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Merit Badge Class . My Thoughts

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When did the MB U phenomena start?  Who is driving this corner-cutting: national, council or misguided parents? My Webelos  son will be in a troop in about 14 months and it would benefit to more about this.

As a scout in the early to mid 70's no one came back from summer camp with more than 2 MBs, and these were usually ones unique to camp, or super time consuming to do at home (lifesaving, oceanography, pioneering, canoeing, etc.) During the school year one was lucky if they averaged three per quarter.

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When it was decided that advancement numbers were a performance metric for employees, it was inevitable that the system would be gamed as membership numbers have been games since very early on.   There were no MB midways, days or universities in my council twenty-five years ago.  I am sure they have been "on" for the last fifteen years.  Some are worse than others in that some are more likely to hand out MBs without actual testing, but the trend is so towards cheating in the councils around here, that I have decided not to participate.

When council SEs began to see MBs as party favors to drive Summer Camp attendance,   Summer Camps as MB Mils were inevitable.  THAT disgrace has been going on for at least thirty years.  National knows it and has done virtually nothing.  At one camp I observed this Summer, there were  actual registered MB Counselors for less than 1/3 of the MBs awarded.

Thus for "values."

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10 hours ago, WRW_57 said:

When did the MB U phenomena start?  Who is driving this corner-cutting: national, council or misguided parents? My Webelos  son will be in a troop in about 14 months and it would benefit to more about this.

In the beginning, there were only 57 Merit Badges. Now we have over 130.

More scouts earn Eagle in a month than have ever completed all Merit Badges in the last century. It is a BIG DEAL when someone does it, so big that it makes national scouting news. When is the last time someone making Eagle was national scouting news?

I don't blame scouts (or those that serve them) for responding to the incentives. If we want to reduce the MBU environment, then we need to change the MB program. The "club" of those that have done them all is more exclusive than being an Eagle.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_merit_badges_(Boy_Scouts_of_America

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I'm not sure when the trend started. MBUs didn't exist in the 70's when I was a scout, and they were running full speed in the 90's when I came back as a scouter. I don't think National started the trend, so I'm at a loss. I would say it fits in with the helicopter parent environment of todays generation, but we really didn't have the problem in the 80's and 90's.

I fought against them while I was on the district committee because not only do they go against the program structure of developing men of character, they also develop bad habits in troops. I learned that 2/3s of the troops in our district provide only two MB opportunities each year, summer camp and MBU. I tried to bulk that trend in our district committee and was asked to stand down. The committee didn't agree with my big picture analogy.

Barry

 

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Mid-70's: Our district called it a MB Pow-Wow. It was fun. We met counselors. Got partials. Got familiar with the college campus. Completed  badges by making phone calls and following up.

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I am a merit badge nerd.   There are a couple merit badge universities in our council, and I like the idea.  My sons have not been to one and I'm not sure that it fits in our calendar this year.  Two technical colleges host them, and I think it's a wonderful way for boys to go out and see a place of higher education and be in an environment that has a lot of the equipment, along with knowledgeable instructors.   In our area, the welding workshop is popular and it has a waiting list.  What a great way for a kid to see if he has interest in welding, and possibly find a future job.  I like all the "career" merit badges for exploration when young men will be choosing a vocation and a little taste of what their future might be like might serve them well and help them make more informed decisions.  They may even make some early career connections. 

What exactly is the problem?   From the OP, it sounds like large class sizes are a problem, and having registrations from scouts with no interest.  That seems fixable.  Make small classes and give the scouts some pre-course prep, give partials for incompletes.   Class design and allowing enough time for the topic to be studied thoroughly, enough equipment, etc. etc. 

As for exclusive clubs, if my oldest were to go for it, Hornaday is very interesting. My oldest is an absolute nature lover and it would suit him, if he's interested and gets motivated. Many of the merit badges he's completed are in that direction anyway. 

