Mechanics of Advancement: In Boy Scouting and Varsity Scouting

Both adult and youth leaders approve Boy Scout and Varsity Scout advancement. This permits greater emphasis on standards and more consistency in measurement, but it also places another level of importance on teaching and testing. As Scouts work with one another, learning takes place on both sides of the equation as they play teacher and student in turn. Parents are involved at home encouraging, mentoring, and supporting, but they do not sign for rank advancement requirements unless they serve as leaders or Lone Scout counselors (see "Lone Scouting," 5.0.3.0).

Advancement at this level is subtle. It presents a Scout with a series of challenges in a fun and educational manner. As he completes the requirements he achieves the three aims of Scouting: to develop character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop physical and mental fitness. It is important thus, to remember that in the end, a badge recognizes what a young man is able to do and how he has grown. It is not so much a reward for what he has done. It is instead, more about the journey: As a Scout advances, he is measured and he grows in confidence and self-reliance. The badge signifies a young man-through participation in a series of educational activities-has provided service to others, practiced personal responsibility, and set the examples critical to the development of leadership; all the while working to live by the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

4.2.0.1 Scout Advancement Age Requirements

All Boy Scout awards, merit badges, badges of rank, and Eagle Palms are for registered Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Lone Scouts; and also for qualified Venturers or Sea Scouts who are not yet 18 years old. Venturers and Sea Scouts qualify by achieving First Class rank as a Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, or Lone Scout. The only exceptions for those older than age 18 are related to Scouts registered beyond the age of eligibility (“Registering Qualified Members Beyond Age of Eligibility,” 10.1.0.0) and those who have been granted time extensions to complete the Eagle Scoutrank (“Time Extensions,” 9.0.4.0).

4.2.1.0 Four Steps in Scout Advancement

A Scout advances from Tenderfoot to Eagle by doing things with his patrol and troop, with his leaders, and on his own. Well-delivered programming will take boys to First Class in their first year of membership. Advancement is a simple matter when the four steps or stages outlined below are observed and integrated into troop programming. The same steps apply to Varsity Scouting, or where members are qualified to continue with Boy Scout advancement in Venturing or Sea Scouts. In these cases, references to troops and various troop leaders would point to teams, crews, and ships, and their respective leaders.

4.2.1.1 The Scout Learns

He learns by doing, and as he learns, he grows in his ability to do his part as a member of the patrol and troop. As he develops knowledge and skill, he is asked to teach others; and in this way he learns and develops leadership.

4.2.1.2 The Scout Is Tested

The Scoutmaster authorizes those who may test and pass the Scout on rank requirements. They might include his patrol leader, senior patrol leader, an assistant unit leader, a troop committee member, another Scout, or the Scoutmaster himself. Merit badge counselors teach and test him on requirements for merit badges.

4.2.1.3 The Scout Is Reviewed

After he has completed all requirements for a rank, the Scout meets with a board of review. For Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, and Life ranks, and Eagle Palms, members of the unit committee conduct it. See "Particulars for Tenderfoot Through Life Ranks (or Palms)," 8.0.2.0.

The Eagle Scout board of review is held in accordance with National Council and local council procedures.

4.2.1.4 The Scout Is Recognized

When the board of review has approved his advancement, the Scout deserves recognition as soon as possible. This should be done at a ceremony at the next unit meeting. The certificate for his new rank may be presented later, during a formal court of honor.

4.2.2.0 Varsity Scouting Particulars

Rank requirements for Varsity Scouts are the same as for Boy Scouts, except positions of responsibility are met in Varsity-specific roles that can be found in Boy Scout Requirements, No. 34765. Advancement is supervised not by adult leaders, but by a young man called an advancement program manager, with assistance from a team committee member. Methods for conducting boards of review are covered in "Boards of Review: An Overview for All Ranks," 8.0.0.0. Council and district advancement committees should consult the Varsity Scout Guidebook, No. 34827, for a full understanding of how the program works.

4.2.2.1 Varsity Scout Letter

The Varsity Scout letter is available to Varsity Scouts and adult team leaders. Requirements include attendance at meetings and activities, active participation in high-adventure or sports programs, and living the Scout Oath and Scout Law. It can be worn on the Varsity Scout jacket or the merit badge sash. Gold bars may be added to signify additional letters earned. For more, see the Varsity Scout Guidebook, No. 34827.

4.2.2.2 Varsity Scout Denali Award

The Denali Award is a Varsity Scouting pinnacle. It is available only to team members who have earned a Varsity letter, and requires advancement in rank, a position of leadership, service as a team captain or program manager leading and supporting activities, knowing and living the Varsity Scout Pledge, and a unit level board of review. The board of review is conducted according to the procedures outlined in section 8, "Boards of Review: An Overviewfor All Ranks." District or council representatives are not involved. Note the exception under 8.0.2.0, "Particulars for Tenderfoot Through Life Ranks or Palms," relating to the composition of the board.

