I’ve been our troop’s advancement chair for the past several years. In this capacity, I’ve had to deal with long-standing concerns about our Committee Chair (“CC”) and Chartered Organization Representative (“CR”), and their deviations from BSA advancement standards and principles of Scouting. Here are a few of the challenges I’ve had…
In one Scout’s case, the CC and CR refused to support his advancement to Life rank because they felt the “quality” of his leadership didn’t meet their “standards.” When I approached our Scoutmaster about this Scout’s leadership, the Scoutmaster considered, without hesitation, this Scout ready to advance. Despite this commendation, both the CC and CR refused to participate in this Scout’s board of review. (I ended up having to find other adult leaders to sit in his board.)
In another case, the CC and CR wanted to impose additional “participation” requirements on the ranks from Tenderfoot through First Class, despite my telling them that this contradicts the BSA’s prohibition on adding to requirements. When I pointed this out to them, they defended their so-called position by informing me that the committee agreed to this “years ago.” When I advised them that no committee is authorized to establish requirements beyond the BSA’s, they agreed to “revisit” the matter (but with no change in attitude at that time). When I further offered to lead a discussion on the subject of what’s authorized and what’s not, in advancement at our next full committee meeting, the CC said he wasn’t interested.
Third case: The CR stated he’ll not support or participate in any boards of review unless they’re held at the troop’s private camp, which is some 50 miles away from the town our troop’s in. He claims this has been “a troop policy” for decades, and is questioning why we’re “violating” this “policy.” My own position is that, whether or not it’s been the troop’s practice “for decades,” it’s completely unreasonable to require a Scout to travel 100 miles round-trip and—get this!—commit to a weekend of camping (including paying a fee to the troop for doing so) just to have a board of review. Plus, this would mean those who will be sitting on that review will have to do the same.
I’ve attempted to explain how these troop practices are inconsistent with Scouting policies as I understand them, and ultimately only hurt the Scouts—who don’t understand why they can’t advance, or can’t have their board of review—but much of this is falling on “tradition”-filled ears.
We’re now at the point where Scouts are quitting this troop because of these off-the-reservation practices, but, even though we’re all aware of our troop’s diminished and diminishing youth membership, neither the CC nor the CR seems to care at all. They’re fundamentally willing to watch the troop shrink so long as they get to do as they please.
My tactic has been to simply not call on these two for boards of review, but I realize this is just side-stepping the issue rather than addressing it.
So I guess my central question is: What can I do beyond what I’m already doing? I’m not sure where to turn, in large part because the rest of the committee is uninvolved in day-to-day stuff, I don’t feel I can raise this with the head of our chartered organization because their own CR is 50% of the problem, and I’m not certain anyone at the district level has the authority to help. Do you have any suggestions that might help here? (Troop Advancement Chair, Council Withheld)
Let’s start with a few basic facts (meaning: not my “opinion”—BSA Policy)…
– BSA: “POLICY ON UNAUTHORIZED CHANGES TO ADVANCEMENT PROGRAM: No council, committee, district, unit, or individual has the authority to add to, or subtract from, advancement requirements.”
This point is crystal-clear and not subject to “interpretation.” Anyone or any group or committee in violation of this policy needs to correct-course instantly, and it would certainly be more than appropriate to reinstate any advancements withheld because of such unauthorized changes. In my opinion, anyone or any group or committee refusing to comply with this policy needs to be removed from his, her, or their volunteer positions, including revocation of BSA membership.
– BSA-GTA Topic 22.214.171.124: “BOARDS OF REVIEW MUST BE GRANTED WHEN REQUIREMENTS ARE MET: A Scout shall not be denied this opportunity.” This topic goes on to point out that no one has the authority to demand a Scout “perform” beyond the stated requirements in order to have a board of review held on his behalf.
