Merit Badge mania

I have always been a Scoutmaster that encourages advancement and using all of the methods of Scouting.  I have always put a priority on the Scouts having fun, seeking new adventures and in the process, rank, merit badges, and other goodies will happen.  And for the better part of 8 years, this has seemed to be the status quo of our troop.  Good participation at camp outs, doing lots of cool activities and in the process, Scouts earned merit badges and rank.  UNTIL NOW.
For some reason, some of which I don’t have a problem with the Council has decided that merit badges should fall in the hands of committees and project teams.  In an effort to gain and maintain relationships with big corporations and learning centers in the Portland metro area a premium has been placed on merit badge days and work shops.
Rather than do it the old-fashioned way where as a Scout develops an interest in a subject or understands that he needs the merit badge for advancement, comes to his unit leader and asks for a blue card and the number to the nearest counselor and then he begins work on the badge.  Upon completion, the Scout(or the counselor) returns the blue card and the Scout is presented with the badge.  The Council has now provided opportunities for a Scout to just sign up on-line for a badge, show up for a day and complete the badge, many times without the parent unit knowing he has plans to work on it.  This bugs me a bit.
The other thing that bugs me about this program is that racking up merit badges seems to have taken front seat to other Scouting programs within the unit.  Scouts will sign up and pay online to go to a merit badge hand out rather than participate in a troop activity.  I think this is wrong.
Like I said, the traditional way of working and earning merit badges has worked just fine for the better part of 8 years.  Scouts have shown interest and they have earned the badges without placing too much emphasis on them other than for advancement.
Until Now.  It seems that the latest batch of Scouts (Parents) seem to think that merit badges are the end all be all.  They are cranking out merit badges at a pace that will land them all in Boy’s Life for setting merit badge records.  I don’t know where this comes from and I don’t know exactly when the switch was flicked.  What I do know is that I think it is sending the wrong message to the Scout.  I think the parents should remove themselves from the merit badge game and allow their son to have fun in Scouting and earn them the right way.
I upset some parents (new parents) last month when I gave the Summer camp speech and told the Scouts to not worry about merit badge but to make sure they had fun at summer camp.  Some of the Scouts listened and did have a great time at camp, while others wasted no time in earning merit badges for the sake of earning merit badges.  A quick look at the list of merit badges earned at summer camp tell the story, no Eagle required badges earned (they take all week), but many “filler badges were worked and earned.
So our Tenderfoot Scouts will soon have loaded merit badge sashes and no cool stories, no great memories, and will still not be any closer to the next rank.  But their parents will be happy that they get to see Tommy Tenderfoot at the Court of Honor get lots of stuff.
What I am afraid of is the council creating a “participation ribbon” environment.  Where everyone is a winner and no one has to work hard for what they get.  A patch for the patches sake is far less worth having than one earned.
Not every Scout will be an Eagle Scout and not every Eagle Scout earned all 250 or so merit badges. 
I asked the Scouts the other night how important the merit badges were to them.  My little poll did not tell the story that the amount of merit badges would suggest.  Nor the fact that they are all rushing to work merit badges at the Council sponsored events.  Which could only lead me to one conclusion.  The parents need to get their own sashes.
Merit badges will come when the time and interest is right.  They should never take priority over Troop events, and the Council should stay out of it.
My 2 cents, you know I am interested in hearing yours.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

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Categories: Advancement, blog, comments, Methods, Scout, Skills | 17 Comments

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17 thoughts on “Merit Badge mania

  1. Bryce

    Scoutmaster Jerry, here’s my two cents. I agree with potentially one exception: At summer camp this year I saw a number of kids who, if had they carefully considered what merit badges were available ahead of time, could have had a plan and worked it. But on one hand they were encouraged not to take a lot of merit badges, and on the other hand the camp we went to did not have a merit badge midway as other camps have had in the past, so they didn’t think about it ahead of time. This left Tommy Tenderfoot sitting in camp at 9:00 a.m. Monday morning trying to figure out how he was going to spend the week while his buddies were out having fun in merit badge classes.

    We had several boys who finally decided on a plan, but because they hadn’t shown up to the first day of class, were unable to take their desired merit badge that day – especially true for Eagle Required merit badges. They had fun running the trails – on Monday and Tuesday – but by Wednesday they were bored with their minimalist schedule (the camp we went to had nothing for the boys to do during the morning but take merit badges; free time was in the afternoon).

    On the other hand, some boys had a plan, took several merit badges with their friends, and they had a great time (merit badge time shouldn’t be boring, it should be fun).

    Another group of older boys had a regularly scheduled 9:00 a.m. UNO game in the trading post. Could they have played UNO at home? You bet. But the week these boys spent playing a game together helped build relationships that will last a lifetime.

    Should merit badges be the end-all? Absolutely not.

