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Advancement Fast Track

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It has been a long time since I have been heavily involved in the Boy Scout program, although I have been very involved with Cub Scouts for the past few years where I am presently a Cubmaster.


As I have been talking with the local troops, it looks like things have changed a lot since I was a scout regarding advancement. I am not sure how much is local custom vs. national policy but what I see here is the fast track to First Class and merit badges. Specifically, when a scout graduates from Webelos in March, he is encouraged and expected to finish First Class by the end of his week at summer camp in July. He also is also expected to have at least a handful of merit badges. Not a bad haul for some of the boys who are barely eleven years old, but I wonder how much they are getting out of the program. Many years ago a scout who earned First Class in two years and knew his stuff was doing great. Plus merit badges weren't even an option until you were First Class, a little older and theoretically more mature.


The summer camp runs an intensive program on second a first class skills, but most the boys are being signed off on many of the requirements by participating even though they may not have not mastered the skills. With the rush to First Class, the troops devote a lot of troop meeting time to merit badge classes. One example recently pointed out to me was a three week First Aid merit badge program. A portion of three consecutive troop meetings was devoted to First Aid. It was taught by two nurses who are First Aid merit badge counselors. All of they boys who participated earned the badge. I had a couple of parents who were former scouts tell me that their sons learned some first aid skills, but they were shocked to learn he had earned the badge, as their son's had not mastered many of the requirements. The same parents had previously told me about den chiefs who couldn't teach their Webelos scouts the basic knots, because they did not know them all.


I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days at the National Jamboree with my Webelos son. We spent some time at the merit badge midway and the learning opportunities impressed me. Some of the stories I heard made me wonder again about getting the most out of the program. I heard stories of scouts earning 10 badges during the Jamboree. There were QBSA radio interviews encouraging scouts on Monday morning to come to the XYZ merit badge booth because even though their was only two day left, you could still earn the badge at the Jamboree. One of the instructors at the Leave No Trace exhibit said scouts were earning Nature and Soil and Water Conservation badges in one and one-half hours each. If the local custom is a fast track, this is warp speed.


Is this normal around the country and am I just too slow to change? Or is this very isolated? If it is normal, help me understand the philosophy and the benefits. Any insights are welcome.


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Welcome to scouting at network speed. A lot of people share your concerns and reservations. There are numerous threads in this forum about fast track advancement where similar concerns have been raised.


When I first became re-involved in scouting as an adult leader about ten years ago, national had completed a professionally conducted study of boys who left after one year in the program. One of the conclusions was that, if a boy completed first class in his first year he was more likely to stick around. I can't argue with that conclusion, but the program may suffer in other ways because of this acceleration. It is up to you as part of your troop's cadre of adult leaders to try to manage your advancement program in a way that makes sense.


Most resident summer camps have programs for new scouts that push them through a lot of requirements for the first three ranks. It still takes a certain amount of time to get to first class, even if all the skills are signed off, because the boy has to participate in a minimum number of events other than troop meetings. You may wish to devise programs to provide a little more depth to the training the boys have already allegedly received before they get to their first class scout master conference. Good luck.

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BSA166 in North Florida this "fast track" mentality is the norm.




I have scouts that joined in late February and finally earned Tenderfoot by summer camp. At summer camp they attended a "Buckskin" program designed to sign off all the requierments up to First Class. Then they come home and expect(as do their parents) to have the board of reviews for Second Class and First Class on the same night.


I was taught that First Class meant that one was an accomplished scout. He knew the skills not only be book learning but by experience using them in the field and in everyday life. Not only that he has started to assume leadership in the troop. I do not see how this ideal is served by cramming boys through a one week class and dumping them back to their home troops with a tenuous grasp of the skills.


One of the requirements of our high adventure program is First Class rank. Do you honesty believe that a First class scout who has only been a scout for six months is truly ready for high adventure? At most that scout has a summer camp and six weekend trips under his belt. In my experience that is not enough experience to attend any of our high adventure trips. Yet the scout will expect to go because he earned First Class.


