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Issue 424 – December 2, 2014

Dear Andy,

This isn’t a question; I just want to comment on that letter about the Scout who was denied his Eagle rank (he’d completed all requirements as stated) by a dubious board because of his supposed “lack of Scout spirit.” I nearly cried when I read that letter. What a horrible, horrible thing to put a Scout through. As an Eagle Scout, I’m ashamed—No, furious—at what those board members did.

Why do adults continue to put elaborate and mostly made-up obstacles and hurdles in front of Scouts to prevent them from becoming Eagles? I wish I had been there. I would have given them a verbal lashing that would have set them straight.

One of my friends growing up didn’t pass his Eagle review board the first time through because—this is the truth!—they said he “didn’t read enough newspapers.” Yes, that was the actual reason given for denying this young man his Eagle. He was a 14 year-old; he read what most 14 year-old Scouts read in the newspaper at the time: the sports section and the comics page. Sure, he caught a headline now and again, and if it interested him he read an article. But they wanted to hear that he was reading two newspapers each day, front page to back, like some business executive or politician. What bunk! (Fortunately, he had a good Scoutmaster that went in and read them the riot act. The next time they convened—a very short time later—they “passed” this Scout.

Since that time, and after hearing other wacky stories about things asked at Eagle boards of review, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with Scouts getting ready to go for their Eagle review. I’ve told them about some of the weird questions that other Scouts have had to deal with, told them that it’s not right to ask those questions but that they should be ready in case one of those same people is sitting on their review. (Fortunately, none of them has reported back that those kinds of questions have been asked of them.)

I hope that Scout has someone who will go to bat for him. It’s shameful to think that this young man—who obviously earned his Eagle—was denied by petty board members that shouldn’t even have been there. They failed their duty as Scouters. (Jason)

Thank you for taking the time to write to me. My readers need to know that their actions can last well beyond the time of a review, and who better to learn this from than an Eagle Scout who’s been put through that mean-spirited wringer and still managed to come out whole at the other end. And thanks for forewarning other Scouts about the yahoos who think they’re judge-and-jury.
Dear Andy,

Do you have any idea why the BSA national dues doubled in recent years? They’d been the same for at least 20 years, as I recall. I don’t think that the current price is necessarily unfair; I’m just wondering why such a drastic increase all at once. Is this to set the amount for the next, say, 20 years? Maybe this is better than, for instance, the Postal Service, that has these little incremental increases every time the wind changes; but I’m also wondering why in the world this jump is like a health insurance company’s or a college institution’s annual rate increase. Why not just an adjustment for inflation? Why a big and unexpected “Street Repairs” bill, as if we’d landed on the Monopoly game’s “Community Chest”? Have fun with this one. I’m sure I’m not the only Scouter (or Scout parent) who’s wondering what’s fallen out of the sky on us. (Name & Council Withheld)

I’m one of the volunteers who will be paying it… You’d need to ask a local professional Scouter in your council for the background on that. I can tell you, however, that even at $2 a month (or 6.6 cents a day) it’s a bargain compared to the annual dues I pay to other organizations. Heck, I pay more than that for toothpaste!
Dear Andy,

I’m a fairly new Scoutmaster (4 months) and don’t have the troop all squared away yet (dag nab it!). I’ve been reading the last few years of your columns with a mixture of inspiration and despair. We’ll get there. I just want to add to the chorus telling you how helpful and worthwhile your work is. Thanks very much. (Name & Council Withheld)

Trust me when I say I’ve walked in your shoes! But I’ll tell you what… if you follow the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, take your Scoutmaster training, and keep reading, you’ll be OK! Scout’s honor!
Dear Andy,

I’ve seen your several posts about it’s not appropriate to do merit badges as part of troop meeting because it dilutes the Scout’s responsibility to the process, and I agree. How, then, do you feel about district-sanctioned or council-sanctioned “merit badge fairs” or “merit badge midways”? I find myself part of a small minority in my council who don’t like the idea of these sorts of events, for the same reason as why they’re better when not included in troop meetings. (Bob Fales, ASM, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

My personal perspective on merit badge fairs/midways is that, given certain conditions, there’s nothing wrong with them and they don’t interfere with the goals of the BSA Merit Badge Program. However, the conditions need to be very specific. First, Scouts enroll as individuals or as buddies; no mass enrollment by troop. Second, merit badges offered can be completed at the event (if “partials” become necessary in rare instances, contact information for “finishing” counselors is provided). Third, qualified, experienced individuals impart the subject matter. Fourth, the parameters described in the most current GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT are followed, especially including each individual Scout does/demonstrates/shows/tells/etc. per the written requirements; no “mass quizzes” are administered. Fifth, only registered counselors for each particular merit badge handle the sign-offs.
Dear Andy,

If the purpose of the Scoutmaster conference and the board of review are not to retest a Scout, where is the check and balance that demonstrates that your Patrol Leaders, ASMs, or other designees that sign off requirements are effective? I ask this because even though the BSA guidelines say a Scoutmaster conference isn’t a retest, I discovered that a Scout didn’t understand one of the basic requirements. When I asked his Patrol Leader who signed off on this requirement, I discovered that this Scout didn’t understand that requirement either. I’d like to think that part of the Scoutmaster conference is to make sure that the Scout is ready for the next rank, which means he should know the material for his current rank. (Name & Council Withheld)

Before I jump into this head-first, am I correct in assuming you’re the Scoutmaster? Also, what specific “requirement” are we talking about?