4.2.3.0 Rank Requirements Overview

When people are asked what they did in Scouting, or what it is they think Scouts do or learn, they most often mention the outdoor activities, camping and hiking. A First Class Scout would surely add first aid or fire building or swimming or cooking or knot tying. And those who made at least Star or Life would doubtless talk about the merit badges they must have earned to achieve those ranks-especially those required for Eagle. But these hands-on experiences, as memorable as they are, makeup only a portion of what must be done to advance.And the remaining requirements-those beyond the merit badges and skills activities-are generally the most difficult to administer and judge. This section concentrates on those. Consult the Scoutmaster Handbook, No. 33009, for guidance on implementing the others.

The concepts of "reasonable" and "within reason" will help unit leadership and boards of review gauge the fairness of expectations for considering whether a Scout is "active" or has fulfilled positions of responsibility. A unit is allowed of course, to establish expectations acceptable to its chartered organization and unit committee. But for advancement purposes, Scouts must not be held to those which are so demanding as to be impractical for today's youth (and families) to achieve.

Ultimately, a board of review shall decide what is reasonable and what is not. In doing so, the board members must use common sense and must take into account that youth should be allowed to balance their lives with positive activities outside of Scouting.

4.2.3.1 Active Participation

The purpose of Star, Life, and Eagle Scout requirements calling for Scouts to be active for a period of months involves impact. Since we prepare young people to go forth, and essentially, make a positive difference in our American society, we judge that a member is "active" when his level of activity in Scouting, whether high or minimal, has had a sufficiently positive influence toward this end.

Use the following three sequential tests to determine whether the requirement has been met. The first and second are required, along with either the third or its alternative.

  1. The Scout is registered. The youth is registered in his unit for at least the time period indicated in the requirement, and he has indicated in some way, through word or action, that he considers himself a member. If a boy was supposed to have been registered, but for whatever reason was not, discuss with the local council registrar the possibility of back-registering him.
  2. The Scout is in good standing. A Scout is considered in "good standing" with his unit as long as he has not been dismissed for disciplinary reasons. He must also be in good standing with the local council and the Boy Scouts of America. (In the rare case he is not, communications will have been delivered.)
  3. The Scout meets the unit's reasonable expectations; or, if not, a lesser level of activity is explained. If, for the time period required, a Scout or qualifying Venturer or Sea Scout meets those aspects of his unit's pre-established expectations that refer to a level of activity, then he is considered active and the requirement is met. Time counted as "active" need not be consecutive. A boy may piece together any times he has been active and still qualify.

Units are free to establish additional expectations on uniforming, supplies for outings, payment of dues, parental involvement, etc., but these and any other standards extraneous to a level of activity shall not be considered in evaluating this requirement.

Alternative to the third test if expectations are not met:

If a young man has fallen below his unit's activity oriented expectations, then it must be due to other positive endeavors— in or out of Scouting—or to noteworthy circumstances that have prevented a higher level of participation (see below). In this case a Scout is considered "active" if a board of review can agree that Scouting values have already taken hold and been exhibited. This might be evidenced, for example, in how he lives his life and relates to others in his community, at school, in his religious life, or in Scouting. It is also acceptable to considerand "count" positive activities outside Scouting when they, too, contribute to his growth in character, citizenship, or personal fitness. Remember; it is not so much about what a Scout has done. It is about what he is able to do and how he has grown.

There may be, of course, registered youth who appear to have zero level of activity. Maybe they are out of the country on an exchange program, or away at school. Or maybe we just haven't seen them and wonder if they've quit. To pass the first test above, a Scout must be registered. But he must also have made it clear throughout right participation or by communicating in some way that he still considers himself a member, even though—for now—he may not meet full expectations. A conscientious leader might make a call and discover the boy's intentions.

If however, a Scout has been asked to leave his unit due to behavioral issues or the like, or if the council or the Boy Scouts of America has directed—for whatever reason—that he may not participate, then according to the second test he is not considered "active."

In considering the third test, it is appropriate for units to set reasonable expectations for attendance and participation. Then it is simple: Those who meet them are "active." But those who do not must be given the opportunity to qualify under the third-test alternative above. To do so, they must first offer an acceptable explanation. Certainly, there are medical, educational, family, and other issues that for practical purposes prevent higher levels of participation. These must be considered. Would the Scout have been more active ifhe could have been? If so, for purposes of advancement, he is deemed "active."

