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Does BSA DISCOURAGE Merit Badge Universities/Midways/Fairs?

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8 hours ago, ParkMan said:

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.

I agree, but I disagree on focusing on effectiveness, max class size or things like that.  Rather, I'd want people to focus on making these as interesting as possible.  For example, a merit badge class day on metal working better include most of the day working on metal.  Bending.  Welding.  Etc.  I remember an oceanography course that I wish my sons could have gotten in on.  It had lots of kids in it.  But it was led by an active duty submarine officer and an oceanography researcher who could talk real life.  That was cool.  

IMHO, these classes have their place.  But it should be done in a context that develops interest and definitely not death by power-point. 

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7 hours ago, Navybone said:

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.  

There is no "harder" or "easier" in BSA advancement...there is "meet the requirements-no more, no less".  Many of us have observed the summer camp or MB "Fair" where the group sits there being talked at, resulting in a signed blue card.

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I've seen fairly bad MB fairs and some better ones. Not sure I've seen anything great. Whether the focus is on interest or size of class isn't really the point, is it? What's the point in these fairs? Sure, we want the scouts to learn something and interesting counselors are always better than just grabbing someone and throwing them in, but don't we also want the scouts to work with a counselor at a level more than they get in the standard class environment. Introduce yourself, find out about the MB, what's required, talk to your SM, get the blue card filled out, get the book, read it, prepare answers, do the requirements, manage time, deal with an adult, and yes, make it memorable and have fun being interested in a new subject. And how about adding optional stuff to do that's not part of the requirements but something the counselor thinks would be great to learn? Weld a table frame. Cook an omelette in a cast iron skillet. Swim a race. Show the scouts the good stuff.

All of this doesn't fit the current model of signing up with someone in your troop that signs up with the district and takes care of all that registration/money/records stuff and just showing up at the appointed time and place that has to fit in a two weekend window. Something about efficiency hurting the program goes here. Someone mentioned this in previous threads but I like the idea of a 2 hour fair where scouts can go around and talk to counselors hawking their wares on one side of an open market style set up with the SM's on the other side. Let the district only help counselors find space to teach about special equipment. Specify a max class size of 4 scouts. Get them out of the record keeping and money side of things (except maybe selling MB books and handing out patches). Maybe the Cit in Nation MB will require a dozen counselors instead of one teaching at the front of a class and 11 other adults checking work sheets in a rush on the second week (my pet peeve). Maybe some scouts will have to wait 3 months to get into the welding class because that's when the adult has time. Kind of chaotic but that's okay.

The point being, figure out what the point of MB's are before solving MB fairs.

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3 hours ago, fred8033 said:

I agree, but I disagree on focusing on effectiveness, max class size or things like that.  Rather, I'd want people to focus on making these as interesting as possible.  For example, a merit badge class day on metal working better include most of the day working on metal.  Bending.  Welding.  Etc.  I remember an oceanography course that I wish my sons could have gotten in on.  It had lots of kids in it.  But it was led by an active duty submarine officer and an oceanography researcher who could talk real life.  That was cool.  

IMHO, these classes have their place.  But it should be done in a context that develops interest and definitely not death by power-point. 

Exactly.

Focus on bringing together great instructors into a setting where Scouts can be interested in and learn alot in a shorter, focused format. 

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So a few months ago I signed two of my sons up for a "Merit Badge Blitz" run by a nearby troop and advertised by the Council. There was some adult training offered on-location the same day, so I signed up and attended "How to be a Merit Badge Counselor", taught by that troop's Venturing coach. He walked us through all the policies about how the scout (not his parents or leaders) is supposed to ask his Scoutmaster for a blue card and the name of a counselor, how instruction should be individual to each scout and not just a large-group activity, how the scout is responsible for keeping the blue card safe until his Board of Review and not anyone else, how the counselor should fill out the card to indicate a partial rather than a full completion, and how that's OK...

And when we got home I insisted that my sons let me take pictures of their blue cards with my cell-phone, in case they got lost, and wrote out a list of just the requirements they were still missing with some notes on how they might complete them.

