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Issue 440 – April 14, 2015

Hi Andy,

Is it a requirement to have a ceremony after becoming an Eagle Scout? My son says he doesn’t want one, and I’m saddened by this. Maybe he will change his mind, but I’m not very hopeful and getting grayer by the minute. (Soon-to-be-Eagle Mom)

A Scout becomes an Eagle Scout on the date of his board of review. From that date, forever, he is an Eagle Scout. A court of honor is a public recognition of this achievement, but is in no way something “mandatory,” because, in actual fact, he’s already an Eagle!

If your son would prefer to not have a public ceremony, it’s okay. It’s tough on parents when this occasionally happens, because they—more than anyone else—have shared the journey to Eagle most intimately, and it’s both a delight and a relief to see your son standing there, before his peers, leaders, and other audience members, wearing that very special medal that he’s worked so industriously to earn. But it’s okay. So long as he’s an Eagle in his heart, this is what matters most.

I was presented with my medal 58 years ago. I don’t remember the ceremony at all. But I remember, every day, that I’m an Eagle, and still try, insofar as I’m able, to live my daily life by the precepts of the Scout Oath and Law I first learned some 62 years ago. I would, however, say this to your son (and you have my permission to pass this along):

Fellow Eagle, I have my medal, which I cherish with pride. And I also have a photograph of my parents and me at my court of honor. I remember fondly and with love the pride writ on their faces that night so long ago. Both have passed now. All I have are my memories and photos, and the one photo that’s most important to me is this one, when my Eagle medal was pinned on my uniform for the first time. You’ll have this opportunity only once in your life. Consider taking it…if not for now, for the years to come. Godspeed! (Andy, Eagle Class of 1957)
Dear Andy,

A concerned parent sent the following email message to our troop committee. I’m wondering if you’ve ever stated anything that would address this, that you could point me toward. Or, do you have any comments or suggestions? Thanks. (Name & Council Withheld)

Here’s the message…

In a BSA training video on bullying (Prevention & Intervention Tips for Scout Leaders and Parents – there’s a Buzz Group scenario called “Troop Tea Party.”

A portion of this scenario is what I observed in a troop meeting last week. A Scout had lost something and was told to sing a song about what he lost. Many were laughing at the Scout. Later, as we got in the car after the meeting, my son said to me, “Mom, that should be reported! I might be the exception to the Scouts in our troop, but one night after my homework was done I was looking for something to do, so I watched the ‘Youth Protection Training’ video you and Dad have on the laptop for when you do the training in-person, and what they did tonight at the troop meeting was bullying—and that’s just not allowed in Scouting.”

I observed the shaming of individual Scouts about a year ago during a troop opening ceremony, but I had though it had stopped after speaking privately with the Scoutmaster. Two Scouts received the brunt of the harassment that night. One fled the room and hid for the remainder of the evening; the other was simply furious for the remainder of the meeting.

I do admit that what happened is on the mild side of harassment or bullying, but I think it starts us down a path of acceptance of behavior we don’t want to condone. I believe as we are molding future leaders and strong citizens as they become young men, this is not the behavioral “model” we should be presenting. (Concerned Parent)

First, the material available through that link is excellent. Follow it and everyone will be much better informed and the Scouts will have a better time in the program as a result.

At its most elemental, there’s huge gap between “good fun” and “fun at the expense of another.” Fun, when at the expense of another, is never acceptable, in or out of Scouting. When it happens, there is only one response: It must stop immediately. It doesn’t matter whether this “fun at the expense of another” is group-to-one or one-to-one; it must instantly stop.

Adult role models as well as older, more experienced Scouts have a responsibility to all to assure that “fun at the expense of another” never happens, or, if it does, to put an instant stop to it. This doesn’t require harshness, but it does require absolutely firm and unbending action, with none of the old “boys will be boys” excuses.

Yes, boys definitely will be boys, and the responsibility of us all is to instill in these future citizens and leaders just how they should “be boys”…and how they should not.
Dear Andy,

I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for dealing with a Scout who’s deathly afraid of having to participate in Scoutmaster conferences and boards of review. This Scout is always extremely quiet. He’s been stuck at Tenderfoot for over two years. When discussions of advancement come up, they promptly stop right when the Scoutmaster conference and board of review come up. He’s told me outright he just can’t do these. We’ve talked with his mother about this; she’s told us that this same problem—labeled “lack of involvement”—is holding him back in school, too. Our thoughts have been that this Scout is destined to just not advance, but my thoughts on this changed when I saw something on our last outing… While returning from our trip, we stopped for lunch. He happened to be in front of me in line, so I had a chance to observe. Instead of speaking up to the order-taker at the counter, he instead held up a receipt from a previous order and asked if he could get that.

I’m asking not to find a way to spoon-feed him through the advancement process, or bypass any procedures along the way; it’s to see if there is a way to get a Scout some recognition which may in turn help with his self-esteem. And just for clarification, this Scout is in no way related to me, this is just a Scout that I’d like to be able to help. (Name & Council Withheld)

Thanks for taking the time to write, and my heart goes out to this boy. I’m wondering… He had a Scoutmaster conference to earn his “Scout” badge, and he had another one plus a board of review for Tenderfoot. So, what happened in these that has struck such fear in him? Also, in the past two years, has his Scoutmaster not even once had a “Hi, how’re you doing?” chat with this Scout? Because, if this had occurred, that’s a Scoutmaster conference!

