Author Avatar

Issue 509 – December 6, 2016

Hi Andy,

About David Ball’s question (your November 11th Issue) about adult support on outings, let me share something our Senior Patrol Leader and his ASPL did a couple of years ago…

They were having issues with outing preparations in general, so
they asked our Scoutmaster if they could call a parents’ meeting. They
did, and the parent turnout was excellent. They prepared a presentation on what parents could do to assist with the troop, including occasionally joining
in on outings, or driving every now and then, but they added a few
other things as well. Like how important it is for parents to get their sons to meetings on time, double-checking that their sons are properly for outings (e.g., proper winter clothing, no jeans, rain gear even if it’s sunny, night temperature-appropriate sleeping bags—even the difference between a school book-bag and a real backpack!). They even had suggestions for what might be appropriate gifts for Scouts for holidays and birthdays.

Their presentation was thorough, on-target, very well done, and perhaps better received since it was our youth leaders delivering the message, and not us “old guys”! (Guy Klose, Troop Committee Chair, Spirit of Adventure Council, MI)

Brilliant – Thanks!
Hi Andy,

Our pack is in serious need of some fundraising. I’m being told our Cub Scout pack is broke. I’m uncertain of the popcorn sale totals as of now, but I understand they’re not favorable. According to our treasurer, the Cubs will have to buy their own Pinewood Derby cars this year, because there’s no money in the pack’s account to do this, as we’ve done in prior years.

Most all the leadership in our pack is new and trying to figure out ways through this situation. We’re willing to take any ideas or advice you may have. Thank you for your time and help. (Kevin, CA, Longhorn Council, TX)

Short-term, I’d say parents are likely the key… If they agree to buy Pinewood Derby kits for their sons ($3.99 per kit, plus tax), then there’s little problem. If they’d rather not spring for less than the price of a Big Mac, then they have two choices: No Pinewood Derby this year or do a fund-raiser for the kits. This keeps it pretty simple.

For the longer-range, consider both increasing annual pack dues that parents pay for their sons and convincing every family to get involved in Popcorn sales.

For more help that’s up close and personal, track down your District Commissioner and ask to have a Unit Commissioner assigned to your pack for advice, suggestions, and coaching (especially when it comes to building stronger relationships with the parents of the Cubs!). Very best wishes!
Dear Andy,

I’m hosting an “Hour of Code” for a Boy Scout troop, and I’m wondering if it will meet one or more of the requirements for a merit badge. Can you help? (You can find more information about this at (Nikki)

I checked out… Very cool! Yes, there are several ways Scouts can use what they learn in your “Hour.” My suggestion is for them to figure out where and how they’d like to use their “end-product.” If it can be printed out, along with a brief note from you about what they’ve done, that should do the trick!
Hello Andy,

Our troop has been struggling with board of review guidelines, and we need help. The GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT statement below seems to be contradictory. Can you help me understand how a board of review can “assure that a Scout did what he was supposed to do” without re-testing him? Here’s the passage: “Though one reason for a board of review is to help assure the Scout did what he was supposed to do to meet the requirements, it shall become neither a retest or ‘examination,’ nor a challenge of his knowledge.”

Taking this a step further, can you give me some idea about when it’s reasonable to not pass a Scout at a board of review? Such as, what if he doesn’t remember how to orient a map, or describe signs of and treatment for a heatstroke (or is just too nervous or stressed to recall)? It seems that this sort of thing happens too often in our troop, under the rationale of having “a rigorous program that makes sure the Scouts are ready to advance.”

I’d be happy to learn how it’s abundantly clear, per BSA policy, that there can be no retesting…but if there’s none, then how could there ever be a question of “pass” or “fail” a board of review? (Name Withheld, Capitol Area Council)

You’re absolutely correct: Unless something really weird comes up in a board of review (like the Scout announces he’s recently decided he’s into devil-worship, or he’s working hard to overthrow the U.S. government), this conversation (yes, conversation!) is destined to be successful—and that’s the whole idea!

A board of review is fundamentally for the troop’s committee members to learn how well the troop’s uniformed adults (i.e., Scoutmaster and any assistants) are delivering the Boy Scout program via the eight Methods of Scouting (of which Advancement is one). This is determined not by tasking the Scout with orienting a map (he’s already done this, or that requirement wouldn’t have been signed off, for goodness sakes!), but to ask him how he learned how to do this. Likewise, he’s not quizzed on the symptoms or treatments of heatstroke, but asked how and where and from whom he learned these (ideally, it would be hands-on, on-the-trail, by his Patrol Leader). Conversely, when you hear that he learned stuff like this by sitting in a stultifying “troop class,” lectured to by my some well-meaning but completely misguided adult, you know there’s work to be done. But that work isn’t with the Scout; it’s with the quality of the troop program as delivered by the Scoutmaster and any ASMs.

The BSA is absolutely consistent and correct on this point. Scouts reinforce the skills they’ve learned and knowledge they’ve gained not by being re-tested ad nauseum but by getting out there and using this stuff on the trail and in the campsite.

So here’s the real important part of this whole thing: Scout’s don’t “fail” boards of review, nor do they “pass” them; they complete them.

If your troop isn’t getting this right, you’re missing the point of boards of review as a way to endorse what a Scout’s learned and done and encourage him to keep on learning and doing!

Thanks for your help, Andy—it’s a big help, along with a video on the topic I found that!

I’ve always been uncomfortable with how our troop has done reviews, and since I became Committee Chair I’ve spoken with one of our Scouts who hasn’t been advancing, plus—separately—his mother. Apparently, he was “failed” at two consecutive boards of review, for being “insufficient in skills,” and, basically, quit trying to advance in rank. (Talk about the antithesis of the Aims of Scouting!) That really got me going on this and now I’m starting an initiative to make change. I expect that some of the old-timers will tell me I’m “watering down” “their” program, and my planned response will be that we’re here to make the program better and not find ways to “fail” Scouts. So thanks again!

But just one more question… If we don’t use boards of review to assess skills and knowledge, is that what the Scoutmaster Conference is for?

Nope! The Scoutmaster conference isn’t for re-testing either. Bottom line: There’s simply no re-testing, ever. Once a requirement has been signed off or initialed in the Scout’s handbook it’s considered completed, and that’s that. The purpose of the Scoutmaster conference is described very well in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK. Use that as your guide.
Dear Andy,

I’ve read the “Disclaimer and Terms of Use” for your columns but I always feel better asking before I leap. I’d like to confirm that it is OK with you to occasionally use some of your letters and responses in our district’s newsletter to facilitate Roundtable discussion on various topics (specifically merit badges and The Patrol Method). (Richard Atkin, District Commissioner & WB-92-70 Bobwhite, Atlanta Area Council)

Yes, feel free to use anything you like, from any of my columns! All I ask is that anything you use be attributed, and include the link to these columns and my email address (so folks can write in). Other than these requests, there are no restrictions on frequency, number, or anything else. (WB4-58-89-Owl—“The Other White Meat”)

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. 509 – 12/6/2016 – 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.

Read Andy's full biography

Follow Andy

Subscribe via email or RSS and follow via social media.

Comments are closed.