My sons didn't finish either of the badges that day (and I hadn't expected them to), but I think for the "classroom" parts they learned the material better by going through it all in one day that if their troop leaders had tried to cover it piece-by-piece over several troop meetings. They also had a chance to interact with boys from other troops; some turned out to be their schoolmates.  And they got to be taught by adults who might have been hard to meet with had we not met them during that event.

I wouldn't think that a boy who got his badges only at merit-badge fairs, or only at camp, had been in a quality program; but if the alternative was 21 badges with the same counselor for all 21 of them, I wouldn't think he had been in a quality program either. If the organizers and participants have the right intentions, I think a "fair"/"blitz"/"university" can be a great way to progress a lot of scouts in advancement, have fun, and meet new people.

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On 12/4/2019 at 10:40 AM, DavidLeeLambert said:

I wouldn't think that a boy who got his badges only at merit-badge fairs, or only at camp, had been in a quality program; but if the alternative was 21 badges with the same counselor for all 21 of them, I wouldn't think he had been in a quality program either. If the organizers and participants have the right intentions, I think a "fair"/"blitz"/"university" can be a great way to progress a lot of scouts in advancement, have fun, and meet new people.

Quite right.

There are definitely some advantages to doing the "fair/blitz/midway/university/weekend"....and as long as the event is well organized and MBCs are encouraged to put on a quality class, then the scouts can benefit greatly by being exposed to something they might otherwise not be able to do.

A few things that I think could improve MB events:

  • more time:  Some MB events have classes as short as 2 hours. Aside from Fingerprinting, no MB can be adequately covered in 2 hours.  6 hours (or perhaps longer) woiuld be good as the "standard" time for a MB class.
  • more "DO" less "LISTEN":  Classes where the MBC talks the whole time are inappropriate. They bore the scouts and ignore the requirements (which usually say that the SCOUT should "explain" or "describe", not the MBC). Try to make things hands-on as much as possible. When scouts have to "explain" or "describe", try to have them do it while doing something relevant.
  • get out of classrooms:  go do the class in an appropriate setting. For Chemistry, do EVERYTHING in a lab. For Canoeing, do EVERYTHING in a canoe, on the water. Etc., etc.  The good MBC will TRY to find places and ways to make the subject exciting and relevant. Scouts spend all week in a classroom. They don't need to be bored on Saturday by sitting in class again...

 

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58 minutes ago, mrkstvns said:

Quite right.

There are definitely some advantages to doing the "fair/blitz/midway/university/weekend"....and as long as the event is well organized and MBCs are encouraged to put on a quality class, then the scouts can benefit greatly by being exposed to something they might otherwise not be able to do.

A few things that I think could improve MB events:

  • more time:  Some MB events have classes as short as 2 hours. Aside from Fingerprinting, no MB can be adequately covered in 2 hours.  6 hours (or perhaps longer) woiuld be good as the "standard" time for a MB class.
  • more "DO" less "LISTEN":  Classes where the MBC talks the whole time are inappropriate. They bore the scouts and ignore the requirements (which usually say that the SCOUT should "explain" or "describe", not the MBC). Try to make things hands-on as much as possible. When scouts have to "explain" or "describe", try to have them do it while doing something relevant.
  • get out of classrooms:  go do the class in an appropriate setting. For Chemistry, do EVERYTHING in a lab. For Canoeing, do EVERYTHING in a canoe, on the water. Etc., etc.  The good MBC will TRY to find places and ways to make the subject exciting and relevant. Scouts spend all week in a classroom. They don't need to be bored on Saturday by sitting in class again...

 

Great list!  

I think this is just the kind of proactive thinking that will help the BSA become more interesting to kids.  

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Sorry about repeating many of the valid points made above, but perhaps it might help to build a wall.

"Efficiency"

"Efficiency" - whatever that means to the reader - is not an objective or method of Scouting.

Advancement is a method of Scouting, not an objective of Scouting.

