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Issue 425 – December 10, 2014

Dear Andy,

When I click on the bookmark I have for your columns, I ask myself, “How is he going to find a way to be unkind this week?” Yes, I know this isn’t a discussion forum and I’m not asking a question. Although your columns aren’t official BSA publications, you do, indeed, represent Scouting—and the BSA—to many readers. Unfortunately, I don’t think that comments consistently demonstrate the “Courteous” or “Kind” points of the Scout Law. Frequently, your responses contain condescending comments, resort to name-calling, and suggest that anyone who challenges or disagrees with your statements should expect to be treated harshly.

In my own troop, I encourage all Scouts—and adults too—to remember that they represent not only themselves, but also our troop and the BSA, and that their actions and words should reaffirm the honor of all those things. I am hopeful you can remember this as well. This is a great organization, and I give credit to all Scouters—new and old—who are trying to make it the best it can be.

I know I don’t have to read your columns; I can go elsewhere. I get that. And I do think you have knowledge to share. I just hope you consider the tone of your messages. (Name & Council Withheld)

Thanks for your thoughts. Let’s start here: Blogs (which I don’t often write) are rife with personal opinions and experiences, and often they’re rants. I, therefore, don’t typically write blogs. This is an advice column, and they’ve have been helping people get answers they can’t find or are unsure of, and deal with personal issues, all related to Scouting, for twelve years, with about a million or so annual readers including many from the BSA national office, plus many Scouting professionals in every one of the BSA’s approximately 300 councils, plus some 45 other countries around the world. This past summer I was honored to be an invited “VIP Speaker” at the BSA’s NESA exhibit at the National Jamboree, and I’ve addressed hundreds of Scouts and Scouters at any number of council-sponsored annual training events.

The information I provide is 98% straight from BSA rules, regulations, policies, and procedures. One percent is my best effort at a possible solution to interpersonal disputes. The remainder is calling a spade a spade. When for instance, a Scoutmaster refuses to give a Scout a “blue card” for a merit badge the Scout’s interested in because the Scoutmaster—in his infinite wisdom—has arbitrarily decided that the Scout’s “not mature enough” or “not ready” for some other arbitrary reason all his own, you can bet your last buck that I consider this chowderhead of a Scoutmaster nothing more than a little tin god overstepping his covenant with the BSA to deliver the Scouting program as written. When I encounter a Scouter trying to weasel around a known BSA principle or rule—he wants to take the troop paint-balling where they shoot at each other, so he calls the event an “optional, non-troop outing” to side-step Safe Scouting policy—in my book he’s a renegade who needs to be run out of town on a rail before he does more damage to the Scouting program. When a group of supposed gentlemen harass a Scout at a board of review and ultimately find some stupid and nonessential reason for “failing” that Scout on the cusp of his highest achievement in Scouting, you bet I consider these self-important, velvet robe-wearing clowns the antithesis of Scouting spirit. If you’d prefer to walk small around this sort of stuff, that’s your prerogative and good luck with that. As for me, I have no intention of ever being “friendly,” “courteous,” or “kind” to anyone who—knowing better—deliberately flouts Scouting’s aims, methods, principles, and stated practices. For twelve years though these columns I’ve encountered far too many injustices to play nice-nice with the perps.

Conversely, when somebody bucks the rascals and—sometimes at considerable personal risk—insists on getting it right for the youth we’re supposedly here to serve, you bet they get kudos and encouragement!
Dear Andy,

According to the 2nd paragraph of the “Composition of a Board of Review” at the site,, an Eagle Scout candidate may request an individual to be a member of his Board of Review. However, our district advancement chair is telling us that “per BSA policy (the Scout) may not have any input into the makeup of the Eagle Board.” Can you confirm one way or the other? Can you provide me official BSA reference? (Randy Woodham)

Just like this column, although written by a registered Scouter, “” is not an official BSA resource. For your question, refer to the BSA’s official GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT (I use it all the time!). Refer to the final sentence of Topic “The candidate…shall have no part in selecting any board of review members.”
Dear Andy,

