No more, no less

33216_WB-2What if a high school math teacher decided that during her geometry class she would start teaching her students about calculus?

What if questions about calculus appeared on the course midterm or final exam?

In the first instance, the teacher could be trying to show her students that what they’re learning – in what to some may be a pointless geometry class – is of value further along in the spectrum of mathematics. After all, calculus does rely on many of the concepts learned from geometry.

But in the second case, the teacher is clearly out of bounds for expecting that her students should demonstrate some proficiency in limits, differentials or integrals – subject matter that isn’t required by the geometry curriculum.

Yet there are some in Scouting who apply the same practices with our Scouts. There are those who won’t approve a requirement unless some additional work is completed. There are many instances: Insisting that the friend a second-class Scout invites to a troop meeting (First Class requirement 10) actually attends. That service projects for various ranks must be done with the troop. Or that time in a position of responsibility for the higher ranks has to be served in only one position or over a continuous period of time.

Many of the infractions seem to occur while teaching or giving credit for merit badges. Judging from recent questions asked of Scouting Magazine’s experts, or of Andy the Net Commissioner, misinterpretation of merit badge requirements is all too common. In a comment on last week’s Q&A article, Michael Menninger lamented that there’s no required position-specific training for merit badge counselors, leaving it up to councils to properly educate them. In the question to Scouting, the writer explains that some counselors are requiring Scouts to hand-write a letter to their Congressman and refusing credit if a response isn’t shown. Nothing in the requirements for the Citizenship in the Nation merit badge requires either of these, and it is just as unfair to deny credit to the Scout who fails to receive a reply to his letter as it is for a teacher to mark down a geometry student who can’t explain what dv/dt means.

“Ask Andy” gets his share of questions like this too. He took up two of the ones I just mentioned in a recent column, and has dealt with many others in over 400 postings. Go back and read just about any of them and you’ll find a question about requirement overreach, whether it be for ranks or merit badges.

All of us who are responsible for approving advancement, whether a den leader, a Scoutmaster or a merit badge counselor, need to understand that the volunteer committees and professionals of the Boy Scouts of America’s national council spend considerable time and effort designing the requirements and getting the wording just right. We at the unit level need to understand that the requirements are written for a reason and need to be followed exactly – no more, and no less. To subtract from the requirements cheapens the value of the exercise and cheats the youth out of the learning experience he’s entitled to. To add to the requirements puts unreasonable roadblocks in the path to advancement.

If you have any question or doubt about a particular requirement, there are lots of resources:

  • First, read the requirement. It’s all right there! It’s easy to check the current Boy Scout requirements online, and Cub Scout requirements are in their handbooks. If the requirement says do, the Scout must actually do that thing (and not merely tell you about it). If it says write, something must be written in some form (yes, computer documents are ok!). If it says tell or show, use those imperatives.
  • Look in the latest Guide to Advancement for advice on procedures. The guide is updated regularly and revised every couple years; as of this writing, the latest full revision was in 2013 with some changes published online this year.
  • Ask your district or council advancement team. They’ve undoubtedly been down the same road. Find out who to contact from your council office, district unit-serving professional, or unit commissioner.
  • For really sticky questions, the national advancement team is only an e-mail away: The text in this space was converted to guard against spam robots into an image

Back to our teacher example from the beginning of this article, and how additional material (but not requirements) may be of value. I counsel the Radio merit badge, and as an amateur radio operator I enjoy conversing on the air using the Morse Code. I usually explain to Scouts I work with that Morse Code is a valuable means of communicating when you just can’t get a message through by any other means, but I don’t require them to learn it or demonstrate proficiency. That’s actually up to another merit badge, Signs, Signals and Codes, which is due yet this year – just as learning calculus is covered in another course and not in Geometry class. As a merit badge counselor, you are certainly free to teach beyond what’s required, especially if the Scout expresses an interest in learning more or if it helps him to understand the material better, but you cannot require understanding or proficiency in anything other than what’s listed in the requirements.

When working with Scouts on advancement, be sure to get it right. Don’t add to or change the requirements, or try to read too much into what’s being asked. Doing so would be a disservice to our youth and to Scouting.

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

2 Replies to “No more, no less”

  1. I noted this on Bryan on Scouting’s blog that although there is a MBC training course, it is rarely offered, doesn’t have a web version and isn’t required to be taken. It’s the only major leadership role that doesn’t have a required leader-specific training course. I find that sad. Many of the issues that your article points out could be fixed if MBCs took that course.

  2. When I was a scout, many years ago, there was an expectation in the troop that requirements be completed “to the best of a scout’s ability”. This resulted in some scouts earning merit badges and ranks while “meeting” requirements. Today, the council and troop I am involved with have a very clear “literal” stance on the requirements. From my perspective, the problem arises when there is inconsistency or authority is being overstepped. Other than that, the scouts in our troops are simply learning about life. Scoutmaster Kelly

Comments are closed.