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do your scouts read the actual MB books?

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I was wondering about this after reading in another thread that somebody's unit still had a MB pamphlet that was 20+ years old for one of the more common MBs. I know most of the boys I counsel are not in the habit of even picking up the book and opening it, let alone actually reading it.


So typically I tell them at our first meeting that they do need to read the actual book. I remind them that we have a troop library (usually reasonably well stocked) or that they could convince their parents to drive to the scout shop (40 miles away) and buy a copy.


At our second meeting I usually ask "have you had a chance to read the book?"


Common responses are:

1) Well I read the requirements, why do I need to read the rest?

2) No but I printed out the worksheets from online

3) I'm here for you to tell me what the book says (only one boy actually said that, but I bet others think it)

4) I found these other online sites instead

5) I can't get hold of the troop librarian

6) I've never had a counselor expect me to read it before!


Mind you, I counsel 2 citizenships, communications, and American cultures. These are not outdoor, hands-on badges in the same way that (say) hiking is. But even those outdoor ones have some good info in there that could make preparation for activities more effective!


And then I wonder too, do other MBCs actually read the handbooks?





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This is really close to what I have hinted at here and on other threads, but it certainly deserves a separate discussion. I really think this has to do with the troop's culture on Merit Badges. One thing I have (quietly) tried to instill in our scouts is that these are Merit Badge Counselors, not Merit Badge Teachers.  It is the scout's responsiblity to learn the material, under the guidance of their counselor.  As such, they should familiarize themselves with the material before a first meeting.

Our troop is in such a unique position, in that being small, and having scouts who have never had a counselor outside of camp, we can still mold them with good MB habits.  Speaking from experience, few of our scouts have books at summer camp (last year was my only recent exposure to this).


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Oh boy, time to fess up. Our Troop's practices regarding merit badges are dreadful. No, we don't hand them out like candy, nor do we attend Universities and such. It's just that we haven't had much in the way of counselors to drawn on and our Scouts mostly just work with our own Troop leadership. It is one of the last things we're working on fixing.


As I've posted before on the forum we do not have a listing of merit badge counselors in our area - nothing exists in the District and those on the Council list live too far away (our District is something of an outpost of the Council). So, troops in our area handle merit badges on their own finding adults to work with their Scouts - usually parents or registered leaders, but sometimes teachers, coaches, etc.


We do have a library of merit badge books, but it's meager. We recently purchased a bunch of new books - all the Eagle requireds and some of the other more popular badges. Slowly we're working toward the guys and counselors reading the books and at least trying to get the merit badge program in our troop working the way it should. The books really are terrific and I hope as our guys start using them they'll get more out of the merit badges they earn.

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I had another one last night. Eager fellow, 1st Class and aiming for Eagle. Doesn't have many MBs yet and most or all of those were earned at summer camps. Nice kid. He came over with the list of Eagle-required MBs to see which ones I counsel. Picked out communications to start on with me this weekend.


SO I said, ok great, now before you leave the troop meeting tonight, why don't you talk with the Librarian about getting hold of the MB booklet.


Scout: Blank look. Can't I just find it online?


Me: Well you could find the list of requirements online and thats' a good idea for starters, but you wouldn't be able to get the whole book that way.


Scout: Oh. (wanders off. A few minutes later, comes back.) Who is the Librarian?


Me: I'm not sure, how about you check with the SPL or ASPL?


Scout: Oh. (wanders off. A few minutes later...) Well the Librarian doesn't have the library with him. Are you sure I can't get it online?


Me: Nope, sorry. How about you ask the Librarian to bring the library to next week's meeting and you can pick up the book then. We can still talk about some of the requirements this weekend, but you will need the book to complete the badge.


Scout: Oh...


So we'll see! I hope he figures out that I meant it, and that the other Eagle-required MBCs he goes to hold similar expectations.



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Yah, I confess as a MBC I don't use da books.


My experience over da years is that the books aren't kept up to date very well, eh? They also tend to present requirements one by one, out of the context in which they belong. I don't care for da checklist mentality. I want to share a field or discipline, not plow through a bunch of disconnected checklist items.


And in more recent decades the level of writin' and information in the books has gotten weaker. Seems like they're targetin' a 5th grade reading level (or less!).


I don't have a problem providin' my own resources to the lads, or having them do research online. Like as not, I'll hand a lad a real book or two.


Seems like if you're doin' Communication MB, pullin' in more varied and modern sources would be appropriate.




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When is the last time you read a MB book? I'd say the ones today are the exact opposite of what you describe. To me, they appear to be much more of an instructional guide than a listing of requirements, and this is what you need to know to earn the badge. The boys also seem to really like the new color editions better than the black & white.


As SM, when a Scout wants a blue card, I usually first ask if they have the MB book. As a counselor, I expect them to read the book to familiarize themselves with the subject, and give us a foundation to start from.

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I think you nailed the typical attitude, LB. I remember poring over the books when I was a Scout, especially the handbook. I don't think kids do that anymore. With my own sons, I'll buy a MB book for them with the hope that it will spark an interest in the subject.


