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Issue 445 – June 2, 2015

Hi Folks!
I’ll be traveling for the next 13 days, so we’ll have to skip next week’s column. I’ll be back online the week of June 15th, so keep those letters comin’ in! Happy Scouting!

(Just the other day, somebody asked me, “So, what do you do?” “I’m a writer,” I said. She replied with a smile, spelling out the two words, “Is that ‘writer’ or ‘righter’?”)
Dear Andy,

I’m sitting here looking through the new Scoutmaster Position-Specific Training Manual, which notes that we need to use something called the “Troop Leader Guidebook.” What in the world is that? (Dorte Mobley)

The “Troop Leader Guidebook”—which apparently hasn’t been published yet—will be a two-volume replacement for the Scoutmaster Handbook. The first volume is aimed at brand-new to sorta-new Scoutmasters, to help them get their sea legs. The second is for Scoutmasters with three or more years’ experience in the position. So not to worry: The current Scoutmaster Handbook will still serve well! In addition to this, three other books will help immensely, particularly the last two of this triad: Troop Committee Guidebook, Patrol Leader Handbook, and Senior Patrol Leader Handbook.
Dear Andy,

I’m a Patrol Leader trying to come up with some good activities for my patrol, by my assistant and I don’t know where to find any. Can you help us out? (Caleb)

The BSA has a terrific set of three books titled “Troop Program Helps.” Get your troop committee to buy these for your Patrol Leaders Council and check ’em out! Plus, there are other activities you could just “invent,” like a nature scavenger hunt-hike or a visit to a local farm, arboretum, or nature preserve. How about a visit to your town’s rescue squad, fire department, or police department? How about visiting your local blood donor center? How about you all go to a movie together (check the rating first)? Or contact your local VFW or American Legion post and ask for a tour and to meet some of the veterans. How about your town’s mayor’s office, to learn more about local government? Or a local museum or historical building? Of course, you want to go as Scouts and not just a bunch of boys, so wear your full uniforms when you go!
Dear Andy,

Our troop annually holds a “merit badge weekend,” for which we rent our council camp for the weekend in the off season and the Scouts come to work on merit badges. We typically offer mostly non-Eagle-required merit badges, but we do have some sessions for a few Eagle-required that the Scouts can either start on the weekend or finish if they’ve started them earlier (or at our prior year’s weekend). We make sure counselors know the rules for fulfilling requirements (like not adding or subtracting from requirements). We’ve had no council-related problems with this in the past, but now we have a new Council Advancement Chair who wants us—has ordered us, in fact—to stop these weekends. The CAC especially wants us to stop offering merit badges that the council’s summer camp offers. But the reverse problem with this is that, with a troop of 86 Scouts going to camp, there’s no way the camp has been able to accommodate all our Scouts’ requests when they get there. On top of this, there are comments made that we “just give away” merit badges to Scouts who “really haven’t earned them.”

Is stopping our merit badge weekends a “national” thing, or is this CAC just trying to be obnoxious? (Name & Council Withheld)

Of course, there’s a critical bit of information missing: Are your Scouts working with Merit Badge Counselors who are registered with the council as such, and for the specific merit badge(s) the Scouts are working toward completing? (There’s no such animal as a “merit badge counselor-in-general,” nor can “just any registered troop volunteer” sign off on merit badge completion.)

But, stepping back for a moment, we need to take a broader view of just what the BSA Merit Badge Program’s objectives are. Yes, certainly one of the prime objectives is for Scouts to learn about subject-matter and acquire skills that not only aren’t necessarily available anywhere else but through the Scouting program and, correspondingly, to become exposed to subject-matter that may lead to a lifetime vocation or avocation. The second prime objective relates to individual initiative. The BSA-MB Program purposefully leaves it to the Scout to (a) determine which merit badge(s) he’d like to work toward, (b) take individual initiative to inform his Scoutmaster of this and ask for a “blue card” and the name and contact information of a registered MBC, and (c) personally contact that MBC to arrange a personal meeting with him or her to get started.