– Also per the BSA, regarding board of review composition for all ranks and palms except Eagle (see GTA Topics 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52): “A board of review must consist of no fewer than three members and no more than six, all of whom must be at least 21 years of age” and “The board is made up of…unit committee members.” (Note, there are possible exceptions to the latter statement; however, these only apply in the event of a temporary shortage of committee members, and this must be the rare exception and not standard unit procedure. See GTE Topic 184.108.40.206 for details on this.)
– On “pre-rejecting” a Scout and denying him a board of review, we have GTA Topic 220.127.116.11: “In situations where—before a board is held—one or more members are of an opinion the Scout should be rejected, they should discuss their reasoning with the (Scoutmaster)…(who can) prevent an…unfair scenario.”
– A Chartered Organization Representative (“CR”) is, by definition, NOT a member of a board of review for any rank or palm except Eagle, and, in the case of a board for Eagle, this is optional (but not the CR’s option) and not “automatic.”
From where I sit, the notion of creating undue hardship on the part of the Scout and the board members as well, by insisting on a location 50 miles away from the troop’s home-base is absurd and totally outside the spirit of advancement. In fact, it’s outside the spirit of Scouting itself. Moreover, from a practical standpoint, when a review for Scout or Tenderfoot rank should take about 5 to 10 minutes, Second and First Class about 10 to 15 minutes, and even Star and Life no more than about 20 minutes, a round-trip of 100 miles for any of these is crazy as well as abusive. (I have to wonder if the “hidden agenda” behind this “decades old” practice isn’t to simply enrich the troop’s coffers, since the troop, as you say, owns the property.)
When a bunch of hard-noses from some troop says, “We’ve ALWAYS done it this way,” the only possible response is “Yeah, and you’ve all been WRONG for how many years now?”
Rule #1: STUPID HAS NO CURE.
Rule #107: DOWNRIGHT MEANNESS IS OFTEN DISGUISED AS “TRADITION.”
So, here are my suggestions…
Instead of citing advancement policies “as you understand them,” get your hands on the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT-2015 (www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/33088.pdf or SKU 620573) and read it with a highlighter in your hand. This way, you’ll know exactly what the policies are—with no equivocation of “guessing.”
Make it your personal policy to NEVER include either of these two curmudgeons in boards of review ever again.
Reach out to other parents who “get” what advancement is all about, and get them on the troop committee as registered members (you need ALLIES!).
Get someone from your district’s training team or commissioner staff to run a “short course” on advancement and boards of review for all committee members (and tell ’em in advance what to be prepared for).
Forget about the CR— He doesn’t qualify to sit on reviews anyway!
Finally, on the question of whether or not this should appear in one of my columns, yes, definitely! It’s too important to not be read by our fellow Scouters across the country. And besides, do you really think either of these mushroom-brained Shiitake-heads actually reads my columns?
Andy, thank you sincerely for your response. You’re right. Upon reflection, I’m absolutely fine with publishing this.
Trust me; I’m rapidly becoming very familiar with BSA policies because that’s how I’ll win any debate about what’s appropriate. It’s just a long hard slog to establish new practices when the old habits literally go back to the 1940s and 50s. Thankfully, the Scoutmaster and I are in lock-step about a patrol method-driven, boy-led troop with ample advancement opportunities and recognition of achievements.
At the end of the day, as advancement chair I feel I have only two “customers”—the Scoutmaster (to support and contribute to his vision for the unit program and advancement within it) and the Scouts themselves (to give them the opportunities they deserve, consistent with BSA programming and policy). The CR and CC aren’t my customers—if anything, I should be theirs!
Your advice about an externally-led retraining session is perfect. I think we could use it for both advancement and how committees are organized and run. Sometimes people listen better to third parties than their own teams. (TAC)
YES! You’ve got it all, and you’re aimed right. The best news is that the Scoutmaster and you are of the same mind. We’re not here as Scouting volunteers to throw up road-blocks; our “job” is to support and encourage advancement—because this is what helps turn these boys into the men who will, in the not-too-distant future—be heading up their families, their businesses, and the country we’ll be giving over to them. You and that Scoutmaster literally have it in your hands to change the world!
Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. 522 – 3/21/2017 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2017]