Our past few Senior Patrol Leaders have had NYLT training as well as lectures on how to run a “boy led” troop, but our troop meetings continue to be poorly organized. The adult volunteers are BSA-trained as well, and so have resisted stepping in to run the meetings. Our Senior Patrol Leader meets monthly with the Patrol Leaders Council to plan the meetings, but they rarely follow through with their plans. The Scoutmaster has been reviewing the meetings at the end of each troop meeting. He’s observing that, after announcements and patrol corners, the rest of the meeting becomes “happy hour,” with not much Scouting going on…if at all. We’ve begun to push the Troop Meeting Plan guide on the PLC and SPL in an attempt to get them to follow that format for the past couple of months, but without much success. Any ideas for straightening things out? (Joe Powell, ASM, Georgia-Carolina Council, GA)

This sounds like a problem for the Scouts themselves to solve. The Scoutmaster can begin by collaboratively conferencing with the Senior Patrol Leader. The question to pose is exactly what you’ve just described to me, followed by, “How can I help you remedy this?” Then, encourage the SPL to come up with ideas—remember: no idea is a “bad” idea in a setting like this!—and then encourage him to bring the PLC together, discuss the same issue with them, and stay in the background as the SPL and PLs brainstorm what they can do to get things on the right track. They may not get it perfectly right the first time, so be prepared to repeat the process, this time along the lines of what worked, what needs more help, and what should be added or dropped. A great template resource is the classic Troop Meeting Plan (web search “troop meeting plan” and download the seven-part plan).

The worst thing to do is “rescue” these Scouts by stepping in and running the meeting for them. Allow the collapse if it happens, and then debrief after the meeting’s over.

Scouting is man’s work, cut down to boy size. No Scout can truly succeed unless it’s by his own gumption. And, unless he has “skin in the game” he just won’t care! Put the responsibility where it belongs and adopt the (unspoken) attitude that you believe these Scouts can be successful!
Hello Andy,

Unfortunately, the pack in our town is getting smaller and smaller. It’s now so small that in the next few years the pack will probably be nonexistent. We have two troops in town and, without Cubs, they’ll be extinct too. The problem seems to be with the pack’s leadership—specifically, their Committee Chair—however, no one wants to step up and make any attempt to actively “fix” the pack.

My understanding of BSA policy is that the CR (Chartered Organization Representative) has the authority to actually “fire” the CC and committee members. I do know that, in this case, the CR is unaware of the condition of the pack, because he was really never involved with the pack in any way. The pack was chartered years ago, and the chartering organization is fundamentally just a signature once a year; they never understood that they actually owned the pack or had anything to do with approving the volunteers associated with it. So, now that the council folks have brought the CR up to speed on the state of the pack and how its potential demise can ultimately affect our town’s overall Scouting program, they don’t know how to go about replacing the Committee Chair. The present thinking is that, if the CC won’t step aside, then the chartered organization won’t re-charter the pack, which in turn means that the pack and its supplies (and any funds) belong to the chartered organization, which can then start up a new pack. Does this approach make any sense, or should we be looking at some other sort of plan? (Name & Council Withheld)

Yes, the CR does have “hire-fire” authority over all unit-level adult volunteers. However, so does the head of the chartered organization. So, if the CR is hesitant, and heads truly need to roll, then the CO’s head can make this happen with a snap of the fingers. Because this is a volunteer movement, such workplace “rules” as “three strikes,” etc. don’t apply. All that the CC needs to be told is: “Thank you for your services; they will no longer be needed.” That’s it. End of story. And there’s no recourse available to the CC through either the district or the council. It’s over.

Just to make sure everyone gets this: It’s not necessary to “ask” anyone to “step down.” Their service is ended with that simple single sentence I just gave you. Moreover, once that sentence is delivered, there’s no “pondering” and the dismissed person doesn’t have the option of “deciding” whether to do so or not–It’s done. Over. The ship has sailed. If somebody needs “proof” (meaning: This isn’t my “opinion”—it’s BSA policy) just read page 2 of the BSA Adult Application.

This is the route you want to go. You don’t want to shut down the pack, even if all good intentions are to start up a new one, because, among other things, this will at least temporarily disenfranchise current youth and adults and the pack’s heritage (i.e., original formation date, etc.) will have been lost. Better to fix the current problem than to create a whole new set of circumstances.
Dear Andy,

Where can we go to find out about scholarships for Eagle Scouts? (Sue Witt)

Locate the local council that serves the area in which you live, and then ask what scholarship opportunities they have locally. Also, find the National Eagle Scout Association via their website——and check out the myriad opportunities there!
Hi Andy,

I’ve just joined our district committee and found out that everyone is listed as “Member at Large” (Code 75). There are no Committee Chairs or subcommittee members anymore. So how do you place someone in the proper place on the district charts and how do you use the online “MyScouting” records when there are no longer any district positions? My council tells me only the Scout Executive and District Executives can look up who’s trained and who isn’t, but this isn’t how all the district training books have it. Do you know anything about this? (Asa Ralls)

Disregard the registration code and simply place the volunteers’ names in the district organization chart where they need to be—yes, it’s that simple!