    Am I against the idea we have merit badge hand-out days? You Bet!

    But I saw the boys who spent their summer camp taking merit badges with their friends during merit badge time having a great time, while others who decided to not take advantage of that time, other than exploring the trails around camp, got bored very quickly.

    Merit badges are not the end-all, but they are important in certain circumstances. We should discourage unecessary focus. But we should also be careful not to discourage a proper focus.

    • Bryce,
      I am less concerned with the merit badge programs at summer camp.. yeah, I want the Scouts to go and have a great week and sometimes that does mean taking a few merit badges and spending the rest of the time at the water front or playing Uno.
      My beef is with the sudden priority on merit badge “Weekends” or work shops at OMSI, the Zoo, Evergreen, etc. These “Classes” are beginning to take a priority in our council.
      I understand the council’s need to develop relationships with these organizations, but as you are fully aware, this program as it has infiltrated our troop is out of control.
      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Gerald J. Schleining Sr.

    I wrote a 4 page response concerning this issue, then decided that my emotions, thoughts and concerns can be as short as a few sentences.

    The very basics of Boy Scouts is to simply provide development and challenge young men at every point of the adventure. They learn and foster skills that at a young age are only to be found in Scouting. They develop values, build Character, learn Team Work, Survival and Base Skills they will carry with them the rest of their lives.

    The administration of the Scout programs has clearly changed over the many years since I was both a Scout and Scout Leader. Change is essential to survival in modern times. The BSA has done a reasonable job in this area, where it is now proposed to provide, as you state “Crank Out Merit Badges” is over the top. Not only does this proposal deviate from the base principles of a “Self Starting and Developed Scout”; through his “Learning and Earning” of a Merit Badge, but more so fails the Scout and the Scouting Program by simply hosting classes and providing a “Certification of Attendance… Or Merit Badge”? Where does this equate to self development, learning through research, study and know the subject matter, project completion and or implementation?

    In the past several years, I’ve witnessed “Scouts and Scout Troops” that are far from “Troop Lead Organizations”; but rather facilitated by “Parents” who attend all camp outs and like ventures, they “Cook, Clean, set up Tents and Tuck their Scouts in”… I’ve seen the “Merit Badge Mills”… the attention span of a group of Scouts in a Class Room environment is “Short, the Learning Phase is a Challenge to the Instructor”, there is no measure if the Scout is gaining or simply attending? Personally I find this proposal contrary to the Minimal of Scouting Programs and Principles. I find the “Class Room Merit Badge Proposal” to be a total detractor for developing boys in the 100 Merit Badges traditionally gained through self pace and the self discipline required to complete the requirements. I’ve witnessed Eagle Scouts who can at best measure up to a decent second class scout with limited skills and outdoor capabilities. I feel strongly that this approach to “Merit Badge Mills” will essentially enabled Scouts and the very system of development by simply “Kicking the Kids Up” the merit badge latter and promotions.

    To detract from the current Merit Badge Program as stated, (My Opinion) is the beginning of a slippery slide down the path of deluding the Merit Badge Program and the BSA. “Scouts” who simply comply and gain without “Challenge or Development” are on the Road to a “Hollow and Unrewarding Scouting Experience” and fails the standards and basis of Scouting as established by Sir Robert Baden-Powell.

    • Wow! My dad is reading my blog now.. I better watch what I write.
      Thanks for the comment Dad.. I concur.. as you know.

      • Gerald J. Schleining Sr.

        Scouting to me has and should remain a “Hands On Adventure”… you can’t talk about “Hiking, you need to Hike”, you can’t address Scouting Skills without Application. Scouts deserve the best leadership, instruction and adventure possible; I fail to see where a classroom other than the outdoor environment and practical application of skills can provide for these traits. Of course I read your Blog, someone has to “Check the Checker”! Ya done good and will continue in the model of Sir Baden-Powell as that has always been your frame of reference. The Scouting Leadership needs to re-look these values, not rush to into the future but dwell on the standards of the past.

  3. Mike Delam

    My thoughts exactly. I don’t know where the balance is, but generating merit badge mills only looks good on paper. I don’t believe they are truly “program” but simply activity.

  4. Allan Green

    Jerry,

    This is a bugaboo of mine, and a point of contention between me and other scouters in my troop. We have had this discussion time and time again, without resolve. When I came to the troop, our meetings were patterned after the big megatroop in our town, where each month we offered merit badge classes, and often a scout just had to sit and listen to the lessons taught by troop scouters, to get requirements for the badge marked off. I really hate this practice, and stopped it as soon as I could. The other scouters, who are mostly committee members whose sons are present or former troop members, but who earned MB’s this way, see this as the best way for a scout to earn a MB. Our compromise is that the adults can offer a badge, like Personal Management, outside of troop meetings for scouts who will show up outside of the meetings to earn it.

