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Issue 508 – November 29, 2016

The great semanticist, S.I. Hayakawa informs us that, “of all forms of symbolism, language is the most highly developed, most subtle, and most complicated.” He correspondingly advises that “there is no necessary connection between the symbol and that which is symbolized.” Wearing a Dodgers baseball cap, he points out, doesn’t automatically mean that the wearer is indeed a Dodgers fan, much less a player. Moreover, these symbols (words) can shift meaning over time, with the sometimes unhappy result that what we think is a symbol of one thing becomes the symbol of another. This is the crux of a problem we often have in Scouting. But, before we turn to Scouting, let’s for a moment see how the shift in the meaning of the symbol-word “bully” has affected perceptions of its meaning, and thereby affects our responses to that word…

When in 1904 “bully pulpit” was first coined by then-president Theodore Roosevelt, he was referring to the usage of that era. “Bully” at that time and not in any way unique to TR meant “outstanding,” “good-for-you,” “delightful,” according to etymologists. Over time, however, the meaning of “bully” shifted, so that, today, it more commonly connotes forceful aggressiveness, overbearing demeanor, “pushy” in the sense of meanness. One current consequence is revealed by the renowned historian, author, and Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin, who gets it wrong in her tome, THE BULLY PULPIT. She mistakenly uses this term to denote the use of a “pulpit” to preach a mean viewpoint in a forceful, overbearing manner, instead of having a jolly good time. Today we now have “anti-bullying” workshops and “how-to” books. Even Webster’s New Riverside University Dictionary (“Today’s most up-to-date dictionary”) defines “bully” as “one who is habitually cruel, especially to smaller or weaker people; a ruffian”; not until definition 4 do we find “A fine fellow.”

Similarly, Webster’s today defines “master” as “one with control over the action of another or others”; not until definition 8 do we find “A teacher, schoolmaster, or tutor.” Yet it’s that eighth definition that, in the same era as Theodore Roosevelt, then-General Robert S.S. Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement, had in mind when he coined “Scoutmaster.”
“Scoutmaster” in 1907 meant “teacher of Scouts.” But, thanks to a shift in meaning over the following century, came to mean “one who controls the actions of Scouts;” “the ‘boss’ of Scouts.”

As a result of this meaning shift, we find today many men and women who, instead of modeling the original concept of benevolent teacher, have instead become “masters” (meaning “bosses”) of Scouts. Of course, it’s often and equally found that Cubmasters act in a similar manner.

In both cases, among both Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops, even these units’ committee chairs defer to the “mastery” of the Cubmaster or Scoutmaster.

While it may be fruitless to attempt reversing the trend of “bully,” we certainly do something about this shift in Scouting nomenclature. Luckily, it’s simple: Think of these two important roles—Cubmaster and Scoutmaster—as TEACHERS or MENTORS in the sense that Baden-Powell originally envisioned: ”That of the wiser, compassionate older brother (or sister, nowadays).”

There you have it. It’s not so difficult after all. And it’ll make all the difference!


Hello Andy,

While reading your November 11th issue (No. 506), I saw the letter from David Ball concerning his troop’s inability to find a second adult to go on campouts with the troop. In our neck of the woods we had a similar problem: two small troops facing an identical “no second adult” situation on a regular basis. To deal with this I created a small, Internet-based group of Scoutmasters in our town, made up of six healthy-sized troops and two fairly small troops. The group of eight created a “camping calendar” for all, and posted their schedules online, with open invitations for the two smaller troops to join up with any of the larger ones on any of their campouts, with a brief notification to the “lead troop” in advance. It worked, and I hope this might help. (Mike Ward, Troop Membership Chair, Pathway to Adventure Council, IL)

On the surface, your plan sounds good, and would certainly work as a stop-gap so Scouts can keep on camping and hiking and such. What concerns me, though, is that it’s treating the symptom but not the fundamental problem. At some point (pretty quickly!), parents need to comprehend and get behind the fact that Scouting, unlike YMCA, PAL, and other youth-serving organizations, isn’t a “drop-and-run” operation for “others” (often, employees or part-time paid staff) to run; parents need to step up and help out if they want their sons to have a Scouting experience.
Hi Andy,

I have a question regarding Youth Protection Training. The BSA YPT guidelines are written in a way that, in my opinion, allows a lot of room for interpretation, or mis-interpretation.