We must also recognize the many worth while opportunities beyond Scouting. Taking advantage of these opportunities and participating in them maybe used to explain why unit participation falls short. Examples might include involvement in religious activities, school, sports, or clubs that also develop character, citizenship, or personal fitness. The additional learning and growth experiences these provide can reinforce the lessons of Scouting and also give young men the opportunity to put them into practice in a different setting.

It is reasonable to accept that competition for a Scout's time will become intense, especially as he grows older and wants to take advantage of positive "outside" opportunities. This can make full-time dedication to his unit difficult to balance. A fair leader therefore, will seek ways to empower a young man to plan his growth opportunities both within and outside Scouting, and consider them part of the overall positive life experience for which the Boy Scouts of America is a driving force.

A board of review can accept an explanation if it can be reasonably sure there have been sufficient influences in the Scout's life that he is meeting our aims and can be awarded the rank regardless of his current or most recent level of activity in Scouting. The board members must satisfy themselves that he presents himself, and behaves, according to the expectations of the rank for which he is a candidate. Simply put: Is he the sort of person who, based on present behavior, will contribute to the Boy Scouts of America's mission? Note that it may be more difficult, though not impossible, for a younger member to pass through the third-test alternative than for one more experienced in our lessons.

4.2.3.2 Demonstrate Scout Spirit

The ideals of the Boy Scouts of America are spelled out in the Scout Oath, Scout Law, Scout motto, and Scout slogan. Members incorporating these ideals into their daily lives at home, at school, in their religious life, and in their neighborhoods, for example, are said to have Scout spirit. In evaluating whether a member has fulfilled this requirement, it may be best to begin by asking him to explain what Scout spirit and living the Scout Oath andScout Law mean to him. Young people know when they are being kind or helpful, or a good friend to others.They know when they are cheerful, or trustworthy, or reverent. All of us, young and old, know how we act when no one else is around.

A leader typically asks for examples of how a Scout has lived the Oath and Law. It might also be useful to invite examples of when he did not. This is not something to push, but it can help with the realization that sometimes we fail to live by our ideals, and that we all can do better. This also sends a message that a Scout can admit he has done wrong, yet still advance. Or in a serious situation-such as alcohol or illegal drug use-understand why advancement might not be appropriate just now. This is a sensitive issue, and must be treated carefully. Most Scout leaders do their best to live by the Oath and Law, but any one of them may look back on years past and wish that, at times, they had acted differently. We learn from these experiences and improve and grow.We can look for the same in our youth.

Evaluating Scout spirit will always be a judgment call, but through getting to know a young man and by asking probing questions, we can get a feel for it. We can say however, that we do not measure Scout spirit by counting meetings and outings attended. It is indicated, instead, by the way he lives his life.

4.2.3.3 Service Projects

Basic to the lessons in Scouting, especially regarding citizenship, service projects are a key element in the Journey to Excellence recognition program for councils, districts, and units. They should be a regular and critical part of the program in every pack, troop, team, crew, and ship.

Service projects required for Second Class, Star, and Life ranks may be conducted individually or through participation in patrol or troop efforts. They also maybe approved for those assisting on Eagle Scout projects. Second Class requires a minimum of one hour on an approved project. An approval is important because it calls on a boy to think about what might be accepted, and to be prepared to discuss it. It is up to the unit to determine how this is done. In many troops, it is the Scoutmaster's prerogative.

Star and Life ranks require at least six hours of service ona Scoutmaster preapproved project. Time spent on Eagle Scout service projects should be allowed in meeting these requirements. Note that Eagle projects do not have a minimum time requirement, but call for planning and development, and leadership of others, and must be preapproved by the council or district. (See "The Eagle Scout Service Project," 9.0.2.0.)

4.2.3.4 Positions of Responsibility

"Serve actively for a period of … months in one or more … positions of responsibility" is an accomplishment every candidate for Star, Life, or Eagle must achieve.The following will help to determine whether a Scout has fulfilled the requirement.

4.2.3.4.1 Positions Must Be Chosen From Among Those Listed.

The position must be listed in the position of responsibility requirement shown in the most current edition of Boy Scout Requirements, No. 34765. Since more than one member may hold some positions—"instructor," for example—it is expected that even very large units are able to provide sufficient opportunities within the list. The only exception involves Lone Scouts, who may use positions in school, their place of worship,in a club, or elsewhere in the community.

For Star and Life ranks only, a unit leader may assign a leadership project as a substitute for the position of responsibility. If this is done, he or she should consult the unit committee and unit advancement coordinator to arrive at suitable standards. The experience should provide lessons similar to those of the listed positions, but it must not be confused with, or compared to, the scope of an Eagle Scout service project.

