Jump to content

Troop Contextualism, or Individualism?

Recommended Posts

I've seen this subject come up a few times, and it tended to be glossed over, so I'll ask it directly here? How much should a troop be able to have its own way of working under the same set of rules? What's the limit between Contextualism and individualism as it applies to troops? I'll give some examples (not so much to be specifically answered, but to spark discussion).


1.) A troop requires their scouts to be in uniform for every meeting. For Courts of Honor, this includes scout pants/shorts (and scout socks, if showing), scout belt, class A shirt, neckerchief and MB Sash. For regular meetings the neckerchief and sash can be taken off, and the top button of the shirt left undone. If for any reason a scout is not in this uniform, they are politely asked to either go home (if they are older, and drove themselves) or call/find their parents to take them home.

Is this ok with you guys? It's not necessarily against BSA policy. What if the scout had something important to do, like have a MB bluecard signed at the meeting, and he simply couldn't find his belt?


2. A troop "highly encourages" (aka requires with out making a rule) that each boy keep a scrap book of pictures and significant flyers/papers from his time as a Boy Scout. This practice is so encouraged that the boy at every Scoutmaster's Conference, might be "encouraged" to work on the scrap book, to update, and improve it in general, before the Scoutmaster gives him the okay for the Board of Review. What do you think?


3. (last one) A troop has a special policy (though not in writing) of finishing merit badges in a year's time or less. Even if it were say camping (with the 20 days 20 nights requirement) and busy scouts may or may not be able to find enough time to go camping that much in 1 year. What do you think?


Again, these are all just examples of the kind of thing I'm talking about. Answer them directly if you want, but what I'd like to figure out is more the subject behind it... troop individuality. What's good and what's bad about having troops run things certain ways, specific to their program? What defines the line between troop applying the BSA program to their specific situation and going overboard and ... frankly...power crazy.


-Curtis :-D

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hmmm, interesting question. I wonder in some cases if we're talking about "contextualism", "Individualism", or just "flexibility". Depends on the item, but here's a thought or two.


I have Scouts who come directly from sports practice to the meetings, so they are still in their sports gear. I'd rather have them at the meeting than take the time to go home, change, and then come to what's left of the meeting. For Scouts who just show up out of uniform, I'd rather still have them at the meeting, but if it starts to happen more than occasionally, I would sit down with the Scout and remind them of the importance of coming to the meeting in uniform.


I guess where I'm heading with this is that, at least in my mind, being at the meeting and being able to participate is, within some subjective limits, more important than being in uniform.


As far as other "enhancements" to the program, you can't change the requirments for things like a merit badge. If BSA has some timing rules for things like that, then that's what they are. You can't take a 50 mile hike award and say, in our troop, you have to have 100 miles to get it. As far as adding other items to the program, I suppose if it doesn't conflict with BSA rules, than it's ok to the extent that the Scouts accept it. What I mean by that is the effect on membership. Prospective Scouts will find out, and not join if they think it's "bogus".


I'm all for a certain amount of flexibility to meet the reality of certain situations; your use of "contextualism", I suppose. Even that, I suppose, is somewhat subjective. For example, I won't change the requirements for a merit badge or rank advancement, but I don't see a problem with "flexing" the uniform requirement to some extent. I am sure that there are those who see no room for flexibility at all. And I'm pretty sure that at least in some cases, the BSA rules state that "these are the requirments; you can't do less, and can't make someone do more", or words to that effect.


You can get a little carried away with the need to follow rules to the letter. Here is my favorite example. A few years back, 2 Scouts in our Council performed an act of heroism such that they qualified for a national Scout award. However, National turned them down because they didn't get the paperwork on time. In my mind, National preferred to turn away 2 deserving Scouts, great examples of the success of the program, in favor of their need to follow "the rules",which is, of course, their right. Ironically, my dad earned a military award during WWII, and it took the military almost 50 years to finally get it to him. But they did. Heroism shouldn't have a statute of limitations. Sometimes a little flexibility is a good thing.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Great question but a little difficult to answer. I started my troop a little over a year ago. After looking at 100's of troop websites for any information I could glean as well as asking other scouter questions I tailored my bylaws to incorporate specific rules and give it individualism. Examples of these are disciplinary actions for scouts that break rules, uniform rules (ex, I allow class b during summer months) etc. For your examples:


#1 - Personally I would not adopt this rule but if it was in writing and the scouts were aware of it I would not have a problem with another troop enforcing it.


#2 - This rule I feel is a violation of scouting rules. As with Merit badges, a troop is not able to add criteria for rank advancement which is how I view this.


#3 - Again, as long as it is in writing I do not see a violation of rules here. In fact my bylaws state that in addition to camping, a scout may only have 5 blue cards out at a time. If they have 5, they must finish one before I will issued another.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Contextualism ??

This is a new one on me!! But I only learned English in England!!

