Dealing with policy issues

RuleBook_200A reader writes:

Our Scoutmaster wants to make changes to the troop uniform policy, but when I said I should have been in on the discussion he told me that uniforming wasn’t something that was at the committee chair level, since it deals directly with the Scouts. I said that changes of that nature need to be incorporated into the troop handbook, and should still be discussed by the committee. Should I have a say in the matter?

Let’s look a little deeper into what you’re asking and see if we can figure out what the real issues are.

When it comes to the way a troop is run, the committee chair should absolutely know what’s going on. Not because actions necessarily need your approval, but just because you are the chief administrative leader. The Scoutmaster is the “top leader” in the program sense, and is certainly the most visible adult volunteer. The relationship between the Scoutmaster and the committee chair should be one of mutual cooperation and support – not a “me versus him” mentality.

Now, on to the question about amendments to your troop handbook and its uniform policy. There’s really not much of a need for a unit handbook beyond how the unit handles variables like meeting days and times, payment procedures and so forth. Issues relating to Scout participation, behavior, uniforming, etc., are already well defined by the BSA, and the purpose of outlining them in a troop handbook, guidebook or parent manual should only be to explain these aspects to parents, not to set new ones..

Your troop already has “uniform requirements” and those are the expectations that are contained in the Methods of Boy Scouting. The Uniforming method is described well in both the Scout Handbook and the Scout Leader Guide. Basically, it states that (a) we have a uniform, and (b) we wear it to Scouting events. It also goes into the reasons why we have uniforming, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. If you’d like a great discussion on the topic, read this blog post from the Utah National Parks Council:

Of course, there are practical considerations – a Scout wouldn’t wear his full field uniform during most of a campout or on a service project to help plant trees, for instance, and the BSA allows for an activity uniform. I suspect this may be where your Scoutmaster might want to define what the activity uniform consists of, and when and where it can or should be worn.

I think that a good way to handle this is not for the committee or the Scoutmaster to make rules about which uniform to wear and when. Rather, involve the Scouts in determining how they will follow the Uniforming method. The Scoutmaster could confer with the senior patrol leader about the issue, together they can work out a few possible scenarios, and the SPL can take it to the patrol leaders’ council for discussion. (As the blog post suggests, a boy wouldn’t show up for a basketball game in jeans and a t-shirt. Basketball has a uniform, and so does Scouting.)

You may find that it takes a good amount of gentle nudging and patience, but in the long run it will make for a better troop if you remember why the boys joined in the first place. They want to have fun with their friends and go camping, not to be told by adults what to do. They get plenty of that in school, sports, band, and at home.


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