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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Change (in Scouting)

There have recently been some scouting additions and changes that have caught my attention.  Some good, some not so much.  For example, the community section of the scouting.org site has all kinds of beta stuff up and running (I may have mentioned that in November?) and it’s pretty neat… in theory.  In actuality, it’s a bit overwhelming and needs some serious work.  The gentleman who was working on the project has been taken off the project and if there is someone new working on it s/he has not stepped forward for any salutations or introductions, so maybe the project has been put on the (very?) back burner for the time being, I’m not sure.

Honestly, it has been a good thing that I’ve lost interest and found the site difficult/annoying to use, since I really don’t need another online time sink, but it is also disappointing.  It seemed like a really great chance to share information and get tips, tricks, and inside help from scouters across the country.  Such is life. 

http://myscouting.org has had some other advances that seem promising, but have also fallen short in actuality.  Supposedly, online tour permits are becoming available (though I do not personally have access, so I’m not sure if that’s a per council thing or what) and while “advancement” and “rechartering” are menu options for me, I get 404 errors when I click on the links.  The advancement would be… so… very… nice.  We paid $45 for a year’s worth of advancement tracking online, and it was definitely a neat tool, but it ended up being a useless one since I already had a year and a half worth of tracking through a spreadsheet and only had another couple of months before my Webelos group crossed over.  I did transfer everything over so I could play with the online stuff (and share with parents in case they felt there were errors) but no other den leaders or parents made extensive use of the system, so it was, in essence, worthless.

The key to tracking advancement online through myscouting.org is that all of that information is easily accessible by national and council, so one wouldn’t need to send in advancement forms!  Not only would this save paper (and thus, theoretically be more ecologically sound) it would also be insanely easier to just hit a “send” button and have all that information tracked by council.  I suspect a LOT of units have more advancement than their council hears about due to folks slacking off on paperwork - and a huge part of that (for our unit, anyway) is the lack of easy accessibility to a fax machine.  Snail mail is unreliable (sad, but true) and s - l - o - w.  Of course, mix in machine and human error, and advancement online might actually become a bit of a pain, I’m not sure. 

Anyway, I hope they get some of those features straightened out.  It’d be nice to go more paperless, if not entirely paperless, and it’d be pretty handy for most units to be able to submit information that way.

Something else that is “brand spankin’ new” is the new annual health and medical forms.  Let me just say… some of it has me cheering.  Some of it has me… dismayed.  I understand the need for such paperwork, let me make that clear up front, but when it comes down to it, it’s one more than that leaders have to hound people about.  The “old” medical forms were hard enough to collect from people, but these… gah.  Let me state up front, many insurance companies used Social Security numbers as numbers for their subscribers.  While that practice has faded (mostly!) from insurance practices (ours no longer is TDO’s SS#, for example), it very well may not be an entirely phased out practice.  I don’t know how other units handle their medical forms, but the way we handle things is that the den leader has a copy of all medical forms pertinent to their den members, and then I have a copy on file for pack events.  That would mean that at least two people in our pack would have access to copies of these medical cards - which could potentially also have Social Security numbers on them!  Oh yeah, I’m sure everyone’s going to be really comfortable with that (considering some people won’t even fill out adult applications because those require SS# for background checks!)

Another huge downside to these medical forms is that there are newly implemented height/weight restrictions - that as of yet no one from our district our council (I’m not sure on the national level) has openly addressed!  These restrictions are, in my opinion, ridiculous.  I understand that they are in place for the safety of adults and scouts alike, but come on!  I could understand if it was like…. “Yeah you can’t be 5’3” and 200lbs and go rappelling,” but dude, here’s the quote:

“Individuals desiring to participate in any high-adventure activity or events in which emergency evacuation would take longer than 30 minutes by ground transportation will not be permitted to do so if they exceed the weight limit as documented at the bottom of this page.”

We’re talking about, for example, TDO not being able to go camping with our boys because we live in a remote area and the camping areas we go to are also relatively remote but still considered “local” to us.  He’s not a hugely fat man, but he’s “only” 5’10” and weighs more than 226lbs.  I’m not disclosing his exact weight, but let’s just say he’s robust, physically active, and can outrun the “bad guys” in his job, so why can’t he go freaking camping with our kids when they go up to Lake Berryessa?  He’s probably the most capable and able of all the people who go within the troop - boys and adults alike - and yet the weight standards are very strict. 