I do not believe any of us should add requirements or attempt to make the present requirements harder. They are sufficient as they are. I do think that we as Scouters need to be sure that if a requirement is signed off then it has been properly learned. How exactly to do this would be to structure your program in such a way that these skills are in constant use. (At least that is ideal way) The other way I use is good ole' Be Prepared. Our Scouts are all told that on a board of review the board can ask a scout to demonstrate any or all (or none) of the requirements for that rank or any previous ranks that they have earned. So it is the Scouts responsability to be sure that he is prepared in case the board does decide to ask about all of them. Of course that never happens but the desired result getting the boys to KNOW the skills is being achieved. The boys also take pride in being well versed in Scoutcraft.


Fast track is not about making the program better it is about numbers and increasing the BSA's market share. Everyone I talk to that quit scout quit because thier troop was "boring". Never have I spoken to anyone who quit because they didn't advance to first class. I do not see the retention problem as being one of getting scouts to earn ranks (although it helps.) I see the real underlying problem being that troop leaders need more help in structuring a program that their boys don't want to leave. Build better troops and the boys will stay.

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I agree that National, as well as locals, seem to push toward fast advancements. It is not only one or two year Scouts who show this - many Eagles do not retain skills learned. However, many Scouter also do not retain skills learned. I doubt many of us remembered how to tie a sheep shank after being out of Scouting for 15 years or so!


I do believe, however, there are ways to accomplish resonable advancement goals, and help with skill retention.


1. Use your older Scouts to teach these skills. They'll have to practice so they are proficient again, and THAT'S GREAT! Let them do it.


2. Repetition. For example, I know very few Scouts who are proficient in compass work, so we review it regularly. Keep hammering skills.


3. On every outing, build in opportunities for Scouts to use their skills. As long as they won't get hurt, let them make their own mistakes. DON'T DO IT FOR THEM. That's probably one of the hardest things for us as leaders to do, but we must.




There are mechanisms in place that I have no control over, such as the trend for speedy advancement, and I have NEVER seen a "real Eagle" who was 13 years old. They may get the rank, but it's up to us as leaders to keep repeating the same skills over and over until it becomes second nature to them.


To be honest, I'd rather give them advancement a little early and keep them in Scouting, than lose them, as long as they are given many opportunities to learn, do, and teach.

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I agree with all of the above. I've been in Scouting as an adult leader for over 25 years. Things change, but each Troop is responsible for having the checks and balances in place for the Troop's advancement program. Then there's still the Scoutmaster's Conference and Board of Review as a final verification. Other than the normal "First Class within a year" push, I've never had District, Council, or National push for some sort of "Fast Track" advancement. I wouldn't use it if they did. The current system has lots of flexibility.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I agree that this fast track mentality is absurd...it has now created the 13 yr old eagle for pete's sake.

Luckily, my troop and SM expect a scout to be able to do the task required... and not immediately after learning them, normally 2 to 4 weeks after "completion" of the requirement. So you quessed correctly, we do not get to many 1st class ranks earned by the end of one year. It normally takes One year, a lot of outdoor experiences and two summer camps.

One of the greatest helps though in having the boys master the rank and want to achieve the rank is the normally overlooked Webelos requirements...which are essentially the joining requirements for a troop.

I am an ASM and a CM (as well as a district guy). In my pack, I stress strongly that the last 3-4 months of webelos should be concentrated on learning the joining requirements. When the boys bridge and can show the SM that they know the oath and law and how to tie a square knot etc. it is an easy path then to get them to state what the stuff means, how to improve on knots etc. And we rely heavily on the older boys to do this. In fact we will set aside either one campout or one Saturday, where the older boys work with the new scouts to est. the basics of how Boys Scouts work and how to work on their requirements. Doing it this way, I normally get new scouts to earn tenderfoot by end of the first camp. That is a great morale booster for the scout. Yes it can be done, but never at the expense of looking good on paper and failing completely when it counts (like high adventure)

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