Advancement meets the goals of Scouting if it helps Scouts develop their character, citizenship, leadership, mental fitness, and psychical fitness.  "Success" is measured in development of character, citizenship, leadership, mental fitness, and psychical fitness, not numbers of baubles, bangles, and beads handed out.

 Recognition is awarded, when earned, to encourage the Scout recognized, and other Scouts witnessing the recognition, to further development of character, citizenship, leadership, mental fitness, and psychical fitness.

 Sadly, Advancement has become a metric for measuring counterfeit "success" because it lends itself more to bureaucracy.  So at Philmont, I, an adult, or an Eagle Scout's fifteen-year-old brother, had to tie his boots and carry his share of crew gear. Although his mother, the CC, got him Eagle, he had no Scout skills anyone ever noticed, was horribly obese, and cried several times each day.  His true success was unrelated to his Eagle badge or thirty-one Merit Badges - it was getting up the side of Urraca Mesa, and his Life Scout brother's great success was the physical and emotional accomplishment of getting Bernie up that section of trail, an act of love and kindness that I will never forget.  Having accomplished that, the next day Bernie got up the Tooth, partially on hand and knees.  Efficiency had nothing to do with it.  Thank God.

 B.S.A. Guide to Advancement (2019)

 "The current edition of the Guide to Advancement is the official source for administering advancement in all Boy Scouts of America programs: Cub Scouting, Scouts BSA, Venturing, and Sea Scouts. It replaces any previous BSA advancement manuals and previous editions of the Guide to Advancement. 

 . . .

Policy on Unauthorized Changes to Advancement Program

No council, committee, district, unit, or individual has the authority to add to, or subtract from, advancement requirements. There are limited exceptions relating only to members with special needs. For details see section 10, “Advancement for Members With Special Needs.”

[Do people cheat?  Sure they do.  Do districts and councils cheat? Absolutely.  And what do the Scouts learn when they witness adults cheating?]

 2.0.0.2 Advancement Is Based on Experiential Learning Everything done to advance—to earn ranks and other awards and recognition—is designed to educate or to otherwise expand horizons. Members learn and develop according to a standard.  This is the case from the time a member joins, and then moves through, the programs of Cub Scouting, Scouts BSA, and Venturing or Sea Scouts.

 Experiential learning is the key: Exciting and meaningful activities are offered, and education happens. Learning comes from doing.  For example, youth may read about first aid, hear it discussed, and watch others administer it, but they will not learn it until they practice it. Rushing a Scout through requirements to obtain a badge is not the goal. Advancement should be a natural outcome of a well-rounded unit program, rich in opportunities to work toward the ranks.

 2.0.0.3 Personal Growth Is the Primary Goal Scouting skills—what a young person learns to do—are important, but not as important as the primary goal of personal growth achieved through participating in a unit program. The concern is for total, well-rounded development. Age-appropriate surmountable hurdles are placed before members, and as they face these challenges they learn about themselves and gain confidence. [Lowering those hurdles is depriving the Scout of that opportunity, as opposed to encouraging him or her to achieve.]

. . .

We know we are on the right track when we see youth accepting responsibility, demonstrating self-reliance, and caring for themselves and others; when they learn to weave Scouting ideals into their lives; and when we can see they will be positive contributors to our American society.

. . .

4.2.1.1 The Scout Learns

With learning, a Scout grows in the ability to contribute to the patrol and troop. As Scouts develop knowledge and skills, they are asked to teach others and, in this way, they learn and develop leadership.

4.2.1.2 The Scout Is Tested

The unit leader authorizes those who may test and pass the Scout on rank requirements. They might include the patrol leader, the senior patrol leader, the unit leader, an assistant unit leader, or another Scout. Merit badge counselors teach and test Scouts on requirements for merit badges.

 4.2.1.3 The Scout Is Reviewed

After completing all the requirements for a rank, except Scout rank, a Scout meets with a board of review. For Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, and Life ranks, members of the unit committee conduct it. See “Particulars for Tenderfoot Through Life Ranks,” 8.0.2.0. The Eagle Scout board of review is held in accordance with National Council and local council procedures.

