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Issue 454 – September 22, 2015

Here are some interesting updates on “World Scout Scarf (Neckerchief) Day” that I missed but my readers didn’t… Proof that being glib isn’t nearly as important as being a good researcher!

Hi Andy,

In your response to Mitch Erickson in your September 8th column about wearing the neckerchief, you didn’t mention “World Scout Scarf Day,” held each year on August 1st. The WOSM requests Scouts everywhere—both active and alumni—to wear their Scout scarves (or neckerchiefs, in the US) in public to make the “Spirit of Scouting” visible—“Once a Scout, always a Scout!” World Scout Scarf Day coincides with the 1907 date Baden-Powell began the first campout of Scouts on Brownsea Island. (Jim Kangas, UC, Northern Star Council, MN)

Hi Andy,

If you do a web search for “scout scarf day” or “world scout scarf day” it’ll pop up. It’s been a WOSM event since 2007. I heard about it as a celebration of Scouting’s centennial—the official 100-year “birthday” for world-wide Scouting was 1 August 2007. Scouts around the world, including our council, meet at sunrise to celebrate. (Walter Underwood)

Thanks to Jim, Wunder and a bunch of other Scouters for keeping me on my toes!
Hello Andy,

In preparing for our council’s annual University of Scouting, I’ve been trying to find information saying that Boy Scout advancement is the responsibility of the Scoutmaster, but he can enlist the aid of the Advancement Coordinator, other committee members, and even parents to assist with advancement (or words to that effect); in other words, it’s everybody’s job, including the Scout himself! I’ve seen this written somewhere, in some form, somewhere. Any help would be much appreciated! Thanks! (Bill McClain, West Tennessee Area Council)

Great question! Let’s start here: The “old” SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK (see page 119 in Chapter 10: Advancement) says this: “The speed with which (the Scout) completes requirements, and EVEN THE DECISION TO ADVANCE AT ALL, lies with each (Scout)” (CAPS mine). This tells us clearly that ultimately the Scout himself is the “captain” of his own “advancement ship.” His Patrol Leader, the troop’s Instructors (i.e., experienced Scouts), and even his Scoutmaster and assistants are there for support, guidance, encouragement, and—when necessary—direct teaching. But it’s the Scout himself who’s in charge.

Instruction in skills that lead to advancement can come from these resources as well as outside-the-troop subject experts (which can include knowledgeable parents), and when this is made fun, challenging, and interesting to the Scout he’ll likely eat it up! But even if he doesn’t advance, that’s okay, because Scouting isn’t in the business of “creating Eagle Scouts”—we’re in the business of creating happy, responsible citizens of solid character who have absorbed a sense of ethics that they’ll retain throughout their lives.

In the new, just published TROOP LEADER GUIDEBOOK-VOLUME 1 (SKU 616729 – 2015 Printing), the section on Advancement and Awards begins on page 95 with the statement: “The advancement and awards aspects of the Scouting program…are meant to ENHANCE THE SCOUT’S EXPERIENCE and competitive edge” (again, CAPS mine). Notice “enhance”—not the “be all-end all”!

Advancement isn’t the ultimate goal today, any more than it’s ever been. (By the way, there’s a glitch on page 96, which states that “Scout” is “technically not a rank”—at least not until January 1, 2015, when, for the first time, we have seven ranks. (But temper any angst about “changing the rank continuum” by recognizing that, in the beginning there were just three ranks—Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class, and Life, Star, and Eagle were called “merit badges.”) So I’m sure the 2016 Printing of the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT and the BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS book for 2016 will accommodate this impending change.

Although the statement about the Scout being ultimately responsible for his own advancement, which was in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK but is absent in the new TROOP LEADER GUIDE-VOLUME 1, the fundamental principle remains intact: Part of imbuing self-reliance and self-responsibility in the boys and young men whom we’re here to serve is to help them comprehend that they are indeed in charge of their own advancement destinies. Without this important aspect, we’re simply marching boys in lock-step through a process they’re likely to have minimal personal investment in.

I once encountered a surely dedicated and well-meaning Scouter volunteer whose personal slogan was “Every Scout an Eagle Scout,” with the implication that it’s up to everyone to assure that this happens. Nothing could be further from real life. It’s the equivalent of saying “Every player a Heisman Trophy winner,” or “Every student a Phi Beta Kappa,” or “Every soldier a general,” or “Every football player Team Captain.” This is simply unrealistic and unachievable because it ignores the very real fact that, while we’re “all created equal,” we’re not created identical (and how boring if we were!)—each of us has an individual level and set of skills, abilities, and motivations, and these must be acknowledged or we’ve failed to understand what we’re here to do as servants of the young people we’ve rolled up our sleeves to help grow into happy, responsible, ethical citizens.

So be sure your Scouts keep and use personal advancement records—the checklists in the back of their handbook, blue cards, and so on—because these are the ultimate and unassailable records of their achievements; all the rest is backup.

Meanwhile, the Scoutmaster can definitely engage others in supporting Scouts, so long as they don’t usurp the Scout’s own desires and abilities…and timetable for himself. We’re guides and mentors; we’re not drill instructors.

