Ask the Expert: Can a troop prevent a Scout from earning a merit badge at a workshop or summer camp?

Ask the Expert: What happened to Bugling merit badge?Updated May 15 with some clarifications.

Not all merit badges are earned in the traditional troop setting.

Enterprising Scouts can earn them at council-run merit badge “colleges” or workshops, summer or winter camps, or on their own with a registered counselor.

But some troops restrict or even prohibit this practice, insisting that merit badges must be earned under their own roof — with only troop-sanctioned counselors.

True, the Guide to Advancement says Scouts must discuss their choice of merit badge counselor with their Scoutmaster, but some troops take it one step farther, declaring that merit badge workshops themselves aren’t kosher.

Is that OK? That’s what a Scouter named Thomas wondered in an email last week. In his troop, Scouts cannot earn Eagle-required merit badges at events like workshops, instead needing to earn those merit badges in-house. He writes: 


Our BSA district holds various workshops such as Merit Badge Saturday and has arranged for qualified and approved MB counselors to run these sessions. The workshops offer many merit badges including some that are Eagle Required. This is supported by the “blue card,” which states the Scout “may also want to take advantage of opportunities at merit badge fairs or midways, or at rock-climbing gyms or whitewater rafting trips that provide merit badge instruction. This is acceptable …”

A concern is that our local troop had established a policy that no Scout in our troop would be allowed to earn an Eagle-required MB at a merit badge workshop. Some of the adult leaders in our troop voiced an opinion that we can and should place this restriction on the Scouts in order to ensure the Scout has a good experience using our troop approved counselors. Does the BSA allow for a troop to establish a local policy that prohibits the Scout from taking Eagle Required MBs at fully sanctioned and approved events? There are good intentions on both sides of this debate in the troop and we want to align our approach with BSA national policy.

Can you shed some light on this topic?


Thomas S.

So what’s the answer? As always, we turn to those prolific light-shedders in the BSA’s Advancement Team.

The gist of it is this: Though Scouters can get away with it under current rules, the BSA highly discourages troops from restricting where Scouts can earn merit badges. And the practice of 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.

Here are some other key points on the matter from the upcoming 2013 Guide to Advancement:

  1. Unit leaders must have a discussion with a Scout before the Scout gets the signed blue card. This discussion is meant to be a “growth-oriented and positive conversation” rather than a restrictive one. 
  2. Any registered Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, or qualified Venturer or Sea Scout may begin work on any badge at any time, provided he’s had this discussion with his unit leader as indicated on the blue card.
  3. But to elaborate on points 1 and 2, the blue-card signature no longer indicates “approval to begin work,” meaning a Scout may count certain requirements for a merit badge before he has the blue card. For example, nights of camping completed before he has the blue card for Camping merit badge will still count. (See this Ask the Expert post for more clarification.)
  4. Units, districts and councils do not have the authority to implement a different system for merit badge approval or documentation.
  5. The Scout and unit leader should come to an agreement as to who the merit badge counselor will be. Lacking agreement, the Scout must be allowed to work with the counselor of his choice, as long as that person is registered and approved by the council committee.
  6. A Scout may want to take advantage of merit badge fairs or midways, or merit badge instruction at rock-climbing gyms, whitewater rafting companies, or museums. That’s acceptable, provided the counselors are registered and the Scout has a discussion with his unit leader and gets a signed blue card.

What I’ve written above is just an overview, and those changes will be further explained and made official when the 2013 Guide to Advancement comes out this summer.

(Update May 15): To give you a taste of what’s to come, I have uploaded the relevant page from the 2013 Guide to Advancement (clicking opens PDF). Take a look, but remember that it won’t become “gospel” until the advancement guide releases this summer.

I hope that clears things up a little. Thanks to the BSA’s Advancement Team for handling all the questions I’ve been throwing their way recently.

Have a question?

Send it to me, subject line “Ask the Expert,” and I’ll try to track down answers when possible.

Photo: From Flickr. Some rights reserved by Fort Meade. “David E. shows his Lego robot to James L. during S.T.E.M. Merit Badge Day when 430 Boy Scouts were scattered throughout the post to earn merit badges in science, technology, engineering”

211 thoughts on “Ask the Expert: Can a troop prevent a Scout from earning a merit badge at a workshop or summer camp?