If this process is being followed, then no one should have a quarrel with your troop. But if your troop’s “merit badge weekend” is bypassing either of the primary goals or skipping one or more of the initial steps I just described, or if the Scouts are working with anyone other than people who are registered with the council as qualified counselors for the specific merit badges they’re working on with the Scouts, then I’d say the troop is short-changing the Scouts by deviating from a process that’s been in place for decades.
Dear Andy,

As a former Scout and an Eagle Scout, as our troop’s Committee Chair for the past two years, I haven’t hesitated to sign an Eagle Scout rank application for the four most recent Eagles in our troop. But now there are a couple of Life Scouts working toward Eagle who, as far as I’ve observed, don’t live by the Scout Oath or Law at the very least. There are simply too many instances to cite here, but there’s no doubt in my mind that at least over the past months since they became Life rank, their behavior has sunk to a very low level and their attitudes even lower. So, here’s my question: Does my signature on their Eagle application in fact mean that I’m confirming that they’ve “completed” Req. 2, “…live by the principles of the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life…” or is this only for those individuals who provide letters of recommendation? (Name & Council Withheld)

Of course, I probably can’t help much here, from a practical standpoint, because I have no idea what sort of “poor behavior and attitudes” we’re talking about, and I have no idea about the degree to which their Scoutmaster has held individual conferences with each Scout, aimed at helping them correct their behavior and raise their attitudes in concert with the Oath and Law. I also don’t know whether this might actually be a long-standing (i.e., before they were Life rank) problem that’s been looked at with a blind eye in the earlier ranks or only, as you describe, “while they have been Life Scouts.” If it’s a long-standing problem, then of course my first question is how did they get through their prior conferences and boards of review? If it’s only recently, then has the Scoutmaster’s conferences with each of them revealed what the underlying problem might be (understanding that “poor behavior and attitude” is rarely the actual problem—these are more often symptoms of a deeper problem in their lives).

At any rate, here’s the deal: Yes, you can refuse to sign their Eagle rank application. You also have the right and responsibility to recommend to the Scoutmaster that he counsel them individually, try to help them figure out what’s gone wrong, and help them get back on track. This might take a little while, but let’s remember that we’re in the business of growing boys into responsible men. Meanwhile, if you do take action right now by refusing to sign their applications, they have the right to request a “board of review under disputed circumstances” (see GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT for more information on this process) and just might become Eagles if their boards of review are successful.

Your related question about Req. 2 is a little off-target. The Scout doesn’t provide “letters of recommendation”—he provides the names and contact information for up to six people who can attest to his character.
Hi Andy,

I’m working with a group of fellow volunteers trying to come up with a “code of conduct” for our troop. The issue of push-ups as a consequence for improper behavior has come up and I’d like to get your take on this. Thanks in advance for your help. (Jim Fonseca)

If you adults come up with “rules” you’ll instantly be creating an “Us vs. Them” situation, and it’ll ultimately defeat your purpose. This is something the Scouts absolutely need to do for themselves, with as little adult interference as humanly possible.

Beside, your troop’s Scouts already have all the “code of conduct” they need: The Scout Oath and the Scout Law. That’s it. Now if they want to get specific, they can make up some more detailed stuff, BUT—just like the Oath and Law—it needs to be only in the POSITIVE. Such as…

– We’ll always try to arrive 10 minutes before the start of any meeting.
– We’ll respect the Scout sign at all times.
– We’ll wear our complete uniforms everywhere we go.
– We’ll share responsibilities by using patrol duty rosters on every trip.
– We’ll leave all stuff that uses batteries—except for flashlights—home.
– Etc.

These should be arrived at via discussion and consensus of the Patrol Leaders Council, with the guidance of the Scoutmaster. Then, the Scouts can make a poster of these, to be posted at all meetings.

