mb-blue-card

Ask the Expert: Can merit badge progress begin before a Scout gets his blue card?

Ask the Expert: What happened to Bugling merit badge?If a Scout camps several nights with his troop before getting a signed blue card from his Scoutmaster, do those nights count toward his earning Camping merit badge?

That’s what a Scouter, who I’ll call James, wondered last week in an email. James wrote:

I have a question concerning when a Scout must have a blue card. Our troop has a merit badge counselor that told boys that none of their camping nights count prior to them getting a signed blue card from the Scoutmaster.

It seems that I have read that this is contrary to BSA policy. Could you point me to a specific BSA reference for this?

Well, James, there’s no greater authority on this than Christopher Hunt, advancement team leader here at the BSA’s National Office. 

First, read his short answer: “For Camping merit badge, all campouts since the Scout joined the troop should count.”

So in this case, the merit badge counselor is mistaken. But a similar logic applies to progress toward other merit badges, as well. Here are some of the answers Chris has provided to other Scouters with related questions:

Collection-based merit badges

Question: In merit badges like Coin Collecting, can a Scout use a collection he started before even joining the program to fulfill requirements?

Chris says: 

For certain merit badges like Coin Collecting, for example, most counselors would accept a collection that had been begun well before a Scout was even eligible to join. The experiences in finding coins and adding them to the collection would build as the boy learned about the mint markings and conditions of the coins and resources he could use to discover their value, and so forth.

In the same way the experiences on campouts build as Scouts mature and learn how to stay warm and dry, and efficiently take care of their campsite. Instead of collecting coins these Scouts are collecting campouts, and what they’ve learned on the campouts can become the background for productive discussions with the counselor.

Visiting landmarks

Question: If a Scout visits a national monument with his family, can that visit be applied to Citizenship in the Nation merit badge?

Chris says:

If a Scout visits a National Historic Monument with his family and then wants to apply that to Citizenship in the Nation (req 2a), then the counselor should ask him what he learned and found interesting about it. That part of the requirement is, of course, more important than the actual visit. If the Scout remembers what he learned and found interesting, and if the discussion can be related to some sort of citizenship lesson, then the requirement should be checked off.

Cooking merit badge

Question: Some Cooking MB requirements seem to indicate Scouts work directly with their counselor. Do the above rules apply here?

Chris says:

In Cooking there are a lot of discussion items that most counselors would want to conduct directly with the Scout after the blue card is signed. That would be appropriate. Past work for some of the other requirements might be acceptable, however.

For example, if a Scout planned a menu in the past and then developed the plan and prepared the food as stated in the requirements, then the counselor should give this consideration. He might discuss how it all went and what the Scout learned; and he might want the Scout to have the SM confirm it was done. If the counselor is comfortable the intent of the requirement was met then he can check off the requirement.

More on Camping merit badge

Question: What if I have a Scoutmaster or counselor who’s asking for “the source” on what you’ve said above about Camping MB?

Chris says:

In merit badges like Camping, nights camped since becoming a Boy Scout all count, regardless when other work on the merit badge began, or when the Scoutmaster signed the blue card.

This Clarification has been provided through our e-newsletter, Advancement News, and through our Twitter account. The Application for Merit Badge “blue card” has also been reprinted to reflect this, and the revision of the Guide to Advancement, scheduled for release later this summer, precludes the practice. Wording changes in the reprinted blue card and the Guide to Advancement revision also no longer use “approval” or “qualified to begin working [on the merit badge]” in association with the Scoutmaster’s initial signature on a blue card. It now signifies simply that the SM has had a discussion with the Scout about the badge, and that he has provided the name of at least one merit badge counselor.

An important reminder

Chris says: “It is not the Scoutmaster’s decision, in any case, one way or the other. Only a merit badge counselor can decide if requirements have been met or not.”

Ask the Expert your question

Chris has been very helpful in answering these and other tricky advancement questions. Keep them coming to scoutingmag@gmail.com, subject line “Ask the Expert,” and I’ll try to track down an answer.

Follow the Advancement Team on Twitter

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117 thoughts on “Ask the Expert: Can merit badge progress begin before a Scout gets his blue card?

  1. Bryan,
    In the comment regarding Cooking merit Badge the note says;
    “In Cooking there are a lot of discussion items that most counselors would want to conduct directly with the Scout after the blue card is earned. ”

    What does it mean to say a “Blue card is earned”?

    Merit Badges get “earned”. Blue cards are merely “signed”, “approved” or “issued”. Words matter! Be careful which ones you use.
    YIS
    Otto

  2. Wow, this totally goes against everything I’ve ever been told. Thanks for the clarification though – I just shared this with our Troop leadership.

    P.S. I’ve been recommending to our council that they develop an Advancement Training course. Much like Scoutmasters and Committee Members have required training, I think Advancement should as well. It is probably THE most involved position within a troop. We see all too well how different troops interpret the rules every time we have a boy transfer troops.

  3. So after reading this blog entry – I would like the official position of the BSA on cooking. First class rank, camping MB, and cooking MB have similar requirements for cooking a day’s worth of food at camp. The requirements differ slightly. Personally, I don’t think a scout should be able to cook four meals in camp (two dinners, a breakfast and a lunch) and satisfy the requirements for all three. As a counselor, I won’t accept it. I tell the scouts that they have to do it again. (After all, they should be camping ten to twenty nights a year anyway – so what’s the big deal.) Am I incorrect ? Or are scouts allowed to “double-dip” and meet this requirement in the most dumb-downed and minimal way possible.?

    • Need to consider the size of the patrol and what other activities the scouts do through out the year. If they hike and bring their own food, and you have a patrol of 8 with only 10-12 outings, the math says your making that scout possibly wait a year between cooking opportunities of the other scouts also need to same requirements. Always err on the side of the scout or risk them losing interest by having a badge that takes way too long to complete. Judgment call on your part, but I would count it. Been doing so for over 15 years. Just my two cents.

    • I would say it counts. I don’t see this as any different than the emergency prep merit badge requiring boys to earn the first aid merit badge. Would you expect a scout to complete the first aid badge and then repeat the requirements for the emergency prep badge? There are many merit badges that require the scout to have first aid knowledge. As a counselor, this knowledge would be reviewed to ensure the scout remembers the necessary steps or information, but I would not think the scout would be required to “re-earn” the first aid merit badge each time. I see the cooking merit badge as the same thing. The scout learns skills in that merit badge that will be used over and over again in other merit badges, campouts with troop, summer camps, etc.

