Merit Badge program question

First I want to thank all the readers of the blog and listeners of the podcast for having the confidence in me or at valuing my opinion.
The reason I write this is because over the last year or so emails flood my inbox asking questions, giving me feed back, and asking for my opinion.
I would like to share an email from a reader regarding the merit badge program.


We are having a debate in our troop about how to do merit badges. We used to do merit badge classes during troop meetings, and lots of the guys got lots of the badges. Some on our committee want to do this again.

When I became scoutmaster a year and a half ago, I de-emphasised merit badges in troop meetings. I saw that different scouts needed different badges, and did not want to fragment our meeting time. Half of the scouts might need communications, for example, and half already had it. We have one meeting room, and so doing something with the half who did not need the badge was difficult. I told the boys to follow the handbook and do the badges outside of the troop meeting. I even showed a video from youtube about doing this.

We got the practice from a former scoutmaster who was a scout in one of our councils huge troops (100+) where it kind of made sense to do merit badge classes in troop meetings. Our troop of 16 boys is kind of small to make it practical. I have told the SPL that if he and the other patrol leaders want to do this, then they had to put it together. They did once, offering Railroading merit badge over two meeting nights, with the scouts being required to do the field work on their own.

Now, some committee members want the troop to do an eagle required merit badge per month as part of troop meetings to give more scouts the opportunity to reach Eagle rank. I am not keen on the idea. I think our time would be better spent promoting the patrol method, which is something that has not caught on, and is one of my goals for the troop this year.

Would you give this subject some thought and perhaps do a podcast show on it. I would very much like to know how you do things, and what your view of the merit badge program is. I can always find opponents and proponents of the practice.

As you always admonish, have a great scouting day.

And so here is my response:

Thanks for the email, I am grateful that you value my opinion.
Having said that, I will share my thoughts, and certainly will make notes to do a podcast on Merit Badges in the meeting place.
The Short answer is NO.. we do not do Merit badges in the meeting place.
The outline of the Merit Badge program is not intended for every Scout to get every Merit Badge. It’s intent is to open opportunities to the Scouts, show career choices, hobbies, and outdoor skills and adventures.
The program also REQUIRES the Scout to be the spark to get the flame hot.
It states on page 187 of the Boy Scout handbook (current edition) “When you [the scout] have decided on a merit badge you would like to earn, following these steps:
Obtain from your Scoutmaster a signed merit badge application [blue card] and the name of a qualified counselor for that merit badge.
Along with another Scout, a relative, or a friend, set up and attend your first appointment with the merit badge counselor. The counselor will explain the requirements for the badge and help you plan way to fulfill them so that you can get the most out of the experience.
Complete the requirements, meeting with your counselor whenever necessary until you have finished working the badge.”
On page 14… which I highly recommend your committee review it states; “ The merit badge program provides you [the scout] the opportunity to meet and work with adult leaders in your community. It also introduces you to potential new hobbies and vocations.”

When we turn our Troop meetings into Merit Badge Mills, we take away from the program. I understand the want of parents to give their Scout the very best opportunity to become an Eagle Scout. But as the program outlines, advancement is an individual effort. The rate of advancement is dictated by the Scout and it depends on the Scouts interest, effort, and ability. The opportunity for earning Merit Badges exists in the normal course of the program year. You need not take away the opportunity of the Scouts development of the other methods for the sake of a badge.
I have seen troops in our District that exercise the “Mill plan” A merit badge a month or a week in some cases. Here is what I have found.First. The Scouts do not learn anything. They show up and get the badge. Counselors (like at Summer Camp) give the badge to who ever shows up for the class. That is also why I shy away from the “Merit Badge Weekends or Merit badge Universities.

Second. The Scouts do not develop the skill that is taught during the working of the badge or have a tendency to short cut the working of the badge in the group setting, feeding off others work or achievement.
Third. We take away the adult interaction and the asking that the Scout take on responsibility for his advancement.While I thank the committee for their dedication to the Scouts and providing “opportunities” in the long run it breaks down the programs intent of Citizenship training, Character development, and Fitness.

I hope that helps, and yes.. I will be doing a show on this issue.

Have a Great Scouting Day!


  1. We used to attempt to do merit badges in our Troop meetings and very few of the Scouts ever completed them – we did them as an introduction to the badge and usually connected them to our monthly outing.A year or two ago the PLC was discussing their plans for the next several months. They were trying to figure out what merit badges to work on. I asked them how many of them had ever earned a merit badge offered as a part of Troop meetings, perhaps one or two said they had. I told them that they did not have to limit themselves to Merit Badges that they could work on whatever they felt was worthwhile. They were intrigued and a bit surprised. Your response is spot on. Merit Badges are great but they need to be put into perspective. Drop me a line if I can help with the podcast, we may even be able to get my SPL to pitch in.


  2. A little disagreement here…sort of.We do not do Merit Badge classes during Troop Meetings. We do however have an After Session, where we work on Merit Badges. Several times a year a MBC will agree to hold a limited class with a few boys and meet after the Troop Meeting for 20-30 minutes at a time. They go over Requirements, turn in completed requirements and do some of the ‘book work’ involved in some MB. I teach Communication MB. I hold my class to less then 8 Scouts. We go over how and why a Letter to the Editor is written, go over different ways to teach a skill, give a speech and how to research careers. Then they come to me later and make the presentations. I think that you are correct able MB Mills and MB Universities. Our way the MBC makes himself available. The Scout still has to talk to the SM for the blue card, and approach the MBC to sign up for the class. The MBC commits to being there for x amount to classes to work with the Scouts. It works for us in giving the Scouts the opportunity to work on some MBs that take long times (FamLife, PerFit, PerMan) and have a resource available to them…it works for us so far and more importantly the boys.


  3. Hi Jerry. I like your comments on the value of earning a merit badge. I’ve seen this first hand. My older son didn’t stay in Scouts long, and the only merit badge he earned was the Nuclear Science merit badge. It was offered at a one-day workshop sponsored by a utility company near us, and our troop was one of many that were there. He got the badge for showing up and doing the activities. He learned a lot, but I don’t think he understood most of what was taught (I know I didn’t), and this badge has a ton of info. In the end, it seemed like a Cub Scout belt loop workshop, and I don’t see a lot of value for him in his personal development and growth with earning that badge.


  4. Folks, If you look at the Program Planning Guide promulgated by the BSA, it encourages that merit badges be a part of the Troop meetings, not avoided. A judicious mix of all philosophies will work best, I have found.


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