Here’s an excerpt from Ask Andy’s December 10th column.
My question has to do with BSA national policies and why so many troops seem to stray… For example, my son recently “failed” his Scoutmaster conference for First Class… His Scoutmaster will quiz the Scouts on all requirements up to the rank being sought. I know of a troop where Scouts are required to present to their Scoutmaster the completed merit badge worksheets for all Eagle-required merit badges, for his final approval, even if the Scouts have signed blue cards from their Merit Badge Counselors.
… does the BSA just assume that people will read the policies and then simply apply a basic understanding of the English language? If so, based on what I’ve seen and read in your columns, it ain’t working.
How do I, as a parent and troop committee member, bring up these concerns, knowing that my son has at least three more Scoutmaster conferences from now to Eagle, and I sure don’t want to cause additional problems for him?
Yours is the universal question, that people like yourselves have been asking for the past ten years that I’ve been writing this column, and I’m convinced for many decades before that.
Why are there deviations?
First, there’s the famous caveat: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That is to say, there are volunteers in Scouting who derive great personal satisfaction from “failing” boys and making boys jump through hoops that the BSA never intended be there, and these people are unlikely to be swayed by training, reading, or confrontation by knowledgeable people—their purpose in joining the BSA in the first place would be ultimately thwarted if they had to conform to BSA standards, and so they ignore those standards, find supposed “loop-holes”… , and other means so that they can continue doing what satisfies their own sick egos and warped emotional needs.
The third is lack of knowledge by accident, and is fixable by attending training and reading the leaders’ materials available.
The fourth is ignorance by design, by people who, in their misguided “infinite wisdom” believe they know better than anyone else how the program should “really” be delivered, and so they do for as long as you parents, the committee (which is sometime culpable as well, so be cautious here), and the sponsor allow them to get away with it.
In your son’s troop, if the Committee Chair does understand that the Scoutmaster’s off-base, and is willing to have a serious chat about getting right, your son and every Scout in the troop will stand a chance at not being mistreated any further.
If not, then the Chartered Organization Representative or the head of the sponsoring organization might want to have this conversation.
But if neither of these happens, and you don’t want to get yourself into the Chartered Organization Representative position—where you can really make a difference!—then your only two options left are to tolerate these injustices (baaaad idea!) or find a better troop for your son and his friends, and then get them over there as fast as you can.
Now, a couple of simple details…
The BSA clearly states that merit badges are absolutely not subject to further testing or re-testing once signed off by the Merit Badge Counselor. That Scoutmaster is totally out of line in what he’s doing.
The BSA is equally clear about the purposes of Scoutmasters conferences. They have noting whatsoever to do with re-examining the details of any requirements, current or past. The reason the Scoutmaster Handbook doesn’t say this is because the book states what is supposed to happen, and therefore assumes that no one is stupid enough to do what isn’t described or mean-spirited enough to use these conferences as their own judgmental fiefdoms.
Further in this regard, the BSA is equally clear that boards of review are not for the purposes of retesting anything, ever.
Yes, the BSA does (and must!) assume that intelligent people who have the best interests of our young people at heart will follow the program as it’s written. The BSA doesn’t presume that the program will be delivered by idiots or miscreants. Maybe that’s a mistake…
Andy doesn’t mince words does he?
Larry Geiger says
Just doesn’t get it. Oh well.
To “maintain the integrity of the program ” we must do what the program says we must do. When you have read what you are clearly required to do and been told the same, and you don’t do it, then you are the one not maintaining the integrity of the program. That’s pretty clear.
I’m old. Clarke is somewhat old. Some Scouters are older. We have heard “rank of Eagle Scout is becoming diluted” since at least the 50s. Maybe someone here has heard this since the 40s. The only thing diluting the rank of Eagle is folks that want to make it up as they go. Good grief.
