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mrkstvns

Does BSA DISCOURAGE Merit Badge Universities/Midways/Fairs?

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There's a document out on scouting.org that seems to discourage many of the common practices that enable merit badge events (like fairs, universities, etc.) and that also seems to discourage bad practices that are very common in almost all merit badge summer camps and winter camps.

I wonder if this will indicate a trend away from the current merit badge mills that prevail across the country...

The document is "Merit Badge Group Instruction Guide" and is available here:
https://filestore.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/512-066_WEB.pdf

Some interesting points that appear there...

  • "Group instruction should be focused on those scenarios where the benefits are compelling"
  • "The focus must on the quality of the Scout's counseling experience, and not on the number of Scouts who can take a class or complete a badge."
  • "Simply taking notes, completing a workbook, or listening during a group instruction session does not constitute completing a requirement"
  • "For many badges---perhaps even most of them---partial completion is not only acceptable but expected from a merit badge event."
  • "most classes should be small"
  • "Group tasks do not fulfill requirements..."
  • "...completing a worksheet does not constitute completing a requirement."

Thoughts?

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They forget one possibility:  

Asking the Scout "Do YOU think you have fulfilled the requirements?"   

 

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If there is a nudge from National to discourage or at least tighten up MB fairs, I'd say this is the most positive news I've heard in awhile.

There are acceptable group settings to earn MBs at summer camp.  Historically, these used to be primarily outdoor focused (rifle/shotgun/lifesaving/etc.).  Many units didn't access to properties or equipment during the course of the year, so it was standard practice at camp. 

The MB fairs I see today are grand events, more spoon feeding than actually learning.  The scouts go through the process and leave Saturday evening with MBs that used to require weeks of individual effort.  And for most of the scouts, all they had to do was wake up, don their uniform, and get in the SUV.   Everything else is scripted. 

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33 minutes ago, mrkstvns said:

There's a document out on scouting.org that seems to discourage many of the common practices that enable merit badge events (like fairs, universities, etc.) and that also seems to discourage bad practices that are very common in almost all merit badge summer camps and winter camps.

I wonder if this will indicate a trend away from the current merit badge mills that prevail across the country...

The document is "Merit Badge Group Instruction Guide" and is available here:
https://filestore.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/512-066_WEB.pdf

Some interesting points that appear there...

  • "Group instruction should be focused on those scenarios where the benefits are compelling"
  • "The focus must on the quality of the Scout's counseling experience, and not on the number of Scouts who can take a class or complete a badge."
  • "Simply taking notes, completing a workbook, or listening during a group instruction session does not constitute completing a requirement"
  • "For many badges---perhaps even most of them---partial completion is not only acceptable but expected from a merit badge event."
  • "most classes should be small"
  • "Group tasks do not fulfill requirements..."
  • "...completing a worksheet does not constitute completing a requirement."

Thoughts?

I am glad to hear of this direction.  I do not think that these MB events serve anyone very much, except in the case of earning a small badge, like finger printing, which can normally be done in one sitting anyway.  Certainly Eagle Required badges should require effort, accomplishment, and skill or knowledge acquiring.  When I see thirty scouts come out of a First Aid badge class with a signed blue card at the end of the day, I am pretty sure they will not know a lot about first aid by the next camp out.  But they will receive a badge at the next COH.

And I have seen scouts learn to "work the system" in order to get badges by using the least amount of effort.  I have seen indications that the scouts find out who will pass a requirement by sitting in a class and who will make the scout literally do the requirements.  

Two of the most important reasons to do merit badges is to find a life long interest, and for the scout to have healthy relationships with caring adults.  I am not sure that the MB event format contributes to either of these things.  So I am glad that BSA is tightening up these events.

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All scouting is local. Guidance like this has been in place in one document or another for decades.

The real sea change will come when folks (scouts, parents, and volunteers) heed it.

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15 minutes ago, desertrat77 said:

There are acceptable group settings to earn MBs at summer camp.  Historically, these used to be primarily outdoor focused (rifle/shotgun/lifesaving/etc.).  Many units didn't access to properties or equipment during the course of the year, so it was standard practice at camp. 

Quite right.