    • According to our Council Advancement Chair, 1 activity can not fulfill 2 requirements for either merit badges or advancement. Cooking one meal would not count towards 2 requirements, if you do 1 community service project, you should not be able to count it toward a rank advancement and your CItizen in the Community merit badge. The Citizen in the Community and Communications merit badge require you visit a Town Board meeting, you must go twice.

  4. It’ good to hear there is a resource like this. Urban legends tend to reck a Scout’s career and his out look and faith in adults. Thanks for presenting this resource.

  5. I’m glad they changed the wording on the “Blue Card”. As a student of Scouting History, the reasons it said “approval” or “qualified to begin working [on the merit badge]” in association with the Scoutmaster’s initial signature on a blue card have long past.

    In the first 50 years of BSA’s history, most merit badges were earned by Scouts who individually called up a counselor from the counselor list the district provided to the Scoutmaster and met the counselor at his home. And since prior to 1964, A Scout had to be First Class to earn any merit badge, the approval of the Scoutmaster was required to avoid having a Tenderfoot or Second Class Scout bother a counselor needlessly. (Note: a Second Class Scout was allowed to earn ONE merit badge before becoming First Class, but that was rare.)

    There are no such rank restrictions on earning merit badges these days, so the filtering of merit badge applicants by rank by the Scoutmaster isn’t needed.

      • And if you really want some Camping MB history, prior to 1958 you needed 50 nights of camping and no long term camps allowed.

        Also the wording was changed in 2012 to a max of 6 nights counted as a long term camp because of the multiple interpretations to what a “Week” is.

        • “48 edition of the BSHB has only 20 nights required. The ’14 edition required 50.

        • Don…Not a big deal. My 1951 printing of the 1948 BSHB says 50. My 1958 printing says 20. Changes could have occurred during the major advancement changes in 1952/1953.

    • I don’t know when it officially began, but my Troop is “Smalltown USA” did not allow us to work on Merit Badges until we were First Class & that was about 1972. I made Second Class & was working on First Class when the Troop folded due because no adult stepped forward to be Scoutmaster. Thus, I never had the opportunity to earn a single MB. My son crossed into Boy Scouts in February 2013 & has already been to 3 MB Forums earning 6 Merit Badges. He is still working on a 7th MB from one of the Forums because it required him to take care of his pet for 4 months & I would not let him “double dip” because the MB specifically stated it could not be done. There are a lot of urban legends out there regarding MBs. We need to make sure that every Troop is abiding by the current rules & not some special rules dreamed up by the local Scoutmaster.

      • David,
        In the 1972 rewrite of the program you actually had to earn merit badges for Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class. This is also when the rank of Scout was added. Also it is when Camping and Cooking were dropped as Eagle required badges as the BSA tried to take on a more urban feel. I was 12 at the time and had been in Scouts for a year when it rolled out. The rewrite was considered a disaster by many. Camping came back as an Eagle required sometime later, and now cooking is coming back. The earning merit badges requirement for TF, 2nd and 1st Class went out with the next rewrite I think around 1979 or 1980 after I aged out.

        In our Troop we’ll have first year Scouts work on merit badges at summer camp if they have been with us for several campouts. I’ll run Scouts through a Brown Sea Island/Rising Eagles/1st year program if they join shortly before summer camp. I look to have my first years earn Swimming and First Aid at camp the first year along with arts and crafts type badges. Second years typically earn Environmental Science and Emergency Prep and possibly Camping. If a Scout wants Lifesaving instead of EP I would want them to wait until their 3rd year unless they are a fairly large Scout.

        • I would have been 11 in 1970. I went to camp twice that I can remember because one was before our council merged with another and the second at the new location. I know I made Tenderfoot and I think Second Class. I was working on my Morse Code because it was a requirement for First Class (?-its been a few years). I know I never received a Merit Badge & never remember going to a COH. It was one of those small town troops with maybe 8 boys where advancement & MBs were not important. The SM’s son was the 1st Eagle in the Troop in about 8 years & right after that the Troop folded for several years. By that time, I was working almost full-time while going to high school so did not have time even if the Troop had started again by then. My parents did not care & never asked me what I did in Scouts. That’s something that will never happen to my son.

        • I have the handbook (1979 Copyright, 1986 printing) that I had and as of that book, you still needed First Aid Merit Badge for 1st Class.
          All the rest were the “skill awards” (belt loops), which were basically a different way of doing the current requirements. Whereas today you learn some First Aid, some knots, some cooking etc. in each rank, the skill awards focused on certain topics for each rank.
          You needed Citizenship (plus 1 optional) for TF, Hiking & First Aid (plus 1 optional) for 2nd and Camping, Cooking (plus 1 optional) for 1st Class.

        • Jeff, the Scout badge is not a rank. To my knowledge, it has never been properly (per BSA) called a rank, and I welcome feedback from anybody who has proof to the contrary. A Scout earns the badge by completing the Boy Scout joining requirements. The Handbook and annual Requirements book both list it that way, while Tenderfoot through Eagle are listed as rank requirements. My copy of the 1972 Handbook (8th edition, 1st printing) also refers to it as “the Scout badge” in a chapter titled “To Be A Scout” while the “progress awards” of Tenderfoot through Eagle are listed in the “Advancement” chapter.

    • I agree. What’s the use in earning rank when a boy can just work on merit badges. There are so many pretty round badges to put on a sash. And what right does a scoutmaster have in knowing what the scout is actually doing. I say ” It’s your thing, do what you want to do. No one can tell you, what your gonna do. “

      • When I joined in 1980, my Scoutmaster made new members of our troop earn our Scout badge and we considered it a “rank” in my troop. I had to memorize the Scout Oath, Scout Law, Scout Motto, Scout Slogan and demonstrate the Scout handshake before I got to put on the Scout badge on my uniform. If I remember correctly, the 9th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook had these requirements as well.

  6. A scout asked me the other night whether the nights he spent camping with his family counted. After looking at the requirements in the MB book, I told him that yes they do as long as they took place since he became a Scout. In my reading of it, the requirement does not specify that the camping nights be WITH the troop. What do others think…?