 4.2.1.4 The Scout Is Recognized

When a Scout has earned the Scout rank or when a board of review has approved advancement, the Scout deserves recognition as soon as possible. This should be done at a ceremony at the next unit meeting. The achievement may be recognized again later, such as during a formal court of honor.

4.2.1.5 After the Scout Is Tested and Recognized

After the Scout is tested and recognized, a well-organized unit program will help the Scout practice newly learned skills in different settings and methods: at unit meetings, through various activities and outings, by teaching other Scouts, while enjoying games and leading projects, and so forth. These activities reinforce the learning, show how Scout skills and knowledge are applied, and build confidence. Repetition is the key; this is how retention [of information and skills] is achieved. The Scout fulfills a requirement and then is placed in a situation to put the skills to work. Scouts who have forgotten any skills or information might seek out a friend, leader, or other resource to help refresh their memory. In so doing, these Scouts will continue to grow." [emphasis added]

 

 

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B.S.A. Guide to Advancement (2019)

7.0.0.1 The Benefits of Merit Badges

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.

 . . .

7.0.0.3 The Scout, the Blue Card, and the Unit Leader

A few merit badges have certain restrictions, but otherwise any registered Scout, or qualified Venturer or Sea Scout, may work on any of them at any time. Before beginning to work with a merit badge counselor, however, the Scout is to [note absence of "must"] have a discussion with the unit leader. That a discussion has been held is indicated by the unit leader’s signature on the Application for Merit Badge, commonly called the “blue card.” Although it is the unit leader’s responsibility to see that at least one merit badge counselor is identified from those approved and made available, the Scout may already have one in mind with whom he or she would like to work. The unit leader and Scout should come to agreement as to who the counselor will be. Lacking agreement, the Scout must be allowed to work with the counselor of his or her choice, so long as the counselor is registered and has been approved by the council advancement committee. However, see “Counselor Approvals and Limitations,” 7.0.1.4, for circumstances when a unit leader may place limits on the number of merit badges that may be earned from one counselor.

 . . .

7.0.3.0 The Process of Counseling

Earning merit badges should be Scout initiated, Scout researched, and Scout learned. It should be hands-on and interactive, and should not be modeled after a typical school classroom setting. Instead, it is meant to be an active program so enticing to Scouts that they will want to take responsibility for their own full participation

. . .

The sort of hands-on interactive experience described here, with personal coaching and guidance, is hardly ever achieved in any setting except when one counselor works directly with one Scout and the Scout’s buddy, or with a very small group. Thus, this small-scale approach is the recommended best practice for merit badge instruction and requirement fulfillment. Units, districts, and councils should focus on providing the most direct merit badge experiences possible. Large group and web-based instruction, while perhaps efficient, do not measure up in terms of the desired outcomes with regard to learning and positive adult association.

. . .

Because of the importance of individual attention and personal learning in the merit badge program, group instruction should be focused on those scenarios where the benefits are compelling. There must be attention to each individual’s projects and 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.

 . . .

If, after consulting with those involved in the merit badge program—such as an event coordinator, the camp director, or a merit badge counselor—it becomes plainly evident that a youth could not have actually and personally fulfilled requirements as written, then the limited recourse outlined below is available.

. . .

In most cases, with a fair and friendly approach, a Scout who did not complete the requirements will admit it. Short of this, however, if it remains clear under the circumstances that some or all of the requirements could not have been met, then the merit badge is not reported or awarded, and does not count toward advancement. The unit leader then offers the name of at least one other merit badge counselor through whom any incomplete requirements may be finished. Note that in this case a merit badge is not “taken away” because, although signed off, it was never actually earned.

. . .

For example, the recourse could be allowed when it would not have been possible to complete a specific requirement at the location of the class, event, or camp; if time available was not sufficient—perhaps due to class size or other factors—for the counselor to observe that each Scout personally and actually completed all the requirements; if time available was insufficient for a “calendar” requirement such as for Personal Fitness or Personal Management; or if multiple merit badges in question were scheduled at the same time

. . .

