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Issue 455 – September 29, 2015

Dear Andy,

On the question of “Should a group of Scouters band together and purchase a James E. West Fellowship for another Scouter?”—Without a doubt, Yes! I’m on the professional side of the campsite. When I was promoted from District Director to Development Officer, the volunteers of my district wanted to demonstrate their appreciation for my five plus years of service. So they did an appeal to their fellow Scouters for me, and over two dozen contributions came in for a J.E.W. Fellowship in my honor. As a result, I’ve since made additional contributions, bringing me up the Endowment level. There are many Scouters who would never consider “buying” themselves a Fellowship, or wouldn’t have the means to do so, but—like me—have been deeply moved by others who did so on their behalf. I’ve personally led efforts so for both the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair of my home troop, and several others who had “Gone Home”. I believe conducting such a drive is a wonderful way to recognize Scouters and engage others in an endowment effort, and build awareness to the permanent benefit of Scouting. The path doesn’t end; but rather it begins… With the deepest of admiration, Steven Benini, Greater New York Councils

You raise an excellent point that’s worth sharing. Thanks for being a long-time reader, and for taking the time to write.
Dear Andy,

It seems you have an axe to grind with the men and women who serve as adult leaders for a Boy Scout troop. You seem to be saying there’s no role for an adult in Boy Scouting other than perfunctory. I take offense at this perspective. Here are just a few of the things that I do as a Scoutmaster that our Scouts can’t do… I attend funerals for Scouts who have had a parent pass away. I conduct Scoutmaster conferences. I check in with our Scouts to make sure they’re advancing at a proper pace. I sign Eagle Scout applications. I put out fires between families. I’m a Merit Badge Counselor. I make sure that accommodations are being made for our Scouts with disabilities. I’m a mentor for Scouts whose parents have split up or where there are problems at home or at school. I promote Scouting in our community. I’m present so that the troop can meet and can go on outings.

This is only a small list of the things that I do as Scoutmaster. Please indicate which one(s) you’d like me to hand over to the Scouts and not work on myself or have other adults work on. We have a Scout-led troop; however, to say that the only reason a Scoutmaster is present is to hand out blue cards and do Scoutmaster’s conferences is hurtful. (Mark Kociemba, SM, Northern Star Council, MN)

Having served as a Scoutmaster (twice, in two different councils) as well as staffing and course-directing JLTC, NYLT, NJLIC, NAYLE, etc., and—like you—also a working Merit Badge Counselor, I’ve done many of the things you’ve described and more…which you’ve likely done as well. I couldn’t possibly agree more with the wonderful things you’re doing, but I’m mightily confused: I have no idea where you get the impression that I “have an axe to grind” or that I somehow disfavor precisely what you’ve described.

Where I do have a problem—and you’ll see this again and again in letters I receive—is with troops that are run as if they’re “Webelos III” dens, with leaders and parents functioning as the “world’s oldest Patrol Leaders and Senior Patrol Leaders,” and I believe you know what I’m talking about.

Baden-Powell put it two ways: “Scouting is a man’s job cut down to boy-size” and “Never do for a Scout what he can do for himself.” None of what you’ve mentioned, or I’ve ever stated, is in conflict with either of these principles. But, as you continue to read the letters I receive, you’ll see that not everyone follows these principles as well as you seem to have. So keep on keepin’ on!
Dear Andy,

Last night at a troop meeting, a Life Scout attempted to turn in some menus (and possibly other written items) to his Cooking Merit Badge Counselor. The counselor felt that the items the Scout turned in were illegible. The Scout admitted that his handwriting was horrible, but implied that that was a good enough excuse to turn the items in the way that they were. The counselor told him to take everything home and to type it up, and the Scout agreed to do this. But, on learning of this, the Scout’s father became upset, and complained to the Scoutmaster. The Scoutmaster, in turn, told the counselor that he considered the Scout’s writing “legible” and that the counselor couldn’t require the Scout to type everything up because this is considered “adding to the requirement.” So my question: Is this actually “adding to the requirement,” or is this a reasonable request by a Merit Badge Counselor? (Chris McNew, ASM, Tukabatchee Area Council)

While the Merit Badge Counselor is, in 99% of all occasions, the final arbiter as to whether a merit badge requirement has been fulfilled or not, Scoutmasters and other often think they can overrule or override an MBC’s decision. The argument, in this particular instance, is that, to someone who is not involved in any way with the merit badge or requirement completion, a hand-written item expected by the requirement (apparently no. 5, in this instance) was determined to be illegible by the correct arbiter of this and legible by a non-involved, non-qualified fellow Scouting volunteer. The cold fact is that the Scoutmaster’s opinion carries no weight—and the father wasn’t helping his son one little bit when he came to his son’s rescue and became his son’s advocate—particularly when his son had already agreed that his handwriting was poor and that he’d type up the menus. This is precisely what we are not trying to teach through the Scouting program. The further fact is that while no Scouting requirement that involves writing states anything along the lines of “…and must be legible…” this is the obvious expectation. In the instant case, not living up to the common-sense principle was flagrant on the Scout’s part: He knew his handwriting was barely readable, yet he took no corrective action of his own to avert precisely what resulted. How simple it would have been for him to simply type up those menus in advance, especially given how well today’s youth are able to use keyboards. In this Scout’s case, typing it up would have been a no-brainer, and would have helped him in the long run if, for instance, he had omitted something and subsequently needed to add it in.

So, the only person blameless here is the Merit Badge Counselor. The Scout was mistaken to submit something that was obviously not his best work or demonstrated what he’s truly capable of. The next mistake was for the father to intercede, instead of leaving the responsibility where it belonged: On his son’s shoulders and nowhere else. Third, the Scoutmaster didn’t have the good sense to tell the father to put the responsibility back where it belonged, and compounded this by taking issue with the Merit Badge Counselor. And all of this because a Scout decided that he wasn’t going to do his best!

So let’s get this said one more time: Expecting a piece of writing to be legible isn’t “adding to requirements”—it’s imbuing a sense of responsibility for one’s own work.

I’ve gone into a lot of detail on this not only because we should always expect a Scout to present his best effort but also because good MBCs aren’t a dime-a-dozen and are largely the unsung heroes of the Boy Scout advancement program—the final three ranks can’t happen without qualified MBCs who expect a Scout’s best. The concept’s simple: “Good enough” isn’t.

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. 455 – 9/29/2015 – 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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