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The impossible merit badges

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The first time I read that a Scout had earned all available merit badges, I was just blown away, because when I was a scout, this would have been an impossibility. It might have been done once or twice, but it could only have been done by a Scout with extremely doting parents who happened to be farmers. And in my experience, very few farmers are extremely doting parents.


It looks like most of the "agricultural" merit badges were discontinued in 1975, so I guess that's the first date when it became realistically possible for a scout to earn all the merit badges. (I turned 18 in 1979, so I guess theoretically I could have done it, but I guess nobody bothered to tell me that they had been discontinued.) Those merit badges included:


Corn Farming

Cotton Farming


Forage Crops

Fruit and Nut Growing

Hog Production

Pigeon Raising

Poultry Keeping

Rabbit Raising

Sheep Farming

Small Grains


We called them the 4H/FFA Merit Badges, because they were marked "4H/FFA" in the requirements book. This was because they could be earned by earning the comparable 4H or FFA award.


There were probably others that would meet this criteria, but all of these were essentially impossible for a city kid, because they required actually raising the species in question. IIRC, you couldn't earn the badge by taking a field trip to look at a hog. You needed to have a hog in your back yard, and you needed to raise it yourself. As far as I know, where I lived it wasn't legal to raise hogs in the back yard, so that one was out for me.


And even a farm kid wouldn't be able to get all of these, because it was unlikely that his farm raised corn and cotton and cattle and hogs and poultry, etc., etc. Again, I suppose if he had doting parents who ran a dairy farm, they could buy him a sheep and a rabbit and a hog, etc. But most farmers don't do things like that just to satisfy their kids' whims.


Now, back in the day, we had our share of "easy" merit badges. I proudly earned Coin Collecting, but I suspect any scout who had spent a couple of afternoons at it could have done the same thing. And I'm sure a Scout could have figured out 10 other "easy" ones to complete all of his non-required MB's. I never got around to earning Basket Weaving, but I'm told that it wasn't exactly rocket science.


But we also had quite a few difficult merit badges. These weren't impossible, like Poultry Keeping. But they were sufficiently difficult that it's very unlikely that many Scouts would earn them unless they really had a particular interest in the subject.


In my case, for example, Radio Merit Badge was one of the difficult non-required merit badges I earned. It wasn't difficult for me, because it was a personal interest. In fact, I never thought to myself that I was working on the merit badge. Instead, I was earning my license, and the merit badge had only a few additional requirements. I'm not aware of anyone who ever earned Radio Merit Badge without also earning their amateur license, and again, the actual merit badge was more of an afterthought to the process.


This is because one of the Merit Badge requirements was the ability to send an receive Morse Code at 5 words per minute, which is the same as what was required for the license. This wasn't particularly difficult for someone with an interest in radio. But it was difficult enough that nobody would bother unless they had that interest. There would be little sense in doing it just to earn a merit badge--they would be much better served by getting Basket Weaving or Coin Collecting.


I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but the requirements for Radio Merit Badge today are considerably simpler, to the point that it is now probably one of the "easy" merit badges, along with Coin Collecting and Basket Weaving. That's not an entirely bad thing--there's still enough meat there that some Scouts will probably get interested because of the Merit Badge. But for me, there was a certain pride in having that "difficult" one on my sash.


I know there are still some on the required list that are in the "difficult" category. And again, there have always been enough "easy" ones out there so that Eagle, even in my day, could have been earned painlessly if the scout wanted to.


But it seems to me that something has been lost by the removal of the "difficult" and the "impossible" merit badges. I don't want to downplay the accomplishment of a scout who gets all the available merit badges, because it's still an extremely impressive accomplishment. But IMHO, it just seems wrong. I think it still ought to be impossible, like it was in my day, so that there's always something to strive for.


The impossible ones are apparently all gone now. But on the non-required list, are there any "difficult" ones left?


As a city kid, if I really had my heart set on it, I probably could have figured out a way to earn Hog Production. So there was always something to strive for. Frankly, it would have been kind of a letdown to earn all of the merit badges, because there would be nothing left to do. There always ought to be something left, or so it seems to me.


