No, Sir! Who wins when a Scoutmaster and youth leader disagree?

The Dilemma

Troop 881 had been pretty laid back throughout Senior Patrol Leader Jared’s time as a member. They went camping every month and did a lot of work for their chartered organization, but they didn’t get too uptight about proper uniforms, neatly pitched tents or calling their leaders Mr. Smith or Ms. Jones.

Things changed when Darryl Resch — make that Sgt. Resch — became Scoutmaster. A proud Marine veteran, the new Scoutmaster was determined to instill some military-style discipline into the troop, along with a heightened focus on patriotism. He didn’t get much pushback at first. But then he announced at the April patrol leaders’ council meeting that he wanted the troop to place flags on graves at the national cemetery for Memorial Day instead of taking their scheduled rock-climbing trip.

That was too much for Jared. After all, the climbing trip was a longstanding tradition, and the troop already had a service project planned for the spring. When Sgt. Resch wouldn’t budge, Jared finally blurted out, “Nobody cares about dead Civil War soldiers, anyway!”

“You’d better start caring,” Sgt. Resch said. “Otherwise, the summer float trip is off, too.”

For Discussion

Read the dilemma aloud with your youth. Then begin by discussing these general questions.

  • Who should develop the troop calendar: the Scoutmaster or the patrol leaders’ council?
  • What if the Scoutmaster and PLC disagree? Who should have the final say?
  • Is it important for Scouts to use titles and last names when addressing adult leaders? Why or why not?
  • How important is it to wear correct uniforms and pitch tents neatly?
  • How important is it to perform service projects and to participate in patriotic observances?
  • Is doing a project like Sgt. Resch has proposed more valuable than, say, cleaning out gutters for elderly neighbors or running a bike-safety clinic for kids? Why or why not?
  • Is doing a service project more important than going on a campout? Why or why not?

Next, discuss these questions:

  • Is Jared wrong? Why or why not?
  • Is Sgt. Resch wrong? Why or why not?
  • Is it possible for both of them to be wrong? Is it possible for both of them to be right?
  • How do the second, fifth and seventh points of the Scout Law relate to this situation? What about the Scout Oath’s mention of duty to country?

Finally, invite the group to roleplay different outcomes for this scenario. Discuss which option is the most appropriate.

16 Comments

  1. There isn’t enough information in the article to see the bigger picture of the troop. Why did the other scoutmaster step down and was Mr. Resch approved by the troop committee and the chartered organization? The article makes negative inferences about the scoutmaster “Sgt Resch”. Did he ask to be called that or is this a tool to paint him in a bad light? This scenario plays out like a political poll, the reader is being pushed toward a pre-selected answer.

    • It seems to me that, rather than being pushed to one conclusion or another, we are invited to consider the potential for conflict in all of this. It’s true one can interpret the situation in different ways – so let’s do that.

      I have known active officers who were wonderful and dreadful as Scout leaders, and others who were decidedly OK. Each displayed the best and some of the worst traits one could bring to Scouting, so I rather like the fact they mention this guy is a Sergeant. In all, it’s no different from the civilians I have worked with.

      Turn it over, think about it, consider the different possibilities, depending on how one interprets what might be happening. I don’t think there’s a single right answer, but I think there are some that are clearly wrong.

  2. This is an interesting problem. The Scoutmaster is right about caring about things like neatly pitched tents and uniforms. And using courtesy titles is a norm in most parts of the country, anyway.

    Then again, if he’s following the program, he should realize the calendar was made final a long time ago can’t simply be overridden. He should use his moral suasion to accommodate both flag placement – or a similar service project – and the climbing trip next year. The Scouts don’t have to say yes, but if their Scoutmaster is any good at all they will.

  3. Mr. Sanders is correct when he says there isn’t enough information here. For example, why is compromise never even mentioned? Memorial Day is on Monday. Is the rock climbing trip a whole weekend? Can the troop spend a short time placing flags in the cemetery en-route to the rock climbing site? Is every single member of the troop going rock climbing or is it possible that those not able to go climbing visit the cemetery for a few hours on Saturday morning and place the flags? It seems to me that the troop leadership (youth and adults) are missing an opportunity to teach the scouts the art of compromise. Under this scenario, everybody looses.

