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Issue 404 – July 10, 2014

Hi Andy,

About those patriotic veterans who found fault with Cub Scouts carrying the American flag horizontally, yes, the US Flag Code does say it shouldn’t be carried flat. But it goes on to say that “This code is the guide for all handling and display of the Stars and Stripes. It does not impose penalties for misuse of the United States Flag. That is left to the states and to the federal government for the District of Columbia. Each state has its own flag law.” So it boils down to respect for the flag. A group of Cub Scouts, in uniform and proudly carrying the US Flag—whatever the angle—seems to line up with these ideals nicely. And even if there are some whose implied or even outright disrespect is given to our flag…well, it’s a tough ol’ ensign and can take it. (James Flynn)

Couldn’t o’ said it better myself. Thanks!
Hi Andy,

We have a “Merit Badge Mom” in our troop. She’s determined to make sure her son “gets” (her word) every single merit badge out there. She keeps tabs on district and council “merit badge fairs” within a 200-mile radius and every merit badge program run by local museums, forest preserve districts, and the list goes on. Now she’s recruited two other families into her “program,” and they’ve literally sat down and mapped out a plan to get to every merit badge event within a day’s drive. The sad thing is that her son and his new “merit badge friends” are burning out. We’re having a troop “fossil hunt” in a week and one of these poor Scouts didn’t want to go because he thought it was “for a merit badge” and he’s “sick of doing that stuff.” These Scouts are also not showing up for patrol meetings outside troop meetings, or service projects, because these either interfere with where “Merit Badge Mom” is hauling them off to, or they’re just plain tired. Of course, this whole quest is about to backfire, because while this quest is going on the other advancement requirements are being ignored, so pretty soon we’re going to have a bunch of Scouts with fists full of merit badges and they’re still Second Class!

We know all the standard approaches… Explain the Boy Scout advancement program and merit badge program objectives, point out that Boy Scouting isn’t a “parent-and-son” program, and we’ve done these and more, more than once. But this mother (and now her new recruits) just won’t listen. “Merit Badge Fever” prevails, and we’re going to lose these boys, for certain. Any thoughts? (Name & Council Withheld)

The pity here is that, in her quest for embroidered glory, she just doesn’t get it that she’s actually keeping her son from growing up into the man I’m sure she’d like him to be. Instead, she’s keeping him small, dependent, and an “order-follower” instead of a leader with self-determination. After all, individuality and personal initiative are two key building-blocks of the merit badge program. Yes, the vast range of subject matter is truly impressive, but the key is that it’s up to the Scout to make the choices and personally reach out to make it happen for himself. But that’s what Rule 49 is all about: You just can’t save a Scout from his own parents.
Dear Andy,

I’ve been trying to get information about the religious emblem programs. How and where do I get started? I’ve checked out the website, but if I want my Cubs to pursue these badges, how do I go about it? And what happens when the Cubs are of different faiths? Can I be the counselor/instructor, or does it have to be someone from the church? Do I need to talk with the church of every faith to see if they’ll let me teach the course? Should I find a parent in my pack to teach the course? Do I only pursue this program for Cubs in the same church and let the rest go it alone? What if a family doesn’t attend a church? Can you help? I don’t know where to start and the online resources haven’t been much help for me. (Bill Acker)

First, there’s “one size fits all” religious emblem program. Unless things have changed, the P.R.A.Y.-based religious emblem programs are done via clergy of the boy’s family’s church or synagogue (read some of the program details and you’ll see what I mean). Thus, this isn’t a “pack-wide” or even a “den-wide” program; it’s a program for individual boys based on their families’ faiths. Your intentions are nonetheless admirable. Your course of action is to alert all families to the existence of these programs, so that they, in concert with their own clergy, can make them happen for their sons, according to their own individual faiths
Hello Andy,

In our troop, we have a 12 year-old Scout who just had a board of review for Life rank. It didn’t go well. It seems that this Scout’s grandmother is pushing him through the ranks as fast as possible, and this is causing some damage. For example, during his review he couldn’t answer questions about leadership, such as the E.D.G.E. method or how the Patrol Method works. He’d been a Patrol Leader before he was 11, properly elected by the members of his new-Scout patrol, but he failed in that position. He now has been an Assistant Patrol Leader twice but shows no leadership abilities or skills. He’s a Den Chief too, but none of us ever gets to see what he does there as a leader. For the three most recent troop outings, whenever there was work to be done in his patrol site, he’d hide himself so as to get out of helping. When it came time for the patrols to cook and have dinner it was raining, so he took his food, left the patrol site, and sat in his grandfather’s truck to eat his meal alone. His grandparents go on all outings and cover for him by telling Patrol Leader to find someone else to clean up the dishes or whatever because their grandson is “too tired.” With no leadership being shown, we review members decided that he’s not ready to advance, but told him that we’d mentor him if he’s willing. But he just doesn’t seem to have any will of his own. What do we do? I was a Scout myself and have two sons in the troop. I take great pride in teaching skills to my sons and other Scouts. His grandmother wants him to be the first in the troop to earn Eagle at age 13. She throws the requirements and BSA policies in our faces and says we’re wrong. Can you help us here? (Joe Bleuel, Blue Grass Council, KY)

This sounds like an unfortunate variation on Rule 49; let’s call it 49(a): You can’t save a Scout from his own grandparents.