I get the BSA wanting leaders to set a good, healthy example.  I get that they want the leaders (and kids) to be safe.  I just don’t think the number game plays out very well in actuality.  I see this going in a very, very bad direction very fast.  A lot of the leaders I see in scouting (not just in this area, either) are overweight.  In fact, a lot of them participate so heavily in scouting in order to get more exercise and activity into their lives, so it’s sort of bullshit to take that away from them.  It’s beyond “safety”, in my opinion, it verges on outright stupidity.  “High Adventure” activities should be limited - but I think based not just on numbers, but on the advice of a medical practitioner!  If a doc says, “Yo, dude, I just don’t think that’d be a safe activity for you,” then fine.  I’m on board with that 100%.  I just think it’s jacked up that TDO couldn’t even go on a day hike or to a dinosaur museum (technically speaking) if it were more than 30 minutes away from “evacuation”.  (What the heck does that mean anyway?  30 minutes from a hospital?  30 minutes to the nearest Stop-and-Rob for band-aids? 30 minutes from campsite to car?)

That outraged rant aside, there are things I really do like about the new medical form.  I love, for example, that the .pdf format it is in is open for typing in the information (the old one wasn’t) which opens lots of opportunities.  For example, an industrious person could go in, type in all the names, addresses, unit/council/ information, print that sucker out, then just get parents to fill in the rest.  Or, as forms come in, that information could be transferred to digital copies which could be updated/edited easily from year to year.  No more making parents dig up immunization records from year to year, we can just say, “Hey are there changes to your med form/contact?” then print a copy and have them re-sign and shove it back on file again.  I don’t actually have a small printer for my laptop (though I have often thought of getting one) but I DO take my laptop most places with me.  Having medical forms digitally on my laptop would be freaking cool.  We get to an event and realize that Little Timmy’s medical form isn’t on hand?  Cool, print another on the spot and on we go (verses having to have mom/dad fill one out on the spot.)

The big issue with keeping any kind of digital information like that is, again, security.  Medical stuff should be kept at least relatively confidential.  What happens when my laptop gets stolen?  And again… if I’ve got copies of insurance cards/numbers on my laptop - with SS# on it! - that information is now free to roam.  Dayum.  Double damn. 

But there I go getting negative, so let me throw out the other exciting thing that I am really, really, REALLY grateful for…

... the addition of Parental Informed Consent and Talent Release forms… YAY!!  As a pack we already HAD this paperwork, (though we did have to device our own Talent Release forms, ourselves) but to have an all-in-one paperwork is just freaking awesome.  I’m thrilled to no longer have to hand out three (and more, actually, since we have a parent survey that also goes out once a year and to new parents) separate forms to collect and track.  It’s definitely an improvement, though it isn’t enough to keep my hide from chapping over the weight restrictions.

More “new” scout stuff… the new scout uniform!  Honestly, it’s not much of an improvement.  In fact, I imagine to the untrained eye, there probably isn’t any difference at all.  “Yeah, green and tan, so?”  But…. see.  No.  The “green” before was an olive color and the new “green” is definitely a forest green.  The tan seems to be approximately the same, but the fabric of the shirt is entirely different (and more comfortable).  The shirts aren’t any more flattering, but they do seem more practically since the sleeves roll up (and fasten into place with a button) and overall seem more comfortable. 

However, that being said, a lot of scouters are complaining that they don’t look as sharp or nice and I think pretty much all scouters agree that the “media pocket” on the sleeve is just an outrage.  Almost all units have a “no necessary electronics” policy.  Now, “necessary electronics” is at the discretion of each unit, but for the most part, that means no Ipods, no Gameboys, no… well… TOYS.  Cell phones are (generally) allowed by unit leaders for emergency purposes only, and while many units are more and more invested in GPS units, they are to be used only during GPS related activities.  Many units are flexible with some of these rules.  For example, many Boy Scout troops will allow boys to listen to their Ipods after everyone’s snug in their tents at night.  Many Boy Scout units will allow boys to carry their cell phones, but again only for emergency purposes.  Some actually have the same rule as with Ipods… you can text your buddies as much as you want after you’re snug in your tent, so long as it is quiet and non-disruptive.  So why the hissy fit over the pockets?  I mean, if they’re gonna have the cell phones, why not have an appropriate place on their shirts to carry them?