  4. Neither are handling the situation optimally. Proper uniforms are important. A well organized camp site is vital to a good camping experience even in bad weather and may prevent injury. Titles…that may depend on the troop (and some in Gen X and Millennials are less comfortable with formal titles). However, Resch is out of line when it comes to threatening the boys. That is not acceptable in any way, shape, or form.

  5. Where are the other trained leaders? Hello, Committee Chair; COR; Unit Commish? Where are the parents? Who else has “skin in the game”?

    I’ve seen Scouters in this mold AND seen it work, but more often, not so much. I’ve seen mouthy boys, but rarely in an SPL

  6. The PLC has already voted and planned the outings for a period of time. The new SM should have been aware of all of this anyway before joining as SM. If there are Scouts who are not going on the trip, they could go to the service project. That is the best of both worlds for now. Hopefully, the new SM is fully trained for the position. Yes, get him to Wood Badge. Also get the PLC to ILST training within the Troop or find another troop to help put it on for them. Also, get Scouts to NYLT. All of that will help.

  7. Ok, so there are is a way to do both options and I am always of mind as a Scoutmaster to have the young men lead their troop. The Troop that I have had the pleasure of being Scoutmaster for has a rock climbing campout at Joshua Tree National Park every year. At this campout the troop has conducted flag retirement ceremonies in the evening around the campfire to bring the Duty to Country in play. Both the scouts and I, as a veteran, get to have it both ways and enjoy the campout experience. One time during the ceremony it was noted that the boulders that were 20 feet above our campsite had many off duty Marines standing at attention and saluting during the retirement ceremony. Everyone had a tear that night night and the scouts understood their duties fully that trip!

  8. There is MUCH to discuss here. On some things the SM is right on, and others he’s dead wrong. Hopefully this is a fictitious scenario designed for a lesson.

    The PLC, not the Scoutmaster, makes the agenda. The PLC selected a Scout-friendly activity, so it’s not like they chose to go to an amusement park and waste time (an example of when a SM should step in and “redirect” efforts). The SM has every right to “suggest” different activities, or even find a way to combine the activities, but he NEVER has the right to “dictate”, let alone dictate and THREATEN the boys with cancelling another trip. His job… his ONLY job… is to teach the SPL how to lead the troop and report his progress back to the Committee. As SM is NOT a “Cubmaster for older boys”… so if there are any SMs out there who make up the Troop’s annual calendar or chooses the weekly/monthly agenda… STOP IMMEDIATELY and get trained or get out of the way!

    On other issues, Sgt SM is “on target”. I’ll offer one of my favorite phrases… “NOTHING happens here by accident!”

    There’s a REASON for wearing the uniform, and wearing it properly.
    There’s a REASON for trying to set the tents/camping sites up neatly.
    There’s a REASON why boys cook for themselves.
    There’s a REASON why they elect a SPL and respective PL’s.
    There’s a REASON why we hold a PLC meeting.
    There’s a REASON why there are different positions like SM & Committee Chair.
    There’s a REASON why Patrols group boys by AGE, INTERESTS, and ABILITY.

    Want to see a program where boys DON’T get the real “value” of being a Boy Scout? Go to ANY unit where the boys are in blue jeans, where the Scoutmaster is “leading” the meetings, or are trying to “out-think” the 105 year old program by picking & choosing which BSA policies they follow, or the Committee tries to do the Scoutmaster’s job.

  9. In the matter of uniforms, one of the very reasons we wear a uniform is to learn and promote grooming and proper dress. Most especially when a boy is at a court of honor or some other function where he’ll be exposed to the public in uniform. When a class B uniform is appropriate maybe the rules might not apply as strictly. In the matter of which event the troop should attend all the comments about compromise are effective. Is the WHOLE troop going rock climbing or can some of them attend the flag thing that arent going. Recognizing that Memorial Day is kind of a set timeframe, what are the possibilities of moving the rock climbing date to another weekend either earlier or later? But if this is truly a boy,(and soon maybe a girl) led troop, a Scoutmasters position is to back up and help guide his SPL not dictate the troops activities. The SPL’s outburst about veterans exposes his frustrations, but he needs to understand that veterans and their service IS important and should be respected. He needs to apologize for his outburst too. “Sarge” needs to remember that he’s leading boys now, not recruits. Boys that come from diverse backgrounds and can’t and shouldn’t be forced into a single mold.