Here's a link to a merit badge event from our council last year.  The boys spent a full day and might not have earned completion.  Although we have not participated, this seems pretty well organized. 

https://www.gtc.edu/merit-badge-tech

 

 

Edited by WisconsinMomma
added career connections

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I know when I Crossed Over in 1985, my buddies signed up for First Year Camper, and the rest of those going to summer camp signed up for MB classes. I didn't go that summer, so I cannot comment.

When I did go to summer camp in '86, I was taking MB classes. That troop, the one I grew up in, essentially had a policy: 5 MBs classes max, preferably 4. Everyone, adults and Scouts, wanted you to have at least 1 free period to have fun doing free swim, boating, and shooting. Plus a lot of the MBs required extra work outside of class. I remember many a night that I was working on MBs under a lantern. 

Only exceptions to the rule were 1st Year Camper and the HA program. 1st year was essentially an all day class. HA took you out of the base camp for 3.5 days.

At some point in the 1990s, my council came up with "Winter Camp," December 26th -31st. It was popular then, and I believe it still is. Thankfully I didn't have to work it since that is when national does inventory.

When I moved to NC, that is when I first felt pressure to give MBs to folk and saw my first MBU. When I taught Lifesaving MB at summer camp, my class was too big, about 25-30 Scouts. I had discipline problems too that affected me teaching everyone. After I sent them back to the campsite the first day, I was told I cannot do that. The Scouts must stay in class. So I was unable to work on all of the skills needed for the MB due to size and discipline. I refuse to give MBs away, and no one got Lifesaving that week. I had so many complaints, especially form the troublemakers SM, that the CD no longer let me teach Lifesaving MB. That was almost 20 years ago. I heard improvements to the camp had been made. And from what I heard it got better. But that was not the case. When the troop went to that camp in 2016, we had Scouts "earn" MBs that the didn't really earn. In one case, a Scout decided to quit a MB after the first session and switch to another MB instead. He got both! We got Scouts who "earned" Canoeing or Kayaking MB, but could not paddle in a straight line, or longer that 20 minutes. And those classes were 2 hour ones!

As for the MBU, I taught at them 2 times, and had my oldest go to one. I taught the first year they had it, and told folks it would be a partial unless they did stuff prior to coming. I also gave everyone my contact info. Out of 30 people in the class, 2 did the paperwork before hand, and 1 contacted me afterwards to finish up.  I was not asked to come back and teach that MB the next year. My suspicion is that folks expected a completion instead of a partial. Several years later, my son went to the MBU, and I asked if they wanted Indian Lore again.  They accepted. Again advertised it was a partial unless paperwork done before hand and gave out contact info. 1 person turned in paperwork, and no one followed up. And I was not asked back.

Son "earned" two MBs that day. I had reservations. One he did all the requirements for. It was a very small class, and non stop from his description. He learned something and actually earned that first MB. The second MB was a completely different story. Not only did he not do all of the requirements, the MBC was using 10+ year old requirements for the ones they did. In essence, only 1 requirement was completed, but he "earned" the MB. After a long chat with him, we came to an understanding, he would complete ALL the requirements from the year his MBC started. Thankfully they were either very similar or identical to the current ones. 

When I told the SM and ASM about what happened, ASM told me his story about when he taught a MB at the MBU previously. Long story short, class advertised as a partial. Scouts came in expecting completions to the points they rudely demanded the MBCs teaching the class to "Just sign off the freaking MB."

Needless to say we discourage MBUs.

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20 minutes ago, WisconsinMomma said:

I am a merit badge nerd.   There are a couple merit badge universities in our council, and I like the idea.  My sons have not been to one and I'm not sure that it fits in our calendar this year.  Two technical colleges host them, and I think it's a wonderful way for boys to go out and see a place of higher education and be in an environment that has a lot of the equipment, along with knowledgeable instructors.   In our area, the welding workshop is popular and it has a waiting list.  What a great way for a kid to see if he has interest in welding, and possibly find a future job.  I like all the "career" merit badges for exploration when young men will be choosing a vocation and a little taste of what their future might be like might serve them well and help them make more informed decisions.  They may even make some early career connections. 

What exactly is the problem?