    I would much rather send the boys to an outside merit badge counselor, and follow the pattern you describe. My problem is finding these counselors. Our district advancement chairman is supposed to have a list of these people that he keeps in a loose leaf note book. But when I have called him to get a name, of say, a First Aid counselor, I get the names and phone numbers of people who do not even live in this town any more. If I do talk to someone, I find out that they have not been involved in the program in years, are no longer registered, and don’t know why I would be calling. Our district MB counselor list is a joke. So, in the absence of a district or counsel resource, I must make my own list. I can ask around to see if anyone I know has a skill or training for a particular badge. I have to ask the guy, if I can find him, to agree to teach the badge, to fill out an application that involves a background check, to read the MB book and prepare the lessons, and to schedule time to see the scout. Oh, and by the way, it can never be a one on one meeting, since we have to follow youth protection guidelines and two deep leadership. So if we get that far, usually the best way to do this is to have the scout and counselor meet…. during or after the troop meeting.

    I don’t know if you depend on counsel or district resources, but if they are not available, the traditional way of earning a merit badge is difficult to impossible, and so, the Merit Badge Fair (which each of our districts here offers once per year) or summer camp, or troop programs, are the only ways for my scouts to earn them.

  5. Jerry, it’s not just in Oregon. This migration to hosted merit badge parties is supported by councils across the country. If a scout finds out about one and asks me for a blue card, I give it to him but I’ve never passed on announcements about them because I don’t agree with feeding badges to scouts on a tiny silver spoon. This has resulted in only a handful of scouts using these opportunities.
    I’ve never been unable to find or recruit a counselor for any merit badge requested by a scout. Allan Green’s point about 2-deep leadership doesn’t pertain to merit badge meetings, but no one-on-one contact does pertain. That’s why each scout identifies his buddy for his merit badge and has that buddy come along so there are at least three people present.

    • Allan Green

      I have known of the written policy that a counselor can meet with two scouts. But our District Director told me directly that that should be two adults in the room. Now, if the district pro is feeding me bad information….

      • There can be NO one to one contact… so a counselor can meet with multiple Scouts or a Scout and his parent or whatever the case may be.. just no one to one contact.
        Thanks for the comment

    • We are fortunate in that we have a great group of parents that are willing to and have registered as MB counselors. The factory of Merit badge production is what is bugging me. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Sam Dunkin

    Have you talked to your District Advancement Chair? Have you told him/her how you feel? Have you asked the DAC to bring this up at Top Team? The next one is Oct. 23rd. Perhaps you could come along and address the DACs and the CPC VC of Advancement. Don’t just sit there and seethe. Before that, though, ask the other SMs at Round Table what they think about this. You may be the lone voice in the wilderness, or you may be the speck of dust that collects the moisture and starts the rain/deluge.

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  8. Candi

    I would have liked it if my scout worked on more badges at summer camp- but to Jerry’s point they are becoming to cookie cutter. Scout says to me “you just buy the kit, show up and work on making whatever you want. They don’t talk or teach”. This was his first camp and maybe others are different, but he wanted to show up and learn, be taught and have hands on experience, not just do the kit.

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  10. Donna

    As a new parent and having a new scout, I find the merit badge universities to be outstanding. To me,the merit badges are about career exploration and the opportunity to be exposed to something new. I have greatly appreciated having a real expert on forestry talking about what it is like to be a logger or going to the composite merit badge at a real factory where composite materials are used. It was fascinating. We all got to create our own walking sticks that day. We could have never done that at a troop meeting.

    • Well Donna, First I would like to say that I appreciate your comment.. thank you.
      Next, the way the Merit Badge program is ‘supposed’ to work is that the Scout finds an interest. That is why they put the list of merit badges in the handbook and other places that the Scout can develop an interest to work the merit badge. Then the Scout gets the blue card and a Qualified Merit Badge counselor is found. That could be the guy from the Forest service or an expert in a certain field. Then the Scout, with the counselor works the merit badge till complete.
      What is missing here? Nothing. That is how the program is designed. The merit badge program, along with seeding interest in hobbies, careers, and activities reinforces the method of adult interaction. It is designed to make the Scout take personal initiative and responsibility.
      Merit Badge mills and council sponsored events take that away.
      “We could never have never done that at a troop meeting” Nor should you. If the Troop meeting is being run properly there is not time allocated to Merit Badge workshops. Once again. Working the merit badge is an indivdual thing and not a group thing. There are no “Group” credits given.
      The counselors are out there. The lists are available… we need to work the program as designed.
      The Scout needs 21 merit badges to become an Eagle Scout. 11 of which are on the Eagle Required list. The Scout should focus less on basketry and more on leadership, skills, and being a good patrol mate. The rest will come.
      Thanks again for the comment.

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