The Merit of Badges

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“Every shortcut has a price usually greater than the reward.”

So wrote Bryant McGill in Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life. While he wasn’t talking about merit badges, he might as well have been.

In recent years, merit badge clinics, fairs, and universities have become all the rage. Some of these programs do a great job of connecting Scouts with experts who make their subjects come to life, but many–most?–substitute efficiency for experiential learning. Rather than discuss a topic with the counselor, Scouts watch as the counselor runs through a PowerPoint presentation. Rather than take notes and ask questions, they fill in worksheets. Rather than get their hands dirty, they get bored.

In recognition of this problem, the BSA has created the Merit Badge Group Instruction Guide, which is designed to “help Scouting volunteers and approved community organizations apply the characteristics of a high-quality merit badge program when planning any merit badge event where group instruction will take place.” This three-page document is worth a read if your troop is planning to host or participate in a merit badge event.

But I’d also draw your attention to something else: a story that demonstrates the power of doing merit badges right. First published in American Heritage magazine, “My Moon Shot” describes how a 17-year-old Scout tracked down Neil Armstrong in 1973 and convinced him to serve as his Space Exploration merit badge counselor. As you’ll discover, that Scout received a reward far greater than a simple cloth badge.

What rewards are your Scouts receiving from the merit badge program?

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