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ScooterScouter

Merit Badge Workshops and Universities

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I saw a topic on this from 2002 but would like to re-open it as the issue seems to have gotten worse and not better.

I am opposed to merit badge universities and one-day merit badge events. I think they focus entirely on the getting the badge and checking the box. 

I believe they violate the spirit and intent of merit badges in the following ways:

  1. A scout is to take personal responsibility for earning the badge
  2. The MB curriculum is designed to have the scout dive into the material and not just gloss over it.
  3. The MBU is less about accomplishment and more about just showing up.
  4. Logistically, it is almost impossible to actually test each scout individually.
  5. Part of the idea of earning the merit badge is learning to interact personally and directly with adults, both in taking the initiative to contact them and schedule appointments and demonstrate their skills.
  6. The scout is supposed to actually develop skill and knowledge, not just pass a test.

Am I off-base? Is there really a justification for MBUs?

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36 minutes ago, ScooterScouter said:

... Am I off-base? Is there really a justification for MBUs?

Welcome to the forums!

To the first question: it depends. To the second question: it depends. No MBU is identical to another.

If the objective of self-reliance is undermined, you are correct. If the event helps scouts be more self-reliant you are on base.

The justification for an MBU is simple: it introduces a scout to someone deemed most qualified to counsel that badge. Take, for example, motorboating. You might have a dad in your troop who takes his boat out once a month, or you might have a retired grandparent who built or tested racing hulls, or you might have the captain of the coast guard.

When I attended our district's MB Pow-Wow as a scout, I got to meet the counselor of a badge I was interested in, do cool stuff, got his contact info, then follow-up with him at a later date to complete the badge. Partial completions on the day of the event were the norm.

There are some things that are done much better in groups. For example an officer of the court might want to demonstrate a jury trial. Well, he/she could talk to the scouts and show video, or he/she can get twelve scouts to sit in the juror's box, listen to arguments, elect a foreman and deliberate.

It's all in the details. And if your MBU is not attending to the details, then send your scouts elsewhere.

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IMO, it depends on the badges being offered, and the structure (ie how many Scouts per each MB class).  If the MB event is a whole day or two half days dedicated to Rifle Shooting, Shotgun Shooting or Archery, and on the same limits of the number of Scouts that is used at summer camp, then I see it as no different than summer camp.  If it is First Aid, and again uses the same # of hours & Scout ratio as your summer camp would use, then I see no issue.  If it is Personal Management, with 20 Scouts in the class with one counselor giving it lecture style, then I would absolutely agree with you, it is not an appropriate way to present that MB.  

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Posted (edited)

I think it's entirely dependant on how each course is presented and how invested the boys are in the programming. 

When I was young, our district would put on a few MB days a year as fundraisers. Seating was limited to 8 boys a course (effectively a MB 'patrol'), and course teachers were highly qualified in their fields. Courses were also taught on-site; for example, I earned the Atomic Energy MB at the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, and my MB Counsellor was an actual nuclear scientist who took us through the entire facility. It being an hour's drive away, we had to work out our own transportation, and we really needed to work closely with the counsellor to demonstrate that we understood the materials (which, being nuclear science, was NOT easy - it was one of the most difficult badges I ever earned). But WOW did we learn a lot that day! It opened my understanding to a whole world of science about which I had known precious little before, and I had a fantastic time. That day was a powerful argument in favor of the idea.

Conversely, my first day as a Scout, the day after my 11th birthday, we went to a MB course nearby my home, where after 40 minutes I earned the Fingerprinting merit badge. Sure, I still remember everything I learned from the two requirements I passed off, but that isn't saying much. 40 minutes! It was a bit too easy perhaps ...

So I don't think it's about the concept of MB universities itself, but how they are executed and how the boys interface with them that needs to be perpetually reviewed and assessed. 

Edited by The Latin Scot
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Funny you mentioned FingerPrinting MB.  My Son earned it at summer camp in under an hour as well.

 

MB colleges are different everywhere.  Alot is on the what badge it is.  But if its a badge that can be taking at Summercamp, then its not much different then a MB college IMO

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Posted (edited)

If MBUs were the only way, then yes I'd be against.  I'm okay with MBUs if there is a distribution of different MB opportunities.

  • Some where the scout reached out to the counselor and drove it.
  • Some where the troop ran a MB session
  • Some where they are done at summer camp
  • Some where it's a MB university. 
  • Some where the scout has a family member who's an expert or able to cover it.

In my mind, every MB opportunity needs to bring something to the table.  I've seen PhD Oceanographers and Navy submarine captains jointly teach Oceanography at a MBU.  Cool.  I've seen medical doctors teach at MBUs.  Cool.  I've seen PhD chemists with some "unique" experiences teach chemistry.  It really depends on what is brought to the table.

If it's death by power point or a generic person so scouts can complete a MB, then I want my scouts out of there.  It's just worth a patch at the cost of their enthusiasm, trust and time.  If we waste scouts time too often, then scouts will not see the program as valuable.  But if MBCs do something cool, then scouts will be glad they were there.  

I remember at college years ago.  One of my best ever classes had 1,000 people in it.  The teacher was outstanding and there were 1,000 people in it because the teacher was outstanding.  IMHO, numbers and ratios of scouts to MBCs do not define the issue at all.

