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A Brief Background of the Scoutmaster Handbook (BSA)

1998 Edition—The Scoutmaster Handbook (1998-2015)

BSA ceased labeling Scoutmaster Handbook editions after 1990. This would be the equivalent of a 9th Edition.

Cover is a color photo-montage of smiling Scoutmasters, and Scouts hiking. The book is attractive, with full-color photos throughout. But its huge size (8.5x11"), and the fact that it must be placed in a ring binder when you remove it from its clear wrapping, makes it awkward to use. No Scoutmaster will bring this thing to a campout, or be likely to take it with him to troop meetings. Give me back a real handbook that I can keep in my briefcase or take camping.

The subtitle below "Scoutmaster Handbook", on both the cover and title page says "Recommended for all Scout leaders", an attempt to remind Assistant Scoutmasters and other troop adults that this handbook is not restricted just to Scoutmasters.
1998 Edition

1998 Edition Summary and Printing History

Actual 1998 Edition Table of Contents

Troop Leader Guidebook (2015/16-????) [new title, but equivalent to a 10th Edition of the Scoutmaster Handbook]

The 2015/16 editions had color photos on the covers. Volume 1 has a color photo of boys jumping off a raft into a lake. Volume 2 has a color photo of two backpackers at a cliff overlook. While the photos convey some of the fun and adventure of Scouting, it is not at all clear that the people in the photos are Scouts. The 2019 editions switch to the plain background w/ logo that BSA is using for all its current handbooks. Volume 1 has a green background with lettering, large BSA emblem, & two corners in tan. Volume 2 has a tan background with lettering, large BSA emblem, & two corners in green.
Troop Leader Guidebook, volume 1, 2015/16 version Troop Leader Guidebook, volume 2, 2015/16 version Troop Leader Guidebook, volume 1, 2019 version Troop Leader Guidebook, volume 2, 2019 version

This is the first two-volume Scoutmaster handbook since the 3rd Edition in 1936. Publication was repeatedly delayed, with volume 1 finally released two years after originally promised, in July, 2015, and volume 2 released three years late, in July, 2016. Two volumes means twice the price of a single book (US$13 each, plus the cost of a ring binder), which substantially reduces the number of adult leaders who will buy the complete book. I did recently notice Kindle versions of the two volumes available from Amazon for US$10 each.

Although this is in effect the 10th Edition of the Scoutmaster Handbook, BSA has retitled it "Troop Leader Guidebook" to emphasize that it is aimed at all adult troop leaders, not just the Scoutmaster.

Author of both volumes is Mark Ray (who is also the author of the 13th & 14th Editions of the Scout Handbook). Robert Birkby (author of the 10th, 11th, & 12th Editions of the Scout Handbook, as well as the previous Scoutmaster Handbook), was originally slated to be the author of volume 2, but is now listed as a 'contributor' to volume 2.

Both BSA and the handbooks themselves state that Volume 1 is aimed at new leaders, and Volume 2 is aimed at more experienced leaders. Volume 1 covers topics like the patrol method, how to conduct troop meetings, the year-round program, and more. Volume 2 has more in-depth information about high adventure, youth & adult training, and more. BSA must be concerned that many new leaders may buy only volume 1, and many experienced leaders may buy only volume 2, because the BSA National Supply listing says that "both volumes are for use by new and experienced Scout leaders alike." I agree that both volumes contribute to an effective adult leader. Both volumes are clear, thorough, and well written. Volume 1 is an excellent (essential!) resource for newer Scoutmasters, and contains ideas and reminders of value to old-timers, too. Volume 2 has great information for experienced leaders, which is also of considerable value to a newer leader who wants to lead an outstanding troop. The US$26 price for the two volumes is unfortunate, but I'm glad I bought both.

Volume 1 was published without regard to the impending changes to Scout advancement (effective 1 January 2016) and contains several (minor) areas where it does not match the changes in the advancement program. I didn't spot any similar discrepancies in volume 2. I did note that volumes 1 and 2 disagree on the parts of a troop meeting, and use different terminology to describe the parts.

EDITORIAL OPINION—Volume 2 states (page 97) that after Scouts pass a board of review for a rank, they should be recognized "verbally" right away, but then "receive their rank patches at the next court of honor." This is just plain WRONG, and harks back to the 1950's and 1960's, when Scouts had to wait two or even three months after earning a rank to receive the badge. As a result, much advancement happened just a week or two before each court of honor. One of the good changes made in the 1970's was to encourage troops to present rank patches as soon as possible after they are earned, then to recognize the Scout a second time at the court of honor (with the rank card, parent pin, etc). Actually, Mark Ray must agree with me on this because, despite the previous comment, he says (on page 104) that advancement should be reported to Council after every board of review "so the recognition items can be picked up and presented as soon as possible after Scouts have earned their awards."

I always find it interesting to read about BSA's long-time hang-up against identifying the 'field uniform' as 'Class A', and the 'activity uniform' as 'Class B' (see volume 1, page 26). I suppose these terms sound too militaristic, but as a Scoutmaster I know that every Scout and every parent, including those who have never been in Scouting before, instinctively understand that 'Class A' means the full uniform, and 'Class B' means something less (such as the T-shirt version). While 'full uniform' may also be clear, I don't think parents or kids new to Scouting readily understand the distinction between 'field' and 'activity' uniforms. So I'll keep using 'Class A' and 'Class B', but I'll put those terms in quotes to reassure everyone that those are not official terms.

I'd sure vote to convert this to a single, less expensive volume, and put additional information online or in PDF format. And I'm disappointed that these two volumes are cumbersome, loose-leaf inserts for a bulky 3-ring binder instead of a real (bound) handbook.

For 2019, there were very minor text updates, an expanded Youth Protection chapter, cheaper paper, and many photos changed so the manuals show both male and female Scouts. The "Meet the Author" bio (v.1, page 6) has been replaced with a photo of a parade. The suggested parts of a typical troop meeting have been somewhat changed (v.1, page 41). The Tour and Activity Plan sections have been replaced with expanded Activities sections (v.1, pages 45 & 120) covering activity safety. Tread Lightly information has also been added. The duplicate Troop Self-Assessment in the volume 2 appendix has been removed.

Troop Leader Guidebook Summary and Printing History

Actual Troop Leader Guidebook Table of Contents

Volume 1

Introduction: Welcome to Boy Scouting [changed to "Welcome to Scouts BSA" for the 2019 release]
Section 1: Boy Scout Basics [changed to "Scout Basics" for the 2019 release]

Section 2: The Boy Scout Program [changed to "The Scouts BSA Program" for the 2019 release]

Section 3: All About Youth

Section 4: All About Adults

Section 5: Advancement and Awards

Section 6: Troop Administration

Section 7: Health and Safety



Volume 2

Section 1: Assessment and Improvement

Section 2: Effective Leadership Today

Section 3: The Power of Program and High Adventure

Section 4: Service and Stewardship

Section 5: Keeping Scouts Involved and Interested

Section 6: Responding to Special Challenges



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Last Revision to This Page: 29 November 2020
Text copyright © 2006 by Jeff Snowden
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