The thing about these media pockets that distinguish them specifically as media pockets and not as, I don’t know, a place to hold your smokes (yeah that is definitely against BSA policy, even for leaders!) is that there is a finished hole on the lower inside of the pocket made specifically for a cord to go through for earphones.  Uuuuum.  In other words, so scouts and leaders can listen to their Ipods or talk on their Iphone while they’re hiking?  I mean, seriously?  What the hell?  Yes it’s “practical” if such devices were allowed, but like I say, a major point of scouting these days is to haul kids (and adults!!) away from being “plugged in” and reconnect them with each other and nature.

The other complaint that people are having is whether or not uniform items are “mix and match” with older items.  Now, something that should be mentioned is that once a uniform, always a uniform, so it’s not like folks are being expected to run out and buy the new uniform today or else they’ll be out of policy.  That isn’t the issue, so much as burning questions like: Can we wear the new tan shirts with the old olive pants?  Can we wear the new green numbers/insignia on the old tan shirts?  Can we mix and match red/green insignia within the uniform?  (For example, a red trained patch and green numbers.)  For the most part, it seems like the leaders I’ve talked to are playing it the “all or nothing” route.  In other words, either wear the new uniform or don’t.  The problem with this being that the old insignia pieces are not available anymore.  One can’t simply walk into a scout store and buy red unit numbers, so if one falls off (trust me, it happens) or gets ruined, you’re sort of out of luck and have to spring for a whole new shirt.  Lame?

I like that the BSA is trying to drag scouting into modern times, I just am not entirely thrilled with how it has progressed.  Change takes time and is painful under the best of circumstances, but all these changes have been annoying to deal with all at once.  With BSA getting ready to celebrate it’s 100th anniversary in 2010, it seems like a good idea to merge the past with the present.  I just wish that a little more of the past had been retained, but maybe our society, and in fact, our world has changed to much to hold on to some of those traditions and ideals of the past.

(Annnnd… I think I’ll save my rant about change for another day.  Maybe tomorrow.)

Anyway, it’s been interesting seeing all the changes bubbling up to the surface recently, and it has been exciting to see the new developments, but I’ll be sort of glad when some of the promises are fulfilled and some of the change becomes routine.

Posted by Liberty on 01/06 at 09:22 PM
Posted under: Scouts

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mamaerica  at  01/07/09 01:22 PM

It’s interesting to hear your take on all this BSA stuff.  I stay out of it mostly.  So far, we haven’t had any issues with the new weight stuff, and one of our leaders is VERY large.  If they pass the physical, they can go, and around here, they to to the middle of nowhere pretty easily!  We’ve actually talked about a GPS emergency beacon thing that, when activated, would send LifeFlight to them….but that’s another post.

Our unit is going with the “phase-it-in” method with the new uniforms.  They replaced the red epaulettes (sp?) with green, but our troop numbers are still red, and there’s no way I’m paying $40 for a new pair of pants because the old ones aren’t quite the right color, kwim?  Of course, there’s one family that went out and replaced it all, but, well, that’s typical of that family.  LOL!

Our troop also has a box of swap items….when your kid outgrows a shirt or pair of pants, in they go, and you can take what you need too.  That’s been GREAT for leaders stuff as well.  Another plus is that most of the shirts have the troop #s and council patch already attached.  And, it’s been great to be able to outfit boys who otherwise wouldn’t have what they need because, let’s face it, those shirts can be expensive!  And the $4 socks that Tristan promptly lost?!  Ugh!

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Liberty Liberty  at  01/08/09 07:06 AM

The nice part of uniform stuff is that they can still wear the old ones indefinitely. The weight requirements… I honestly do not know how strictly each council will enforce them but I know according to the new NATIONAL (thus uniformly required) health forms, everyone is supposed to follow the weight guidelines.

It’ll be interesting to see where things go from here, that’s for sure.

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