A fine Scouting friend, and true gentleman, Kendall Brown, has “gone home.” Thank you, Kendall. It was my honor to have known you. To your family, please accept my profound sympathy for your–our–loss.
One particular Scout in our troop, who’s been with us for a couple of years now, seems to need ongoing prompting (if not prodding) by his Patrol Leader and even an ASM or two, for his to complete any task. He regularly just wanders off when the troop is conducting Scoutcraft learning activities or service projects—in fact, just about anything that looks like it might be “work”—and his peer leaders often have to go in search of him and then bring him back to the campsite, often under some duress. He’s now been with the troop a couple of years and he’s not risen beyond Second Class rank, so at a weekend troop camp-out, he was assigned to be his patrol’s cook (or “grubmaster,” as they’re called in our troop) so that he could fulfill First Class requirement 4e.
It didn’t work out, however. His Patrol Leader, our Senior Patrol Leader, the Scoutmaster, and three of our four Assistant Scoutmasters that weekend agreed that he didn’t fulfill the requirement—and further agreed that he’ll need to repeat it so as to include all aspects stipulated in the requirement. Unfortunately, the fourth Assistant Scoutmaster was his father, who staunchly disagreed with all others to the point of “reporting” us to folks at the council level, while his wife went to work grilling the Senior Patrol Leader on why he “failed” her son and, further, has begun accusing the Scoutmaster of outright coercion of the others in “failing” this Scout.
In a recent phone conversation that I had with these parents, they claimed that “BSA policy” allows them to appeal the leaders’ refusal to sign-off to the troop committee and have the committee overrule the Scoutmaster and the others, charging that we’re “violating BSA policy by changing requirements” because we developed job aids such as a Leaders’ Survey to track Scout Spirit and a Junior Leader Contract for when a Scout accepts a leadership position. I can’t find anything about these anywhere in the BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT or BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS, but I’m going to give them the opportunity to vent in front of the committee—something I really hope I’m not sorry for, since the parents (both Wood Badge-trained, by the way) are now bringing this all down to a personal attack on our Scoutmaster. So, “just in case it gets ugly,” I’ve asked our Unit Commissioner to sit in on this upcoming meeting. I’m writing to you in the hope that you can offer some thoughts on where we should be going with this. Thanks! (Troop Committee Chair, Council Withheld)
The plan to reach out to your Commissioner is excellent, but do remember that a Commissioner isn’t a “judge”—Commissioners are mediators and facilitators. This will still remain for your troop to solve for itself.
First Class req. 4e is tied to 4a, b, and c. The language for all of these is very specific. In reviewing what the Scout actually did for 4e—point-by-point—it should be relatively simple to evaluate whether he actually did each and every step, or he didn’t. This is a purely objective set of evaluations. If, for instance, he served as a cook and supervised at least one assistant in preparing each of the three meals specified, then that part of the requirement is completed. If he didn’t cook, or didn’t supervise, or skipped a meal, then that part of the requirement is incomplete. Same applies to grace for all three meals and cleanup for all three meals. These criteria are, essentially, “Yes” or “No.” There’s no “maybe.”
Further, Scouts are expected to act on their own initiative, and most all of them live up to our expectations (even when those expectations are unspoken—which is often best). If this Scout had to be chased down in order to get him to do what he was supposed to have done, that was an error. The better (though more difficult) procedure would be to allow him to not do what he’s supposed to have done and allow his patrol—his peers—to provide the necessary “consequences.” (The adult leader’s role is to observe, not to step in and “make it happen.” Same applies to the Senior Patrol Leader—his only “direct reports” are the Patrol Leaders and he certainly doesn’t go on manhunts for vagrant or wayward individual Scouts.)
So, coming back to the situation at hand now, I agree that you all—Scoutmaster, Committee Chair, and Senior Patrol Leader…and perhaps the other three ASMs too—sit down with the parents-with-the-problem and set them straight about how advancement is the Scout’s—not the troop’s—ultimate responsibility. The troop can provide the opportunity; then it’s up to the Scout to take it.
That said, these other items you mention–Scout Spirit “tracking” and a “Junior Leader Contract”—may actually be “overkill” for completing a requirement as basic (and technically “unofficial”) as being a grubmaster for a single weekend camp-out. These suggest that someone may indeed have attempted to gauge performance beyond the written language of this single requirement. So be careful here, and definitely evaluate amongst yourselves whether or not you’re inadvertently adding to a quite straightforward requirement by imposing standards beyond those actually stated in the requirement. (If you are, it’s time to stop doing that—the BSA has already set the standard and no individual, unit, district, or council is permitted to add so much as a single word to any requirement for any rank or merit badge.)
We need help! The Scoutmaster of my son’s troop has a very “hands off” approach to troop meetings and lets the meeting run its course based on what the Scouts want to do—whether it’s “Scouting” or not!
When my son joined, four years ago, we had about 66 Scout in the troop and we would have opening game time, scout skills, patrol time, maybe some merit badge skills here or there, and then any planning or pop-ups, and closing. Today, in large part a result of a laissez faire approach to meetings and camp-outs, which have produced a completely unfocussed program, just short of mayhem, we’re down to less than two dozen Scouts and falling fast when only about half of these show up for any meetings.
