Jump to content
mrkstvns

Does BSA DISCOURAGE Merit Badge Universities/Midways/Fairs?

Recommended Posts

I think in our rush to critique merit badge colleges, we're missing out on a key point.  These opportunities for Scouts are popular - that's why they exist.  Having sessions like this provide opportunities for Scouts to learn things they might not, to advance when they might not.

We hold an annual merit badge college.  At the event, Scouts spend one day working on one single merit badge.  Class size is 10-15 scouts per class.  The class runs about 6 hours.  In that time, the scouts complete the bulk of the requirements.  If there are longer form requirements we assign them as prerequisites just like at summer camp.

Would it be wonderful if every MB was earned by working directly with a counselor - perhaps.  But, Scouts are only going to invest so much time in doing one-on-one sessions.  Merit badge colleges provide an alternative path to experience more Scouting.  Does every participant treat it as an additive activity - no.  Some do use it to replace one-on-one merit badge sessions.  But, a great many do see it as a way to earn an extra badge they might not normally.

I would think it would be good for us to do two things here:

  1. leverage these as additional opportunities for Scouts.  Take a merit badge you never have before.  Complete that required merit badge you've been dreading.
  2. develop best practices for these sorts of events that make them as productive as possible. What is a good class size, how should they be structured, what about individual tasks in the context of that course.  

So, in short.  Let's not throw out these popular sessions, but let's find a way to better integrate them so Scouts extract maximum value.

 

Edited by ParkMan
grammer
  • Upvote 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
28 minutes ago, ParkMan said:

I think in our rush to critique merit badge colleges, we're missing out on a key point.  These opportunities for Scouts are popular - that's why they exist.  Having sessions like this provide opportunities for Scouts to learn things they might not, to advance when they might not.

 

Do you think our rush to critique is just old-timer emotional whimsy? Hmm, maybe so. But our scouts are free to do what ever they want, and I would guess that our Eagles probably average 1 MB from a MB college at best. So, while the opportunities for scouts may be popular, the popularity is from the adult perspective. Scouts do not want to spend a full Saturday sitting in class like they have done all week at their school.

If district would just run it like a university under the BSA advancement guidelines, I wouldn't mind. But, they run it like an middle school treating scouts like children instead of adults attending a class at a university. Plus they don't follow the BSA guidelines. District sets the vision of a quality boy run troop program for all their troops and their vision based from MB college is terrible. Great for the adults, terrible for the scouts.

Barry

  • Like 1
  • Upvote 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
27 minutes ago, ParkMan said:

I think in our rush to critique merit badge colleges, we're missing out on a key point.  These opportunities for Scouts are popular - that's why they exist.  Having sessions like this provide opportunities for Scouts to learn things they might not, to advance when they might not.

We hold an annual merit badge college.  At the event, Scouts spend one day working on one single merit badge.  Class size is 10-15 scouts per class.  The class runs about 6 hours.  In that time, the scouts complete the bulk of the requirements.  If there are longer form requirements we assign them as prerequisites just like at summer camp.

Would it be wonderful if every MB was earned by working directly with a counselor - perhaps.  But, Scouts are only going to invest so much time in doing one-on-one sessions.  Merit badge colleges provide an alternative path to experience more Scouting.  Does every participant treat it as an additive activity - no.  Some do use it to replace one-on-one merit badge sessions.  But, a great many do see it as a way to earn an extra badge they might not normally.

I would think it would be good for us to do two things here:

  1. leverage these as additional opportunities for Scouts.  Take a merit badge you never have before.  Complete that required merit badge you've been dreading.
  2. develop best practices for these sorts of events that make them as productive as possible. What is a good class size, how should they be structured, what about individual tasks in the context of that course.  

So, in short.  Let's not throw out these popular sessions, but let's find a way to better integrate them so Scouts extract maximum value.

 

Largely agree with your thoughts.  MB universities/colleges/fairs can be structured so that the selection process/choice/approval still happens.  Similar to summer camp, if you know the schedule of what is being offered, that is shared to the scouts, and those desiring to attend can make selections from the list of what is available and discuss with their SM what they have selected.  If SM deems appropriate, blue card issued, scout goes off to the MBU to work with the counselor.  