As for training records, this is an issue for the District Training Chair to take up with the District Chair and District Executive.
Dear Andy,

Here’s a statement from the BSA National Health and Safety Team, in reference to the Whittlin’ Chip: “There is nowhere it is written (that) the card must be carried (by) the youth (in order for him) to be able to carry and use a pocket knife although it is suggested they do.”

In light of this, can a Cub Scout pack committee make it a policy that all Cubs in the pack must earn and carry a Whittlin’ Chip in order to be able to carry a pocket knife at a pack function? Related to this, can a Boy Scout troop committee make it a requirement that Scouts must earn and carry a Totin’ Chip in order to be able to use woods/edged tools (knife, axe, saw, etc.) on a troop activity? (John Pinchot, Longhorn Council, TX)

Let’s begin here: The purpose of the Whittlin’ Chip and Totin’ Chip is to promote safety. These cards are, effectively, licenses; they’re not awards and not related to “advancement.”

In the general arena of health and safety, this is the only category in which local regulations are permitted to exceed (i.e., be safer than) those of the national council. Consequently, I suppose a unit could do what you have in mind, so long as (a) it’s not made into a “requirement” of some sort for advancement, (b) the unit provides ample and ongoing opportunities for youth members to earn these “licenses,” and (c) the unit equally insists that every adult earn the same, thus preventing a “double-standard” mentality.

Before proceeding, consider that such actions as “tearing off corners” or taking back the card if someone (youth or adult) is found to be using an edged tool improperly are considered abusive. The proper corrective action is re-instruction followed by reaffirmation of the safety pledge.

Thanks, Andy. I agree with you about requiring adults to earn them too. (I’ve seen some scary behavior on the part of some adults with edge tools!) When I went through BALOO training I earned my Whittlin’ Chip, and the Cubs in my pack will frequently ask me to produce mine when they see my using a knife. I am always happy to oblige.

But how is tearing off corners or taking back a Whittlin’ Chip or Totin’ Chip considered abusive? The expectations need to be made clear. The Scout needs to understand the consequence of not following those expectations. If they don’t follow the expected behavior, they suffer the consequences. (Actually, I think tearing off a corner is a good non-abusive way of letting the Scout know he needs to pay closer attention to what’s expected. If a youth were to find me in violation of the expectations I’d be happy to allow them to remove a corner. We all need to be reminded about the importance of safety.) If re-instruction is the consequence, is the youth or adult allowed to continue using the edge tool between the time of the unsafe act and when re-instruction can take place? (John Pinchot)

It’s absolutely not necessary to “tear corners” or take back the card when re-instruction is immediate, and this is how it should be. In Scouting, there’s absolutely no place for “punishment,” which is precisely what the tearing corners baloney is all about (to say nothing about it’s being a “power show” on the part of the tearer. Stop for a moment and re-read Ken Blanchard’s book, THE ONE-MINUTE MANAGER, which has an underlying principle that absolutely applies to all Scouting activities: Our job is to CATCH SCOUTS DOING IT RIGHT! The instant we forget this, the instant we decide to become watchdogs instead of the Big Brothers and Kindly Uncles we’re supposed to be, we undermine and defeat precisely what Scouting’s all about.

That’s why it’s important that all adults, as well as youth, earn these cards. This way, should a Scout (or adult) err in his use, his Patrol Leader, or an observing adult, can stop him from further erroneous action and show him correct action right then and there—on the spot. The idea is to achieve learning moments; it’s not to find opportunities to “punish” Scouts. Scouting is all about reinforcing positive behavior—it’s never about punishing mistakes.

In the case of edged tools (and other aspects as well), it goes like this: “Hey, Johnny, there’s a better way to do that. Here, let me show you… OK, now you show me… Got it now? Good!”

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. 425 – 12/10/2014 – 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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