Youth leadership development is also virtually nonexistent. For example, this is the third straight six-month “term” served by the same elected Senior Patrol Leader, largely because no other Scouts know much about how to lead a troop…or even a patrol, for that matter.
Meetings have devolved into…
– Maybe (or maybe not) a quick game or activity
– Maybe (or maybe not) a quick instruction
– Mostly each meeting is 2 merit badge “classes” but if the Scouts have that badge—or aren’t interested in it—they’re usually found sitting around the fellowship hall just talking or horsing around. When a parent happens to locate these small groups, they basically “order” the Scouts to either go to a merit badge class or “do something constructive”—and you can guess how well those “orders” work!
I can’t remember any transfers in a very long time. Boys usually quit Scouts or they get Eagle and don’t participate any longer.
The troop meeting prior to a camp-out is our “planning” meeting where the Scouts pick tent partners, patrols are set up for meals, and so forth.
We schedule a camp-out once a month (except June when we’re off to summer camp or a high adventure trip, and July-August which are just too hot in our region so we’ll do a day event like a lock-in or play ultimate). We also don’t camp in December, but we’ll do a day trip (usually shotgun shooting). We’ve had to cancel two camp-outs this past year—one in May and the other in October—because too few Scouts signed up for these.
My son’s thinking of leaving for another Troop, but don’t know if maybe, just as a parent, I should talk with the Scoutmaster first. (DP, Council Withheld)
Losing over 40 Scouts in just four years is huge. Even accounting for the average of about one in 15 or 20 making Eagle and then bailing out (even though that’s a crummy reason to quit—in fact, that’s when the real fun begins), that’s still an average loss of more than ten Scouts a year. This means they’re simply walking (maybe running!) away, and that’s dismal.
So if you show the Troop Meeting Plan to the Scoutmaster and SPL (together) and describe how the SPL runs the whole show except for the Scoutmaster’s minute at the end, and that merit badge work is absolutely not a part of any troop meeting, you may make some progress.
The other things that seem to be missing are “standing patrols”—patrols of Scouts that work together as teams week after week. Games that center on inter-patrol competitions and not individuals will help build patrols and patrol spirit. Plus, it’s the standing patrols that go camping together—patrols aren’t “made up” for convenience each month before an outdoor activity, and Scouts choose tent-mates from within their own patrols, with no “mix-and-match.” This way, patrols arrange their own menus, buy their own food, cook, and clean up for themselves—there’s no “troop mess” and no “camping by troop” (each patrol chooses their own patrol campsite). Patrols also arrange their own transportation—there’s no “troop transportation coordinator.” Bottom line: Unless these patrols have an “investment” in an outing, they’re just not going to show up!
Fish rot from the head, south. If the Scoutmaster isn’t up to the job, this troop will continue to dwindle into non-existence. The fundamental problem is that the Scoutmaster isn’t guiding the SPL, which is actually the Scoutmaster’s single-most important responsibility. So, unless he’s willing to step up and do this, this bunch of boys in tan shirts will never, ever become true “Scouts”!
I suspect the fundamental problem is lack of training. If the Scoutmaster hasn’t taken Scoutmaster-specific training (typically run by your district or council trainers), how will he ever know what he’s really supposed to be doing? Same applies to any ASMs and of course the troop committee as well. So everybody needs to get themselves trained (and I mean more than YPT), or they’ll never know what they’re really supposed to be doing.
If nobody’s willing to do these things, then there are only two possibilities:
– Get yourself appointed Chartered Organization Representative (or, at least, Committee Chair) and replace the incompetents with people willing to get it right and turn this into an actual troop, or
– Go find another troop, that gets it right, and transfer your son immediately.
Wish I had simpler, or better, news, but I don’t. I’ve seen your situation far too many times to think a troop as messed up as this one can be “fixed from the inside.” It just can’t happen, because nobody in authority has any interest in truly trying to make a difference and you’ll hit a stone wall (and it won’t be pleasant).
Please do two things… First, Google “Troop Meeting Plan” and let me know if you think anybody but you has ever seen this before. Second, check out nearby troops to see if any of the Scouts that used to be in yours have transferred, and also to see what kind of program the troops are running.
Thanks for your expert insights, Andy! Call it amazing timing, but the Committee Chair informed all troop leaders and parents just last night that since his son has just made Eagle, he’s stepping down. Bigger news is that the Scoutmaster’s also stepping down (in this case his own son—a Life Scout, no less!—has lost interest in Scouting and is quitting altogether).
So now’s the chance to get new blood at both the Committee Chair and Scoutmaster positions at the same time, and try to right this ship. I’m going to take your suggestions to the new leadership and change the culture ASAP. Thanks again! (DP)
Don’t wait a minute! There’s no such thing as coincidence, so go for it! And get some other dads (and moms, too!) at your side!
Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to email@example.com. 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. 465 – 12/15/2015 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2015]