The program is the program of the BSA, we as adults deliver the program to our youth members. Our role is to serve the needs of each and every Scout.

All the examples that you have given go against the policies of the BSA and have no place in Scouting. They add requirements to advancement or are just plain wrong.


I am saddened to see the use of:

my troop , my bylaws and "In fact my bylaws state that in addition to camping, a scout may only have 5 blue cards out at a time. If they have 5, they must finish one before I will issued another."

The Troop is not yours.It belongs to the CO and the program belongs to the BSA.

While I have never seen the need for bylaws, if these needless unworkable rules must be they should come from the PLC.

As for the blue card ruling you are in violation of the BSA Advancement policy.



Link to post
Share on other sites


I believe one of the strengths of Scouting is that it provides some flexibility. Chartered Partners often use Scouting as an outreach to the community. Scouting provides some lattitude in how their program is delivered.


Sometimes it can lead to problems when the individual troop takes things to an extreme.


In the examples you provide,


1) How the Uniform method is implemented will vary between troops. The BSA does have certain rules, and as long as you are not violating those rules, you are OK. I don't agree with the troop in the example you've cited, but that's only my opinion. Each troop can have its own opinion.


2) Scrap books and pictures as a measure of Scout Spirit I think is a little far fetched. I would think that case could be appealed to National and possibly won. However, Scout Spirit is difficult to nail down. They allow a lot of wriggle room.


3) Here I think the troop is absolutely wrong. Finishing merit badges within a year is adding requirements, and is clearly against national policy. Troops cannot change national policy.


From the National Council's "Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures WW330880" it reads...


"No council, district, unit, or individual has the authority to add to or subtract from any advancement requirements."


Adding a 12-month time limit for completion of merit badges is doing just that, adding another requirement.


As for the rest...


"What's good and what's bad about having troops run things certain ways, specific to their program?"


I think having different troops operating in slightly different ways is a definate plus. Assuming a town has several troops, it gives Webelos a variety of programs to choose from. They can join the troop whose program provides the best fit.


We're all providing Scouting experiences and hopefully following BSA rules and using the same eight methods. How we implement the program can provide variety. One troop might be perfect for little Johnny, while another approach might be better for his friend Jimmie. They can each join a troop that best fits their needs.


It's a little like the NFL. Every team has its own philosophy and strategies, while still playing the same game with the same rules.


Individualism of Units can provide variety and choice. The downside is that sometimes it can lead to poor choices and bad practices. Troops that abuse their freedom with bad policies often suffer from their poor choices as the Boys choose to vote with their feet.


Better run troops usually attract and retain more boys. Poorly run programs often lose boys and either change or fade away.



Cliff Golden

Scoutmaster Troop 33

DeKalb, Illinois

Link to post
Share on other sites

Eammon, thank you for your comments. I am always looking for ways to improve "our" troop. The reason I referred to it as "my" troop is because I did everything to start it. I started it as a sister troop to "our" cub pack. All adult leaders that I had to choose from had never even been to a pack committee meeting. My CO, a school PTO, wanted a troop from their school but had no idea what BS do. This is why I referred to "my bylaws", because I am the one who created them. As time passes and I gain a larger adult leader base, I welcome any changes to the bylaws. You seem to not have any written rules from your statements, would you also start a business without a business plan? Why are you against rules in writing? I think it advantageous, this way a potential recruit can know exactly what to expect when joining and can see the difference between troops instead of basing a decision on one visit. Also, parents will have read that they must pick up their child from camp who was caught drinking, etc, etc, etc. Again, I am a new SM and must confess have not been fully trained. Trust me, I have tried but in 1 1/2 years of begging the council I have not been able to find any district that will take me on my overnight to complete the training. It took close to a year to find the first 3 sessions that I could attend. Because I do not have scout specific, I have not yet attended wood badge. I was able to attend committee training however. I have also read all the information I could find on scouting and consider this forum a very valuable tool. This said, I did not realize that a limit on bluecards was against the rules. I do not remember reading this anywhere and the reason it was put into place was to keep the boys from having 30 MB's started and not finishing any of them. As bylaws can be made, they can also be changed and I will change this one (with the committees blessing of course.) I am one who truly believes in living by the scout rules. If any of you long time scouters are willing, I would be grateful if you could look over my bylaws to determine if there are other violations as well.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Rube Goldberg comes to mind. A man who created complicated multii-function machines to do what was actually a very simple task.


Unit rules and bylaws, methods grabbed out of thin air, personal dictatorships in partial scout uniforms, Can't manage a real program? No problem complain about the uniform or the membership rules and hide in the smoke.


Scouting Ain't That Tough!


Take the basic training, read the Boy Scout Handbook. Deliver the promises made in the first few pages. Do this and you would have boys beating down your door to join.


Even without the overnighter you should be aware that the advancement program has requirements spelled out in the handbook. Who ever gave you the notion that you could change them?