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Some of those MB's could be done fairly easily by "city" boys. Pigeon would be fairly easy to do in town, as would Poultry. Not all towns/cities had ordinances against them. Rabbit is also adaptable to city dynamics in that I know of a friend of mine who worked his way through college and graduate school raising rabbits in his 2 car garage. With the best food to meat ratio of any animal and the market back then was at $7-$8.00/lb. butchered, it was a virtual gold mine.



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Well, yes, I'm not sure if those particular critters belonged on my "impossible" list. In fact, I think both the rabbits and the pigeons held out longer, even after the rest of the 4H/FFA merit badges were eliminated.


But I'm pretty sure that the city would have said something about the hogs and cattle. :)


Besides, my parents just weren't doting enough, and I bet they would have said no, even though they were otherwise enthusiastic supporters of Scouting.

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Yah, I'm tryin' to think if there are any genuinely difficult badges left.


It seems to me that when I read some MB requirements, there are some nice, meaty requirements.... but often yeh can get around them by choosing "Option C" which is something like go on a field trip. Sometimes "Option C" seems like it's completely out of place compared to the other requirements, and essentially lets a boy off the hook on actually achieving something meaningful (other than fulfilling a paperwork exercise).





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The thing that keeps me from worrying about it too much is the fact that most of the Eagle-required merit badges seem to be in the "difficult" category.


And there's also a large group of non-required "outdoor" merit badges that, in my day, everyone earned just because they participated in the program, went to camp, and learned the skills. Those were things like cooking (which I think might have been required), canoeing, rowing, wilderness survival, etc. Not every scout earned every last one, but almost everyone earned most of them. When it came time to sign off the requirements, they were easy, but that was only because our leaders were very sneaky and just let us learn the skills by having fun. In reality, everyone got pretty good at all of those skills before they got around to thinking about getting the MB.


I hope I'm wrong, but the ones that appear to be missing are the ones where the Scout had to call up a stranger across town who truly was an expert in some arcane subject matter, and set up an appointment to work on that "difficult" merit badge.

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Horsemanship seems daunting to me, but as the last time I got on a horse was when I was 3, that's to be expected.


Surveying looks complicated, but to a surveyor, it probably isn't.


Archaeology appears difficult at first glance. It requires eight hours in the field or in a lab ... but has a "mock dig" option that can be chosen for that requirement as well.

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I'm impressed with surveying. It looks like there is no alternative option other than going out and doing an actual survey. And it says the scout is supposed to use modern equipment and techniques, so chances are, they're going to have to borrow those from an actual surveyor, which means that the counsellor is probably going to be an actual surveyor.


For archaeology, the "mock dig" looks like it could leave a lot up to the counsellor's discretion. Presumably, he or she would decide whether the Scout is really "unable to work in the field or in a laboratory".


But yes, those two are good examples of the "difficult" ones that I was thinking of. Good to see they're still around.



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Knot Head,


I agree with you on Backpacking. But, even with the difficulty it's a great badge to earn. My oldest earned it last year. Took two summers, lots of motivation and was kind of expensive cause of all the gear we had to buy. (Mostly for me since I've had an itch to backpack for several years) But the skills learned in that badge far exceed most badges. He thinks nothing of camping in any condition, planning trips, getting gear ready and going out. Their first weekended was 13 miles in the rain. Memorable and fun. A couple 45 and 50 mile trips makes for a very experienced crew of scouts. I would guess that BP is one badge many boys start but relatively few complete.


He was also working on Cycling and did a 45 mile BP trip one week and a 50 mike bike ride two weeks later.

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There should be a MB for kayaking by itself.


One can always load up a canoe and hit the BWCA without much problem, but with the very limited space, trying a long term kayak trip! It's like backpacking and canoeing all mixed together but with extreme restrictions on both. If I had to come up with an impossible MB, this would rank right up there. :)





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Shhhh. Don't tell the secret like that. When I go somewhere in a canoe, people think I'm "roughing it", but in reality I can bring along pretty much all the creature comforts I want.


You're going to destroy the mystique. :)

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