As for punishment, there is no place in Scouting for this, ever. Push-ups and the like have absolutely no value or place in the Scouting program. The Scoutmaster needs to clearly communicate this to the Senior Patrol Leader and all Patrol Leaders, and obtain their agreement that nothing along these lines will ever be employed, for any reason.
Dear Andy,

Back in the 60’s when I was a Scout (and Senior Patrol Leader at the time I’m about to describe), there was another Scout in the troop who caused a lot of problems, particularly on camp outs. For instance, before each camp-out the troop’s leaders would go over what to bring, how to pack a pack, and so on, and then this particular Scout would show up with a duffel bag filled with stuff like a football, a portable radio, popcorn, comic books, and such. He could barely lift it, much less carry it, so some other Scout—usually me—was given the job of carrying it for him. On one camp-out, some of our Scouts, including this kid, were asked to go collect firewood. Instead, this kid started a fire. On another trip, in the spring, we were warned told to stay off the ice on the pond because it was too thin to support our weight. Of course, you know what happened. Same kid goes out on the ice and cracks through. This was always going on, and I remember asking the Scoutmaster if we could do without him, because he was holding the troop back with all this side-stuff going on. But nope, not a chance. The Scoutmaster told me we couldn’t exclude anyone, and he was pretty much “my way or highway.” Our outdoor program was pretty terrible, and the few Scouts who stayed in the troop (most left pretty soon after joining), barely ever reached even First Class rank. So, since I enjoy reading your column, what would you have done, Andy? (Ed Mines)

What would I have done? Well, I would have quit that troop in about two seconds, flat. Seriously. It doesn’t sound like you got much of Scouting, and a “my way-highway” Scoutmaster isn’t where I’d want to hang out, so color me outa there. (Actually, that exactly what I did do as an 11-year-old: I quit two troops within my first four months as a Scout for reasons pretty much along the same lines as yours. The good news is that the third troop I tried got it right, and I stayed in the program right up to 18 and then beyond!)

So let’s cover some of the flaws here, that any Scout reading this will either recognize in his own troop or be thankful that this isn’t in his troop…

How about a “my way-highway” Scoutmaster. That’s enough right there to ditch that troop.

I got no sense you had either The Patrol Method or the Buddy System in place, and without these two, it’s simply not Boy Scouting.

How about a Scoutmaster’s supposed to be training the Senior Patrol Leader in how to lead Scouts; not making the SPL the troop’s “mule.”

But the biggest flaw was that you hadn’t been given the self-confidence to refuse to schlep or the skills to teach a Tenderfoot Scout how to do get it right and take better care of himself, and that kid’s Patrol Leader (if there was one) wasn’t given the self-confidence or skills, either.

I’m sorry this happened to you, and I urge you to roll up your sleeves and get back involved. Scouting needs guys like you, who will remember the nonsense that got dealt them and decide that this sort of stuff won’t happen on their watch.
Hi Andy,

As an adult leader (Scoutmaster and occasional merit badge counselor), I have a number of instances where Scouts have requested a meeting for either a Scoutmaster conference, merit badge update or to check-off work, etc., outside of regular troop meetings. So far, I’ve had a few stop by the house briefly, with one of their parents in the next room or sometimes in the same room as us. I’ve also met with Scouts for conferences at a coffeehouse and restaurant where it’s okay to grab a table for a quick chat. Again, always with a parent nearby.

In setting up a meeting at the public library this weekend I got to wondering: Does a Scout still need a parent or other Scout around, as long as we’re meeting in a public place like a library? I’m thinking out to the future a bit, and I can foresee a parent one day telling his or her son to ride his bike or take the family car to meet with me. In this case, wouldn’t meeting in a public place satisfy the “no one-on-one” rule? (Jim Berklan, SM, Northeast Illinois Council)

It’s a good question, because I’ve seen a fair amount of paranoia over stuff like this when it’s really comparatively straightforward.

As a past Scoutmaster and current MBC, I’ve quite frequently met at our town’s public library when a Scout’s without a buddy. (A “buddy” can be anyone—a fellow Scout, a parent or other relative, a brother or sister, a classmate, etc.) Meeting one-on-one but publicly, satisfies GTSS policies, in the same way that a Scoutmaster’s conference that’s one-on-one but in the open with others present, and not in a closed or private room, satisfies the GTSS.

When meeting in your home, the “buddy” (parent or other) doesn’t have to physically in the same room as you and the Scout, so long as no doors between you are shut and your conversation is audible to the buddy.

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. 445 – 6/2/2015 – 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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