    Tim G in MN

    • I have the 2010 requirements book sitting next to me. Requirement 9a says: “The 20 days and 20 nights must be at a designated Scouting activity or event.”

      So unless the ‘family’ camped at a Scout event (like a Cub-O-Ree with a younger sibling), I wouldn’t count it.

    • Wrong…all camping must take place at a designated scouting activity or event. this wording was part of the Jan 2012 requirements revision.

      • Yeah, looks like the book I was looking at was before the 2007 revisions:
        “Camp a total of at least 20 days and 20 nights. Sleep each night under the sky or in a tent you have pitched. You may use a week of long-term camp toward this requirement. If the camp provides a tent that has already been pitched, you need not pitch your own tent.”
        http://usscouts.org/mb/Old/mb001-06.asp

        Will have to talk to the troop librarian about that…

        • Is it one long term camp? Or can you use each year of summer camp for say three years? I’ve seen one who used 3 years at camp and a couple of overnights to get his 20! Then for the activities of which you need to do 3 while on campouts the scout counted a 5 mile hike which included the elevation change (2 of the options in one hike) and then the parents had him come out to a troop campout for the climbing activity but did not camp out.

        • Jim asked if it were one long camp – and stated that he saw a scout use 3 years at summer camp plus a couple of overnights to reach his 20 nights camped. That is explicitly prohibited by the Camping MB requirements. It states you can use only one long term camp for a maximum of six nights. The remaining 14 nights must be short term campouts.

        • I think the spirit of the camping merit badge is for a boy to experience the variations of camping trips, weather, gear, cooking, and gear. A week at summer camp or a week long camp out requires different gear and style of camping. Overnight camping offers limitations on gear and cooking – such as a canoe trip or a hike or a bike trip. A winter camp out is very different than a summer camp out. I don’t think a scout would have been much exposed to a camping experience by just having attended 3 separate summer camps. What does the boy do for the rest of the year? Camp in Hotel 6?

        • One thing we’ve allowed/counted when the Scouts ask for a note verifying their 20 nights – our Troop has done trips every 5th year to Colorado & Utah.
          While the trip would look to some like a “long term” trip (2 weeks), it is really a series of short term trips, as the Scouts camped in several different locations (I think 2 nights at most, maybe 1 spot for 3 nights).
          Therefore they had the experience of setting up/taking down camp each time, did the cooking, etc.
          They also get a variety of camping, since while they are only there in one “season”, the camp areas vary from desert like (and 100+ degrees) to Rocky Mountain park where they still find snow in July.
          And – even if they use this (technically 12 nights of the trip, since the first & last are usually non-camping lodging), they still have to get the other 8 nights from (likely) a long term summer camp and a couple other overnights (backpack, bike, canoe etc.).

        • Hi Billy G. I think you’re short changing your kids if you have to count this one trip as a series of short term campouts. You’re bending the rules, rather than address the issue of scouts not camping frequently enough to achieve 20 nights camped. Over the course of six years in scouts, it averages out to two nights per year camped, plus one week of summer camp (or your Utah trip). If a scout can’t bother to camp one weekend per year, I don’t know why they would stay in scouts.

        • Actually, there’s nothing wrong with “long term” camping trips. They count towards camping nights. These are not the same as “camp”, which usually means a resident camp where meals are usually prepared for you.

  7. It is unfortunately that you even have to pose the question. The only caveat I know is that you cannot EARN a MB unless you are a registered Boy Scout.

      • Not really. If a scout presents his unit leader with a blue card signed by a registered MBC approved by a Council but missing the unit leader signature, the scout has still earned the MB. From the Guide To Advancement:

        “7.0.4.6 Once It Is Earned, It’s Earned
        Once a registered and approved counselor has passed a Scout on requirements for a merit badge, it cannot be taken away. Nor does unit leadership have the authority to retract approval, or take the badge away.”

        • Where did the scout get the blue card? They get them from the scoutmaster, yes?

  8. Certain MBs specially state that “double dipping” is not allowed. For example, time spent taking care of a dog for Dog Care cannot be used for Pet Care. If a Scout is working on their Hiking MB & does a 10-mile hike, there is nothing that says that the 10-mile hike cannot be used in the advancement requirement for rank that requires a 5-mile hike. In other words, the SM cannot say “that hike doesn’t count for advancement but it counts for the MB so go on another hike that is 5 miles long.” This, however, does not prevent the Troop from doing a 5-mile hike in conjunction with a campout to help out some other new Scouts that are not working on their Hiking MB to get their advancement requirement out of the way. In that case, the Scout working on the Hiking MB should go along anyway because it is a Troop activity.

    As MB Counselors, we are to ask the Scout to do “nothing more and nothing less” than their requirements. I see nothing wrong in “double dipping” as long as the standard for each (MB or advancement) is maintained. If I was an Aviation MB Counselor, however, I would have a hard time giving credit to a Scout for taking a plane flight if he did it 10 years ago before he was even heard of an Aviation MB. In that case, I would suggest the Scout do one of the other optional requirements or wait until he takes his next flight & returns to talk to me about the flight to receive credit for it.

    • I agree that some discretion should be allowed when it comes to “double dipping” except where explicitly listed.

      We had several boys working on Communications and Cit. of Community at the same time. Both have requirements to attend a civic meeting and report back some information. What is asked in each requirement is different but I did allow the boys to use one meeting in order to meet both requirements by telling them ahead of time they needed to pick a different topic/discussion point for each requirement.

    • sixth sense voice

      I see weak programs everywhere….

      For petesake folks it ain’t rocket science…..a boy needs a five mile hike roll out of bed an hour or two early on a saturday morning and take the patrol out….

      I would be truly embarrassed if I had to double count something as simple and easy as a hike…

  9. OK. I just looked at Merit Badge.org and see that I was wrong. I know the book I looked in was an older version, so maybe the requirement changed since that was published.
    “The 20 days and 20 nights must be at a designated Scouting activity or event.”

    Now I have to go back and tell this kid I misled him…

  10. Like so much of life, this isn’t entirely a black and white issue. It sort of depends on the mb, the Scout, the counselor, and the case. That’s why they created “Law” mb.

  11. I read this article and know exactly why it has been written. There are Troops out there that think they can rewrite advancement policy because they think they are above it. Their rules are more important than “the” rules.

