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How Important Are Merit Badges Really


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#1 UncleP

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Posted 27 November 2016 - 04:20 PM

I know that my question sounds foolish, since merit badges are such a big part of scouting.  However, I have noticed that my nephew and many of the other scouts in his troop seemed to concentrate on them to the exclusion of other things.  My nephew tends to be obsessive complusive, so it is worse with him them most.  I also think he is using the merit badges as an excuse not to deal with parts of the program he is unused to.  Retreating into reports and defining terms (things he is used to), to avoid dealing with the others (things he is not used to). 

 

I know merit badges are required to get promoted above First Class Scout, but is promotion really that important.  I was hoping that my nephew would learn from scouting 1) how to relax and enjoy himself (because of the way he was raised this does not come naturally to him),  2) to get used to being out in the world rather than holed up in his room with a TV and a computer (being a quite as possible, so he does not disturb his parents nabs), and 3) how to deal with people (not so much leadership as just getting used to be around people).

 

I would like to give him some good advise, but I do not really know what to tell him.  I know the decisions are all his, but he has such a limited perspective, that I would like to try and help him.  He has shown some improvement just from being outside of his room, and I like to continue to see that, but I am afraid of saying the wrong thing.

 

I would appreciate any feedback that I could pass on to him.

 

Thank you


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#2 Stosh

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Posted 27 November 2016 - 04:39 PM

This problem is not unique to your nephew, there are a ton of scouts out there with the same attitude.


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#3 gumbymaster

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Posted 27 November 2016 - 05:21 PM

Give it time.

 

Scouting is a wonderful venue to expose our youth to activities and interests they might not otherwise discover.  The Merit Badge program is a great way to achieve this.  While doing one of these merit badges, it is possible that your nephew might discover what will become a lifelong hobby or career.

 

Working with the merit badge counselor will start a process of learning to interact with strangers and dealing with people.

 

If he is OCD, it is likely that he will want to complete the other aspects of advancement, which will include leadership, working with peers, camping and the outdoors, and teaching younger scouts.

 

Scouting is not a solution for youth that might have a social disorder - and I am not saying that your nephew does - it is just one more tool to help youth develop skills, ethics, fitness, and an appreciation for something more than the television or other forms of electronic entertainment.

 

The description of your nephew and his interest probably describes a quarter to a half of the scouts of my son's troop.  In other words, fairly typical for a scout, particularly one that is between 11 and 14.


Edited by gumbymaster, 27 November 2016 - 05:24 PM.

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#4 qwazse

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Posted 27 November 2016 - 11:41 PM

They aren't necessary, but they are fun.
And, yes, for me they were a bit of a retreat.
But they gave me hobbies (e.g. Orienteering, Astronomy, and Geocaching) that I enjoy to this day.
They also put me in touch with lots of different caring adults.

I think that last bit is the angle you need to work with your son. Every time he tells you about a MB, ask some leading "people oriented" questions like ...

Who was your counselor?
How did he/she do?
Did he/she teach you boys anything special or let you try something cool?
What would you do differently if you were counseling a scout on that badge?
What from what you learned would be cool to do with your patrol or troop?
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#5 krypton_son

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 07:24 AM

Scouting is a wonderful venue to expose our youth to activities and interests they might not otherwise discover.  The Merit Badge program is a great way to achieve this.  While doing one of these merit badges, it is possible that your nephew might discover what will become a lifelong hobby or career

 

Exactly this.  Scouting was created to give boys experiences and knowledge about a great many things so that they could excel in life and have a broader experience.  Merit badges do exactly this.  They are a fundamental part of Scouting. 


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#6 Eagle94-A1

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 09:45 AM

MBs serve a variety of purposes: make sure Scouts have basic life skills, intro to hobbies and future careers, etc.

 

Now I'm not a fan of "paper pushing" MBs, but after my experiences this weekend, I am deeply upset with the public school education system in my neck of the woods, and am glad Citizenship in the Nation is required. NONE of the 4 Scouts I was working with this weekend, 3 of whom were supposed to have taken Civics already, could not give the background on the origins of the Revolutionary War, didn't know what our grievances were, and did not know that there were 3 coequal branches of government. One Scout told me "The Judicial Branch is the most powerful since they make the laws." No concept of Checks and Balances, no idea of the actual duties of each branch ( one Scout was surprised at the actual duties of Congress. I cut him some slack since he hadn't had Civics yet). Again 3 of the 4 were supposed to have had this topic in school already!

