I've read through this thread a couple of times and I still am trying to figure out what the issues really are here. I mean I think I get the gist of it - that the requirements have become really detailed and there are folks who think they've just gotten too detailed and complicated for the average Boy Scout to comprehend and we should simplify them. Then we get an example from Cooking Merit Badge - how much simpler the requirements are now than they were back in the 1910's.
I guess I'm having a hard time trying to figure out what the real complaints are. Is it that the boys, or perhaps their leaders, aren't capable of reading and comprehending the requirements? If that's the case then I think we have more problems in this country than we're ready to admit.
Is it the idea that the requirements should be a simple checklist - for instance Cook a meal at home, cook a meal on a camping trip, describe the three basin (pot) dish washing process, etc. etc. with the meat of the requirements in the Merit Badge Handbook? I could certainly see something that reads "Using the requirements in Section 1 of the merit badge handbook, cook a mean at home" - with Section 1 describing what needs to be done to meet the requirement. I just don't see that working out well - too much room for interpretation if it's not spelled out specifically in the requirements on the first page.
I wonder how much of the argument is just from our natural resistance to change, and even more natural resistance to bureaucracy? Sure, the first requirements for Cooking Merit Badge were pretty easy to understand - it was essentially using certain ingredients and cooking techniques, make a meal. No chats about safety, no chats about cross contamination, no chats about food handling - just cook a meal. I'd like to point out that a lot in the world has changed since those cooking merit badge requirements were created. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle hadn't even been published yet - for those unfamiliar, it was a scathing commentary on the conditions of slaughter houses in Chicago - and that book, probably more than any other, changed the way we think about food safety forever. Merit Badges are about more than just doing a task - it's also about learning how to do them right, hopefully with the latest and greatest information, and mostly with an eye towards introducing Scouts to skills, hobbies and potential vocations that will last a lifetime. Cooking Merit Badge is one of those very few that have usefulness for Patrol operations, for cooking at home, and for potentially being vocational, so this one seems particularly ripe for criticism of being too busy and fussy.
Or maybe the objection is to using the government's latest and greatest food nutrition scheme and it's really an anti-government thing more than a bad merit badge, bad bad merit badge kind of thing. I just don't know.
What I do know when I read the requirements is that I believe that even an 11 or 12 year old Scout can understand what the requirement says - and that if they're struggling to figure it out, it's because they haven't actually read the merit badge book which should explain everything to them. I really have no problem with the merit badge requirements starting off with a discussion of health and safety issues, and first aid skills that are more likely to be needed in a kitchen/cooking environment (frankly, it was long overdue that the BSA started this kind of "cross-training" of certain skills within their merit badges). If a Scout has already earned the First Aid Merit Badge, he should easily be able to discuss cuts and burns with their counselor, and understand that someone is more likely to be cut or burnt while cooking than sprain one's ankle. If they haven't earned First Aid Merit Badge yet, then they're up a few points by learning some already.
I think it's important to talk about food safety and storage. Given the popularity of the Food Network, I'd be surprised if many Scouts didn't already know about cross-contamination. I, for one, think knowing how to store foods properly - raw, and cooked - is pretty important, especially wile camping. I'd rather not deal with a Patrol down with the trots because the chicken was carried in a Tupperware container in Billy John's backpack for the last 6 hours.
I'm just fine with discussing food nutrition and planning meals around the latest and greatest food nutrition standards - we've had many discussions in this forum about turning Scouts on to other ways of cooking and getting away from hot dogs and hamburgers. This is certainly one way to help do that, and it helps reinforce the message of a Scout being Physically Strong.
Yes - we used to build fireplaces in the woods - we don't do that anymore. The merit badges aren't designed to teach how things used to be done - they're designed to teach how things are done now. Like OA Youth Leaders being able to navigate chapter and lodge mergers easier than the adults do of district and council mergers, I think the Scouts are far more resilient and adaptable to change than we old fogies are.
Maybe I'm an anomaly, but I just don't have any problems with the requirements being more detailed (less chance of folks getting it wrong) and perhaps just a bit more challenging.