When I was in high school, one of the rituals of the first day of each school year was the Ritual Reading of the Student Handbook. As I remember it, we spent (or wasted) an hour or two following along while a teacher read every rule, consequence, and procedure that governed our behavior on campus. That handbook stood in stark contrast to my Boy Scout troop, where the only formal rules were found in the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.
Recently, I’ve been writing the discipline chapter for volume 2 of the Troop Leader Guidebook and have discovered that some troops have codes of conduct that are nearly as elaborate and legalistic as my old student handbook, complete with detailed consequences down to the second and third occurrence of every imaginable transgression. And these consequences often directly conflict with BSA policy by, for example, withholding boards of review due to misbehavior. (See “Boards of Review Must Be Granted When Requirements Are Met,” 188.8.131.52, in the 2015 edition of the Guide to Advancement.)
Does this mean you shouldn’t have any troop rules beyond the Scout Oath and Scout Law? Not necessarily. As I write in the Troop Leader Guidebook, “The best approach lies somewhere in the middle. It’s a good idea to make clear, for example, that Scouts can’t bring alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, firearms, and fireworks on outings and that hazing is prohibited. But if you have an extremely rigid code of conduct, you may find yourself taking actions you never intended, such as expelling a good senior patrol leader from the troop because of a “three strikes and you’re out” clause. What’s more, detailed codes of conduct tend to focus on things that happened in the past, not things that are likely to happen in the future. (The same situation exists in the legal system, where laws must constantly evolve to address actions like computer hacking, sexting, cyberstalking, and revenge porn that weren’t issues in past generations.)”
For a good example of a reasonably detailed code of conduct, take a look at the jamboree code of conduct. I think it does a good job of hitting on key issues without being excessively long or legalistic.
What do you think? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.