The core outdoor-focused merit badges being offered at summer camp are great.  They give scouts access to resources (rifle ranges, canoes, etc.) and to trained, certified people (lifeguards, rifle instructors, etc.) that few troops have. Summer camp is the time-honored way for scouts to do the outdoor activities they've been promised but that troops back in town just can't be expected to provide.

On the other hand, why on earth should summer camps offer classroom-focused classes like Citizenship in the Community or Family Life which are FAR better done back home in the troop or in the community. Having those classes at camp just gives scouts a poor merit badge experience and discourages scouts from getting outdoors and having fun at camp.

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There's a strong push going on right now, led by me and another Committee Member, to limit our troop's participation in merit badge weekends to one per year.  In previous years, we've gone to as many as three or even four in a calendar year.  It's part of the reason we have some Scouts with merit badges wrapping all around their sash, but don't remember half of what they learned.  Our goal is to replace those merit badge weekends with more traditional hiking, fishing, and camping trips.  So far we're winning.  Merit badge weekends are NOT needed.  My son got his Eagle in early August at the age of 15 while splitting his free time with competitive travel soccer.  He has attended exactly one merit badge weekend in his Scouting career.

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22 minutes ago, allangr1024 said:

I do not think that these MB events serve anyone very much, except in the case of earning a small badge, like finger printing, which can normally be done in one sitting anyway

I agree that there are MB's that do not lend themselves to this type of setting.  There are some however, that do benefit by providing good group discussions and the exchange of different points of view.

26 minutes ago, allangr1024 said:

When I see thirty scouts come out of a First Aid badge class with a signed blue card at the end of the day, I am pretty sure they will not know a lot about first aid by the next camp out.  But they will receive a badge at the next COH.

First of all, I would not want 30 scouts in a session with a single MB counselor, regardless of the subject; but I am sure that with a good counselor and the right amount of time, many of those scouts would remember quite a bit of first aid.  I am confident that any scout who sits through a full first aid session with me (and who earns a signed blue card)  will have learned a good deal, and will be ready when the occasion to use that knowledge arises.

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9 minutes ago, SteveMM said:

There's a strong push going on right now, led by me and another Committee Member, to limit our troop's participation in merit badge weekends to one per year.  In previous years, we've gone to as many as three or even four in a calendar year.  It's part of the reason we have some Scouts with merit badges wrapping all around their sash, but don't remember half of what they learned.  Our goal is to replace those merit badge weekends with more traditional hiking, fishing, and camping trips.  So far we're winning.  Merit badge weekends are NOT needed.  My son got his Eagle in early August at the age of 15 while splitting his free time with competitive travel soccer.  He has attended exactly one merit badge weekend in his Scouting career.

I like hearing about troops that provide in-house opportunities to help their youth --- after all, we're taught the importance of "servant leadership" so we need to do what the boys need.

I like that you're not participating in more than one MB weekend per year, but I would be cautious about going overboard by making such a thing a "rule" or a "policy".  Scout leaders should always remember to "remove barriers and open doors". If you implement a rule, you're doing a disservice to the scout who has a right to expect that you are following the "Guide to Advancement" and not just making up unnecessary rules that treat your own scouts differently from scouts in other troops. 

 

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MB Colleges cause a lot more harm that most of us realize. I found while on the District Committee that 70 Percent of our Troops used only Summer Camp and MB Colleges for a major part of their advancement program. They would look for opportunities through the Council for their scouts advancement. They got so used to these outside advancement activities that they lost the knowledge of running their own unit advancement program. 

One scouter on  district made a proposal  to change the District MB college. Up to that point, scouts showed up at 8:00 am and were not allowed to leave until 4:00 pm, even if they only wanted one or two classes. Lunch was provided. The proposed changes were having scouts show up to school the night before to speak to the counselors and determine the badges they wanted. They then would learn more about the badge from the counselor and learn when the counselor was making a presentation of the badge. The scout would then fill out the Blue Card with all the counselors information, and take it to their SM, who was probably in the building. The counselors, who attended training by the district the week before, were encouraged to not do one-and-done meetings, but instead arrange to meet the scouts for any required sessions even after the weekend. The scouts were not required to check in and only had to show up for the sessions they signed up for. Lunch was not provided, however, an enterprising person could make and sell sandwiches, chips and drinks. The district committee turned the proposal down because it appeared chaotic. It wasn't the way it was done before.