Here’s the part I’m having difficulty with: “Two-deep leadership on all outings required. A minimum of two registered adult leaders, or one registered leader and a participating Scout’s parent, or another adult is required for all trips and outings. One of these adults must be 21 years of age or older”

First, what’s a “trip or outing”? A camping trip or day activity is pretty simple, but what if Scouts want to offer service to their school for a holiday celebration? Is this an “outing”? Are two adults required? The Scouts, after all, will be in public, will be at their own school, and will be dropped off and picked up by their own parents. Does this require two-deep leadership? Or how about a patrol meeting at the Patrol Leader’s home? Is this considered an “outing or trip”?

Then we have the “two-deep” guideline. It seems to me that the “language” here could be simplified: one registered adult and any other adult (age 21 or older) seems sufficient. So why use the additional language referencing a scout’s parent or another adult, and why start the paragraph off by saying two registered adult leaders if it doesn’t have to be two? Wouldn’t it make just as much sense, and be simpler to say “a minimum of one registered adult leader and one other adult age 21 or older”? (Justin Vickers)

I do understand your concerns with that “two-deep leadership” statement, so let’s tackle your questions in reverse order and see if we can make some sense out of it…

First, it’s possible to have a “registered adult leader” who’s an 18 year-old Assistant Scoutmaster, so that’s most likely why the “21 years of age or older” specification is in there. But notice that only one of the two must be 21 or older; the second one could be 18, 19, or 20 and you’re still okay to go. I do agree, however, that it might be simpler to say, “One registered adult volunteer and one other adult person; at least one of these two must be age 21 or older.”

Second: What does “outings” mean? This one’s a bit trickier. Yes, patrols can meet and even carry out an activity locally (e.g., go bowling, take a short hike in a town park) without “two-deep” adult oversight. But the BSA specifies that projects toward Eagle rank, even if they only involve the Life Scout himself and his non-Scout helpers (of any age), must employ the “two-deep leadership” (“TDL” for short) rule (don’t ask me why…I don’t get to write that stuff!). As for the in-town school service project, it gets even trickier: If a single patrol does this it’s okay to skip the TDL, but if it’s random Scouts from throughout the troop, then TDL would apply.

Also, remember this: TDL is not to “avoid one-on-one contact;” it’s to assure adult oversight for safety (not “youth protection”) reasons. After all, it’s perfectly okay for a Merit Badge Counselor to meet with two Scouts (or more) or even one Scout and his non-Scout buddy. Extending this, it’s likewise okay for a Scoutmaster, alone, to meet with two or more Scouts.

Yes, it’s sorta convoluted and sometimes doesn’t appear to make sense. So think of it this way: What do you need to do, to assure that the youth in your charge will be safe?

I hope this helps a little. But remember that I’m a Scouting volunteer and pull my hiking boots on the same way you do, so for more up-close-and-personal information, do reach out to your council’s risk management or health & safety committee.
Hi Andy,

I’m having a problem with the Journey to Excellence scorecards. At the bottom of each of the unit scorecards is a checkbox: “Our [unit] has completed online rechartering by the deadline in order to maintain continuity of our program.”

First off, is it just an informational question, or does it apply to the scorecard and scoring? If it isn’t checked (aka, “No”) what does that mean? One interpretation could be that the award is conditional on accomplishing this on time. Meaning that if they were Gold/Silver/Bronze, they wouldn’t be eligible for JTE awards if they didn’t recharter online on time. Or maybe it means something else? Can’t tell. But if it does relate to the “score,” what does “by the deadline” mean?

I’m asking about the deadline because our district publishes the recharter turn-in day way ahead of time—this year it was November 10—even though our council has a recharter turn-in date of November 30, and the current charters themselves are perfectly valid until December 31. If this check-box is informational, then it doesn’t matter so much; but if it’s conditional, then it probably matters a lot! Can you help me out with this? (Robert McLemore, Commissioner, Capital Area Council)

I’d love to clear this up for you, but I might well be muddying the waters further if there’s a chance that the procedure in your council may be, in fact, council-specific. So I’m going to recommend that you pick up the phone and ask your District Executive what you’ve just asked me. This will give you the answer straight from the person primarily responsible for charter turn-ins.

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. 507 – 11/29/2016 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2016]


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.

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