Upon encountering any merit badge program where BSA standards are not upheld, unit leaders are strongly encouraged to report the incident to the council advancement committee, preferably using the form found in the appendix (see “Reporting Merit Badge Counseling Concerns,” 11.1.0.0)." [But they very seldom do so.]

 [emphasis added]

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On 12/21/2019 at 7:47 PM, TAHAWK said:

We know we are on the right track when we see youth accepting responsibility, demonstrating self-reliance, and caring for themselves and others; when they learn to weave Scouting ideals into their lives; and when we can see they will be positive contributors to our American society.

This discussion went the direction that MB Colleges are a bad thing, and I know I was in front of that band wagon. But, truth is, I don't care how a MB is presented so long as the counselor follows the BSA guiidelines that Tahawk posted. " It all begins with a Scout’s initial interest and effort in a merit badge subject", "Earning merit badges should be Scout initiated, Scout researched, and Scout learned."

I'm not so rigid in my opinion of the scouting program that I believe Barry's way is the only way. I just believe there should be some caveats to keep the creativity within BSA reason. There are as many creative approaches for making Merit Badges interesting and educational as there creative minds that want scouts to grow from the experience. Where I struggle is the selfishness of skipping the "effort" and the "Scout initiated" part of program. While on the district committee, I found that most unit leaders in our district skipped those many of those guidelines in their MB program. Not by choice, but by ignorance of how the unit was supposed to present the MB  part of the program. 

How does that Happen? How does a unit get so far off track of the BSA guidelines in their program that the award  turns into the goal instead of growth from the experience?  The answer is simple, the units don't get proper training and support of the BSA advancement part of the program from the models of District and council. 

When units only observe the presentation of advancement as a ladder toward recognition without "effort" and "scout initiated", they model that same motivation. Why not, if that is how District or council view advancement, it must be correct. Right! How often have you heard or read from District and Council that the reason for their provided program or activity is " youth accepting responsibility, demonstrating self-reliance, and caring for themselves and others; when they learn to weave Scouting ideals into their lives; and when we can see they will be positive contributors to our American society."? I can't recall ever hearing that in courses and activities. Well, except in courses I led. 

As I said, I don't care how Merit badges are presented so long as the counselors and providers are using the BSA advancement and MB counseling guidelines. Adults may struggle to understand how the advancement guidelines work toward a scout developing the habits of self-reliance, caring for others, and using Scouting ideals in their lives, but they only need to follow the simple guidelines to be a BSA model to let the program work its magic. Then the adults (units) are not led astray by the short-cutted and misdirected programs and instead model their own program with the same guidelines. 

Barry

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I find myself torn a bit on this general subject of merit badges and how the scout approached it or is approached.  

First, it really should be the scout doing the approaching in some manner.  Whether he/she does that through a formal "class" setup, or does it independently is often contingent on the badge itself, as well as the scout's true interest in it.  If it is one of the "required ones", chances are that the view of the scout is different than his doing, say stamp collecting because he like stamps and enjoys learning more about them.  Or, it a scout has from an early age made it his focus to eventually become a specific type of scientist or scholar, their approach is going to be different than one that comes to it as part of the troop group approach, summer camp goo often gimmes, or introduction through a fair.  

How does the counselor approach the badge and the scout?  Is there an interaction, give and take, and a challenge to reach slight beyond the mere basics?  Is there actual discussion of the pertinent points, for example, what makes a library a place of learning when discussing the scholarship merit badge.  What does the scout think about what is actually written in the Declaration of Independence, and have they actually read it?  

We are called counselors for a reason, and not simply signers of copied information.  Work sheets are wonderful as a base, but we still need to review them with the candidate and discuss where it, especially where that is what the requirement actually says.  So what if the scout might need a followup or two.  Of course, that reputation is likely one of the reasons I seldom get scouts for Citizenship badges anymore, as I DO challenge them beyond the regurgitated form in their hot hands.

