Author Avatar

Issue 437 – March 18, 2015

Here’s a letter I received from Paul Wolf, the USSSP.ORG’s resident guru on advancement requirements…

Hi Andy –

In your column last week (No. 436 – March 10, 2015), one of your readers asked, “Is there a process by which changes to the requirements for merit badges are introduced?”

The answer’s Yes. Each January, the BSA issues a new edition of the Boy Scout Requirements book (pub. #33216). That book contains the official requirements—which will be effective until the next December 31st—for all Boy Scout (and Varsity Scout) rank advancements, merit badges, and other awards and recognition offered, plus a list of current merit badge pamphlets and when they were last revised. This book also contains useful information the advancement process. The inside front cover of that book contains a list of which requirements have changed since the previous year’s edition.

Sometimes, changes occur during the year, but when they do, they’re always widely announced, with specific information on effective dates and deadlines.

When new merit badge pamphlets are issued, Scouts are always given the choice of finishing their work using the requirements they started with or using the new requirements, but they can’t mix the old and new.

The other book—one that all Scouters should have and consult—is the Guide to Advancement (pub. #33088). This book is the definitive source for advancement rules for all BSA programs, including Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, Varsity Scouting, and Venturing including Sea Scouting.

Your readers are free to write to me about requirements anytime at either or If specific official information is needed, then—just as you pointed out—the best email source is (Paul Wolf,

So there you have it, folks, and I can assure you that Paul is a great resource and enormously dedicated Scouter! In addition to what Paul’s just provided, you can also go to and begin subscribing to the BSA’s monthly “Advancement News” e-newsletter (the URL’s too long to show here—use any search engine to find it).
Hi Andy,

One of your readers asked who might have the text that goes along with the old “Show And Do” slides. Here’s the good news: The BSA does!

Email and ask to be put in touch with someone from the former BSA Audiovisual Service. They have a file cabinet in their office with all of the old scripts of the various slide shows/projector shows and provide a photocopy of the script via regular mail. (Mike Walton,
Dear Andy,

It seems like a while ago, I read that the “Scout” badge was going to become a rank. I can’t remember where I read it, nor can I find anything about it on the web. I don’t think it has happened yet. Am I dreaming, or did I really hear about this change?

If it’s coming down the line, when will it take place? What does the change mean, and why is it taking place? What would you do differently, maybe like when crossing over a Webelos scout, because of the change? (Chartered Organization Rep. with a bad memory)

Yes, I’ve also heard that—for the first time since the founding of the BSA 105 years ago—we’ll have a seventh rank: “Scout.” I don’t know when it’s coming, so we’ll need to be a bit patient on that score. Does it affect cross-overs and such? Not really, I suspect. Once a registered Boy Scout, the boy will still earn his “Scout” badge; however, it’ll be called a “rank” instead of “badge.”
Hi Andy,

How can a Unit Commissioner be eligible for nomination to the Order of the Arrow? I recently saw a form that said that the 15 camping nights requirement may be waived for district and council adult volunteers, but who determines when that happens or who it applies to? Clearly, a person serving on a district’s Commissioner staff would have limited camping opportunities unless he or she asked to camp along with one of the troops served as a Commissioner. I’m asking because I’m interested in being considered for membership in the OA. (Name & Council Withheld)

If you can find the form that talks about waiving camping for certain adults, I’d love to see it, or to find out where I can view it online. I haven’t checked the OA policies in a long, long while (maybe a reader can help me out here?), so I’m not certain that a Commissioner can be nominated. I’d suggest checking with your Scout Executive and/or your council’s Lodge Advisor on this. But this much I can tell you: All adult OA members are selected not as an honorific but based on what they can and will contribute to the Boy Scout camping experience.
Dear Andy,

You’ve said more than once that tearing off the corners of Whittlin’ Chits and Totin’ Chips is wrong. How so? How do you figure tearing off corners or even taking back a card is abusive? As I see it, a Scout needs to understand the consequence of not following the expectations stated on those cards, and if they don’t follow the expected behavior, they suffer the consequences. How is that abusive? To my mind, 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. Turning it around, if a Scout were to find me in violation of the expectations, I’d be happy to allow him to remove a corner. We all need to be reminded about the importance of safety.