As for exclusive clubs, if my oldest were to go for it, Hornaday is very interesting. My oldest is an absolute nature lover and it would suit him, if he's interested and gets motivated. Many of the merit badges he's completed are in that direction anyway. 

 

The problem lies when MBCs do not do there jobs properly and award MBs that the Scouts could not earn in a few hours. And there is pressure for MBCs at these events to award MBs. I'd rather someone earn a partial and learn something about a topic and have a good time, than just receive a MB for showing up. I find that it cheapens the work others do to actually earn the award.

I'll take Chess MB as an example. One camp essentially gives it away after a Scout plays 3 or 4 games. There is actually a lot more to it than playing games. Oldest has been playing Chess competitively since Cub Scouts, and started the MB at the first event he attended as a Boy Scout, a troop chess tourney.  He never got around to finishing it because when he went to summer camp, that camp was giving the MB away. It lost all appeal to him. While he has taught parts of the MB to his troop, including those who already have the MB and should know this stuff, he could care less about it.

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1 hour ago, Eagledad said:

I learned that 2/3s of the troops in our district provide only two MB opportunities each year, summer camp and MBU.

I don't understand. Why should the troops provide any opportunity? Isn't it up to the scouts to contact the counselors?

When I was a scout in the 70's I remember maybe getting one or two MBs at summer camp (that lasted 2 weeks) and no MBUs.

52 minutes ago, qwazse said:

Mid-70's: Our district called it a MB Pow-Wow. It was fun. We met counselors. Got partials. Got familiar with the college campus. Completed  badges by making phone calls and following up.

I'm okay with the idea of starting a MB, or even just finding out what the MB is about. But it should just be an introduction to the MB.

Our district is doing something interesting this year. First of all, they talked to the counselors from last year and any counselor that said they had a bunch of scouts that were there only because they had to be there, and were not interested in anything other than getting a blue card signed off, they dropped that MB. The result is that the only MBs they have are ones the scouts honestly want to take, things like radio and welding. It honestly looks like fun. At roundtable one parent said there weren't many eagle required MBs offered. The guy in charge of MBU said yep.

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As in all things Scouty,  "the fault, dear Scouter, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves...."

As we find the means to advance our Scouts in Merit Badges, and let those that counsel such to "allow"  Scouts to slide on by ('eh, what's it matter".), and allow the standards of passage  to slide...

I was a temp teacher for some years, and (as always) my students often taught me...  early on, I learned a new word:  Gudnuf    as in "Mr. SSScout, is this 'gudnuf'?   " 

Even in Scouts, I came upon this new word:  in Totin'Chip, "Is this tentpeg gudnuf?"   In Pioneering:  "Is this lashing gudnuf?"   If the knot in the rope saves a life, yes, it was , indeed,  "gudnuf" , but in testing, was it a correct ""BOWLINE"" ?

SOMETIMES (sometimes),  I was asked "Is this correct?"   but not as often as I remembered from the  teachers and mentors of my youth. 

When I have of late counseled Bugling MB,  I am always surprised at the number of Scouts who will attend my class and come never having even HELD a bugle or trumpet, much less be able to play it.  Discuss?  Answer the requirements?  Read the booklet (READ???)  I have even had a Scout honestly (and I congratulated him on his honesty) tell me he attended my class in the hopes of a "sign off " for attending !  The requirements say "Play the calls".   SURPRISE !

I congratulate the Scouts that can say they have EARNED all 135 Merit Badges.  What a supremely well rounded young man, a true generalist, with knowledge and experience in so many fields of endeavor.  I hope. 

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47 minutes ago, MattR said:

I don't understand. Why should the troops provide any opportunity? Isn't it up to the scouts to contact the counselors?

 

Yes, exactly. What we found is the troops would attend the MBC and the scouts would come home with a hand full of MBs. That was easy, a lot easier than managing a program where scouts searched for a counselor, called the counselor, filled out the Blue Card and got the SM signature, and then set up a series of meetings with the counselor.

