This has been discussed before, but I received an email the other day from a Scouter in our area. This Scouter does not know me very well, nor does this Scouter know how our Troop runs, but none the less, this Scouter sent a nice email suggesting that we do not encourage the merit badge program in our Troop BECAUSE our Troop is a “Backpacking Troop”.
Well, hmmm… Let’s see… How do I respond to that?
There are what? 130 or so merit badges that I Scout can choose from right? And the Scout must have at least 21 to earn his Eagle Award, right? So there are lots of choices for the Scout to make when it comes to earning merit badges. At some point the Scout must come to the unit leader.. that’s me… and get the blue card signed to start working the merit badge, which ever merit badge that may be. When the Scout comes to me to get that blue card signed I sign it.
Now when it comes to encouraging. I encourage the Scout to earn merit badges. I have told the Scouts that while at Summer Camp, merit badges are not the reason to be there. Merit badges are a product of Summer camp and a means to and an opportunity to earn, learn, and have fun while at camp. So yeah, that may sound I like I don’t “encourage” the working of merit badges, but that’s really not the case at all.
I am a firm believer that advancement and merit badges are the Scouts responsibility to work. They need our help that’s true and at times they need some poking and prodding to get going on badges and rank. In that regard, we encourage and promote the merit badges that will get the Scout advanced.
The merit badge program is designed to do a couple of things.
1. Introduce the Scout to many subject areas that will open his eyes to his world, skills, hobbies and activities, and career fields.
2. Work the adult interaction method.
3. Spark interest in the Scout while working toward a goal (advancement).
When the Scout, and leaders understand why we have merit badges, it is easier to understand that they are not the end all, be all of the Scouting program.
When I am told that I do not encourage merit badges because we are a “Backpacking Troop” I look at the Scouter and ask if they know the methods of Scouting. Backpacking, Front Country car camping, or Troop’s that never leave the confines of a cabin all work the methods of Scouting. Advancement is one method and the Scout finds his pace and path to achieve his goals and work his way to Eagle.
We encourage the merit badge program but we do not spend valuable Troop time to work on them, with the exception of Camping, First Aid, and Cooking. Those merit badges, for a troop that camps 11 times a year are all being worked over the course of the program year and are tracked at the unit level.
If the fact that we are not a merit badge mill is not a way of encouraging… well, than guilty as charged.
Now, I am going to be totally honest with you… many of our Scouts only work the merit badges that they need to advance. That is not because we are a backpacking troop, nor is it because we do not encourage the merit badge program. Simply put, our Scouts are having fun. They spend time having fun at summer camp. You will always find our Scouts extremely active at camp. They love to compete and play games. They spend lots of time at the water front and the shooting ranges. If they don’t get the fingerprinting merit badge.. it’s no big deal.
We encourage every Scout to earn an Eagle required Merit Badge at summer camp.. don’t care which one… but at least one from the Eagle required list. Most Scouts work the Environmental Science Merit Badge at summer camp. That and First Aid seem to be the two most popular.
I don’t make a pitch for some of the merit badges that while for some Scouts are super interesting, knowing the boys of my troop are just ‘filler badges’. Like the afore mentioned Finger printing. Let’s face it.. that’s a 10 minute merit badge and the Scout really doesn’t learn much. A great one for the sash, but not getting him that much closer to Eagle Scout and life skills.
I would much rather see them earn Canoeing, Sailing, Emergency Prep or Wilderness survival while at Summer camp or pretty much any other time of the year. But that’s just me, I don’t get to force a Scout to earn a certain merit badge, nor do I get to forbid him from working one. Finger printing, Dog care, Painting, Skating, and Reading, while all great subjects and have a purpose in teaching responsibility on some level and encouraging an interest, I can do without them in the context of Scouting. I know that I will hear some opposing views on this and I suppose that’s why there are 100 + merit badges so there is something for everyone. I don’t discourage any Scout from earning any merit badge that he wants to earn. But when it comes to encouraging Scouts to earn merit badges, well, I just sign the blue card and let them go to work.
I don’t think we need to high-five every Scout that earns the Chess merit badge or the Backpacking merit badge for that matter. They work it, they earn it, they are presented the badge and they get a handshake and a “job well done”. We don’t have contests to see who can earn the most and we don’t look down on the Scout that earns the obligatory 21.
I am still not sure what being a “Backpacking Troop” has to do with anything. This Scouter said that this was “The Reason” we do not encourage the merit badge program.
In closing. The average number of merit badges that Scouts have earned at the time they were awarded their Eagle award is 35. Enough said.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
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