If, as you’ve said, re-instruction is the only consequence, is the violating individual—Scout or adult—allowed to continue using the edged tool between the time of the unsafe act and when re-instruction can take place? (Name & Council Withheld)

It’s absolutely unnecessary to “tear corners” and such, especially when—instead of messing with the card for an ego-rush—correction and instruction is carried out right there, on the spot.

The idea is to achieve learning moments; it’s not to find opportunities to punish and demean 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!”

Need proof for why this corner-tearing practice has to go the way of the cat-o-nine-tails? Simple, and you said it yourself: When you said that you’d “allow” a Scout to tear a corner of your card if you were “in violation,” you tip your hand in the direction of considering yourself somehow inherently “superior” to a Scout, and it’s this mentality that folks use to give themselves permission to mutilate a youth’s edged tool “driver’s license.” Moreover, when this is done publicly, especially in front of other Scouts, it heads in the direction of emotional abuse of a minor.
Hi Andy,

We have 14 Scouts in our troop who have started the God and Church program. Some of them also completed the God and Family program while they were Cub Scouts. For those who have completed both programs and are now wearing the square knot, should they be given a second knot to wear on their uniform, or should they only wear one knot to represent both programs? (Glynn Pullen)

Only a single “square knot” is worn… Silver-on-purple. There are, however, miniature “devices” that can be pinned to the badge itself that indicate in which program (Cub Scout, Boy Scout, etc.) the religious emblem was earned. Call your local Scout shop. They should be able to help you find what you’re looking for.
Dear Andy,

Is there a ceremony for a Boy Scout who, at age 18, transitions to adult leader? I can’t find anything on the Internet. (Jeff Coghill, Greenville, NC)

Gold watch? Nope, not really. The best “ceremony” you can have is maybe a small party where you present this new adult Scouter with his new registration card… Assistant Scoutmaster, Scouter Reserve, or College Scouter Reserve. That’s, of course, in the hope that this young man wishes to stay on as a registered member of the BSA!
Dear Andy,

My question is about training for Merit Badge Counselors. On the BSA website, there’s a downloadable version of Merit Badge Counselor Essentials training, including presenters’ notes. The website states that although it’s designed for a group, it can be utilized by an individual.

The person in our council who oversees Merit Badge Counselors has stated that Merit Badge Counselors can do the training solo if they want to, but he won’t sign off on their MBC applications if the training is done outside a group setting. This is despite there’s no certificate to print, and in fact nothing to say you’ve done it one way or the other except your word. I did the MBC Essentials training as an individual before being confronted by this council “policy,” and of course now I’m being rejected because I don’t have a “certificate” (which is even stranger, because the BSA online training system doesn’t provide a certificate).

I understand that the BSA National Office does give leeway to local councils in some areas. Is this one of them? Can a council refuse to accept your training simply because you did it as an individual and not in a group setting? What makes this even more difficult is that the council has no training opportunities for MBCs calendared. (Name & Council Withheld)

When the website clearly states that individual online training is perfectly acceptable for Merit Badge Counselors, this erstwhile MBC “overseer” will ultimately reap what’s being sown: A rapid decline in Merit Badge Counselors across the board. But I’d recommend letting it alone. Yes, you can try to “fight city hall.” But, if you do, keep in mind that whatever energy you put into this will subtract from the energy you could be giving to the Scouts of the troop you serve.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and make this guy disappear in a puff of smoke, but that’s just not likely to happen until the disaster occurs—at which point the council’s going to have to play a catch-up game. Seems like Rule #1 continues to show up. There’s just no cure for stupid.

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. 437 – 3/18/2015 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2015]


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

Comments are closed.