(The following represents our discussion at the Towpath District Boy Scout Roundtable on the evening of May 5, 2011. I want to thank Kip Webster for keeping the notes of the discussion and sharing them with me to use as a basis for this post.)
In the April meeting we talked about religious emblems. As a part of that discussion, a few of the more experienced Scouters mentioned how Scouts had to be deferred at their Eagle Board of Review because they failed to properly answer how they showed reverence and a duty to God. This prompted a broader question: Under what circumstances would boys be “inappropriate” candidates for Eagle Scout?
Before we get into the fruits of the discussion, we should reiterate a basic philosophy we all agreed as adult leaders the Boy Scouts profess: Every boy deserves a chance to better himself. In other words, a boy exhibiting undesirable traits might “mature” out of those traits by actively participating in the Boy Scout program. So, the purpose of our discussion became not “when do we give up on a boy” to “how do we fix the problem.”
This post consists of three parts: 1) A List of Bad Behaviors; 2) Whether those problems can be addresses by Boy Scouts and, if so, how; and 3) Helpful notes that apply to all situation.
I. List of Bad Behaviors:
- Doesn’t believe in God
- Criminal conviction
- Use of drugs.
- Disruptive and defiant
- Bullying behavior
- Insufficient attendance
- Lack of scout spirit
- Lack of leadership
- Pursuing Eagle too late
- Pursuing Eagle too early
II. Which Problems can Boy Scouts Address and How can We Address Them?
- Doesn’t believe in God – This is the behavior that prompted the discussion. In the case that was discussed the previous month, a boy who wore his religious emblem to his Eagle Board of Review openly questioned his belief in God. This concerned the Eagle Board and, as mentioned, Boards have deferred Eagle Awards because the candidate could not adequately address how he performed his duty to God. Clearly, an atheist would have difficulty advancing in any rank, let alone Eagle, because duty to God is part of the Boy Scout Oath and reverence is part of the Boy Scout Law. Each rank advancement requires the boy to demonstrate that he acts in conformity to the Oath and Law. What Scout leaders are more likely to encounter is a dose of youthful uncertainty/skepticism. Leaders should understood this can be fairly normal as a boy grows older. In every Board of Review, boys should be asked about how they show reverence and their duty to God. Also, remember, we recognize and “Higher Power,” so, while a boy may be reluctant to say he believes in “God,” it is just as acceptable for him to merely acknowledge the presence of a “Higher Power.”
- Criminal conviction – This was our “boundary condition” test, for we all agreed we would not want a “convicted serial murderer” to become an Eagle Scout. At least we thought this was easy. It turns out there are troops specifically created from juvenile detention centers. Remember what we said about the possible rehab function of Scouting? Apparently this is more than just a theory. After all, the criminal records of a juvenile offender are erased once they turn eighteen, so there really is a hope Scouting can turn their lives around. That being said, however, a conviction can remove a boy from a troop if this rule is specifically stated by the Chartering Organization. In addition, even if the Chartering Organization allows boys with a criminal record to join the troop, those boys may possess other problems as defined below. Short of exhibiting these other behavioral issues, a boy who has had trouble with the law may sincerely wish to make amends with society and the Boy Scouts can be a perfect place for that to happen. Adult leaders need to recognize this and encourage the boy just as they would encourage any other boy.
- Use of drugs – This is a serious problem that may not be recognized or acknowledged by the boy’s parents. Even if the Scout leader is a professional in the area of substance abuse, it’s probably outside the scope of Boy Scouts to address this issue. If the Adult leader witnesses substance abuse during an official scouting activity, it needs to be addressed in a manner consistent with Boy Scout and chartering organization policies. Boys behaving in this manner more than likely are not keeping themselves “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” They’re probably also violating at least a few of the points of the Scout Law. As a result, rank advancement should be deferred until the matter is rectified. There are two important points to remember regarding substance abuse: 1) Unless the leader personally witnesses it, it is extremely difficult to directly accuse the boy of it. There are, however, likely to be related behavioral problems (see below) that can and should be directly addressed. 2) There are a variety of rehab programs and participation in Boy Scouts may be an important part of any of those programs. Just as with a boy convicted of a criminal offense who really wants to correct things, an adult leader needs to be mindful and encouraging.
- Disruptive and defiant – This type of behavior can hurt all involved and might not be recognized or acknowledged by the boy’s parents. This behavior, left unchanged, could be enough to hold back a boy from advancement. However, the adult leader needs to address it. By way of analogy, think of how your troop establishes ground rule for summer camp. Many troops have some sort of three strikes rule where the first offense has the Scoutmaster talking to the boy, the second offense has the Scoutmaster and the boy talking to the parent and the third offense has the parents picking up the boy and bringing him home. Similarly, in a standard troop setting, the adult leader needs to speak to the boy to try to find out why he’s being disruptive. If the pattern persists, then the parents should probably be brought into the conversation. Keep in mind, not all disruptive behavior is the result of malicious intent. Autism and spectrum behaviors might cause it and the adult leader might not be aware of these issues, which is why a parent conference can be helpful. Also, it’s not just “special ed” kids that might be disruptive or defiant. There may be age related developmental issues that cause defiance. In addition, gifted students are often labeled “disruptive” or “defiant” should the program’s pace be too slow for them.