 

What is encouraging was my Webelos son. He's homeschooled and was invited to go on the trip to DC. He was stuck with me and the folks working on Citizenship in the Nation. He had a better understanding of some of this stuff than the HS age Scouts. His curriculum has covered some of this, but not at the level of detail as the MB.


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#7 Stosh

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 09:49 AM

I don't have a problem with MB's being a fundamental part of Scouting as @krypton_son mentions, but they do have a tendency to be abused in their purpose.  A summer camp of MB's instead of fishing, swimming, hiking, and hanging out with friends is not worth the $$ put into the program.  MB universities has one purpose and that's to garner bling.  They often cut corners and are abused by more than just the scouts.  Eagle mill troops often use MB's in lieu of programming, socializing and having fun.  I have even attended camporees that focus on the acquisition of attaining a MB. 

 

While attaining a large number of MB's for an individual, how much Patrol Method scouting is ignored.  One hears it all the time.  I got Eagle...  My Eagle... It's no longer a scout rank, but a personal goal for oneself that is popularity bling in certain situations, i.e. military, college entrance and professional careers.

 

With Palms is nothing more than bling beyond rank.  I for one would prefer more POR/leadership development, Patrol Method, and scouting programming than sitting around the table taking 3 Citizenship classroom experiences.  However, as @Eagle94-A1 maybe it does do some good to cover basic civics that the public schools are not teaching.  Same with shooting sports and other socially questionable activities.  Cooking might be fine as well in that it introduces the boys to something more than their standard diet of fast food and pizza.


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#8 krypton_son

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 09:56 AM

I don't have a problem with MB's being a fundamental part of Scouting as @krypton_son mentions, but they do have a tendency to be abused in their purpose.  A summer camp of MB's instead of fishing, swimming, hiking, and hanging out with friends is not worth the $$ put into the program.  MB universities has one purpose and that's to garner bling.  They often cut corners and are abused by more than just the scouts.  Eagle mill troops often use MB's in lieu of programming, socializing and having fun.  I have even attended camporees that focus on the acquisition of attaining a MB. 

 

While attaining a large number of MB's for an individual, how much Patrol Method scouting is ignored.  One hears it all the time.  I got Eagle...  My Eagle... It's no longer a scout rank, but a personal goal for oneself that is popularity bling in certain situations, i.e. military, college entrance and professional careers.

 

With Palms is nothing more than bling beyond rank.  I for one would prefer more POR/leadership development, Patrol Method, and scouting programming than sitting around the table taking 3 Citizenship classroom experiences.  However, as @Eagle94-A1 maybe it does do some good to cover basic civics that the public schools are not teaching.  Same with shooting sports and other socially questionable activities.  Cooking might be fine as well in that it introduces the boys to something more than their standard diet of fast food and pizza.

 

I agree, they shouldn't be the main point of focus above everything else.  


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#9 NJCubScouter

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 10:11 AM

I know merit badges are required to get promoted above First Class Scout, but is promotion really that important.

 

"Promotion", or advancement as the BSA calls it, is as important as your nephew thinks it is.  It depends what he wants out of the program.  Most kids I have encountered are interested in advancing in rank and eventually making Eagle.  Some are not and are really there just to go camping, although I have found that most of those Scouts end up quitting somewhere along the way.  So the real question is, What does your nephew want to do in Scouting?  Also, the First Class rank is a recognition that the Scout knows (or is supposed to know) and can put into practice the basic Scout skills.  What rank is your nephew?


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#10 Eagledad

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 11:09 AM

Just like everything else in the program, what a scout gets out of the Advancement Method is based largely from the vision and methods the adults use to guide the program. The challenge for adults is that each scout has a different vision of himself as a scout. Just about all the discussions on this forum deal with how we balance each individual boy's dream of scouting along with the adults' goals what they want the scouts to get out of the program.