    But what I wanted to comment on is the opposite of this. Parents and boys who want to count something they did years ago for every single requirement on current work. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for counting stuff you have already done but lets not count every single thing we have done in the past towards our merit badge. They want the most bang for the buck. They want to do the least they can to get the most they can. One experience shouldn’t counts for 50 requirements for 50 merit badges.

    Things I am tired of hearing………..

    “I already did that.”
    “I have already done that 50 times.”
    “I did that.”
    “I am pretty sure I did that.”
    “I am sure I did that at some point.”

    If you can’t remember it, remember when you did it,WHO you did it with or some kind of recollection of the time frame you did it, forget it. I ain’t passing it off. And I would love for a boy to have some documentation (i.e. their Scout Book/merit badge book).

    My replies………….

    “When? And with who? What did you learn? Then it should be easy for you to do again.”
    “When? And with who? What did you learn? Then it should be REALLY easy for you to do.”
    “When? And with who? What did you learn?”
    “I am pretty sure you might have to do it again.”
    “I am pretty sure you didn’t.”

    It isn’t going to kill a Scout to do something again when we learn from doing things over and over and over again. A Scout doesn’t learn fire making skills and then never use them again. He doesn’t learn how to use a compass and then never pick one up again. He doesn’t learn knots just to only use a square knot to tie everything.

    It is more than just passing off requirements to say you have done it. It is about learning and the journey.

    • I agree with you that boys should not be able to use anything and everything they have ever done to “complete” a merit badge. But, I think the point the post was making is that if a boy is working towards first class and his cooking merit badge, there is no reason he should not be able to use his cooking experiences for both. It is a journey, and the boys should work for their merit badges, but we shouldn’t make the journey more complicated than it needs to be.

  12. Here is something that recently came up in our Troop. A boy came to two of us who are counselors for Family Life. He did not complete the record of 90 days of chores so we did not sign off on that requirement (he had only begun working on this badge a month prior as well). He found another merit badge counselor who then signed off on it for him, completing this badge. The Scoutmaster did not know the two counselors had decided not to sign off on this requirement.

    My question to you is this: can the Scoutmaster refuse final signature because he feels that the boy has not completed the requirements legitimately and/or if he feels the boy did not actually meet the requirements of a badge? Does the Scoutmaster have the authority to deny a merit badge based on certain circumstances?

    • Leya,

      There is probably more to this story, but the short answer to your question is no. Once a qualified and registered counselor has signed off, the badge is considered earned.

      Its unfortunate that this happened, and there is value in addressing it with the counselor. The SM could also talk about this during the SM conference, and get some perspective from the boy. It could be a comedy of errors, or even deceit by the boy.

      The Merit Badge Counselor orientation does a good job of ending these types of problems, especially when done with a group of counselors who can ask questions. I understand that training is being revised, and due soon.

    • My understanding is the answer to your question is “nope.” Once a MB counselor has signed it’s a done deal.

      • I would find out if a registered merit badge counselor. The scoutmaster should call the merit badge counselor. The blue card should have the phone number it for counselor to make it sure they are valid.

    • Leya: Once the Counselor signs the Blue Card, it’s a done deal. What the SM can do is contact their District Training Chair and get the individual “decertified” as a Counselor for that particlar MB. If the Council decides not to decertify the Counselor, the SM can do in the future is to try to direct his other Scouts to other counselors that hold the Scouts to the standard, “nothing more and nothing less.” A third option is to ask the Scout to repeat the Scout Oath & Law and then ask the Scout if they feel that they have lived up to the Oath & Law when completing the MB, especially the part that says to “do my best” and “trustworthy.” For some Scouts, that might make a difference but for others, probably not.

    • I find this interesting that “he found another MB to sign off on it for him” …It has been drilled into us by one person that not one requirement can ever be started until a MBC has been contacted. Another person will say that the Scout can start requirements, but try to contact an MBC ASAP. Which is acceptable?

      • “not one requirement can ever be started until a MBC has been contacted” is wrong, and is the basis of Bryan’s article that we are commenting on.

      • There are certain requirements that say, “with approval of the counselor” so the requirement cannot be started until the MB Counselor approves it. For other ones, the National Council rep at the top of this threa said “it depends” such as all camping counting towards the camping MB even though the Scout may not have the Blue Card yet. Another example is the Scouting Heritage Badge says to go to a National or International Jamboree. If the Scout went to that this year, but did not get the blue card & saw the MB Counselor, he could not meet that requirement unitl 2015 in Japan or 2017 back at the Summit (Yes, I know there is a option to visit the Scout Museum in Irving or even write them). If I was the Scouting Heritage MB Counselor, I would accept going to National Jambo this year as meeting the requirement as long as the Scout could tell me what he did & learned. I think that is part of that particular MB.

  13. Well it sounds like everyone has it all figured out. Who needs the scoutmaster anymore. We’ll give the merit badges away, they can go buy them at the store. If we are lucky they will do the requirements if not too bad. I think maybe we should just give them the Eagle Badge when they join. With all these scout forums and scout colleges everyone can be Eagle.

    • Big assumption there that all fit into a certain mold. It’s obvious almost everyone in this forum is dedicated to making this right for the boys. And merit badges don’t fall under the Scoutmaster in normal cases. Scoutmaster role is bigger than merit badges. Please don’t blur the lines.

    • This is the almost the exact same discussion on LinkedIn a few months back. Just because a SM doesn’t like the rules, doesn’t mean they can change them. If one does not like the current rules, the person needs to go thru the appropriate channels to get them changed. There is a reason that BSA publishes a Guide to Advancement so that all the Troops basically operate under the same general guidelines. Some of the biggest Urban Legends out there are (1) a Scout can only have so many MBs open at the same time. (2) a Scout must be a certain age to start on a MB (3) a Scout who does not complete the MB in 1 year has to start over again (4) the SM can “retest” a Scout on MB requirements (5) the SM can disapprove a MB approved by a council certified MB Counselor (6) a SM can tell a Scout which MB Counselor that they must take a MB from. The answer to all these answers is “False”. As long as the Scout has the minimum requirements to take the MB such as Swimming to take one of the other MBs related to water, they can start the MB. Just because a Scout has the Swimming MB, the MB Counselor can make the Scout take the BSA Swimmer test again if it is one of the requirements (Canoeing for example). The MB Counselor doesn’t have to assume that the Scout met the requirement previously because they have the swimming badge.

