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Rationale behind the rules?

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This was inspired by some of the discussion in the "Why can't we all just get along?" thread, but I figured it might merit some discussion on its own.


Is the rationale/justification/logic/support for all of the rules documented in any place that we could study it?


I was extremely active in scouting from my youth until the birth of my second child (when my wife resented being left at home with two while I camped with others kids fair nuf). After a few years off, Im excited about being active again, but am often confused by some of the changes in the program (AKA, The Rules) while I was gone. I have a library of BS, PL, and SM Handbooks which goes back 25-35 years. (And, yes, I have the current ones, too.) Some of the more recent rules (as well as guidelines/recommendations) befuddle me. Ive taken the training, but the emphasis is on understanding the structure and rules not a detailed explanation of why were now doing it this way. An example: The 1981 SM Handbook clearly states a troop may establish minimum requirements for a boy to hold the PL position (rank, attendance, etc.), but the current SM Handbook omits this option (although it doesnt expressly prohibit it). Now clearly, Troops with same-age versus mixed-age Patrols would apply this idea differently, but I have to wonder was there something wrong with the original idea, or did they just run out of room in the most recent edition and that paragraph was sacrificed in the editing?


I know these things are decided at the National level, by a Rules Committee of sorts, but wonder if they are documented. In my day job, I work at NASA. The operation of a spacecraft is governed by many rules which are all thought out, discussed, and documented well before you get into the heat of an emergency. Along with the rules, we publish a description of the rationale behind each rule. This is very useful when difficulties arise gives us more insight to know exactly whats at stake and which rules have a little margin (or room for interpretation) in them. It also preserves the logic for the future so when people retire, well still have the detailed thought process documented. (By the way, this thorough documentation of rationale came post-Challenger when we learned a deadly and painful lesson in bending rules we didnt completely understand.)


Baden-Powell did a good job documenting the rationale for his rather sparse rules in his prolific writing that got this movement started. In studying that and comparing it to today, I wonder if boys have changed that much or if some of todays rules were brought about by reactions to isolated problems when common sense and decency didnt prevail.


Stupid rules are meant to be broken. (Colonel Sherman Potter, 4077th MASH.)

OK not a good policy statement just trying to throw in some humor. Seriously, Id have an easier time getting onboard with all the rules if I knew more of their background and rationale. Id also know which ones we needed to engage at the proper levels to get changed.


Does anybody know if this exists and where I could get a copy?


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I firmly believe that many of the changes in rules, policies and procedures are driven by parents complaints and their demands for advancement of their children.


Picture this, Bobby needs a leadership position to advance but he can't be a PL because of attendance requirements. Why can't he be there? Oh, because soccer practice interferes. Why does he need to advance NOW? Because if he doesn't he'll be behind his friends and he won't make Eagle before he's 16.


After observing my troop, watching the goings on at summer camp and listening to parents from other troops I've concluded that much of today's Scout advancement is based on "ticket punching." Learning doesn't seem to be a priority anymore. If you are warm and there, you get signed off.


Read the discussions here and elsewhere about "Eagle factories," troops that have producing Eagles as their main goal.


The problem is that BSA knows that if they make things difficult, kids will quit or maybe the parents will make them quit because they aren't "advancing" rapidly. We can't have kids quitting because that will negatively impact the cash flow.


Our troop lost 50% of our new scouts with the primary reason given off-the-record being that the ASM for New Scouts is a stickler for requirements being met and that aggrevated the parents.


Look at BSA's statements about advancement, it seems to be the focus now.


Okay, rant over.


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There seem to be more rules geared to being PC. Example, we were told we can't use the acronym PADBALLS to help teach the swimming merit badge because of the word BALLS. Huh?


I agree that some of the rules are driven by parents complaining about one thing or another. I feel our focus as adults should be what is best for the Scouts with common sense applied. Some of the BSA rules are vague & open to interpretation. Also, there are guidelines that some interpret as gospel. Guidelines are just that - guidelines.


Ed Mori


Troop 1

1 Peter 4:10

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Mike F,


Excellent post and in my opinion...Right on the mark! I also found myself agreeing with yaworski and Ed (two of my favorite guys on this board). The bottom line is, despite the contentions of some, BSA is susceptible to politics and capitulation just like any other organization. I believe, the reason the logic behind some of these rules are not published, is because the logic would be extremely weak, or it would expose BSA's penchant for surrendering to certain groups (i.e., over-protective mothers, anti-military, environmentalists, etc.). Having said this, I still think BSA is a great organization and the best thing going. It's just that I fancy myself to be objective, even when it comes to people and organizations that I like. For example, I like Bob White (I really do), but I don't think he's objective when he talks about BSA policies. Having said that, I'm sure we will be hearing from Bob soon. :)

(This message has been edited by Rooster7)

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I would have to agree with Yaworski on the rules being parent driven to a degree. Most however seem to be firewalls created to counter litagations on negligence by volunteer members.