  1. We simply don’t promote certain events if we feel they look wishy-washy. If a boy goes anyway, that’s that.

  2. As with everything else the adults are the checks and balances for the youth. Help the youth do the research on the event/counselors. And as with everything check to see what he did and learned.

  3. Why would any responsible leader limit a boy from learning something new. All the boys are not the same in the way they learn. We must look at many different ways in teaching. It should come from HQ no longer will limits be put on the boys.

    • The troop doesn’t appear to be limiting the Scout’s ability to learn, unless the troop does not have a counselor for a particular merit badge. I have seen first-hand, inadequate counseling on a large scale at merit badge events. The counselors and the council are not meeting their responsibilities. I hate to see the troops being further restricted in wanting the boys to fulfill the full requirements…nothing more/nothing less.

      • I know with my boy there has been some very poor “Fairs” he has attended. I also know he has not learned any more about a badge from the troop than he has at some of the other fairs.

  4. Our troop has this policy, and it’s appropriate. Merit badges done at workshops etc. are often not done with the same rigor and high standards that we expect.

    • Your Troop is adding to the requirements and that is against the rules. If you find poor MBC Counselors, there are procedures to follow to either retrain them or eliminate them. Start by informing the District Training Chair.

    • Troop policy does not trump BSA regulations. Remember, every boy deserves a trained leader: that being one who learns the rules and follows them.

    • Well, that may be the case at this point, but once the new GTSS comes out, you will no longer be able to restrict boys from doing that – I don’t really “like” Merit Badge Fairs, however, we have boys using them all the time in our troop – It’s not ever been a problem…

  5. Addressing the original question, “Can a troop prevent a Scout from earning a merit badge at a workshop or summer camp?” – the answer is a resounding NO.

    The problem of MB counselors signing off Scouts who haven’t actually completed the requirements has been around for a long time. I was the Ecology-Conservation Director at a BSA camp in 1979 and 1980, and I had irate Scoutmasters in my face because I gave little Johnny a partial in Environmental Science. They couldn’t believe I was going to actually require their Scout to sit out in the woods for six 20-minute sessions, taking notes, and to actually write a report!

    I’ve seen both extremes: Scouts who earn a Merit Badge for which they’ve done little or no work, and Scouts who have been denied badges because of additional requirements being added by the counselor. Both extremes violate the standards.

    Whether it’s in a troop , summer camp, or a Merit Badge College setting, all counselors need to be trained to neither add to, nor take away from, the requirements of any Merit Badge.

  6. My SM rule (merely a guideline) was 1/3 friendlies (troop and troop family counselors) 1/3 camp and MB fairs 1/3 “total strangers” (on the district- or council- approved counselor list or recruit a teacher.) [Even though I've had a phone phobia ever since.]

  7. I fear the “Unit leaders must have a discussion”. It’s a good idea and the original purpose of the SM signature all along. But some unit leaders will twist and turn what they can to take control and box the scout into their way of scouting. Scouting’s supposed to be friendly and exciting for the scout. Now I can imagine troops responding by having advancement chairs schedule MB conversations and you need to bring your MB sash or advancement report with you to the meeting.

    Somehow it should be emphasized it’s a casual discussion.

    I hope it the 2013 GAC emphasizes that the troop is not to put any hurdles or establish formal processes around getting a MB signature. The process is to be as simple as the scout walking up the SM to ask for a signature. The SM and scout chat and then the SM signs the card. No approval. No refusal to sign.

  8. I ask how do you know the noted MB courses are Lax? Suggest an adult leader or Eagle Scout sit in on the course. Check the Scouts activity sheet.If the course is truly lax write a letter to the district or council advancement chair involved, giving details.