Every young man will get what he gets out of Scouting. Every Eagle Scout that I know has earned at least 2 or 3 “diluted” merit badges at summer camp and most of them probably have 8 or 10. Those merit badges weren’t taught the way Joe or Clarke or Larry would probably teach them. So what. The 16 to 20 year scouting staff teaching those MBs probably learned more Scouting than the Scouts in the MB classes.
Clarke is absolutely correct about the MB counselor. Scouting has some very definite lines of responsibility and it’s best we not cross those. When the SM tries to do the Committee Chair job the troop suffers. Whe the MB counselor tries to do the SM job the troop suffers. When the committee signs off a Board of Review it’s done. Period. When the SM signs off on the SM Conference, it’s done. Period. Joe, do you want every committee member in the troop second guessing your SM Conferences? I think not! Well then, leave your MB counselors alone.
Your ONLY recourse is the authorizing agency for MB counselors. That’s the local Council. Not you. Not the COR. Not the SM. The Council. Period.
And Joe, no, we are not on opposite sides of the fence, here. You are wrong.
Clarke Green says
Most of us old-timers have felt, at one time or another, that the quality of instruction and skills in Scouting is ‘diluted’ and we really want to do something about it. I think this happens fairly early on – five or six years into our work as Scout leaders.
We may make our own rules, we may take our frustration out on Scouts, we may stare at disbelief at the BSA policies that seem to perpetuate these problems. We can even jump to conclusions about how and why things ‘undermine the integrity of the program’.
If we are fortunate somebody will help us ‘get it’ as Larry says above. We’ll understand that Scouting has very little to do with perfecting skills or rigorous instruction or ‘the integrity of the program’ (I really grow tired of that particular term). We look at the policies and finally figure out that instead of the BSA being wrong it’s we that have it wrong – that we’ve come close to missing the whole point of the thing.
Once we realize that we are not the arbiters or protectors of the advancement program , that there are bigger and more important things for us to do. We then see the logic of the policies that looked like they were preventing us from doing the right thing.
I think Larry would agree that ‘getting it’ lightens the load considerably.
No one can add or subtract from the requirements of a merit badge.
This is also the clearly expressed policy of the BSA.
To have allowed this scout to receive the partially completed badge and then wait for a fix for later instances of irresponsibility would not have been maintaining the integrity of the program.
I would consider it fraudulent to have let that happen.
I’m only glad that I happened to have the information about the scout that I did.
There are likely countless merit badge counselors who cut corners for scouts for whatever reason they might have. This particular one was just a matter of small town politics.
It isn’t right, whatever the reason.
The BSA’s policy clearly assumes that the merit badge counselor’s signature is an assurance that the requirements have been met. They specifically use the word “earned”. I’m sure that fulfilling all the requirements is what is meant by that.
We shall remain on opposite sides of the fence on this issue, I’m afraid.
Clarke Green says
I do understand that you had good reason, even direct unquestionable knowledge, that a Scout had not completed the requirements for a merit badge. I get that. But Scoutmasters are simply not empowered to judge who ‘earned’ or did not earn a merit badge – you don’t get to make the call, you don’t get to decide who gets and who doesn’t get a merit badge.
What you can do is alert the District Advancement Chairman to the fact that you are certain that a counselor is not following the requirements and let them handle it.
That’s the fourth time we’ve been over this and that closes this particular argument.
Clarke Green says
It’s not what I believe or what I feel – it is the clearly expressed policy of the BSA that the merit badge counselor has the last word about whether or not a Scout has earned the badge. You, as a Scoutmaster, can’t do anything to change that.
Your fix is going to the District Advancement folks and asking them to look into it. Maintaining the integrity of the program is following the rules not making your own.