Sexual misconduct by unit leaders, as well as false acqusations by scouts led to the two deep leadership rules.


Water related fatalities and accidents at the unit level was the impetus for Safety Afloat, and Safe Swim Defense.


Again at the unit level, a rash of climbing accidents led to Climb on Safety, and now we're seeing more reforms via Trek Leader training.


For myself working high adventure at summer camp, I like to play it safe and go by the rules...urbanized parents and unit leaders have very little understanding of the risk factors involved in backcountry activites, but are very knowledgeable about lawsuits....



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yaworski & Ed,


I have a strong personal hunch that your personal opinions have a significant amount of truth to them. What I'm hoping to dig up is the documented rationale from the ones who made the rules what they are. Changes like you describe would tend to dilute/confuse/twist/ignore the real Methods of Scouting. If we knew which rules were changed to allow/encourage unreasonable rates of advancement or to be more PC, it would be helpful -- both to begin working to change it back, or to at least know the source of the problem when things don't seem to be working well under current system.

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le Voyageur,


Good point -- I take no issue with Youth Protection and other safety rules. Am more concerned with leadership, advancement, and other parts of the program that have been changed over time.

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By the way, before this becomes distorted, there are many policies and rules that I agree with. In particular, le Voyageur mentioned three:


Two Deep Leadership

Safe Swim

Safety Afloat


So, if someone wants to debate something specific (say, like the ban on paintball), I'm willing. But, please don't assume that I (and everyone else) am arguing that all BSA policies are flawed. We're not.


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"What I'm hoping to dig up is the documented rationale from the ones who made the rules what they are. "


I've been involved with many organizations, large and small, and one thing that I've learned is that unless you are a member of the inner circle, very little is revealed to you. Even if there is a "public reason," the underlying reason remains known only to the inner circle.

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Great thread. I too do not know where all the rules came from. The safety rules I fully support, but one has to wonder about the rest of it sometimes. Part of this is driven by the insidious influence of the plaintiff's bar on society in general. The bureaucratic mind set is to create a procedure or rule to hide behind rather than apply common sense to any given situation. Look at what is going on in the accountancy and medical professions today.

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Policies/Rules are set and usually specific. They are a do this / don't do that specification. What some fail to realize is that even policies and procedures are subject to interpretation. Where there is no explanation or spirit of the law guidance, interpretation is up to the individual or group until such time as a higher authority provides definitive guidance. This is how the system of courts operates - at some point or other there arises a question of interpretation of the law, decided by the courts. Where does one go to find official BSA interpretation or guidance?


Policies from the very beginning are subject to "is the glass half full, or half empty" interpretation. Which mode of operation do you use - if the rules specifically say don't do this and don't do that, it's OK to do anything else - or - if the rules specifically say do this and do that, it's not OK do do anything else. This is where a vast majority of the discussion and interpretive effort lies within this forum. Yes, sometimes we just simply don't know the rules and are in violation. BW certainly sets us straight in these situations. My concern lies in the cases where the rules are not specific to the situation; where does one go to find the intent or spirit of the BSA rules? For questions of law one can search a law library for case law and court decisions, for building codes/fire codes there are appendices or texts with formal interpretations, etc.


Procedures are specific instructions as to how something is to be done. Procedures are, by nature, usually less open to interpretation, but nevertheless open to what happens in the gaps between the steps of a procedure. Again, we fall back to interpretation.


Standards are an expected level of attainment. While standards are not "law" unless specified to be such by inclusion or reference, they can carry the weight of law. Where does one go to find BSA standards?


Guidelines or SOGs (standard operating guidelines) are just that - guidelines. The guidelines provide us with a loose interior boundary flexible enough to permit adjustment to circumstances within the confines of the outer fixed policy boundary. If one "shall" or "must" or "shall not", it's no longer a guideline, it's a policy.


The "Guide to Safe Scouting" provides all of the above. It's labeled a "guide", but also contains policy/procedure. Hazing for instance ' . . . has no place in the in the Scouting program and may result in the revocation of a Scout's membership in the unit . . .' Questions: What is "hazing"? Where do I go for guidance? Who makes that interpretation? What established procedure/standard/guideline is there for revoking a Scout's membership in the unit?


My point being that Mike F (if I read correctly) and I are sometimes at a loss as to where to turn, especially in situations of the spirit of the law. If only the world operated in black and white and did not include all of the shades of gray in between we would be able to pull a book and recite passages. Unfortunately, things are rarely black or white.

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Mike F, You start the troop, follow the rules and procedures that govern the administration of a troop and do the best you can for the scouts.


The safety guidelines of scouting help prevent injury and enhance the experience of the scouts.


To me beyond that ya deal the cards and play with the hand ya got.


Don't get logged down in all the whys and wherefores of what scouting is today, concentrate of what you can give these young men and hope it is enough.


Good luck.



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