      • Great information. I was part of that LinkedIn discussion, and I think it played a part in the recent change to the Blue Card.

        One nit-pick though. You write “As long as the Scout has the minimum requirements to take the MB such as Swimming to take one of the other MBs related to water, they can start the MB.” There is no prerequisite to starting work on any merit badge.

        • Jack: You are correct. There is no requirement to have Swimming before Lifesaving, but I doubt if few Scouts earn the latter w/o the former. My son only crossed over 2 months ago, but I have been a MB Counselor for a couple of years w/o much activity (no one has called me yet). I’ve ran an American Heritage MB Forum at the National World War I Museum 6 months ago & our second one is this coming Saturday. I’ve also did Coin Collecting at our District MB Forum. I must have scared off some of the Scouts as they did not return for the second meeting as I told them that each had to prove they met the requirements & sitting in my class listening to one Scout provide the answer does not meet the intent of the MB.

        • Requirement 1 for Emergency Preparedness:
          Earn the First Aid merit badge.

      • Our summer camp will not allow a Scout to take Lifesaving without having the Swimming Merit Badge. We challenged them at summer camp but they said it was their rule.

      • This falls along a debate our troop is having and I want to clarify what is the position of BSA on this.

        Our troop has established a policy that no scout in our troop can earn an Eagle Required MB at a MB workshop, period. Our district holds various workshops such as Merit Badge Saturday and has provided approved MB couselors. Does BSA allow a troop to establish this policy that prohibits the scout from taking Eagle Required MBs at fully sanctioned and approved events?

        • No, the troop can guide them to a MB counselor that you like, but as long as it is earned to the satisfaction of a registered MB counselor, it’s done and has to be accepted. You can talk to parents and scouts about why you feel they will get more value out of a different method to see if it influences their choice…

        • When I was involved in Royal Rangers, they had the same issue with Merit Camps. The boys would attend and come back with signed off badge work, but know absolutely nothing. I would not accept any merit badge work from them. Other commanders did not accept the MB sign offs as well.

          Now that I am back in scouts, there has been a yearly advancement fair in my district. They guy running the event makes sure that they boys either complete the MB or they get a partial. I taught Chemistry MB and the boys had to visit a lab as a requirement option. Some boys came to my lab for a tour and others did not.

          So it comes down to the MB instructor, the event planner, and the honor of the scout.

        • Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
          Caveats: NONE

          This is a separate issue than what I think you are trying to address. Our district does a very good job of identifying qualified MB counselors for the MB workshops, we have no question on that. As a troop we just made a policy that we won’t allow Eagle Required MBs to be taken at these district sponsored workshops. An answer on a different part of the Blog addressed my question as follows:

          Response: There is nothing that prevents a Scout from asking for a Blue Card from their SM for any MB. The Scout then can reach out to any registered MB Counselor for that particular MB whether it is an adult in the local troop, district, council or some council 3,000 miles away. If the SM does not want the Scouts to participate in a MB Fair, they do not have to do it as a Troop function where the SM/ASM coordinates to request what MBs the Scouts request, collects the final documentation, etc. If the MB Forum/Fair allows individuals to participate, once the Scout receives the Blue Card allowing them to work on the MB, the Scout can seek out their own MB Counselor & if it is at a MB Fair/Forum, there should be nothing to stop the Scout.

          Thanks for the response.

          Tom Sully
          US Army

        • I think zollweg’s reply to Tom misses the mark. zollweg is saying if the blue card is signed off by a counselor, you have to accept it. That’s not what Tom is saying. Tom is saying his troop won’t give a blue card to a scout who intends on attending a MB fair where the counselors give away eagle MB’s. As far as I know, the BSA has no policy that prevents would prohibit a troop from having that policy. Isn’t that what the whole unit leader signature at the beginning of the card is about? It’s a chance for the unit leader to steer the scout or venturer to a MB counselor that does a good job, as opposed to a merit badge mill.

        • db,

          I remember when I was a scout, we had a man come and “teach” the Emergency Preparedness MB. We had one meeting and the next meeting he had us line up and gave us the signed blue card, red merit badge car, and the merit badge. There were 20 of us scout given the award. (forget about the advancement report and being signed by the SM.) We looked at each other scratching our heads. After the guy left the meeting, all but 2 of us turned in are awards.

          The SM and ASM asked us why we were doing this, We answered, “WE DIDN’T EARN IT!”. They responded by telling that they were proud of us for our intregity. They got another MB councilor and we re-did the EP MB, earning it the second time. I found out later that the guy ran an eagle mill in his troop. I seem to remember 5 scouts doing the same cemetary project. All they did was place US flags on veterans graves. Definately not an Eagle Project and definately one that 5 scouts can take credit for.

          By the way, I was in an interview at Cornell University. The Dr. giving me the interview was an Eagle Scout. So when he read my C.V. and saw that I was an Eagle Scout as well, he gave me an board of review instead of an interview. I actually taught him some knots. I had to give the pledges, fold an American Flag, and tie knots. Yes, I did get the job.

          So the point is that people will test a scout and see if they earned their badges and ranks. Hopefully, the scout has been trained up well and will shine. If not, they will have egg on their face.

        • That’s just it, if by “steer” you mean, suggest a counselor, yes. If by “steer” you mean, set rules or limits, no. The Scoutmaster is supposed to have a discussion and give the blue card, providing at least one counselor name. They can’t deny the blue card. Then, any merit badge counselor can sign it and it has to be accepted.

        • Putting restrictions on the Scouts is a band-aid. Fix the root problem instead.

          Talk to your district advancement committee and revoke the registration for merit badge counselors who are not following the BSA program. After that, you do not need new rules.

          A well-run merit badge workshop can be a really good experience.

        • Preventing a Scout from choosing his own counselor (be it at a workshop or elsewhere) will be prohibited in the 2013 edition of the Guide to Advancement, due out this summer.

    • Grow up, Rob. Merit Badges are not under the SM’s purview. If you have a problem with the forums (and I agree, there are plenty of problems with them, and even more with summer camps) then you be a big boy and take the argument where the problem lies (the organizers and counselors) not punish the scouts, who I frankly view as victims of these ramrod operations.