Yes, I’m the Scoutmaster, and the requirement is the Scoutmaster conference for rank advancement. The issue is that many of the training documents and videos say clearly that the Scoutmaster conference is to get to know the youth better and to set goals, and is not a retest of skill requirements for that rank. However, when I was a Scout myself, my Scoutmaster would quiz me on my understanding of the skills as a check on the boy-led training process. To me, this is a good double-check on the process.

Your Scoutmaster, however well-intentioned, was mistaken. There is no “check” or “balance” in the manner you’ve described it. Once signed off or initialed, the requirement is considered completed. Period.

I don’t know what “basic requirement” the Scout you referred to “failed to understand.” This, however, is a failing of his mentor or instructor. It’s not his own failing. When you discovered this (by accident in the course of conversation, I would hope), your appropriate action would have been to counsel whomever “taught” him, so that this doesn’t happen again with any further Scouts, and that would be the Patrol Leader you mentioned, and also to provide the Scout you’re speaking with the correct “answer” (unless you thrive on giving “final exams,” of course).

To be “ready for advancement” means that the Scout is shown to have completed all requirements and is *looking forward* to achieving his next rank. Your responsibility, as Scoutmaster, is to assure that all Scouts are receiving from their peers the best possible instructions–ideally using the EDGE method. Where you unearth weaknesses in EDGE method teaching, it’s time to coach the youth instructors, Patrol Leaders, etc.

The best way for any Scout to retain what he’s learned is by putting it into action through troop and patrol events that give him the opportunity to put to use what he’s learned. Choosing a simple example, if, for instance, he’s learned how to tie a series of knots, then the way to reinforce this knowledge or skill is for the troop to hold a competition (inter-patrol is always best) in which knots of varying types are put to use. Another way to reinforce this is to develop—as part of an outdoor experience—a situation in which the knots are needed, and then step out of the way while the Scouts put to use in practical ways what they’ve learned.

“Quizzing” and especially “re-quizzing” are anathema to the methods of Scouting.
Hello Andy,

Our troop has an Assistant Scoutmaster who has been in this position for going on 6 years and has been very instrumental in running the troop. Our committee wants to nominate him for a special recognition but we can’t find one for him, especially since the BSA has phased out some awards and put them under the “Scouter Training Award.” Do you think it would be possible to open the Unit Leader’s Award of Merit to others, such as Assistant Scoutmasters who have showed exemplary service? Thanks! (Dean Crismon, also an ASM, South Texas Council)

By design, the Unit Leader Award of Merit is available for Unit Leaders (for troops, the Scoutmaster) only. Assistants aren’t eligible; neither are committee members. However, this doesn’t preclude you from purchasing or designing a special plaque or other recognition for this exemplary volunteer and making a special presentation to him at a court of honor. Meanwhile, an ASM is definitely qualified to earn the Scouter’s Training Award by completing the requirements contained in the Progress Record. So are committee members!
Hi Andy,

Last night our troop held its annual planning meeting. I had great expectations for this meeting because I’ve sent numerous emails to our Scoutmaster (with a cc: to the Committee Chair) suggesting the Scouts try a broader variety of program themes, different events, and changes to a couple of troop policies that would bring us in line with BSA guidelines. But our Senior Patrol Leader stood up and rattled off essentially the same activity calendar we’ve had for several years, and about a half-hour later everyone adjourned for ice cream. There was very little discussion of any event, no grand ideas of exciting new adventures from the Scouts, no calendar sheets to see where we could fit anything new… Nothing! I honestly don’t think the PLC ever met to discuss any planning, but just plugged the same activities into the cookie-cutter machine. My own son refused to attend because he says they don’t listen anyway. Is it just me, or is there something wrong with this picture? (Jim Kangas, Northern Star Council)

Sounds like the Scoutmaster needed to have a pre-PLC conference with the Senior Patrol Leader, as a way to inspire him to think beyond “same old-same old” and to collaborate on brainstorming for a stepped-up troop program with new places to go and things to do! Email is great for conveying concrete information, by absolutely lousy in “selling,” “asking,” and “leading the way to the mountaintop.” Maybe the Scoutmaster’s in the same rut as the SPL and PLs?

At any rate, perhaps a personal conversation with the Scoutmaster, to convince him to have a conference with the SPL anyway, for the purpose of revisiting the PLC’s decisions, might be in order.

The BSA three-volume set, “Troop Program Resources,” is a great place to find new, fresh ideas, and it’s not too late!

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. 424 – 12/2/2014 – 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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