Last night at Roundtable, one of our participants got off on a tangent about the advancement process in her troop. Remarking that it took her son, an ambitious go-getter, three years to make First Class, she mentioned that it was because the Scoutmaster was very particular about just which Scouts were allowed to sign off on advancements, there were no opportunities for advancements to be completed at camp or troop meetings, and she’d end up driving him to other boys’ houses to get things signed off. Many other boys were in the same situation and it seemed that the Scoutmaster took some delight in making the boys struggle. We were talking about another topic when she brought this up, but I got to thinking about a response.
In this case, the parents of the younger boys having this problem were new to Boy Scouts and didn’t understand how things should be done. Obviously the Scoutmaster should be doing everything he can to encourage and facilitate advancement, but what if he’s not?
Taking three years to reach First Class is not normal, especially with the type of ambition this boy has. The boys should be planning regular advancement time during troop meetings and at campouts, and it’s up to the Scoutmaster to convey this to the SPL so the PLC can make those plans. If other scouts are having the same problem, and their parents are talking, the Scoutmaster should be approached and told of their concerns. If the Scoutmaster says “that’s just the way it is”, take it up with the Committee Chair and the Chartered Organization Representative. The CC and COR are responsible for selecting and approving adult leadership, and should be able to speak with the Scoutmaster to insist that things be done differently.
If, however, the CC and COR are of the same mindset and don’t see anything wrong, you should find and speak with your Unit Commissioner. Sometimes a troop will have a “culture” that’s hard to shake, especially when it’s based in faulty practices such as the adults running things instead of the boys. You’ll have to go outside of that culture to get change.
This speaks to the value of having trained leaders – and parents. It’s very likely that the Scoutmaster hasn’t had training for his position, or had it years ago and decided to do things his own way. Any parent can be registered with BSA and join the troop committee, and all parents should take the online fast start (and, of course, youth protection) trainings, so that they will know what is expected of the leadership. There’s no reason an involved and interested parent couldn’t also take the online Troop Committee Challenge. If a parent sees from training that things should be running differently than they are in the troop, that should send up a warning flag.
Sometimes, however, as a practical matter it may be easier just to find another troop (or start a new one), but if enough people do this, the troop will die on the vine due to lack of membership. We don’t want to see troops close down, but a poorly running troop may be causing more harm than good.