  14. Advancement is fantastic and the parents expect there son to pass merit badges at Summer Camp after spending hundreds of dollars. Then the merit badge counselors (1)water down the requirements so that they can be passed in four days and (2) pass the boys by attendance in there class. This is terrible especially for Eagle required merit badges.

    • Don’t allow them to take certain Eagle required badges. You can not earn E-prep, Communications or the Cits at Summer Camp. It is a disgrace they are offered.

      • Preventing a Scout from choosing his own counselor (be it at a workshop or elsewhere) will be prohibited in the 2013 edition of the Guide to Advancement, due out this summer.

    • If a parent wants a Scout to leave summer camp with a merit badge, they should encourage their Scout to review the requirements carefully, complete anything that might not be able to be completed at camp, and of course, check the camp’s guide to see if they have posted prerequisites that will not be covered in camp.
      If your camp is watering down requirements, contact your council’s advancement team and the camp director and get something handled. Be sure to volunteer to help train merit badge counselors working at the camp and their youth assistants. ———–or————— Vote with your feet and find another camp.
      You might also want to have a sit down with your parents and let them know that advancement cannot be bought by “spending hundreds of dollars”. If they are disappointed with the rate of their Scout’s advancement, they might want to take it up with him directly. If the Scout is not vested in the program as much as the parents, creating new and entirely illegitimate advancement “rules” will not change that.

      • I was going to suggest the same thing!

        I would like to add that leaders and parents are more than welcome to sit in on merit badge classes. I’ve done this a couple of times to see just how in depth the counselors got. I found no “watering down” at Camp Shenandoah.

        If you are a parent, and would like to get involved, please take the Youth Protection Training before sitting in on any classes. You can take the training online at myscouting.org. You don’t need a member ID to take the training.

  15. Let me be clear. This is not a question of a SM going all crazy. This is the recent direction from District we were given, I am the Advancement Chair and it just did not make sense to any of us. I feel like even within our organization, we are given so much misinformation.

    • I got a copy of the Guide to Advancement & read it cover to cover (and I’m not even the Advancement Chair for the Troop). It sits in my car & when I go to the Dentist or have my car worked on, I take it in with me to review if I am tired of reading the book (current BP’s bio) that is also in my car.

  16. Every Advancement Chair — at every level — should have the latest Guide To Advancement, Boy Scout Requirements book, and subscribe to the monthly advancement newsletter (send a message to advancement.team@scouting.org, with “SUBSCRIBE” in the subject line. Indicate your name, email address, and council in the message text). And follow @AdvBSA on Twitter.

  17. No, the Scoutmaster does not have that authority. From The Guide to Advancement (33088), Section. 7.0.4.6
    “Once It Is Earned, It’s Earned
    “Once a registered and approved counselor has passed
    a Scout on requirements for a merit badge, it cannot be
    taken away. Nor does unit leadership have the authority
    to retract approval, or take the badge away. Even if a
    merit badge counselor were found to be improperly
    documented, it would be a rare occasion when a Scout
    would be penalized for the mistake of an adult volunteer.”

    So “guide” your Scouts to reputable MB counselors.

  18. Our troop does not allow it’s scouts to partake in merit badge fairs believing there’s no real benefit to them going and they will not accept any badgework they have done there. They have taken the position that the scout is just going through the motions and not learning anything and that to properly earn a merit badge the boy must reach out on his own to a counselor to get the job done. I personally think the fairs are a great way to get expert advice on some of the badges and can be very beneficial opportunity for the boys to meet people with real experience in these badges, rather than just using random parents forced to be counselors and winging it. I don’t see how it’s an “easy badge” just by going, since you always have to have some prerequisites done anyway. I’ve tried discussing this with the troop but they won’t budge and I don’t think pointing to the 2012 guide to advancement notes on Group Instruction (section 7.0.3.2 ) is compelling enough of an argument to get them to see the light. Any suggestions?

    • I would ask the District Advancement Chair to talk your SMs. There is nothing that prevents a Scout from asking for a Blue Card from their SM for any MB. The Scout then can reach out to any registered MB Counselor for that particular MB whether it is an adult in the local troop, district, council or some council 3,000 miles away. If the SM does not want the Scouts to participate in a MB Fair, they do not have to do it as a Troop function where the SM/ASM coordinates to request what MBs the Scouts request, collects the final documentation, etc. If the MB Forum/Fair allows individuals to participate, once the Scout receives the Blue Card allowing them to work on the MB, the Scout can seek out their own MB Counselor & if it is at a MB Fair/Forum, there should be nothing to stop the Scout. If the MB Fair/Forum does not do Blue Cards, but provides some sort of other Documentation (which I have seen already this year in 2 different ones), there could be some issues with the Troop accepting the MB (which is against BSA policy).

      Is the prohibition against District MB Fairs/Forums where many MBs are offered or any? The HST Museum/Library in Indpendence MO offers a semi-annual opportunity to earn the Citizenship in the Nation and American Heritage MBs (only 1 per Scout). The National WWI Museum in KC offers a semi-annual opportunity to earn the American Heritage MB. Both require prerequisites to be completed to earn the MB by the end of the day. I know because I have assisted on the former & am charge of the latter. The first time we did American Heritage at the WWI Museum, several Scouts received incomplete Blue Cards because they failed to do the prerequsites. When I did Coin Collecting at our District MB Forum last month, two Scouts did not even return for the second meeting & only about half received completed Blue Cards because they failed to bring in their coin collections as directed by me (and the requirement). I do not ask the Scouts do any more than is required for the MB, but will also not settle for anything less. Each individual must demonstrate that they have completed each requirement in order to receive credit for it.

      If all MB Counselors maintained the “nothing more, nothing less” standard, the Troops that continue to ignore the guidance about MBs will might eventually start abiding by the official BSA policy & not one a policy concocted by the Troop itself.

      • The scoutmaster provides a list of MBC to the scout when he requests the card…..

        As SM I will not give boys approval to attend Merit badge fairs after one scout came back from one with 8 merit badges from a 4 hour commitment.

        I refused to sign his living the scout spirit for his star because he refused to own up to the fact he did not actually earn them……

        • They can go to any Counselor or fair to accomplish it. As SM, you should guide them to a counselor, but they can go to any they want. Once it is signed by a valid MB counselor, you cannot take it away or require anything different from the scout. I would certainly complain to the leaderhsip about that fair, as I don’t see any possible way to get 8 badges in 4 hours. But if the counselors say he did, it’s done.