And the unarguably finest aspect of Scouting’s advancement program is that, because it’s a journey; it’s not a race to a finish-line, there are no “losers” and all young people can be winners…at whatever level they’ve set for themselves.

On a personal note, I have just 25 merit badges, even though I earned Eagle at age 15 and—based on that age and the requirements at that time—could have earned two Silver Palms before my 18th birthday. But I didn’t. Instead, I decided to go through the Explorer advancement program and earned the Silver Award (which, based on the rigorous requirements of that era, was generally known as the “Double-Eagle”)—something fairly unique and of which I’m still very proud of today, more than a half-century later!
Dear Andy,

If a Scout gets a “partial” at camp and later completes that merit badge at home with another counselor, how is that “blue card” filled out? Are there now two Blue cards: one from camp with the partial requirements filled out and another from the home Merit Badge Counselor, with the final requirements he completed at home filled out? Or will the final counselor put his or her additional signature on the first card—the one from camp? (Joe Sefcik, Connecticut Rivers Council)

The “home” Merit Badge Counselor’s signature is the final one, so that’s the card to use. The home MBC will review what’s already been completed, chat with the Scout about what he’s already learned, and then help him complete the remainder. The original blue card can be used, but the name and signature verifying completion are those of the final counselor. After the Scout turns in the two remaining stubs of the single completed blue card (the counselor keeps his own stub, as a backup record), the Scoutmaster signs to show that completion has been duly recorded, and then, at the earliest opportunity, the Scout is presented with the pocket certificate (which we’ve already discussed in an earlier column) and—based on whether or not the troop does this—the cloth merit badge itself. (Some troops don’t buy the merit badges, and that’s okay because showing the pocket certificate at the local Scout shop qualifies the Scout to buy his own cloth merit badge.)
Dear Andy,

You were recently asked by a “Frustrated Scout’s Mom,” what your take is on a Scoutmaster who’s always “too busy” to do any Scoutmaster conferences at troop meetings? Your reply was that that Scoutmaster had his priorities mixed up, and that he should be making himself available to speak with Scouts interested in merit badges (he gives them “blue cards” and contact information for the right counselors), sign off on any completed rank requirements that need initialing and dating, and to sit down with Scouts for informal Scoutmaster conferences. You went on to say that parents should speak with the Committee Chair, to request that corrective action be taken.

I call this “drive-by Scouting.” Maybe this parent should park the car and go inside, to see what he or she could do to help the troop run better. Maybe if the Scoutmaster had some assistants, he’d have more time to do things like Scoutmaster conferences. (John Pinchot)

Scouting is purposefully designed to be “drive-by.” If it weren’t, it would be called “Family Scouting” or “Dad-n-Lad Scouting.” But it’s not. It’s called BOY Scouting. In a well-run and correctly run troop, minimal parental or even adult presence is needed at most troop meetings. The Senior Patrol Leader is the one in charge of the troop meetings. The Scoutmaster’s visible role in front of the entire troop is 60 seconds at the close of the meeting, when the Scoutmaster’s minute is delivered. That’s it. The rest of the time—and you’ll find this in Scoutmasters handbooks for the past many, many decades—is to be spent by the Scoutmaster counseling individual Scouts in conferences, chatting with Scouts about the next merit badge they want to go for, and so on. The Scoutmaster plays no other role in the actual running of the meeting.

Parental involvement comes into major play at the troop’s committee level. This is where parents can make a real difference. But troop committees and their members have no involvement whatsoever in the running of troop meetings (with one exception, which I’ll discuss in a moment) and, in fact, should be holding their own once-a-month meeting on a different night, or different venue, or at least a different room if concurrent with a troop meeting. In short: THIS ISN’T WEBELOS III.

Where parents can help the troop directly is by signing up as Merit Badge Counselors in their areas of personal/professional expertise and then offering their services to all Scouts—not just those in their son’s troop. Or, occasionally, they can provide personal expertise as interactive facilitators (i.e., not “lecturers”) during a brief (maximum 15 minutes) segment within a troop meeting, as requested and directed by the Senior Patrol Leader based on requests by the Patrol Leaders Council.

Now of course all of this is based on whether or not the troop’s adult volunteers and other parents want to deliver the Boy Scouting program as it’s supposed to be delivered. Anything less than what I’ve described simply isn’t Boy Scouting.
Now let’s wrap up this column with some good advice from a fellow Scouter who’s also an IT whiz…

Hi Andy,

When a treasurer’s (or advancement coordinator’s) computer crashes, that’s a small glitch compared to getting hacked, or getting a virus that allows the bad guys to take over bank accounts. I deal with this every day in my day job and it’s a very real problem. To cover yourself, keep a copy of the accounting system on a USB flash drive, and back up the system with a web-based service. This way, if something happens to the computer, the accounting info can be recovered. Multiple recovery options are a must with the cretins running loose on the web these days. A USB flash drive copy should be given to the CC every month as an additional insurance. Oh, and these copies need to be verified every once in a while to be sure they work. (Robby Wright, ADC-Roundtables, San Diego-Imperial Council, CA & Chief IT Architect)

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. 454 – 9/22/2015 – 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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