Generally, I think interest in and use of merit badge books mirrors the attitude toward the badges themselves. For the MBs the boys have to go out and earn on their own, I think most have figured out that the books are pretty helpful. My guys will tell you most MB requirement are in three categories: the basic safety and first aid stuff, the stuff you have to do, and the stuff in the book you just have to spit back out. Clearly, reading the book is the shortest distance to the latter.


But for the summer camp MBs they rarely ever look at the books because they know they will be spoon-fed everything they need in class. I have a few parents who are hell-bent to make sure every Scout has the book for every course they've signed up for at camp. It's a big production to put the order together and distribute the books. I know that most of the books will never get cracked at camp.(

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Beavah, I certainly think a good counselor could augment the books with all sorts of other interesting stuff. But I still think it is incumbent on the scouts to at least make an effort on their own, too. It is hard to have a conversation with somebody who knows absolutely nothing about the topic under discussion.


To be honest, I see (and push back against) the same attitude among my college students, some of whom cannot understand why they are failing their exams when they haven't read (or in some cases, never even purchased) the books. I don't want our scouts to learn this sort of behavior at an even earlier age. In one class I teach where there's a serious, real-world, statistically-based project at the end of the course, I have had students come in shortly before the due date (after many weeks of supposed work on the project with all kinds of guidance), completely befuddled, asking for my help. Of course I give assistance, but when I ask them why they haven't consulted the page references in their books that show them - step by step - how to do some of the required items, and they tell me "oh, I never bought the book" or worse, "I just figured you'd tell me what I needed. I don't have time to read it." Then yes, that irritates me. You want help, I'll give it, but you need to put in some effort on your own too.


Scouting isn't school so the comparison isn't perfect, but books are a wonderful path to independent learning and I view MB books in that light too.

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I honestly don't know how school teachers cope.

A new dad who is a V22 Osprey engineer, wanted to teach the aviation badge and recruited me to help him teach it. I work aerospace and am a pilot. He's much more qualifed, but hadn't taught a merit badge before. So we tagged teamed it.

We just finished up a three night, one hour, before troop meeting, merit badge session on aviation. 6 scouts showed interest. We went out and purchased the books and sold them back to the scouts who wanted to take the merit badge. The first two nights, it was mostly classroom work, went over the requirements, gave them some theory and war stories. Played with models and simulators. Gave them assignments that they could fullfil just using the book and the worksheets. Second night, we went to a local airport and did all the hands on requirements. Last night (3rd night), they were to have completed all their written assignments and show us so we could sign off the blue cards. I was shocked that most every scout barely did any of the work. What work they did was disappointing. Zero scouts got the badge. If this is what our future is based on, God help us.

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Yes, I have the MB pamphlets for the MBs I counsel. Yes, I've read them.


No, by and large I don't use them in actual counseling. I have other materials I use to help me... some are even audio-visual: I still use "We the People" (the Preamble) from Scholastic Rock, as well as "I'm Just a Bill" when I work Citizenship in the Nation. They're accurate, and they're fun. Citizenship can be a dry subject, getting it to be fun matters.

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I have read the merit badge books for the ones I counsel. What I like to do when a Scout asks me a question is work with them to find the answer. I usually send them off to look it up in the merit badge book or say something like "Let's check to see what the merit badge pamphlet says." depending on how old the Scout is.


Some of them get it in time that the books are helpful. Others find the answers in other places. I like when Scouts are on the ball enough to use several sources. I just wish they would use the obvious one first.

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Here's one I love, from Music MB:


2. Name the five general groups of musical instruments.


Now, most of the musical world EagleSon has introduced me to lives in a world of this mapping:




Percussion ... or as the Disney cartoon goes ... Toot and a Whistle and a Pluck and a Boom.


That includes DMA level professors of music.


Of course, voice is ...






There are some places which put keyboards in a fifth grouping, but piano and harpsichord are a cross between percussion and string, and organ is clearly a wind instrument.


That's but one example. There are days when I'd sure love to know the author teams for MB pamphlets ... almost a Counselor's Guide level of material (how we decided on the content, and why it passes the "so what" test.


But that's just me...

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When I taught Pioneering at summer camp (four years in a row), I told the Scouts that they should have the book for reference for practicing the knots, lashings and splices on their own - crucial if they wanted to actually earn the badge at camp. Very few of them had done splices before, so that was a major challenge in itself.


And while those information and diagrams are also in the Handbook, I found that the number of Scouts who actually brought their Handbooks to camp was even lower than the number who'd done splicing previously. It's much cheaper to buy a MB pamphlet than a Handbook at the trading post. We had a couple to loan out, but not enough for everyone.


I haven't seen the new color editions yet, but I found that the older ones were generally a good introduction to basic concepts. Yes, a counselor should be referring Scouts to outside material, and yes, a Scout should have done plenty of reading up on the subject before even approaching the counselor. But in the cases where those things don't happen, the pamphlets can be a good introductory resource.


I saw what Gern described - poor work in written assignments - when I taught Camping at summer camp. Trip plans, gear checklists, menus and campsite layouts were for the most part shoddy or obviously done at the last minute before class. (One sentence is not a trip plan!) There were some exceptions, of course. But since these were things that Scouts should be doing as a matter of course on their regular patrol or troop camping trips, it made me doubly depressed.

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