Is this Scout this way with all adults, in general, or is there something going on with the Scoutmaster that’s causing this impasse? By observation, does this Scout interact with his peers in his patrol and troop, or is he equally non-communicative with his peers, too?

What was his Tenderfoot board of review like? Was it the friendly conversation it’s supposed to be, or does the troop committee march Scouts ready to advance through a gantlet or barrage of questions regarding his skills and knowledge?

In short, is there anything going on here that we haven’t talked about yet? May I please hear from you again, with a bit more background? I’m hoping that, between us, we can find a path to success for him.

Thanks for getting back with me, Andy. At one point I might have thought that this behavior may have been related only to Scouting, but as I’ve observed this Scout outside of the typical Scouting environment, my opinion has changed. All of the leaders have witnessed and commented on this Scouts lack of communication, so I don’t see this as being an issue with just the Scoutmaster. We weren’t a part of this troop when this Scout last make rank (Tenderfoot), so I can’t speak to what may or may not have happened. In my experience, this Scout will communicate briefly with you, until he realizes that you are trying to take the time to interact with him. That’s when he shuts down. Seeing this Scout struggle with interaction with others outside of Scouts really made me think that we should be doing something else to help. His interaction with other Scouts is better than it is with adults, but it still really only exists with a select few Scouts.

As far as Scoutmasters conferences go, I understand that there’s some amount of review of what the Scout has learned in the process of earning that rank, but it’s not a forced process, where leaders are pushing Scouts to sit down with the Scoutmaster.

Each Scout must request a Scoutmaster conference, and that is as I personally believe that it should be—just as it was when I was a Scout. It’s not a quiz or a test; it’s a general review of the requirements for that rank. My personal thoughts on this are that it’s good preparation for those experiences a Scout will encounter in life, such as a job interviews, where one has to sit down and review his skills. That being said, the only Scouts that I know of that haven’t proceeded past the Scoutmaster conference since we’ve been involved with this troop are those boys trying to earn their “Scout” badge…the ones who didn’t earn it simply didn’t know the Scout Oath or, in other cases, the Scout Law.

I don’t know of any Scouts who might have been denied rank through the board of review process, which we do as a sit-down meeting where the Scout is expected to interact with a panel of committee members.

In sum, this is a simply Scout with a severe communication problem that I hope we can maybe help improve his life situation. (N&CW)

Thanks for the additional background, and I do think there are a few positive tweaks we can put into place here…

To begin with, it’s really not all that cool to insist that Scouts “request” conferences with their Scoutmaster. For several reasons. First, with the possible exception of Eagle, a Scoutmaster conference can take place at any time; there’s no mandate that all other rank requirements absolutely must be completed before such conferences. In the second, the purpose of a conference is fundamentally for the Scoutmaster to get a handle on how the Scout’s coming along, not only in advancement, but as a member of his patrol and the troop. There’s no specified minimum or maximum time set for these; for some Scouts it might be 5 or 10 minutes, but for others—this Scout, for instance—maybe a couple of minutes is about all that he’s capable of at this point in his young life. Finally, keep clearly in mind that there’s no such thing as “passing” a Scoutmaster conference; the only requirement is to have one—that’s it. And this isn’t “me” speaking…this is the BSA advancement program speaking.

Beyond this—and I strenuously encourage your Scoutmaster to make this happen before this boy gets so discouraged that he ends up walking away from a program he seems to desperately need—has anyone had a quiet, non-accusatory, sympathetic conversation with this Scout’s parents? Heck, for all we know, there’s something underlying that needs to be brought out, for the better understanding of all concerned.

Yes, you have a Scout with a problem. This is where gentle, sympathetic understanding, and patience, can go miles.
Dear Andy,

Recently (column 436) you talked about how conducting merit badge counseling via Skype isn’t in line with the Scouting program. I have to disagree, for several reasons.

First, there’s council size. Besides the Far East, Transatlantic, and Direct Service councils, the largest BSA council is Great Alaska. Here’s we serve 75% of the State of Alaska or approximately 500 thousand square miles. Because of the size and not being able to stay on the road system to travel from the farthest northern unit, which is in Barrow, with the southernmost unit, in Ketchikan. This journey takes over 24 hours.

Then there’s the road system. Here in Alaska, your town is either on the road system or off the road system. We have units on and off the road system. Being off the road system makes it very expensive to travel and usually have limited resources, which means that to provide a wide variety of merit badges to all our Scouts sometimes requires someone not in the local community to do so.

Our own as well as the three international councils use web-based communication to conduct the everyday operations of the council, otherwise we’d not be able to provide the level of service we do. I’m on the council training committee and tasked with the project of taking BALOO, normally conducted in-person, into a distance-delivery course. Without offering courses like BALOO via distance-delivery, units aren’t as successful as they could be.

While the example you use with a Scout living in Texas wanting to finish a merit badge with his troop in New Jersey is definitely not something I’d support, I wouldn’t rule out merit badge instruction even in the lower 48 via video conferencing. (Mark West, ADC, Great Alaska Council)

Actually, that’s not at all what I said. If you re-read that particular Q&A, you’ll see that I was referring to a particular, specific situation. There was no broad statement at all about Skype or other long distance methods being inappropriate.

I’m very aware of the geography of the Great Alaska Council; in fact, I’ve been there. I have nothing but admiration for what the Scouts and Scouters of the GAC accomplish. Thanks for taking the time to write — and for being a loyal reader willing to speak up!

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. 440 – 4/14/2015 – 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

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