’re not incorporating Scoutcraft and Scout skills into your outdoor activities you’re missing what Scouting’s all about!

At skills competitions at Camporees, I’ve seen patrols of Second and First Class Scouts clean the clocks of the Life and Eagle Scout patrols. Why? Simple. The younger Scouts are “closer to the action.” The older/upper-ranked Scouts probably haven’t used these skills in a while because they’ve been doing other things, like leading their patrols, earning merit badges, etc. How do you fix this? It’s easy. Make it a “troop rule” that ALL Scoutcraft skills are taught BY Scouts FOR Scouts—in other words, NO MORE ADULT INSTRUCTION—ON ANYTHING!

Merit badge “universities”… Yes, some of them miss the mark. They forget that we’re not supposed to be running a tan-shirt version of “school” (with “work sheets,” raising hands for questions, and all that other crap that Baden-Powell designed Scouting NOT to be). But is this “lethal”? Probably not. After all, not one merit badge is designed to make an “expert” of any Scout. All merit badges are designed to introduce subject matter that may interest a boy or young man in pursuing further on his own. So, as long as we’re talking about stuff like Metalworking or Basketry or even Fire Safety, although what’s happening is wrong and must be fixed, it’s not going to endanger anyone’s life. And maybe, just maybe, even if the merit badge “class” for Fire Safety really sucked, just one Scout may sign up to be a volunteer firefighter when he’s older.

And one more note on merit badge universities and such: It’s a BSA policy that the Scout has the final choice on who he wants as his Merit Badge Counselor and neither the Scoutmaster nor anyone else has the authority to restrict him in this.

We Scouters “should” on each other far too much! We see a crummy merit badge university and we tell ’em they’ve got it all wrong. And then we tell ’em what they should be doing. But do we volunteer to be a counselor at the next one, so at least ours is done right? Do we volunteer to run the next merit badge university and get the whole thing done right? More often, we don’t. Yet this is what’s going to make a much bigger difference than “should-ing” on someone else!

Back to “Scout skills” for a moment… Re-read the rank requirements. Tenderfoot 4a. begins with the word, “Demonstrate…” It means just that: SHOW that you can do it. And 4c. says to TEACH another person (ideally, a Scout) how to do it! Second Class requirements, in addition to “demonstrating” ask the Scout to actually USE the skills! Same with First Class. But here’s the deal, and here’s how to make the “demonstrate” and “show” requirements pay off…

Instead of “demonstrating” and “showing” to the Scoutmaster, how about the Scout demonstrates and shows to another Scout or group of brand-new Scouts who just joined up from their Webelos den? The Scoutmaster (or, even better yet, the Scout’s Patrol Leader) is standing on the sidelines to assist if needed but mostly to assess how well this Scout can actually demonstrate and show this stuff! (If you don’t use it, you lose it!)

OK, enough. I’m sure you get where we’re going with this. Got a humdrum troop? I’ll show you a humdrum program! You all need a Scouting program that kicks butt! Get this right and everything else will be better than you ever imagined!

Thanks again for the reply Andy. I agree. Practice makes perfect. I recall when our Scouts had the old canvass tents, when we took them down they untied all knots before putting them away. Unfortunately, most of today’s tents don’t use ropes. (Jeff)

Yup, practice does make perfect… But let’s call it something else. After all, in school they practice times tables; in sports they practice shooting, batting, throwing, and catching; in church they practice catechism; in music they practice scales and scores. Although these may be challenging, they’re often hardly fun. In Scouting, along with the challenges, it’s our job to make it FUN! So much fun, in fact, that our Scouts don’t even know they’re practicing! So get creative, make sure you’re not running “Scout school” and make it all fun!
Hi Andy,

My son’s school is doing a “community night” about animals. My son is a Scout. I was asked if my son can talk about why Scouts chose the eagle to represent the highest rank. Do you have any information on this or can you suggest where I might obtain it? (Michele Sergio)

What a delightful opportunity for your son! Scouts have always had a reputation for being resourceful. I’d say the first thing that needs to happen here is for your son to start doing some research of his own. He can see what search engines have to say, and there are lots of search words to try. (You’ll notice I’m not suggesting you do this for him, because he’s a Scout, and Scouts do for themselves!) If, after your son’s done his research, he has any questions, he can write to me directly (he should copy you on all emails, or use your email address) with what he’s learned so far. Meanwhile, here’s a hint for him: Check out the elements of the Scout badge!
Dear Andy,

I’m currently a Life Scout. I had my Eagle project approved in November 2013 and completed it by December 2013, but delivered the project on January 17, 2014. There seems to be some confusion on whether I need to complete the new Eagle-required Cooking merit badge. Can you help answer this question? And, if I do need to earn Cooking merit badge, I had already started to work on the 2007-2013 version in September 2013 with the backpack campout, so would I also need to do the 2014 version of it? Thanks! (Alex)

If your project and all other requirements including your Scoutmaster conference were completed no later than December 31, 2013, then all you need is a board of review (boards of review aren’t considered “requirements”). Cooking merit badge wouldn’t be required, even now in March 2014, because you completed all Eagle requirements prior to Cooking becoming added to the Eagle-required list on January 1, 2014. However, if any Eagle requirement happened on or after January 1, 2014, then yes, Cooking merit badge is now required for Eagle.

As for which Cooking requirements you need to use, I’d recommend the current set; however, any past things you’ve done that fit the current requirements can be credited. In other words, you don’t need to start with a blank slate. Have a conversation with your troop’s Eagle advisor (if you have one) and your district’s advancement chair to make sure you’re using the correct requirements for the merit badge.
Dear Andy,

Do the requirements for overnight camping require that the tents be set-up outdoors? For example, could the tents be set-up in a gymnasium or other open space indoors? (Richard Pulanco)

The requirement(s) for “camping” talk about “a tent you pitch or under the sky.” The implication is, of course, that this is out-of-doors (there’s no “sky” in a gym or other indoor space). So, since “camping” itself refers to the out-of-doors and Boy Scouting is all about the outdoors, setting up a tent indoors simply can’t be considered “camping.” That’s the long answer. The short one is yup to outdoors, nope to indoors.

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. 390 – 3/25/2014 – 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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