When you really don't know what to do, do what the handbook tells the scout and you cannot go wrong.


There are two rules you need for a troop.

1. Adults will follow the program, policies, and procedures of the BSA.

2. Scouts will behave according the Oath and Law of the BSA program.


Anything else belongs in a Rube Goldberg museum.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The problem I have with most of the sets of troop rules that I have seen is that almost all of them include things contrary to BSA policy. Many of these involve advancement (like the requirement to finish a MB in a year), and are particularly wrong, in my opinion. But I think many troops without written rules do many of the same things, so I think it is lack of knowledge or training (or lack of willingness to follow the training) that is the culprit, not the written rules per se.

However, troops will have certain practices, policies, and traditions that may need to be written down. For example, BSA uniform makes the neckerchief and headgear unit options--it would be reasonable for the unit to write down what option it chooses. Also, it may make sense to write down mundane rules like, "After meetings, the unit flags are to be stored in Closet B." I also think it may be useful for units to have Parents' Guides that pull together various information, including BSA rules and troop practices.

A final point--the more rules that are made by adult leadership, the less boy-run the troop will be. The scrapbook example is probably an example of a requirement that's being imposed by adult leaders.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Every rule and policy needed can be found within the Boy Scout Handbook, the Scoutmaster Handbook, and the other BSA publications. My experience has been that homegrown troop "bylaws" are an unnecessary futile pursuit at best. Our troop dumped ours long ago and it was one of the smartest things we ever did.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm with Hunt. I think there can be a lot of variation in troop practices, and it can be a good idea to document those. I can think of many more examples which wouldn't involve any change to national policy. Flexibility in program delivery is a good thing - troops with lots of bylaws, probably not so good.


Oak Tree

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, Eamonn, BW, thanks, that is the kind of talk I was really hoping to hear. (hoping its just out there at all, sadly enough) I've spent about 7 yrs thinking about this subject whenever it would come up, and now it's time to sit and think some more. Perhaps, I'll call up my old scoutmaster and ask to talk with him over lunch this summer. Especially if it's done politely, it could be very interesting to hear his reasons behind running things the way he did.


Incidently, the scrap book story was me at my scoutmasters conf for Eagle about 2-3 days before my 18th bday, and I was told to spend one more day working on it;

The uniform thing was just annoying, even the evening I drove back from working at scout camp all summer in time for a meeting, I was wearing my camp staff class A shirt (venture) since it was the only clean shirt I had with me, and I was asked to ...not stick around too long :-D.

The merit badge thing never really got in the way, more than it was just annoying.

Thanks again for all your thoughts :-D


Phillipians 3:8-9

Link to post
Share on other sites

Even though there really wasn't a question, I would still like to throw my canteen of water onto this small but uncontrollable fire just for the fun of it. When applying all of the known rules, regulations, procedures, policies, methods, and mission statement to what a Troop is asked to do, I dont have energy enough to do anything else. Of course, after attempting to apply the results of all of the numerous trainings and all of the newest and improved trainings and then all of my reason, experience and knowledge to understand the same, it is kind of overwhelming. Even though I might find it too much, there could be those select few that don't and novelty may become more of a personal passion but even that is not recommended for obvious reasons.


I know that this doesn't help but that wasn't what you were looking for anyway.



Link to post
Share on other sites

"When applying all of the known rules, regulations, procedures, policies, methods, and mission statement to what a Troop is asked to do, I dont have energy enough to do anything else."


A good carpenter doesn't use every tool they own on every task they do. They just use the ones they need for that task.


The skill is to know what the tools are, and how to use each one corrrectly.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It is all warm and fuzzy to say the adults should deliver the program and the youth (really all) should follow the Scout Oath and Law. Now, lets get back to reality. A Scout gets mad at someone and purposely slashes a troop tent. This is where I think bylaws, guidelines, etc. may be useful. A guideline may simply state that the PLC will determine the appropriate actions to take for Scouts who do not live up to the Oath and Law. Conversely, it may simply state that the Scouts family is expected to pay for damaged equipment.


I agree that many units do go overboard with bylaws, rules, guidelines, etc. For example, "A scout must attend 50% of all meetings and outings in order to be considered active." is overstepping the requirements bounds. But, I would not go so far as to say no bylaws or guidelines are useful. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Link to post
Share on other sites

"Now, lets get back to reality. A Scout gets mad at someone and purposely slashes a troop tent."


A boy who slashes a tent is a danger to himself and others. His actions are not Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Cheerful, Thrifty or Brave. This is a Scout outing and he is not living up to his obligations...the BSA says send him home. Let the committee meet with the parents. Your job is not to punish other people's children it is to deliver a Scouting program to Scouts.


Once boys understand you are committed to providing a Scouting program to Scouts, and that only those who act as Scouts will get that program, they will choose to follow the Oath and Law or They will choose to leave. But the choice to follow the program is left to each of us, Scout and Scouter alike.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...