  10. If this rock climbing trip was already planned at their yearly PLC (and I would assume, passed and Ok’d by the committee), then the Scoutmaster needs to help find a suitable new day for the rock climbing trip that is agreed upon by the PLC, or they need to keep it on schedule. He can then suggest that they add the service project to next year’s planning.

  11. No need to stereotype veterans with this scenario. A new Scoutmaster would have been enough to get the scenario running.

  12. A lot of the responses here are the types of responses which should be generated in the exercise as proposed. Several people make mention of a “lack of information” and then ask really good questions such as “where are the other leaders, committee, etc” and “what about compromise?” These are the types of responses a discussion about this exercise should generate so that both Scouts and Scouters in the discussion can have a meaningful dialog.

    I took the exercise as presented at face value, it provides a lot of room for discussion with no single right/wrong answer.

    I agree however that Scouts should be setting their own agendas and planning, they should be coached by their SM to make good choices and compromise when needed or develop additional plans (such as some go climbing and some go do the service project – this has happened in my troop) and I agree a SM should not threaten his Scouts. He is there to back them up and help them succeed, although he also has to allow them to fail.

  13. Nothing diminshes the role of youth leadership more than being overridden by a new “hardline” inflexible or dictatorial adult leader who seeks to exert inappropriate authority and become a “my way or the highway” autocrat. Servant Leadership is developed through supporting youth plans and providing helpful guidance only when appropriate. “Semper Gumby” [always flexible] needs to be exercised at all times. There appears to be no good reason to change the already scheduled trip just because the new adult leader comes along and insists on cancelling a planned activity except for their own gratification. Youth do not forget being overruled and humiliated in the presence of their peers for no good reason and will resent the adult leader, which can result in Scouts leaving the unit to find a more supportive and encouraging unit with a supportive mentoring leader. Youth should be treated by adults as colleagues and not subordinates. I have seen this happen many times with dictatorial leaders, Then when they leave, the leader asks “what happened”…..why did they leave? Sometimes the leader needs to be counseled by the unit Committee Chair to ensure that he does not interfere with appropriate youth decisions and scheduled activities.

    Moreover, use Thorns, Roses and Buds to permit each youth to share what they do not like, what they do like, and what they would like to see happen in the future. Youth will openly and honestly express themselves whether for good or honestly share what they do not like, and adults need to listen, and learn from the youth.

    Young adult programs such as Venturing, Sea Scouts and Exploring emphasize the importance of youth servant leadership and allowing youth to plan and conduct their program without interference or domineering by adult leaders. Remember the “yeahbut” rule. Whenever an adult says “…yeah, but that won’t work, or …its too expensive,” etc., ad nauseum, do not allow those comments to go on, or permit them to squelch or diminishy the youth ideas…Often youth can figure out options that adults never even think of. Whenver an adult leader tries to inappropriately critique youth originated proposals or ideas during a discussion, they need to be reminded by the youth that they are planning and conducting the program. The only legitimate reason for an adult leader to insert themselves into the discussion is [if need be] to educate the youth how to avoid a health and safety risk or violation of BSA safe scouting. The adult leader may insert open-ended questions like, what will you do if [fill in the blank] e.g., the weather is bad…do you have a backup plan, how will you fund the activity, etc., but let the youth figure it out. They are quite intelligent and skilled at dealing with such obstacles, They know what they want and take great pride in making it happen well, and should be the ones finding solutions, not adults. If they ask for adult input, provide it but give them options to cosider, suggestions, resources to check out, but not demands and let them figure it out. Learn by doing….Lead by example.. and share in the successes created by the youth.

    In Sea Scouting, we always told the youth, “…this is your ship and your program, you plan it and you run it. You are in charge. Let us know if we can help but it is your show. we are just along for the ride. Seems to work very well, and the youth recruit their friends to join when they are having fun and are proud of their achievements….that’s what its all about….

    BTW the addressing of adult leaders as Mr.or Scoutmaster seems a bit formal when trying to establish a collegial relationship with youth. First name basis always levels the playing field. Respect must be earned and will be if the youth admires and respects the adult leader, and creating a hierarchical relationship does not foster collegiality. We all were given first names or nicknames, so why not use them…greatly improves comfort levels and open communications. Titles are for function but do not typically create respect or admiration by youth. I have often seen youth address their high school teachers by their first [or last] names and it seems to create collegiality and thus respect.

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