        • it was an interesting conversation…….
          He earned indian lore, electronics, robotics, weather, disability awareness and a couple of more that I cannot place…….

          During the SMC I asked about the Robotics competition he attended…..blank stare.

          I followed up with which instrument did he make and how did it hold up over the week of tracking weather.

          then the electronics…..what project did you make and how hard was soldering……t

          Strike three………

          No way even with prereq’s for the fair could he have earned them……The boy flat out lied…..I asked him if he felt like he earned them….

          YES mr b I earned them…….

          Clearly I have shown you have not……I would like you to read the requirements of each badge and come back next week and discuss if you earned them or not.

          I understand there is no revoking or disappoving them…….I am going for the bigger picture here………The kid understanding he did not complete the requirements and have some remorse about it.

          Its about teaching the scout about doing the right thing.

        • I don’t disagree with your approach about the broader sense of scouting values and right and wrong. It’s the best lemonade you can make out of those lemons, I guess. I can’t believe a troop, council, district or whoever put on that event would think it is okay. We have been to several of varying quality in Florida, but none like that.

        • Hi Bob- It’s hard to believe anyone in scouting would put on such an event. I wonder if it was done by someone with no training who had just crossed over from cub scouting. I can see something like this happening in cub scouts, where there a gazillion awards and the quality of the instruction and adherence to requirements varies tremendously. But I’ve never seen anything so egregious as what you describe in boy scouting.

          In contrast, I have had scouts in my troop refuse a completed blue card they “earned” at summer camp. The young men knew they didn’t meet the requirements and they wouldn’t accept the card or badge. Integrity.

        • The Scout earned the badges, that’s done.

          Look at the blue cards, list the counselors and go have an in-person meeting with the district advancement chair. This is a problem with the program, not with the Scout. Fix the program so it won’t happen again.

        • The scout did not earn the badges…….

          I am trying to help guide him in making the right decision about it.

          As adult leaders I think we can agree he did not earn 8 merit badges in 4 hours.

          I am considering not passing him on scout spirit until he owns up to the fact he did no earn them…….If he doesn’t he will not Eagle in my troop…that is the bottom line.

          Quality control for the Eagle scouts my troop produces….. I believe they are boys that Green Bar would be proud of.

        • Bottom Line: The MBC decides if the scout has earned the merit badge, not the SM.

        • I undersatnd and completely agree. I have heard of lots of volunteers doing what they are not supposed to do (testing boys in 2 hour long scoutmaster reviews, setting age limits on MBs, not allowng more than one to be working on at a time, “expiring” partials that are not complete in an arbitrary time, requiring hours for an eagle project…). These are not allowed and continue the mentality of prohibiting and getting in the way of what the boys are doing rather than helping…

    • More unnecessary gatekeeping. Here’s a couple mathematical axioms that never fail to be true:
      1. There is an inverse relationship between the time an SM spends re-checking a Scout’s merit badge work and the time he spends recruiting and training new merit badge counselors.
      2. An SM who has no compunction about conducting a “merit badge board of review” with a Scout will have great hesitation in personally contacting an MBC and calling him out on his perceived deficiencies.
      3. A rise in the number of “gatekeepers” for Scoutmasters would yield a decrease in the number of “gatekeepers” for Eagle Scouts. Where no “gatekeeper” exists on an SM, a “gatekeeper” on Eagles is sure to spring up.
      4. Many SM’s have never answered the following question: Does the Eagle Scout rank exist to enhance the life of the Scout or does the Scout exist to enhance the rank of Eagle Scout? Short answer: Eagle Scout IS the quality. It cannot be enhanced by any amount of gatekeeping, only a simple adherence to the rules……….as written by BSA.

  19. Jake,
    Like so many things in Scouting the quality of Merit Badge fairs or colleges varies from place to place. In our Council, North Carolina State University runs an annual MBC in early April. The classes are taught by professors and are very good. This year they offered only one Eagle Required, Environmental Science and to get it in a day there were several pre-reqs required. The reviews of these classes by the adults sitting in were very good. Robotics was offered and had a great hands on lab with equipment generally not available to a Scout. I’ve seen other MB Fairs that were little more than merit badge factories. I have the same complaint with some of the summer camps we’ve been to over the years. If the classes at the camp are large, more than 10-12 Scouts for most badges, there is no way a 16 or 17 year old Scout can effectively run this class and get everyone in it proficient in the subject matter.

    • I agree completely. Many that we have done have pre-work and involve reading the MB book or doing research in advance, sometimes taking hours even before the class. We ahve been to several that are very well done. My son and another scout just completed the majority of the welding MB at a MB College. There were only 8 scouts in the class, the instructor was very prepared and brought all kids of equipment and tools with him for them to accomplish everything except the actual welding. They make and appointment with him and return to his shop to 1:1 do the welding piece. For him, it was much preferred to do all the safety and other requirements in a group rather than to repeat several times with each individual scout, which makes sense. The best MB classes are when they involve the Scouts and do some memorable things rather than just lecture. They get that at school all the time, who wants to just listen to some old guy talk for hours about it….

  20. So now attendance equals completion in boy scouting….

    I am a robotics merit badge councilor….it takes a pair of scouts 8 hours or more to complete it with me….. A much better experience than 2 hours at a merit badge fair.

    So who actually gets the flavor of the merit badge…..

    I have turned away summer camp partials from boys who did not know the material or could not discuss their projects related to the merit badge…..

    • That’s your right as a Merit Badge Counselor – you don’t have to accept what they have done previously and I think you shared examples the illustrate a good time to not accept it.

  21. I am a religious emblem counselor and have some flexibility on this topic, as you are suggesting with the blue cards. What causes me to roll my eyes is when I ask for signatures save mine at the first meeting and neither their own nor their parents are signed. Then I remember I am dealing with high school boys and laugh with that eye roll

  22. I teach First Aid at a few different merit badge fairs. They last approximately 3-4 hours. The scouts have to bring in their books, a first aid kit they made, the MB worksheet and blue cards signed by their scoutmaster. It does not matter to me that if they are a scout, life scout or eagle scout they have to do the work to earn the badge. I also have a RN help assist me in most of my classes. We bring all the necessary equipment needed to complete the class and EVERY SCOUT must participate. I usually only have about 12 scouts in my class. I don’t sign any cards for scouts who are not prepared for class, so if they are missing anything they must leave. No partials. Parents paid for this class and I set the rules high in my classes. If you earned this merit badge in my class, you earned it. One scout earned this merit badge on Sunday and put his skills to work on Monday morning.