 

Guiding a program of different personalities is complicated and challenging. Working with the computer geek nerdy kid who hates camping along side the outdoorsy super camper kid requires:  a lot of patience, thinking out of the box, and a great deal of humility. Both those scouts eventually earned their Eagle while I was a Scoutmaster, but the geeky scout never learned to enjoy camping and the super camper only tolerated a minimum requirement of advancement bureaucracy.

 

The answer to the OPs question is as easy or complicated as each scouts personality. Eagle94's and Qwazse's gave some good suggestions.

 

Barry


Edited by Eagledad, 28 November 2016 - 11:15 AM.

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#11 David CO

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 12:12 PM

MBs serve a variety of purposes: make sure Scouts have basic life skills, intro to hobbies and future careers, etc.

 

Now I'm not a fan of "paper pushing" MBs, but after my experiences this weekend, I am deeply upset with the public school education system in my neck of the woods, and am glad Citizenship in the Nation is required. NONE of the 4 Scouts I was working with this weekend, 3 of whom were supposed to have taken Civics already, could not give the background on the origins of the Revolutionary War, didn't know what our grievances were, and did not know that there were 3 coequal branches of government. One Scout told me "The Judicial Branch is the most powerful since they make the laws." No concept of Checks and Balances, no idea of the actual duties of each branch ( one Scout was surprised at the actual duties of Congress. I cut him some slack since he hadn't had Civics yet). Again 3 of the 4 were supposed to have had this topic in school already!

 

What is encouraging was my Webelos son. He's homeschooled and was invited to go on the trip to DC. He was stuck with me and the folks working on Citizenship in the Nation. He had a better understanding of some of this stuff than the HS age Scouts. His curriculum has covered some of this, but not at the level of detail as the MB.

 

I'm not a big fan of using merit badges to remediate the the failures of our school systems.  I agree with you that the failures exist, and I'm not happy about it either.

 

I'm sure they did have this topic in school as is a required part of the middle school curriculum.  Whether or not they actually learned it is another matter.

 

With grade inflation, students can get good marks in school without actually learning the material.  Parents see passing grades on the report cards and assume that their children are being educated.  Good grades make happy parents.

 

On the other hand, a good merit badge counselor won't give the scout a merit badge unless he has actually earned it. 

 

The merit badges do have some value, if only to teach boys the novel concept of having to actually learn the topic in order to receive recognition.


Edited by David CO, 28 November 2016 - 12:17 PM.

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#12 fred johnson

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 12:58 PM

Scouting is a wonderful venue to expose our youth to activities and interests they might not otherwise discover.  The Merit Badge program is a great way to achieve this.  While doing one of these merit badges, it is possible that your nephew might discover what will become a lifelong hobby or career.


Exactly this.  Scouting was created to give boys experiences and knowledge about a great many things so that they could excel in life and have a broader experience.  Merit badges do exactly this.  They are a fundamental part of Scouting.


I fully agree with the ideal.  And, many scouts do develop life long hobbies or new professions or just have their eyes opened up to new things.  

 

The trouble is the mix.  

  • too many lame MB programs
  • too many MB programs where the MB content is way less than the scout's life or school experiences
  • too many MB programs that just have no added value to the scout and leave the scout with a "that was a waste" attitude.  

Every one of my sons has had experiences with MBs that were just bad or beyond bad.  I'm often the driver and sitting in the back of the room.  I've finally developed enough trust with my sons that if they look back at me with an expression that it's a waste, we leave.  My son went to a computer MB session two Decembers ago. He really wanted to learn something.  It was bad ... even from my view.  Same with my sons attending dentistry and crime prevention.  The presenter didn't know anything special and was not even experienced in the topics.  We left.  

 

I really think the MB program can be great when it is the right match and done well.  ... AND every scout has their favorite badge that they are glad they did it.  But it's 2 bad for every one good or even worse.  

 

A great example is the citizen merit badges.  For a inexperienced 11 year old, they may be good.  But for a seventeen year old who is academically average, they are lame and way less than they learned in school.


Edited by fred johnson, 28 November 2016 - 12:59 PM.