Taking a path of least resistance, the adults got in the habit of letting the MBCs and summer camp do the hard work. IN THE PROCESS of going this route, scouts didn't learn how to search for counselors, didn't learn how to communicate with the counselors and didn't learn how to set up meetings. They didn't even know how to fill out Blue Cards.

Actually our council doesn't use Blue Cards, we use a different card that only requires the SM signature before the scout starts meeting the counselor. That was how I learned the units weren't doing their job. The SMs had developed the habit of signing the cards after the scout completed the MB requirements. They were doing the whole MB program Wrong. So I approached the committee. It was the District MBC  example that led the troops off into the weeds.  I felt the district needed to fix the problem. But MBC is very popular, as you can imagine by 2/3s needing it for their advancement. I lost.

Barry

Edited by Eagledad
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Here are the B.S.A. rules that are largely ignored with the tacit acquiescence of B.S.A.

"There is more to merit badges than simply providing opportunities to learn skills. There is more to them than an introduction to lifetime hobbies, or the inspiration to pursue a career—though these invaluable results occur regularly. It all begins with a Scout’s initial interest and effort in a merit badge subject, followed by a discussion with the unit leader or designated assistant, continues through meetings with a counselor, and culminates in advancement and recognition. It is an uncomplicated process that gives a Scout the confidence achieved through overcoming obstacles. Social skills improve. Self-reliance develops. Examples are set and followed. And fields of study and interest are explored beyond the limits of the school classroom.

...

Recommended [i.e., largely ignored] Merit Badge Process

1. The Scout develops an interest in a merit badge and may begin working on the requirements.

2. The Scout discusses his interest in the merit badge with his unit leader.

3. The unit leader signs a blue card and provides the Scout with at least one counselor contact.

4. The Scout contacts the counselor.

5. The counselor considers any work toward requirements completed prior to the initial discussion with the unit leader.

6. The Scout, his buddy, and the counselor meet (often several times).

7. The Scout finishes the requirements.

8. The counselor approves completion.

9. The Scout returns the signed blue card to his unit leader, who signs the applicant record section of the blue card.

10. The unit leader gives the Scout the applicant record.

11. The unit reports the merit badge to the council.

12. The Scout receives his merit badge

...

There must be attention to each individual’s projects and his fulfillment of all requirements. We must know that every Scout—actually and personally—completed them. If, for example, a requirement uses words like “show,” “demonstrate,” or “discuss,” then every Scout must do that. It is unacceptable to award badges on the basis of sitting in classrooms watching demonstrations, or remaining silent during discussions.'

Boy Scouts of America, Guide to Advancement. [emphasis added]

 

 

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I think there are a number of reasons for the Merit Badge program the way it is today.

The first is the expectations of today's parents--whether it's right or wrong--that when their son goes to Summer Camp, it's now expected that they come back having earned something. It's no longer enough that they got to go swimming, take hikes, shoot guns, climb rocks, spend time with their friends, etc. You have to have EARNED something. I have had many parents show disappointment if their son comes back from camp and he's only earned one or two merit badges, or he only got a couple of requirements towards ranks completed. If you explain that advancement is only part of the reason you do what you do at camp, they just respond that for all the money they're paying, "he'd better have something to show for it!"  I know it's misguided, but that's how today's parents think.

Camps themselves play a part of it. The council-run camps near me almost have a competition to see which camp offers the most merit badges.  One camp advertises that they offer over 100 merit badges. Another offers 75. Our camp, responding to criticism that many older Scouts are opting to not attend after 4+ years (because they've earned all the merit badges they offer), are upping their game and offering new badges to keep up with the Joneses. Some camps are also putting on "Pre-requisite sessions" in the months and weeks leading up to Summer Camp, to allow Scouts to earn merit badges with time requirements, many of them Eagle-required (Cooking, Personal Management, Personal Fitness, to name a few).