Edited by fred8033
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14 minutes ago, The Latin Scot said:

... Conversely, my first day as a Scout, the day after my 11th birthday, we went to a MB course nearby my home, where after 40 minutes I earned the Fingerprinting merit badge. Sure, I still remember everything I learned from the two requirements I passed off, but that isn't saying much. 40 minutes! It was a bit too easy perhaps ...

 

8 minutes ago, scotteg83 said:

Funny you mentioned FingerPrinting MB.  My Son earned it at summer camp in under an hour as well. ...

Even more peculiar about Fingerprinting ... As a scout, our troop did a town hike and stopped at the state police barracks. Among other things, we got finger-printed. The officer who taught us how to do that lived four doors down from me. I played with his kids.  I never earned the badge.

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10 minutes ago, fred8033 said:

I remember at college years ago.  One of my best ever classes had 1,000 people in it.  The teacher was outstanding and there were 1,000 people in it because the teacher was outstanding.  IMHO, numbers and ratios of scouts to MBCs do not define the issue at all.

My example of  Scout to counselor ratio is more about the badge and what the structure of the MB college allows.  I have taught at a few.  If the event gives me only a three hours to work with Scouts on say Personal Management (with the disclaimer they have some homework to do on their own as well before or after the event before I can "sign off") , I can do it with a small group of enthusiastic youth where I can relay a concept, get their feedback and have a discussion.  Trying to do that with a larger number, for me, would diminish my abilities to actually counsel them through the badge, so I won't put myself out there to be a counselor at an event structured like that.  

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8 minutes ago, HashTagScouts said:

My example of  Scout to counselor ratio is more about the badge and what the structure of the MB college allows.  I have taught at a few.  If the event gives me only a three hours to work with Scouts on say Personal Management (with the disclaimer they have some homework to do on their own as well before or after the event before I can "sign off") , I can do it with a small group of enthusiastic youth where I can relay a concept, get their feedback and have a discussion.  Trying to do that with a larger number, for me, would diminish my abilities to actually counsel them through the badge, so I won't put myself out there to be a counselor at an event structured like that.  

If that is what you need to make a meaningful MB experience, then I agree.  Others might with help be able to do something else and make it meaningful.    

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39 minutes ago, scotteg83 said:

Funny you mentioned FingerPrinting MB.  My Son earned it at summer camp in under an hour as well.

Reading through the requirements, I could easily see that being about what it takes. There's just not a lot to learn or do by the requirements.

To me, a lot of this depends on the specific MB. Many of the MB are the most cursory of introductions to the subject, whereas others are about getting one up to the level of proficiency. The MBU is a good event for the MBs that are about the basics, not so much for the ones about proficiency.

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53 minutes ago, qwazse said:

When I attended our district's MB Pow-Wow as a scout, I got to meet the counselor of a badge I was interested in, do cool stuff, got his contact info, then follow-up with him at a later date to complete the badge. Partial completions on the day of the event were the norm.

See that's part of the problem I have. Most of the MBU's I have seen offered in our area tend to be start to finish. As long as they did their prereq they come back with a completed blue card ready to receive their badge.

I agree that there can be a benefit when you use an industry expert to provide a unique learning experience the Scouts would not normally get otherwise but unless there is a certified MB counselor there to A)test them individually and B) sign off on what they actually accomplished then it is nice but not productive. If you come away from a single day of an experience with a Nuclear Science MB then I have to wonder....

It also still misses some of the other, more esoteric purposes of the MB process.

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I was asked to be the mB counselor at a MBU for Camping mB at a neighboring district. They wanted it to be an introduction to camping for the new scouts. A group of 20. They asked if two hours was enough. I said 2 hours is perfwct for me to do an intro, but I would not be signing any blue cards. She asked if 3 hours was enough. When I went through the reqs with the MBU director, and showed her it would not be possible, but I was happy to do an intro to camping class and give the scouts my contact info to do the mB. They found someone else to do the class and sign off.

 

While I think it is possible for MBUs to be done well, I agree with the OP that for the majority it seems to be a show up and get the blue card signed.

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3 hours ago, ScooterScouter said:

See that's part of the problem I have. Most of the MBU's I have seen offered in our area tend to be start to finish. As long as they did their prereq they come back with a completed blue card ready to receive their badge. ...

Then don't send your scouts there. Threaten to resign your position if anybody on the committee promotes that MBU. Put it in writing. Copy your district commissioners and executives, your scout executives, and the course director.

If you have a scout who does not seem to have grasped the MB material that he should have, follow the procedure listed in the Guide to Advancement 7.0.4.7.

The problem isn't bogus MBUs. The problem is not enough scouters pushing back against them. 

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2 hours ago, DuctTape said:

I was asked to be the mB counselor at a MBU for Camping mB at a neighboring district. They wanted it to be an introduction to camping for the new scouts. A group of 20. They asked if two hours was enough. I said 2 hours is perfwct for me to do an intro, but I would not be signing any blue cards. She asked if 3 hours was enough. When I went through the reqs with the MBU director, and showed her it would not be possible, but I was happy to do an intro to camping class and give the scouts my contact info to do the mB. They found someone else to do the class and sign off.

 

An introduction to the Camping merit badge is one thing.  Some of the requirements are "discuss" or "explain", so no problem there for partials.  But how many of them had the requisite nights of camping?  I'm guessing not many.

 

 

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