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#13 NJCubScouter

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 03:51 PM

A great example is the citizen merit badges.  For a inexperienced 11 year old, they may be good.  But for a seventeen year old who is acadhemically average, they are lame and way less than they learned in school.

 

 

Or somewhere in between?  The consensus in our troop seems to be that the time to go for the "Cits" is age 14 or 15.  Of course, that wouldn't work very well in a troop where people are zooming to make Eagle at age 13, but that's not our troop.  

 

While the "book work" required for the Cits can be done at any age, there are a few requirements in there (I don't remember which badge(s)) that require some initiative and willingness to talk to people you don't know that may make it a stretch for an 11-year-old.


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#14 NJCubScouter

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 04:13 PM

My son went to a computer MB session two Decembers ago. He really wanted to learn something.  It was bad ... even from my view.  

 

Of course, as you say, it really depends on the counselor.  My son got Computer MB with one of the adult mentors on his FIRST Robotics team.  There were about 5 Scouts from 3 different troops working with this guy during breaks in building the robot, writing the code, practicing the driving controls, etc. during "build season."  The guy is a software developer for a big company and his role on the FIRST team was teaching coding to the kids, beyond what they could ever learn in a high school class.  He really knew his stuff.  He was actually way, way overqualified for the requirements of the Computer MB, at least as they were at the time.  It is my understanding that that badge has been "retired" and replaced by 4 or 5 other computer-related badges that cover specific parts of the topic.


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#15 NJCubScouter

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 05:05 PM

UncleP, in addition to the question I asked earlier about what rank your nephew is, I have another question:

 

Is your nephew having fun being a Boy Scout?

 

If he is having fun, the chances are that he is also learning useful things, maybe very gradually and maybe without even knowing it - and even without getting checked off for it in his Scout handbooks.  Chances are also that given time (he's like 12, right?), other things that are "expected" of him will fall into place, like advancement and leadership and other things.  But if, for right now, he is having some fun and learning a thing or two, and getting experience in dealing with other people, and nothing else, that is still better than how he was spending his spare time before.  Right?


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#16 Eagle94-A1

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 05:20 PM

A great example is the citizen merit badges.  For a inexperienced 11 year old, they may be good.  But for a seventeen year old who is academically average, they are lame and way less than they learned in school.

 

 

Actually 2 were 16 year old juniors and one was a sophmore at an early college HS.  The two 16 year olds had Civics as freshman, and they didn't know a lot of the MB material. the Sophmore will take Civics/poliSci next year.


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#17 UncleP

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 11:19 PM

I would like to thank everyone who replied.  I understand that everyone has many issues that they are dealing with, and I appreciate the time and effort given.

 

I think I have some ideas how to advise my nephew.  The thing is that bad parenting runs in my family (my sister treats her son the way our mother treated me), so a great many things that seem obvious to most people get right past me. 

 

My nephew is very bright, and is in a gifted program at school.  But he is very sad.  He sees a therapist, and I and school and now scouts do what they can for him.  His therapist thought that maybe scouts would be a good chance for some positive socialization in a safe environment.  He is definitely improving, but his parents still make him live like he is in a solitary confinement cell.  Last Friday he father said that he had a bad week, and that he did not want to hear any noise at all until Monday morning.   Think of what that's like for a boy.

 

I was raised the same way, and it has caused issues, but I was lucky and got a lot of help.  I want to pay it forward and help him like I was helped.


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#18 UncleP

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 11:33 PM

UncleP, in addition to the question I asked earlier about what rank your nephew is, I have another question:

 

Is your nephew having fun being a Boy Scout?

 

If he is having fun, the chances are that he is also learning useful things, maybe very gradually and maybe without even knowing it - and even without getting checked off for it in his Scout handbooks.  Chances are also that given time (he's like 12, right?), other things that are "expected" of him will fall into place, like advancement and leadership and other things.  But if, for right now, he is having some fun and learning a thing or two, and getting experience in dealing with other people, and nothing else, that is still better than how he was spending his spare time before.  Right?

 

My nephew is working towards Second Class.  He enjoys parts of scouting, mostly being outside and being able to move around and actually make noise.  The meetings and being part of a group are really hard on him.  Remember he comes from a home environment where he has learned to squeeze through a door only partially open to avoid making noise or letting in a draft.