You also get merit badge sessions being offered because it's good PR for companies and organizations to offer these badges. Science centers across the country offer science-related merit badge sessions on weekends. The metroparks near me offer the nature-related badges at various times throughout the year. Museums will offer merit badges that pertain to the type of museum they are. The zoo near me offers Veterinary Science as part of an overnight session. And they all offer sessions for Cub Scouts to earn rank requirements. In all of these examples, they work with the local councils to get staff members certified as MB counselors.  Some programs are better than others, but the ones I have attended with my son have generally been good.  The counselors have made sure the Scouts did the work. If there were prerequisites, they Scouts knew what to do ahead of time. If it wasn't done, they got a partial, where they could make an appointment with the counselor to come back at a later time and complete the missing requirements, or schedule with another counselor to finish up what's missing. Years ago, the local plumber's union offered Plumbing Merit Badge to Scouts from our troop. I think it was the best one I've ever been to.  The Scouts had a ball. They got to meet at the union hall which is the training center for new plumbers to learn the craft. The Scouts did all of the requirements and then some, and to top it all, each came away with about $100 in free stuff from the plumber's union, including first aid kits, safety glasses, safety gloves, etc.

In all the cases, those organizations do it because it's good PR, but let's not forget that it's also a easy revenue stream for them. 10-20 Scouts paying $15 to do a merit badge at a science center, museum, park, or zoo is easy money for that organization, and word of mouth helps spread the word if it was a good session.

But I think one of the big reasons that merit badge universities and Troop counselors have become so popular is the dismal state of the merit badge counselor program in many councils and districts. We are fortunate in my council to have a very vigilant program, where our council registrar does an excellent job maintaining the program for our council. Counselors must register annually by the specified date; miss it, and you're off the list and have to do the whole application process over if you want to get back on the list. Those MBs that require additional certification (scuba, shooting sports, etc.) must turn in that paperwork annually. The list is distributed 4 times a year to Scoutmasters and Committee Chairmen, password-protected on the council's website. When we turn in advancement reports we also have to turn in a list with the names of the counselors used for the merit badges we're recording (I know that's not required but no one has ever questioned it in our council). I know that in many councils and districts, they could only hope for such diligence, and I think that's why a lot of troops just begin using their own lists and only sharing that list with their Scouts. If you can't easily find counselors they way you're supposed to, troops will do what they need to do to get counselors. And let's be honest--if you're a Scout and you have the choice of calling up a stranger to ask them to work on a merit badge with you, or just showing up for a day at a merit badge university session, which are you going to choose?

Until there is a concerted push to get the program brought back to what it used to be, I think things like this will continue.

Edited by Cleveland Rocks

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37 minutes ago, TAHAWK said:

Here are the B.S.A. rules that are largely ignored with the tacit acquiescence of B.S.A....

Recommended [i.e., largely ignored] Merit Badge Process,,,

There is nothing inherent about MB Pow-Wows (sorry, love that term over University) that would prevent scouters from following the process to the letter. The Pow-Wows that I attended taught me the process. The SM posted the announcement about it on the cork board (which the SPL dutifully announced) we decided to go, I started looking into the requirements for the MB's I was interested in tried out a requirement or two, told my SM, went with my card, met a counselor, partialed, follow-ed up later.

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I have observed the same things as Cleveland. The museums, groups, and non-profits that offer Merit Badges close to their area of expertise often do a much better job than the actual BSA ones.

In addition in the last few years I have observed it is many of the Scouts, not just the parents that want the easier rapid badges and advancement. I'd like to blame it on the worksheets that started as tools but seem like the goal all the way into High School, perceived hyper competitiveness for stellar college applications, and a shift toward being able to retrieve the answer via the internet over mastering the material.

If BSA National started pushing more rigorous requirements they would likely face a backlash and push-back from many Troops - look how many 'go rogue' over other issues.  I do not think BSA, obviously concerned about numbers and revenue, will put up much of a fight. The demand for that darn Eagle will just erode the brand. 

 Here I stand worrying about leaving my finger in the dike and the whole North Sea is breeching the other end.

"Give the People What They Want" (Kinks 1981)

Give the people what they want 
You gotta give the people what they want 
The more they get, the more they need 
And every time they get harder and harder to please

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