    I agree, they must earn the badges and they must do the work. No freebies. Someone could die.

  23. For “scouting activity or even” in the Camping Merit Badge,
    can a Guide or New patrol Patrol Leader set up in a member’s backyard,
    over-night _camping_experience_ with cooking on-the-ground (wood or charcoal), tents and sleeping bags
    and have it count?
    And do this every week-end for the duration of summer vacation (and/or in a school breaks) with some progressive Scout-craft work and local hikes work?
    Plus the usual Troop camping and Council/District events. And any Scout long-term summer camp week.
    To promptly achieve the “number” of camping nights for the Camping MB
    (and any Outdoor activity program being developed by BSA …).

    • This is technically possible, but probably would not happen.

      This would be patrol camping, and the Guide to Safe Scouting has rules for that. The Scoutmaster must approve the activity and there must be adult supervision.

      On back yard campout? Sure. Would the Scoutmaster approve a long series of campouts in the back yard just to get nights? Probably not. Everything listed could be accomplished on patrol hikes instead.

      GSS: http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/HealthandSafety/GSS/gss03.aspx

    • Our troop (it’s a small troop) does this sometimes in the Spring or Fall, when we bring in new troop members, and invite WEBELOS along. The scouts make all the planning and preparations that they make for any campout, including meal planning. We ensure proper adult leadership. The scouts are only allowed in the house to use the toilet. They pitch their own tents, and cook over a camping stove or fire. During the campout, they work on advancement and/or merit badges.

      If you camp like this too often, you miss out on the adventure of camping “in the wild”, away from civilization. Our favorite places to camp are state parks, but our scouts have taken a number of backpacking trips as well. And you haven’t lived until you’ve used a Biffy Bag. :)

  24. Backyard camping counting toward camping merit badge…..

    Now that is funny I don’t care who ya are.

    what is the rush, isn’t the troop active in the outdoors???

    • i knew a Scoutmaster in Texas whose backyard was about 7000 acres within the fence. Suppose he decided to discount any camping that wasnt done on at least as large a plot. That would rule out the vast majority of state parks east of the Mississippi and probably most of the camping your troop has done. My point is, it is all relevant. For an urban troop with limited funds, is a Scoutmaster really going to set himself up to deny camping merit badge to boys who are doing everything they can to get outside?

      As long as a Scout is sleeping outdoors in a tent he pitched, eating a meal he cooked, in a campsite his patrol leader is running, is there some other rule a Scoutmaster can rely on besides his own ego to deny him credit?

  25. As that urban poor scoutmaster I say it does not meet the intent of the requirement.

    So the boys go inside and use the restroom, shower play video games and just return to the tent to sleep?????? nope

    There are many parks that are free or cheap…..You just need to do a bit of research.

    It is just another way to short cut of the program.

    The scoutmaster in texas is a rare bird indeed. Lucky beyond what he is aware.

    Besides the truly poor have been priced out of scouting or are members of Learning for Life.

    I still have to ask what is the rush?????? The camping requirement is easily achievable in less than a year with an active program.

    • No rush. I just have no interest in discounting a Scout’s legitimate work, especially when I as the SM have no say in what the MBC decides to accept.
      There are also some pertinent differences between a planned campout “under the auspices of BSA” and a buddy having a sleepover at his house. One is acceptable by an MBC, the other isn’t.
      In regards to “the truly poor”, I would say there are more of them in traditional programs than you think. There is also an even larger number of folks that simply do not have any more room in their budget, regardless of their income. A Scoutmaster ignores this at his own peril.

      • Camping with a buddy in the backyard, even if he is a patrol mate, is not under the Auspices…….

        Budget thing is choice….$300 cell phone plans…$600 for two car payments, $2000 mortgages, $800 to play football, $250 cable tv bills…..Disney vacations and time shares…. I have met a few of these folks….they are poor in more ways than financial

  26. When I had just became an ASM, we had a kid transfer from another troop (He transfered from 7 other troops in the district over the years). He asked for some blue cards. The SM told him to grab some and he did so.

    He came back two weeks later with 16 merit badges completed. He gave them to my brother and I. We thought it was a joke, but his parents had signed them all! I asked him if actually did all of the work and he admitted that he did not and his dad was pushing him through. He added that this happened at the other troops he had been in.

    So there was a big topic of discussion at the next committee meeting. The man threatened to sue everybody involved. We talked with the boy and he wanted to earn the badges/rank the right honorable way. But the parents created a scene and the kid didn’t want to be in scout anymore.

    I know this is an extreme case though and it was not the boys doing. It was too bad because he could have been an Eagle if he was allowed to do so.

      • No, the parent’s lawyers contacted the scout office. They were well aware of their antics since they bounced from troop to troop several times. SM’s talk to SM’s, so we knew what was coming dealing with them. The parents were not even on the MB councilor listing.
        The first blue card I saw was for Lifesaving. I asked the boy if his mom was a WSI to be able to teach this badge. I was a WSI at the time and would have worked with him on the badge. I asked if his dad was an EMT or Fireman to teach First aid and Emergency Preparedness. Of course you know the answer to that. Of course most of the badges were required for Eagle. I heard the parents tried to buy signatures for MB’s. That went over like a lead balloon.
        We did a little digging and all of his camping nights were falsified. He never went to a long term camp either, summer camp or week long trip. District camp outs, he was too busy with other things to attend. They tried going Lone Scout, but the council threw that out as well. Not getting along with other SM’s does not mean you are isolated from a local troop. Well, they were self isolated.
        The boy could have earned his Eagle and that is what gets me. He had what it took to earn it. At least it was not the troop, committee, or council holding the boy up. Too bad.

  27. The Blue Card has needed to be re-designed for some time now. Most importantly it needs to have a blank for the BSA ID # of the Counselor. Unrelated but I asked Russell Smart, head program guy for the 2013 Jamboree, if Scouts needed a Blue Card signed by their home Scoutmaster for merit badges taken and earned at the Jamboree. His answer was “no” and that the merit badges offered there would have special blue cards.

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