Some may feel that the BSA is implying that MBs are supposed to be one-on-one, scout to MBC- but it does not explicitly state that.  We would never be able to offer MBs at summer camp if that were the case.  Group instruction is a part of the lives of the youth.  In any given school year, they are learning much, much more information in any given subject than that which is learned from any MB, and they do it with group instruction.  Are limits on the size of the group important? YES!  However, I would hope that is up to the MBC on the appropriate size.  As an MBC for Citizenship in the World, an ideal size for me is no more than 5 scouts.  I want the requirements to be dynamic discussion, not just "you listened to me, now repeat back what I said", and a group larger than 5 for me makes those discussions too lengthy that I feel many scouts tune out what their fellow scouts are saying by the time it gets to the 6th kid/7th kid, etc.  I am also an MBC for Art MB, and I have no problem with that being a group of 20- most art classes in elementary/middle school/high school/college are larger than that.  

Are there MBUs being run as "show up, you get the badge"? I'm sure there are.  Improving quality would be what I would focus on, rather than just trying to eliminate them completely.  Offering MBs at unit level is important as well, but I wouldn't want to confine a kid to only what the unit/council can offer.  If your unit doesn't have a chemistry MBC, and the nearest one within the council is 65 miles away, likelihood that Billy/Sally Scout is going to realistically be able to work on that MB is small to non-existent.   However, if the council is going to have a MB fair at a site that is 10 miles from Billy/Sally Scout's hometown on a given day, and that MBC is going to be there, I'm all in on it! Billy/Sally Scout may already know that chemistry is their passion, and they may go on to be the person who finds the cure for a disease later in their life, and that opportunity as a Scout to work on a MB was the catalyst.  

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 minutes ago, Eagledad said:

Do you think our rush to critique is just old-timer emotional whimsy? Hmm, maybe so. But our scouts are free to do what ever they want, and I would guess that our Eagles probably average 1 MB from a MB college at best. So, while the opportunities for scouts may be popular, the popularity is from the adult perspective. Scouts do not want to spend a full Saturday sitting in class like they have done all week at their school.

If district would just run it like a university under the BSA advancement guidelines, I wouldn't mind. But, they run it like an middle school treating scouts like children instead of adults attending a class at a university. Plus they don't follow the BSA guidelines. District sets the vision of a quality boy run troop program for all their troops and their vision based from MB college is terrible. Great for the adults, terrible for the scouts.

Barry

I respect the deep knowledge of the posters here.  We've all been posting together on various topics for years. 

In many walks of life there is a tendency to look at something we don't think is going well and arrive at the conclusion that it a can't be done well.  My sense is that's happening here.  We all have stories of bad summer camp merit badge classes and badge merit badge college classes.

These events are generally popular.  Are some poorly run - without doubt.  But not all.  So wouldn't it be good for the Scouts to continue to have these popular events, but just make them better? 

Perhaps the BSA could put together a day long Merit Badge College director's conference.  Teach people how to run a good event. Talk about how to teach materials, class size, program quality, deal with prerequisites.  In my mind, this is where the BSA can add a LOT of value for us adult leaders.

 

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, ParkMan said:

In many walks of life there is a tendency to look at something we don't think is going well and arrive at the conclusion that it a can't be done well.  My sense is that's happening here.  We all have stories of bad summer camp merit badge classes and badge merit badge college classes.

 

Your post is well taken.  

There are, indeed, good merit badge classes. We should encourage the experienced, knowledgable counselors to keep doing those.

The problem is that there are also many merit badge events that are NOT good.  They take short cuts. When there are multiple options to meet a requirement, the bad merit badge class always picks the easiest and simplest, not the one that delivers a meaningful experience. The bad merit badge class tries to condense 8 hours worth of requirements into a 2-hour lecture with no real activities and no testing.  

The document pointed to in the OP identifies many of the bad practices that permeate merit badge events.

Discussions like this are good so that scouters realize that we don't have to put up with the really bad merit badge events. We can complain about the bad ones to council and district scouters, we can discourage scouts from participating in the rubber-stamp events or in camps that stuff too many badges into far too little time, we can try to educate our parents that "more and faster is not better".  We can also put together better quality merit badge "experiences" that have more hands-on, less classroom, more time, and frankly, are just plain more fun.  Do that and the demand for el-lame-O merit badge events will decline.  National standards banning too-short classes would be a good first step (except for Fingerprinting, which is really the only merit badge that can be adequately covered in 2 hours).

