Advancement Done Right

IMGP7176Although the various methods of scouting are equally important and equally vital to a balanced and well run program, some capture more attention than others.

The Patrol Leadership Council has an opportunity to work with the adult leaders and the Troop’s Advancement Committee Member to discover “best fit” ways to encourage individual scouts to pursue advancement through rank requirements and merit badge unit studies.

BSA says this about advancement at their web page:

Boy Scouting provides a series of surmountable obstacles and steps in overcoming them through the advancement method. The Boy Scout plans his advancement and progresses at his own pace as he meets each challenge. The Boy Scout is rewarded for each achievement, which helps him gain self-confidence. The steps in the advancement system help a Boy Scout grow in self-reliance and in the ability to help others.

Note the call-out about each scout planning his own advancement and progressing at his own pace to meet each challenge.  If the scout is responsible for planning and executing his own advancement path, what is the troops real role in the method of scouting called “advancement?”  What does a “strong advancement program” look like?

092Based on years of observing other troops in action, I think it means making opportunities for each scout to become engaged in the process is very important.  Showing the obvious and less-obvious benefits to advancement help scouts begin to see why it’s an integral part of the program.  Advancement, done right, fosters personal growth and provides healthy interactions with adults who are experts in their field (Merit Badge Counselors).  Further, the planning and logistics of scheduling interviews with MBCs helps develop life-long skills that will translate to college and/or career.

All troops must be careful that a “strong advancement program” can be defined in a lot of ways depending on the audience.  To parents who are eager for their sons to become Eagle Scouts as quickly as possible to benefit college and career placement, a “strong advancement program” may look like a stereotypical merit badge mill – churning out one or two badges per month and a dozen at summer camp.  The downside to this approach is that much of the planning is done for the individual scout and they lose out on the very processes that enable the personal growth and development of self-reliance, self-initiation.  Further, pushing an artificial schedule violates the tenent of allowing the boy to progress at his own pace. It can be emotionally crushing to individual scouts when their patrol completes a badge, but he is left to finish on his own time with no further assistance.  Some boys will respond assertively, but others may languish and become disenfranchised from the program.

Go, go, go!To the adults and the PLC of some units, a “strong advancement program” could mean a streamlined path to meeting planning — simply focusing on teaching skills and bringing in MBCs for quick sign-offs — as an alternative to providing thoughtful team/patrol competitions, time spent sharing wisdom from the wild, planning service projects (to aid the community in a genuine spirit of selflessness, not simply check off another “required” activity).

Other scouters have challenged me on this topic, asking “what difference does it make?”  That’s a great question!  It is easy to see the differences during a week at summer camp – various troops line up for morning colors and present very different levels of constrained chaos.  Some require adults to get things in order, others have only moments of confusion before patrol leaders and their SPL get everyone settled and ready.  Summer camp is one place where the evidence of a year’s preparation is put under a spotlight.

B-P did say; “You can only get discipline in the mass by discipline in the individual.” Since advancement ought to inspire discipline within the individual, not the group, there’s a strong test for evidence of how each unit approaches this part of the program.

Is this morning chaos at camp due specifically to differences in “advancement programs” — no, not entirely, but as we talk to the scouters from these troops over the week, we find tell-tale indicators that do differentiate the units.  Often, the troops that are “adult led” or have a strict schedule of completing advancement as part of the weekly troop meeting (group participation instead of individual skill mastery) have a hard time at camp since the individuals have not been prepared to function on their own (they are now hardwired to act as groups).

This translates (unfortunately) into a “herding cats” exercise at the flag post and throughout the week of camp activities.  We see patrols moving from nature hut to rifle range “en masse” and working as a team to complete worksheets at the picnic table back at the campsite.  Johnny doesn’t understand questions 4 thru 6?  No worries, his buddies will fill those out for him to get signed off – even if they don’t explain it to him so that he actually learns about environmental sciences or rifle safety.

2013-07-03_Pirate Gateway

It has always been my understanding (perhaps incomplete or flawed) that the general intention of advancement programs in scouting was to provide “a series of surmountable obstacles and steps in overcoming them” so that the boys develop specific traits.

Traits like:

  • Character BPself reliance (they ought to be in control of their own advancement path, pace, timing),
  • initiation of action (as opposed to passivity – they ought to learn to “step up” and initiate the process and own the process as opposed to others pushing them along or directing their detailed steps), and
  • urgency of action (once started, get it done quickly – don’t let assignments drag and become stale through inaction).

The reward for each achievement completed is earned and deserved as:

  • the requirements were fulfilled,
  • the skills were mastered and
  • the self-confidence was built through the process.

The goal is to encourage the individual boy to engage in the process as it is the process that works the growth and enrichment of the lad.  A group effort inevitably diminishes the affects of the process.

Oh, the group moves forward and earns many patches, badges and other shiny trinkets along their journey, but is this “badge hunting” the goal of the advancement program or a distraction (when the goal becomes bragging rights, status, or trinket accumulation)?

Don’t get me wrong – that patch or certificate is a fair and appropriate symbol of accomplishment – not for what has been done, but for the newly built capability to serve others as indicated thru that patch. So a badge for first aid is not a trinket at all, but a statement that:

I am now prepared, at a moment’s notice, to respond and react with a measured approach to apply the skills I now possess. I will not shrink from that opportunity to serve others, nor will I laud this skill over others in pride as I should have known these things in order to fulfill my role as protector and guide to my own household – both present and future tense.

eagle oathAdvancement programs can, however, become derailed from this noble purpose and the objectives can become confused as though the earning of medals, patches and such are notches on a gunslingers pistol grip indicating conquests instead of opportunities to serve others through new skills and experiences.

Ultimately that is the telling difference between a hubristic young lad who is full of himself versus those who are better prepared to do a good turn – and are on the look out for those opportunities.


Advancement has a lot to offer each individual, but if it becomes a group exercise driven by schedules and artificial pace setting, it can fail to achieve it’s best intentions. 

Secondarily, we need to guard against the misinterpretation of the advancement program as a mercenary means to an end (i.e. “I want to be an Eagle to get into College easier, or land that corner office job” instead of to serve others per the Eagle Scout Oath).  Even B-P recognized these concerns and left us the admonishments;

  • “In Scouting, a boy is encouraged to educate himself instead of being instructed.”
  • “Scoutmasters deal with the individual boy rather than with the mass.”
  • The Scoutmaster must be alert to check badge hunting as compared to badge earning.”
  • “Teach Scouts not how to get a living, but how to live.”
  • “And then the final and chief test of the scout is the doing of a good turn to somebody every day, quietly and without boasting. This is the proof of the scout. It is practical religion, and a boy honors God best when he helps others most. A boy may wear all the scout uniforms made, all the scout badges ever manufactured, know all the woodcraft, campcraft, scoutcraft and other activities of boy scouts, and yet never be a real boy scout. To be a real boy scout means the doing of a good turn every day with the proper motive and if this be done, the boy has a right to be classed with the great scouts that have been of such service to their country.”

May I also recommend this article –…/the-mystery…/


About Troop113

Our Troop # comes from Psalm 1:1-3 - describing the men we want our scouts to become
This entry was posted in Leadership, Outing/Camping, Scouting Ideals and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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