4.2.3.4.2 Meeting the Time Test May Involve Any Number of Positions.

The requirement calls for a period of months. Any number of positions may be held as long as total service time equals at least the number of months required. Holding simultaneous positions does not shorten the required number of months. Positions need not flow from one to the other; there may be gaps between them. This applies to all qualified members including Lone Scouts.

4.2.3.4.3 Meeting Unit Expectations.

If a unit has established expectations for positions of responsibility, and if, within reason (see the note under "Rank Requirements Overview,"4.2.3.0), based on his personal skill set, the Scout meets them, he fulfills the requirement. When a Scout assumes a position, something related to the desired results must happen. It is a disservice to the Scout and to the unit to reward work that has not been done. Holding a position and doing nothing, producing no results, is unacceptable. Some degree of responsibility must be practiced, taken, or accepted.

4.2.3.4.4 Meeting the Requirement in the Absence of Unit Expectations.

It is best when a Scout's leaders provide him position descriptions, and then direction, coaching, and support. Where this occurs, and is done well, the young man will likely succeed. When this support, for whatever reason, is unavailable or otherwise not provided—or when there are no clearly established expectations—then an adult leader or the Scout, or both, should work out the responsibilities to fulfill. In doing so, neither the position's purpose nor degree of difficulty may be altered significantly or diminished. BSA literature provides the basis for this effort: the Scoutmaster Handbook, No. 33009, ("The Boy-Led Troop"); the Patrol LeaderHandbook, No. 32502 ("Your Patrol and Your Troop"); the Varsity Scout Guidebook, No. 34827 (in explanations of team organization); the Venturing Leader Manual,No. 34655 ("Leadership in the Crew"); and the Sea Scout Manual, No. 33239 ("Officers' Responsibilities")

Under the above scenario, if it is left to the Scout to determine what should be done, and he makes a reasonable effort to perform accordingly for the time specified, then he fulfills this requirement. Even if his results are not necessarily what the Scoutmaster, membersof a board of review, or others involved may want to see, he may not be held to unestablished expectations.

4.2.3.4.5 When Responsibilities Are Not Met.

If a unit has clearly established expectations for position(s) held, then-within reason-a Scout must meet them through the prescribed time. If he is not meeting expectations, then this must be communicated early. Unit leadership may work toward a constructive result by asking him what he thinks he should be accomplishing. What is his concept of the position? What does he think his troop leaders-youth and adult-expect? What has he done well? What needs improvement? Often this questioning approach can lead a young man to the decision to measure up. He will tell the leaders how much of the service time should be recorded.

If it becomes clear nothing will improve his performance, then it is acceptable to remove the Scout from his position. Every effort should have been made while he was in the position to ensure he understood expectations and was regularly supported toward reasonably acceptable performance. It is unfair and inappropriate-after six months, for example-to surprise a boy who thinks he has been doing fine, with news that his performance is now considered unsatisfactory. In thiscase, he must be given credit for the time.

If a Scout believes he has performed his duties satisfactorily, but his leaders disagree, then the possibility that expectations are unreasonable should be considered. If after discussions between the Scout and his leaders—and perhaps including his parents or guardians—he believes he is being held to unreasonable expectations, then upon completing the remaining requirements, he must be granted a board of review. If he is an Eagle candidate, then he may request a board of review underdisputed circumstances (see "Initiating Eagle Scout Board of Review Under Disputed Circumstances," 8.0.3.2).

4.2.3.4.6 "Responsibility" and "Leadership."

Many suggest this requirement should call for a position of "leadership" rather than simply of "responsibility." Taking and accepting responsibility, however, is a key foundation for leadership. One cannot lead effectively without it. The requirement as written recognizes the different personalities, talents, and skill sets in all of us. Some seem destined to be "the leader of the group." Others provide quality support and strong examples behind the scenes. Without the latter, the leaders in charge have little chance for success. Thus, the work of the supporters becomes part of the overall leadership effort.

4.2.3.5 Unit Leader (Scoutmaster) Conference

The unit leader (Scoutmaster) conference, regardless of the rank or program, is conducted according to the guidelines in the Scoutmaster Handbook, No. 33009. Note that a Scout must participate or take part in one; it is not a "test." Requirements do not say he must "pass" a conference. While it makes sense to hold one after other requirements for a rank are met, it is not required that it be the last step before the board of review. This is an important consideration for Scouts on a tight schedule to meet the requirements before age 18. Last-minute work can sometimes make it impossible to fit the conference in before then, so scheduling it earlier can avoid unnecessary extension requests.

The conference can provide a forum for discussing ambitions and life purpose and for establishing goals for future achievement, but work left to be completed may be discussed just as easily as that which is finished. If appropriate, an "object lesson" on delayed effort could prove valuable. Ultimately, conference timing is up to the unit. Some leaders hold more than one along the way,and any of them can count toward the requirement.