Advancement is the process by which youth members of the Boy Scouts of America progress from rank to rank.
It Is a Method—Not an End in Itself
Advancement is simply a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is one of several methods designed to help unit leadership carry out the aims and mission of the Boy Scouts of America.
Experiential Learning Is the Foundation
Everything done to advance—to earn ranks and other awards and recognition—is designed to educate or to otherwise expand horizons. Members learn and develop according to a standard. This is the case from the time a member joins and then moves through the programs of Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, Varsity Scouting, and Venturing or Sea Scouts. Experiential learning is the key: Exciting and meaningful activities are offered, and education happens. Learning comes from doing. For example, youth may read about first aid, hear it discussed, and watch others administer it, but they will not learn it until they practice it.
Personal Growth Is Prime Consideration
Scouting skills—what a young person learns to do—are important, but not as important as the growth achieved through participating in a unit program. The concern is for total, well-rounded development. Age-appropriate surmountable hurdles are placed before members, and as they face them they learn about themselves and gain confidence. Success is achieved when we fulfill the BSA Mission Statement and when we accomplish the aims of Scouting: character development, citizenship training, and mental and physical fitness. We know we are on the right track when we see youth accepting responsibility, demonstrating self-reliance, and caring for themselves and others; when they learn to weave Scouting ideals into their lives; and when we can see they will be positive contributors to our American society.
Though certainly goal-oriented, advancement is not a competition. Rather, it is a joint effort involving the leaders, the members, other volunteers such as merit badge counselors or Venturing consultants, and the family. Though much is done individually at their own pace, youth often work together in groups to focus on achievements and electives at Cub Scout den meetings, for example, or participate in a Boy Scout campout or Sea Scout cruise. As they do this, we must recognize each young person's unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. As watchful leaders, either adult or youth, we lend assistance as called for and encouragemembers to help each other according to their abilities.
Advancement is the method by which we promote and encourage the ongoing involvement and commitment that keeps members coming back for more. It works best when it is built into a unit's program so that simply participating leads to meaningful achievement and recognition—and to a continually improving readiness for more complex experiences.
Advancement for Members With Special Needs
Youth with physical disabilities and youth and adults with developmental or cognitive challenges are welcome in the Boy Scouts of America. As outlined in this section, various accommodations exist to facilitate advancement. A special unit oriented to serving members with disabilities need not be joined, although those exist and may be beneficial in some cases. The severity of disability will indicate how members should be registered.
When parents or volunteers are able to provide assistance and oversight, most anyone can be a member. While leaders should be enthusiastic about helping those with special needs, they should also recognize the demands that will be placed on their patience, understanding, and skill, in working on advancement.
Registering Qualified Members Beyond Age of Eligibility
Youth and adults who are developmentally disabled, or youth with severe physical challenges, may be considered for registration beyond the age of eligibility for their program: over age 11 for a Cub Scout, 18 as a Boy Scout or Varsity Scout, or 21 as a Venturer or Sea Scout.
Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, Venturers, or Sea Scouts who have disabilities may qualify for limited flexibility in advancement. Allowances possible in each program are outlined below. It does not necessarily matter if a youth is approved to be registered beyond the age of eligibility. Experience tells us those members whose parents are involved, or at least regularly consulted, progress the farthest. Some units have also followed the example set by Individualized Education Plans, and have established "individual advancement plans" with the same benefits.
Advancement for Cub Scouts With Disabilities
Advancement is so flexible that, with guidance, most Cub Scouts with disabilities can complete requirements. The standard is, "Has he done his best?" It may take him longer to attempt requirements and demonstrate this, but his accomplishments will be rewarding to him, his parents, and his leaders.
There could be times, however, when a Cub Scout's "best" isn't enough even to get a start. For example, a boy in a wheelchair cannot pass requirements calling for walking or running. In these cases, Cubmasters and pack committees may jointly determine appropriate substitutions. For example, elective requirements could take the place of those found in achievements. Or in consultation with parents, other adjustments representing similar challenges could be made.
For more information, see Scouting for Youth with Disabilities