What I would like to see is GOOD merit badge events being the only ones that are supported, encouraged and promoted by scouters.

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, ParkMan said:

These events are generally popular.  Are some poorly run - without doubt.  But not all.  So wouldn't it be good for the Scouts to continue to have these popular events, but just make them better? 

Again, my observation is that they are generally popular for the adults, not the scouts. Now I admit that all the events I've observed are not well run and certainly not run for the convenience of the scouts. If they were an opportunity for one or two badges, well then maybe. 

4 minutes ago, ParkMan said:

Perhaps the BSA could put together a day long Merit Badge College director's conference.  Teach people how to run a good event. Talk about how to teach materials, class size, program quality, deal with prerequisites.  In my mind, this is where the BSA can add a LOT of value for us adult leaders.

Well, this would be a good start, but this discussion was started with National discouraging such events, not trying to improve quality. They must have some kind of data to make that suggestion. And, while I respect your suggestion here, as a district trainer, I would rather put that effort in teaching units how to do their own advancement program under the BSA guidelines.

If I were involved at the district level again, I would change the MB college to District Training weekend so that adults and scouts attend their respected classes at the same time . I would include first-aid and specialized safety skills. I would not force anyone to stay any longer than the one or two classes they need. I would also ask OA and Venturing Crews to set up stands to show off or demonstrate their specialty. Scuba, Law Enforcement, Aviation and other cool themes. I would, and our district does this, have MB counselor training before this event to get them trained and prepared for large groups of scouts. In fact, that training is how we develop an annual district counselor list. 

As I said, district needs to set the example it wants for its units. It matters a lot.

Barry

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
56 minutes ago, mrkstvns said:

The problem is that there are also many merit badge events that are NOT good.  They take short cuts. When there are multiple options to meet a requirement, the bad merit badge class always picks the easiest and simplest, not the one that delivers a meaningful experience. 

I keep re-reading this section hoping that I am reading it wrong.  It implies that options are simply an easy way out for scouts, and I do not think that is right.  What if the "easiest and the simplest" provides a meaningful experience to the scout?   Just because an option is harder does not necessarily translate into more meaningful.  Maybe the opportunity is that they scouts get to decide which to the multiple options THEY want to take.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
42 minutes ago, Eagledad said:

Again, my observation is that they are generally popular for the adults, not the scouts.

I understand what this says - but not what it means.  Why would scouts sign up and these be so prevalent if the Scouts didn't want to attend?  I don't think that parents are forcing most Scouts to attend these.

44 minutes ago, Eagledad said:

Again, my observation is that they are generally popular for the adults, not the scouts. Now I admit that all the events I've observed are not well run and certainly not run for the convenience of the scouts. If they were an opportunity for one or two badges, well then maybe. 

Well, this would be a good start, but this discussion was started with National discouraging such events, not trying to improve quality. They must have some kind of data to make that suggestion. And, while I respect your suggestion here, as a district trainer, I would rather put that effort in teaching units how to do their own advancement program under the BSA guidelines.

If I were involved at the district level again, I would change the MB college to District Training weekend so that adults and scouts attend their respected classes at the same time . I would include first-aid and specialized safety skills. I would not force anyone to stay any longer than the one or two classes they need. I would also ask OA and Venturing Crews to set up stands to show off or demonstrate their specialty. Scuba, Law Enforcement, Aviation and other cool themes. I would, and our district does this, have MB counselor training before this event to get them trained and prepared for large groups of scouts. In fact, that training is how we develop an annual district counselor list. 

As I said, district needs to set the example it wants for its units. It matters a lot.

Barry

I don't put a lot of stock into what national encourages/discourages right now.  No disrespect to them, but we're stuck in a lowest common denominator period.  A focus on building good district level programs is not even on the BSA radar at this point.  So, kinda like with the G2SS where we outlawed wheel barrows because somebody got hurt by one we make these kind of decisions about district programming too.  They are the same ones that suggested Cub SCout camping should be limited to one night.  Lowest Common Denominator

I think that a reasonable district can do both training and hold a merit badge college.  In most districts they are separate groups of people.  My model would be something like:

  • training team - focus on merit badge counsellor training
  • advancement team - set examples and expectations about what a good merit badge program looks like
  • activities team - put on a really good, high quality merit badge college.  The purpose of this is to provide additional enrichment opportunities for Scouts beyond the unit program.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, mrkstvns said:

There are, indeed, good merit badge classes. We should encourage the experienced, knowledgable counselors to keep doing those.

