I’m helping to organize a new troop charter and met with a couple of the leaders the other night. The subject of a Merit Badge Day came up as a possible fund raiser. As a pragmatist, I don’t have any issues with the idea, I read somewhere that upwards of 90% of Merit Badges are earned at Summer Camp or at Merit Badge days. I have no idea if this is true, but it seems correct. Reality is, that in the way the Scouting program is being offered, these venues are the most likely way that a Scout will turn to as he seeks advancement in Merit Badges, so if our Troop were to offer one, we’d have a lot of say in the quality of the program.
As an idealist… I hate the idea of group instruction. I think it is antithetical to the way that the program should be delivered. So as I ponder how to marry these opposing view points into a working plan, I’ve written an open letter to Merit Badge Counselors.
Open Letter to Merit Badge Counselors
Thank you for volunteering to take the time to work with our Scouts as a Merit Badge Counselor. You are filling a vital role in the development of our Scouts in which they are learning skills that will serve them well as they become men and leaders within our community and nation. I don’t presume to understand the subject of your expertise, but I wanted to offer unsolicited advice in the delivery of the program that I hope you find helpful.
While the Merit Badge program is often an introduction to skills, careers, hobbies and interests that may persist throughout a Scout’s lifetime, the main focus of the program is to use Advancement and Adult Association to promote Moral Strength and Character, Citizenship Skills, and develop physical, mental and emotional fitness.
Please remember, you are not a Merit Badge Teacher, you are a Merit Badge Counselor… a mentor and a coach. A scout, armed with his Merit Badge book or the Internet and his own initiative, with your guidance, can complete any Merit Badge requirement.
The prescribed steps for earning a Merit Badge are:
Pick a subject and be assigned a Merit Badge Counselor and Blue Card.
Find another Scout to work with you.
Call the Counselor and understand their expectations for your meeting the requirements.
Provide information on requirements already worked on for review with the Counselor
Work on and complete requirements.
Show your stuff to the Merit Badge Counselor for review and approval.
Get your blue card signed off and get the badge.
— Boy Scout Requirements, 2012 Edition (paraphrased)
While you are helping a Scout understand the requirements, or are evaluating their work, look beyond the Merit Badge itself to use this time as a teachable moment. Be an encourager for them to set their own goals to complete this Merit Badge and earn their next rank. Set the expectation of good communication skills by encouraging them to set a timeline for achievement and a schedule for them to check in with you regularly to discuss their progress. Follow up with Scouts that aren’t communicating and are falling behind on their own set schedules. Network and develop relationships within the field of your Merit Badge so that you can be a resource for the scout and introduce them to a broader world within the field. Work with the Scout at his level. Encourage him to stretch and grow to meet the requirements as stated, but individualize your approach according to his needs.
You may not ever know how your work with these scouts will affect their future, but please know that it does. Working with Merit Badge Counselors may be one of the only avenues that these boys have to learn in a style that is not spoon fed to them. These Merit Badges may lead to interests that form careers and hobbies for a life time. Their self-directed work and progress may be the impetus to build a life style of self determination and success that, for many boys, can change their future for the better.
Thank you again for the important work that you do,
Grateful Scoutmaster and Father
Heres’ a copy of the letter: Open Letter to Merit Badge Counselors