The most encouraging thing you’ve told me is that the adult leaders—this would primarily be the Scoutmaster because this is his main responsibility—will counsel this Scout. There is great opportunity for this boy if he can get the right sort of coaching on leadership skills and taking responsibility. At the conclusion of this unfortunate board of review, I’m hoping you all provided this Scout with a letter describing (a) precisely what the problem was and (b) offered him a prescription and time-line so he can achieve success. This will be his “road-map” and if he follows it (with guidance) he should achieve his rank in a few months! And let’s do remember that if he has indeed completed the requirements as stated, and they’ve been signed off, then a board of review doesn’t really have grounds to not confirm a Scout’s advancement to the next rank. Let’s also keep in mind that, in Boy Scouting, rank isn’t age-dependent: It doesn’t matter what the age of the Scout is, so long as he’s completed all the requirements as written.

In this regard, let’s keep in mind how much praise we accord the youngest Olympic gold medalist, the youngest Ph.D., the youngest Army General, and the list goes on… So why do we have some sort of problem with the notion of “young” Eagle Scouts if they’ve indeed done the work!

That said, let’s recognize that this Scout appears to be a “victim” of his own grandparents. So some changes in how the troop as a whole does things are needed. The Committee Chair, committee, and Scoutmaster need to be of the same mind in establishing firm parameters for when parents (and, in this case, grandparents) accompany the troop on outings. These need to include such operational procedures as…

1) All adults except the Scoutmaster and perhaps an assistant will camp separately from the troop and remain apart (out of both sight and hearing) from the troop throughout the event. This includes cooking and daily activities.

2) Except in the case of emergency, and only with the permission of the Scoutmaster, will any Scout leave the troop area to “visit” with a parent/grandparent, and this must always be with a buddy.

3) Speaking of buddies, every Scout has one, at all times, and –just like in aquatics—the buddies never separate themselves from one another (including going to the latrine).

4) Parents/grandparents must have the express permission of the Scoutmaster, specifically, to enter the troop site, and it can only be for a specific reason and must be as brief as possible (and accompanied, if you have the manpower) and then they must leave, and return to the adult-only campsite.

5) All “instruction” of Scouts will be done by other Scouts; no adults other than the Scoutmaster (and no more than one assistant) will interact with the Scouts while camping.

If these grandparents have difficulty following these processes, they must be told that their presence at campouts is no longer welcome and is now prohibited. If they have further difficulty with this, they must be told that these rules won’t be “bent” in order to please them; they will need to find another troop for their grandson (then stand 100% firm on this).

What these most likely well-meaning folks don’t seem to understand is that Boy Scouting—unlike Cub Scouts—is all about BOY Scouting; it isn’t “family camping” and it’s certainly not a “parent (or grandparent)-and-son (or grandson)” program. (If they want to go “family camping,” they can do this on their own, outside of troop activities.)

If y’all are specific and firm, you can make this happen. If you begin to waffle, they’ll be on you like a steamroller over peanut butter.

And one more thought… If the Scoutmaster’s main job—which it is, by the way–is to train the youth leaders of the troop, there’s something wrong going on here when a Patrol Leader doesn’t understand the E.D.G.E. or Patrol Methods! You may need to “correct” more than just these grandparents! Especially when one of the purposes of the Scoutmaster’s conference is to assure the members of the board of review that this Scout is indeed ready to advance. (Obviously, there was some huge disconnect here, and only you all know what went weird.)
Dear Andy,

Citizenship in the Community Merit Badge requires that a Scout choose a charitable non-Scouting community service organization that interests him, learn about that organization and its good works, and then—with the Merit Badge Counselor’s and parents’ approval—contact that organization, learn what he might do to help, carry out eight hours of volunteer service to the selected organization, and, finally, discuss with his Merit Badge Counselor what he learned.

Often, a charitable organization is the beneficiary of an Eagle service project. In such a situation, would helping his fellow Scout on his Eagle project for that organization be considered in alignment with this requirement, or is that not considered “outside of Scouting”?
(Name & Council Withheld)

This is simultaneously a very common and simple situation and entirely between your son and his Cit-Community Merit Badge Counselor.
Dear Andy,

Regarding the troop leadership, I have read in several online sites that a Committee Chair seems to have almost plenary power as long as the CR approves. I’ve seen you often say that a Committee Chair can’t “interpret” BSA rules or policies, and certainly can’t just make up his own. But what if that’s exactly what the Committee Chair and the Scoutmaster are doing? They make Scouts only have Scoutmaster conferences while on campouts; they require Scouts to complete requirements multiple times before signing off on them; they refuse to hold Scoutmaster conferences until after all other rank requirements are completed.

When you have people like these clearly violating the rules against adding to requirements and the national directive that a Scoutmaster conference can come at any time, what are you left to do? (Name & Council Withheld)

Of course these folks are clearly mucking about with BSA national advancement policies and procedures, placing their own arbitrary “rules” way beyond their authority to do so. If they’re unwilling to stop superseding BSA standards, there are two options available: continue to tolerate this Scout-unfriendly baloney or get your son out of this penal colony disguised as a troop and get him into a troop that does it right. I hope you opt for the latter. And, when your son tells you that he’d rather stay in a crummy troop run by self-important dickwads because he has friends in it, talk to these friends’ parents and suggest that they transfer their sons too. Best: your son’s entire patrol moves, intact.

If the other parents balk, ask ‘em what they’d do if their sons’ classroom teacher made up his or her own rules that were in direct conflict with the school administrations and obviously designed to make sure their sons got the lowest grades possible.

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. 404 – 7/10/2014 – 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.

Read Andy's full biography

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