 

Sometimes he does not even realize how different the way he is being raise is.  I am afraid when he does realize it will make him even sadder.  But he has got to open up his world.  I worked in the high tech sector with guys who lives had been very restricted, and you could see how effected they were.

 

The big problem is he has so few chances to enjoy himself, that when he gets one he becomes desperate to make the most of it.  That desperation causes him to make the worst of it, and he is starting to be afraid to enjoy himself for fear of what will happen. 

 

He is learning stuff and improving.  When you are on the bottom their is no place to go but up.


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#19 gumbymaster

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Posted 29 November 2016 - 02:33 PM

The big problem is he has so few chances to enjoy himself, that when he gets one he becomes desperate to make the most of it.  That desperation causes him to make the worst of it, and he is starting to be afraid to enjoy himself for fear of what will happen. 

 

He is learning stuff and improving.  When you are on the bottom their is no place to go but up.

My nephew is working towards Second Class.  He enjoys parts of scouting, mostly being outside and being able to move around and actually make noise.  The meetings and being part of a group are really hard on him.  Remember he comes from a home environment where he has learned to squeeze through a door only partially open to avoid making noise or letting in a draft.

 

This, again, is one of the great strengths of Scouting.  We like to call it "a safe place to fail".  Hopefully, with a good Scoutmaster (who should be aware of his situation), the SM conferences can be a place to discuss things like: (1) what he likes, or (2) how things went on *** activity ( see @Stosh no x's :) ) and what could be done to improve either the activity or his ability to enjoy it.

 

It sounds like Scouting is exactly the type of outlet your nephew needs, so I hope he can rise above his challenges and discomfort to really get to enjoy it.

 

As a side note, when he gets to be 14, I'd really encourage him to go to NYLT or your local equivalent.  The lessons in those programs are really well focused to helping him interact with others, and evaluating what is or is not working (again either within the activity or within himself), overall it is a great confidence builder and I've never seen any Scouting program having such a sudden a profound effect of a Scout's maturity and confidence as that one does.


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#20 CalicoPenn

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Posted 29 November 2016 - 09:32 PM

 


I fully agree with the ideal.  And, many scouts do develop life long hobbies or new professions or just have their eyes opened up to new things.  

 

The trouble is the mix.  

  • too many lame MB programs
  • too many MB programs where the MB content is way less than the scout's life or school experiences
  • too many MB programs that just have no added value to the scout and leave the scout with a "that was a waste" attitude.  

Every one of my sons has had experiences with MBs that were just bad or beyond bad.  I'm often the driver and sitting in the back of the room.  I've finally developed enough trust with my sons that if they look back at me with an expression that it's a waste, we leave.  My son went to a computer MB session two Decembers ago. He really wanted to learn something.  It was bad ... even from my view.  Same with my sons attending dentistry and crime prevention.  The presenter didn't know anything special and was not even experienced in the topics.  We left.  

 

I really think the MB program can be great when it is the right match and done well.  ... AND every scout has their favorite badge that they are glad they did it.  But it's 2 bad for every one good or even worse.  

 

A great example is the citizen merit badges.  For a inexperienced 11 year old, they may be good.  But for a seventeen year old who is academically average, they are lame and way less than they learned in school.

 

 

Seems to me the trouble is "Merit Badge Program".  Sounds like your son is attending Merit Badge "classes" - doing that will suck the fun out of any merit badge.

 

Merit Badges were designed to be done individually, with individual counselors (those these days, up to two people working together is de-riguer).  They were not designed to be done in a group, classroom setting - not at summer camp, not at merit badge universities, not at merit badge programs, not at Troop meetings.  It's way beyond time to go back to doing it the old-fashioned way - a Scout chooses a merit badge he's interested in, contacts the counselor, does the work, and reviews it with the counselor.  Not this scout goes to a class with 20 other Scouts and sits through 3 hours of lecture.  Individual attention can work at summer camp too - a Counselor may have 10 scouts for fishing merit badge and might hold "office hours" at a set time to meet, but the Scouts still would do the work individually.


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