- Bullying behavior – This is a specific form of “disruptive and defiant” behavior. The difference here is that this activity often can occur outside the purview of adult leaders. As a result, adult leaders will need to work closely with boy leaders to monitor and address bullying. It’s important to recognize that often the player who delivers the second punch is the one who is caught and punished. Therefore, it’s extremely important to understand the cause of any bullying behavior. Otherwise, bullying is addressed just like disruptive and defiant behavior.
- Insufficient attendance – This is an issue that may reflect a poor program rather than poor behavior on the part of the boy. It might also reflect school or other activities. Also, although some troops and chartering organizations try to post participation guidelines, minimum participation rules are contrary to BSA policy. The best way to address lack of participation is to find out the reason why. Making sure the troop has an interesting program run by boys is one way to increase attendance (when the issue is due to the troop program). When there’s a seasonal conflict, some suggested cross-promoting the program of nearby troops. Indeed, regular participation by Scoutmasters in the monthly Roundtable might help encourage this reciprocity between Troops. Any idea is to make sure the boy has less pressure to meet. Others suggested the Scoutmaster not recommend boys with insufficient attendance for leadership positions, but it was pointed out attendance is relevant of only certain leadership positions (SPL, ASPL, PL, Troop Guide and Den Chief), other leadership positions don’t require consistent attendance (Historian, Librarian, Webmaster). Finally, insufficient attendance may be an indication of a lack of Scout Spirit, which we address next.
- Lack of Scout Spirit – This is one of the most subjective issues we address. Clearly, a boy needs to demonstrate Scout Spirit in order to advance in rank. A boy demonstrates this by living the Scout Law and Oath in his everyday life. Because this is so subjective, it is extremely important the issue is addressed, early, often, directly and very specifically by the Adult leader. (See Section III Notes below.)
- Lack of leadership – This problem is also subjective. It is also the one we spent the most time on because we really believe Boy Scouts is about training boy leaders to become adult leaders. The Eagle Rank represents the epitome of leadership, so we want to ensure candidates are true leaders. We also clearly stated that we weren’t talking about serving in a leadership position, because someone serving as an SPL can (unfortunately) lack leadership skills. So the question becomes, what can we do encourage proper leadership training and experience? Most obviously, we can send boys to NYLT training. That gives them the knowledge, but we also need to give them the hands on experience (hopefully well before they begin their Eagle project). Clearly, serving as Patrol Leaders, Den Chiefs, Troop Guides or SPL/ASPL represents hands-on experience. But in large troops, these positions might not be available to everyone. Instead of serving in these positions, boys can demonstrate leadership by running activities like campouts, service projects or other troop outings. While boys are in this positions or conducting these activities, adult leaders (hopefully Wood Badge trained) should be coaching and mentoring them.
- Pursuing Eagle too late – This is purely math. Boys will need to attain various ranks by certain ages to make sure they have enough time to serve in a leadership position to advance. In addition, certain merit badges have timing issues. Again, however, this is simply a mathematical calculation.
- Pursuing Eagle too early – We didn’t have time to get to this one, which is certain to generate a large discussion. As a sneak preview, someone mentioned there might be an issue whether a 13 year-old is “mature” enough to be an Eagle. Someone else countered with the idea that some 17 ½ year-olds might be less mature than some 13 year-olds. Finally, a senior member of council offered to gather some examples of boys who obtained their Eagle Rank as a thirteen year-old who are now pursuing PhDs.
- Consistency is key, whether between succeeding Scoutmasters or the Scoutmasters and the Committee.
- Consistency in Scoutmaster can affect Scout’s progress.
- Committee Chair must be consistent in running the Board of Review.
- Scouts keeping records assist in demonstrating their skills and experience.
- Board of Review can be for other reasons (convictions, scout spirit, too long in rank, etc…).
- Death from the Skies – An astronomy book about 20 ways the Earth ends – If you didn’t believe in God before reading this book, you will after you read it. You can read a review of it here.
- Scoutmaster should prepare scouts for the questions that will be asked by the Eagle BOR.
- Disability confirmation lifts 18 year old expectation and changes MB expectations
- Troops should assign an ASM help with advancement review (this is in addition to the Advancement Chair serving on the Committee).
- Troops can use Council Committee for consultation.
- Troop Committee Chair is the heavy with parents and the boys, not the Scoutmaster.
- By the way, the Scout has the right to the Eagle Board of Review with or without the Scoutmaster signature.