It is implied above that the merit badge counselor is the final word on a scout receiving a merit badge. I ran into a problem with this once when a merit badge counselor signed off on a Camping merit badge and I knew that the scout had not completed a requirement. Prior to my getting this blue card the scout had told me that he was going to lie about how he had fulfilled that requirement. I told the scout, and counselor, that I would send in the advancement form when the requirement had been met. A couple of weeks later, I received another signed blue card for the same badge and the requirement had still not been met. The counselor told me that he had talked to the scout and felt he “deserved” the badge. I reiterated that I would not approve a merit badge that I knew wasn’t completed. Finally, the scout went on a camping experience that fulfilled the requirement and I sent in the advancement form. I don’t feel that I overstepped any boundary by doing this. I feel that it would have been “out of line” if I had allowed this scout to receive something that we all knew he had not yet earned, especially a merit badge so close to the core of the Scouting experience.
Clarke Green says
Joe – What you did is well intentioned but wrong – let me explain why.
It’s not implied that the MB counselor is the final word it is clearly delineated policy:
The merit badge counselor is absolutely the final word on the badge. It is simply not within the Scoutmaster’s (or any one else’s) authority to withhold a badge once it has been approved by the counselor.
So what do you do when you think that there’s been some kind of irregularity with the way the counselor has preformed? Take your concerns to your district advancement chairman and then let them take care of it.
Why is the policy written this way and why should we follow it to the letter? Someone has to have the final word on a Scout’s performance in merit badge work and the BSA wisely places that responsibility in the hands of the person who should be most qualified to evaluate it – the counselor.
If we start personally vetting counselors or the work performed to earn badges we have stepped out of bounds. This is the responsibility of the District and Council Advancement Committee.
I understand that you feel you were right in doing this, and I can commiserate with your frustration but it does not make what you did right. You were clearly out of bounds on this one.
I wish it were possible to see a show of hands on how many Scoutmasters would sign off an advancement form for an Eagle-required merit badge KNOWING that the requirements were not met.
I hope it is not many.
Clarke Green says
“A merit badge cannot be taken away once it has been earned, provided the counselor is a registered counselor for the merit badge.”
What a Scout does to fulfill a merit badge is not any of your business as a Scoutmaster. If you suspect a problem there’s a way to fix it and refusing to sign something is simply the wrong way to go about it.
I didn’t have a suspicion, I knew that the requirement had not been met. Twice.
Actually, your stance is that there is NOT, in fact, a way to fix it.
It is obvious that you believe a merit badge counselor’s signature is the end of the merit badge process.
A merit badge has NOT been earned if the requirements have not been met, so there was no taking one away.
I believe that is part of the reason that the rank of Eagle Scout is becoming diluted.
I can only hope that there are other scout leaders who want to maintain the integrity of the program for those scouts who really have earned their way.
DWB Sr. says
As a Scoutmaster I use the conference as a means to find out really what WE as adult leaders are doing wrong when trying to help the leadership corp of this Troop. We talk about the things that they had to do to pass the reqs. for that rank, what they would like to do as a troop / patrol or even and more important what they don’t like to do. Retest them that is not the point it is a chance to get to know the boy and how he has grown in each rank.
Allan Green says
Fail a board of review? Not really. Before I was a scoutmaster, I lead a board of review for a first class scout seeking star. Our tradition is to have the scout say the scout oath and law at the offset. He clearly did not know these. I was a bit dumbfounded at this, and gave him every opportunity to recall, figuring that he was just shy. But no, he really did not know them. I don’t know what he had been doing in all those meetings opened with the reciting of the scout oath and law all that time, but I considered this something to deal with. The other adults on the board, not that used to a board of review, were clearly disappointed and wanted something done.
I did not “fail” the kid. I did not even “close” the board of review, but merely “suspended the proceedings” till the next week, so we could all “consider the importance” of scout spirit for scouts at the higher ranks. So the next week we reconvened, and I asked the scout if he wished to try the oath and law again. What do you know, but he recited them perfectly. He had all the star requirements signed off, so we congratulated him on earning the star rank.
I guess he got my message and prepared for this meeting. Would I have failed this scout if he did not learn the words to the Oath and Law? Probably not, but I would have had a talk with the Scoutmaster to have him “stress the importance of these concepts” for the boys as they come up for advancement review.