46 minutes ago, mrkstvns said:

I like that you're not participating in more than one MB weekend per year, but I would be cautious about going overboard by making such a thing a "rule" or a "policy".  Scout leaders should always remember to "remove barriers and open doors". If you implement a rule, you're doing a disservice to the scout who has a right to expect that you are following the "Guide to Advancement" and not just making up unnecessary rules that treat your own scouts differently from scouts in other troops. 

I agree, you are presenting a good idea, but still forcing adult choices. Our troop gave the scouts the information and let them work out. Like OA and Venturing, we let the scouts do outside activities on their own. However, we did not accept any requirements that we signed by the counselor before the scoutmaster signed the Blue Card. We still required they follow BSA MB policies. It was more work on their side, but if they wanted to do the badges, they followed our policies, which were BSA policies.

Of course we have our own advancement program and part of that was presenting two MB badges a month. And the scouts could do any badge on their own, so the MB Colleges weren't needed or used much by our scouts. 

Personally, I wouldn't mind MB weekends if they were done in such a way as to setting an example to the units of following BSA policies. At the same time, district could encourage better training for counselors and create a list for all units to use.

Barry

Edited by Eagledad
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Somehow we always have a really good campout planned the same weekend as MBU - imagine that. We have worked hard to cover all (except swimming) Eagle required MBs plue 20 or more other badges with adults in the troop. 

My biggest issue with MBUs is the lack of need for SM signature or council and the fact that so many first year scouts come back disapointed that they didnt finish their MB. If the had come to me first I would have at least guided them to the right ones and discussed the work needed to be done BEFORE the MBU. 

 

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3 hours ago, mrkstvns said:

I like hearing about troops that provide in-house opportunities to help their youth --- after all, we're taught the importance of "servant leadership" so we need to do what the boys need.

I like that you're not participating in more than one MB weekend per year, but I would be cautious about going overboard by making such a thing a "rule" or a "policy".  Scout leaders should always remember to "remove barriers and open doors". If you implement a rule, you're doing a disservice to the scout who has a right to expect that you are following the "Guide to Advancement" and not just making up unnecessary rules that treat your own scouts differently from scouts in other troops. 

 

Oh it's not a rule, and if the boys decide the want to plan to go to one, we can do that.  We do, however, subtly discourage it.  Thankfully, the boys haven't shown much interest in them lately, and would rather just go on a regular campout.  I disagree with a lot that our SM does, but this is one thing he's done right -- reduced (not eliminated) the culture in our troop that you have to advance as fast as possible.  My son's Eagle came a bit early, but it was starting to get a little ridiculous in our troop how young kids were getting there.  It's slowed down a lot, and kids are better Scouts because of it.

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5 hours ago, mrkstvns said:

On the other hand, why on earth should summer camps offer classroom-focused classes like Citizenship in the Community or Family Life which are FAR better done back home in the troop or in the community. Having those classes at camp just gives scouts a poor merit badge experience and discourages scouts from getting outdoors and having fun at camp.

I agree.  Summer camps have turned into MB mills, with many non-outdoor offerings.  The scouts should be hiking, swimming, boating, and shooting.  Either for the MB or just for the fun of it.

Life is sedentary enough in 2019.  Too many scouts sitting on picnic benches at summer camp these days.

Edited by desertrat77
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"Have you read the Merit Badge Pamphlet?"

"No. Were we supposed to?"

"Did you read thru the prerequisites? They were on the website when you registered."

"They were where?  Our {insert Scout Adult Leader here) signed us up."

" Well, after the class, I can give you a partial, and we can schedule another session to check you out."

"But I have this worksheet I filled out. I got it online! At the (insert website here), isn't that how you do it?"

" No, it isn't. It is a way for YOU to study the subject, but look at this (hold out the MB pamphlet, open to the requirements), and here (open the BSA requirement book), and you tell me if you have fulfilled the requirements to (mention the hands on , do stuff, perform a skill) ?  "  Well. let's talk about  (insert MB topic here). "

 

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