The problem is that there are also many merit badge events that are NOT good.  They take short cuts. When there are multiple options to meet a requirement, the bad merit badge class always picks the easiest and simplest, not the one that delivers a meaningful experience. The bad merit badge class tries to condense 8 hours worth of requirements into a 2-hour lecture with no real activities and no testing.  

My belief is that providing additional opportunities for Scouts is a good thing.  Just because many are bad doesn't mean it's not a reasonable approach - it's just that we have lots of bad events that need to be improved.

1 hour ago, mrkstvns said:

Discussions like this are good so that scouters realize that we don't have to put up with the really bad merit badge events. We can complain about the bad ones to council and district scouters, we can discourage scouts from participating in the rubber-stamp events or in camps that stuff too many badges into far too little time, we can try to educate our parents that "more and faster is not better".  We can also put together better quality merit badge "experiences" that have more hands-on, less classroom, more time, and frankly, are just plain more fun.  Do that and the demand for el-lame-O merit badge events will decline.  National standards banning too-short classes would be a good first step (except for Fingerprinting, which is really the only merit badge that can be adequately covered in 2 hours).

What I would like to see is GOOD merit badge events being the only ones that are supported, encouraged and promoted by scouters.

Fully concur.  Let's celebrate good examples of Scouting.  Let's correct or remove bad examples of Scouting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I plan to institute this at our troop level where I can control the quality. We have several MB counselors in our Troop, including wood carving, pioneering, weather, cooking, communication... I'm thinking each MB class would run three saturdays in a row and cover the topics really well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Parkman, I have given my reasoning in several posts for why I believe these events are bad for troops along with suggestions for how they should be planned and managed. I can't add anymore. I'm not going to keep defending my opinion by repeating myself. My posts aren't based on emotion or from a idealistic nostalgic reaction, it is simply from what I have experienced. District sets expectations on unit performance with their programs. If they set bad expectations, they instill  bad unit performance.

Barry

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, RainShine said:

I plan to institute this at our troop level where I can control the quality. We have several MB counselors in our Troop, including wood carving, pioneering, weather, cooking, communication... I'm thinking each MB class would run three saturdays in a row and cover the topics really well.

I like how you are giving them the time they need. But do they need three saturdays? You can't know what each MB requirement requires from different scouts. And every counselor has their own style of working with the scouts. So, instead of setting limitations and expectations on the counselors, give a MB Couselor class to the counselors for teaching the BSA counselor expectations using the BSA materials. Let them determine what they need, then you can help provide the resources to them. 

Our troop developed a course for our MB counselors that we gave every year to insure the counselors understand their responsibilities. Other units heard about it and asked to attend. Eventually someone on district found out about it and low and behold our troop created and taught a district level once a year course. It's really not hard course to do, just use the materials that pertain to the MB counselors and explain in some detail to add clarity. About 30 minutes. 

Barry

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
59 minutes ago, Eagledad said:

Parkman, I have given my reasoning in several posts for why I believe these events are bad for troops along with suggestions for how they should be planned and managed. I can't add anymore. I'm not going to keep defending my opinion by repeating myself. My posts aren't based on emotion or from a idealistic nostalgic reaction, it is simply from what I have experienced. District sets expectations on unit performance with their programs. If they set bad expectations, they instill  bad unit performance.

Barry

Sorry - didn't mean to make it seem like an argument.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another benefit the Adult Association by means of the traditional approach to the mB process is the scout making the initial contact with an adult he/she does not know to plan and arrange the counseling sessions. I do not think losing this opportunity by having scouts do mBs only at camp, mB colleges, or even with troop adults can be underscored enough. When a scout desires a "rare" mB, this is the perfect opportunity to this traditional approach, in contrast to offering it at a college b/c only one or two counselors for that mB exist in council. 

I think the colleges serve a role, but they should be limited to introducing the mB counselor and content.   Ending with providing contact info for the scouts to call/email/etc... the counselor to set up sessions (perhaps with a couple buddies at most).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×