All this thrown against the wall, we really are closer to the same basic issues when compared to the past.  Counselors were often not really screened to determine if they even should be working with some subjects.  It was assumed in the fifties, at least where I was, that most school teachers were good to go for many badges, as long as they had the requirements in hand.  Was that assumption good or bad; it is hard to say.  I know when I did reading, my teacher insisted on my doing it properly, even though I was the star reader in his class.  Similarly, even though at the time I was an A student, I still had to write the essay and actually meet with the principal before I could be finalized.  Even Automobiling, my very last one, was more than passing the written test and doing hands on driver training.  My high school DE teacher made me discuss certain parts of the code, and even change a tire for him.  But none of those people bach then were necessarily specialists, it was accepted that they were interested and would be honest in their approach.

We can beat this to death, as is the wont on these forums.  Ultimately it is still how the various players view the badge and the guidelines, and how willing we are to actually expect those guides to be used.

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Interesting discussion, but I would take a step back:  Why do we have merit badge fairs at all?  I see lots of Scouts who have earned 30, 40, 60 or more merit badges before reaching Eagle Scout rank.  Why on earth would any Scout be interested in earning more than the minimum number of merit badges necessary for each particular rank?  The required merit badges represent areas that BSA thinks are important for a well-rounded Eagle Scout.  A Scout already has the opportunity to explore eight additional personal interest areas via elective merit badges; so that "personal interest" role for merit badges is adequately covered within the twenty-one total badges required for Eagle Scout rank.  Aside from earning Eagle Palms, which confer no status, BSA offers no incentives for earning more merit badges than the number required.  So what is the magic of merit badges that has created a huge infrastructure of merit badge fairs and merit badge counselors to support the program?

I think that the answer is that adults (Scout leaders and parents) teach Scouts that the cumulative number of merit badges received confers a status of its own that is separate from rank.  But where does that come from, since most of the merit badge topics are unrelated to the core skills and knowledge of the BSA program?  Why isn't all that energy being directed toward accomplishments that are closer to the core of the BSA program, like nights camped, miles hiked, or service hours completed?

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14 minutes ago, dkurtenbach said:

I think that the answer is that adults (Scout leaders and parents) teach Scouts that the cumulative number of merit badges received confers a status of its own that is separate from rank.  But where does that come from, since most of the merit badge topics are unrelated to the core skills and knowledge of the BSA program?  Why isn't all that energy being directed toward accomplishments that are closer to the core of the BSA program, like nights camped, miles hiked, or service hours completed?

I understand what your saying, but it's different strokes for different folks really. Most scouts I've met who earned more than 35 badges were more along the lines of self motivated. The best way to describe these scouts is something along the lines of nerdy, lacking for better words. Like some students that don't have to study to make "A"s in school, some scouts find earning MB badges easy and fulfilling.

Not saying that some scouts don't fit in your description, but I don't want a discussion of ideas based on a small select group. 

Barry

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1 hour ago, Eagledad said:

I understand what your saying, but it's different strokes for different folks really. Most scouts I've met who earned more than 35 badges were more along the lines of self motivated. The best way to describe these scouts is something along the lines of nerdy, lacking for better words. Like some students that don't have to study to make "A"s in school, some scouts find earning MB badges easy and fulfilling.

As this thread illustrates, there is a whole merit badge industry within Scouts BSA -- including summer camps -- that promotes essentially indiscriminate merit badge earning by all Scout BSA members starting when they first join, in a manner that is only loosely linked to Star, Life, and Eagle ranks.  Even merit badge nerds know that they will be recognized for the number of merit badges earned.  The important number is eight:  Why isn't earning more than eight elective merit badges considered a waste of time and money?

Edited by dkurtenbach
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29 minutes ago, dkurtenbach said:

As this thread illustrates, there is a whole merit badge industry within Scouts BSA -- including summer camps -- that promotes essentially indiscriminate merit badge earning by all Scout BSA members starting when they first join, in a manner that is only loosely linked to Star, Life, and Eagle ranks.  Even merit badge nerds know that they will be recognized for the number of merit badges earned.  The important number is eight:  Why isn't earning more than eight elective merit badges considered a waste of time and money?

Is that like asking if more than 1 camp outs a month are a waste of time and money? :unsure:

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