  9. In our troop, we like to make sure our Scout have ample opportunities to earn MB throughout the year. Our Boy Scouts understand that if they go to a MB Fair, or Summer Camp, and receive a signed Blue-card, does not mean that they have earned it “yet.” In our troop, all Scouts are to turn in MB worksheets showing that they understand the material that was covered and there is some form of documentation/pictures/adult-feedback that the Scout performed the “do and demonstrate” parts of the MB during the MB event. Each Scouts will need to turn in a MB worksheet along with the signed MB Blue card to be reviewed by the Advancement Coordinator and SM to ensure the Scout knows the MB content. All because a Scout went to a MB fair or Summer Camp does not guarantee that the Scout knows the MB material, why award it if they do not know the material? This is our troop quality assurance that all of our Scouts do the work for Rank and MB, thus ensuring we are “Doing our Best” in delivering a quality Boy Scout Boy Lead program. And the Scouts feel a greater since of accomplishment following our Advancement procedures to be awarded.

    • Tom: You have added the requirements which is expessly forbidden by the GTA, Once a certified MBC has signed the Blue Card, the MB is earned. There is no requirement for the Scout to be tested again on the information. Do you remember 100% of what you learned in a class 10 years ago, 5 years, 2 years, 2 weeks ago? Does a student remember everything they learn in school? Of course not. If your BOR is “testing” your Scouts on their requirements for advancement that is also not proper either. The BOR can ask the Scout where they learned how to do the requirement, which of the requirements were the toughest, or the easiest, but the Scout cannot be handed a rope at a BOR and said, “Tie me a Square Knot.” The following is taken directly from the GTA & basically says that your troop IS NOT to be doing what they are doing. Troops need to abide by the rules set up by BSA and not make up their own. 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.

      • Thank you for your reply and information. We will review your notes and the BSA GTA at the next the troop committee to make sure we are within the GTA guidelines. Please note I made no mention to BOR and want to make it clear that we are currently following BSA recommendations with Rank Advancements, BOR’s and MB awarding.

    • Wow. There is no “knowing the MB” material. There’s no troop 2nd guessing a sign off. If you have a problem with the sign off, go to the MBC or the district or the council. Address it by getting the counselor to improve or having the counselor removed. Ya don’t put it back on the scout !!!

      The biggest issue is that this is OFF THE TARGET. Just because you took a MB does NOT mean you mastered the requirements UNLESS the requirement says to MASTER it. Merit Badges are “Introductions” to topics to spur interest and excitement. The real benefit is working with others and following thru on details such as the requirements. The MB topic is just the channel for those lessons.

      Your “doing your best” is a disservice to the scouts.

      • You mean like “On my Honor, I will do my best to do my duty…”

        No. It’s not a cub scout thing. It’s a Scout thing.

        • Doing your best is certainly a “Scout thing” regardless of age. I have been involved in scouting for the past 20 years. I have worn different hats from cub scout leader, committee chair, unit commissioner and merit badge counselor. Every boy I have come in contact with has different strengths and weaknesses. I expect each one to do his best. When I do a merit badge with a scout, the best from one child may not be the same as another child. As a special ed. teacher, I realized early in my career that all children must be treated as individuals. Every family dynamic is different. As a Family Life MBC, I talk with the boys before they do their projects. I try to make sure the projects are relevant to each family. What may be a small project for one family, might actually be huge to another family depending on their circumstances. If a boy is doing his best, to the best of his abilities, he has earned the badge. No one should be judging the validity of earning of the badge. Calling counselors and learning how to sit and talk and work with a stranger is a big deal for some kids. We are not only helping them to learn about the badge they are doing….we are preparing them to be a success in life!

    • Do you know that by requiring “worksheets” you are adding to the requirements? While the “worksheets” are handy for the Scouts to keep track of their progress, they can not be required!

      The best way to determine if Scouts have actually done the requirements is to ask them questions that determine WHAT they have learned. While you are NOT allowed to retest, you could ask questions to determine what they learned. Maybe questions such as “What did you learn about ?”

  10. We have had some problems with specific workshops. In 1 case, scouts were getting Family Life or Personal Management signed off as “complete” after taking a single 90 minute class, with no work done prior to the class. In this case, the counselors were clearly cutting large corners off the requirements. And once those kids have the signed blue cards, parents get very unhappy when you tell them that their son did not earn the badge. So we just stated that no scout would get any requirements signed off without a review from a troop counselor and stated our concerns. We still get a few unhappy parents, but that’s life.

    I have also seen summer camps cut corners. Our policy has been for Eagle-required work done outside the troop, it has to be reviewed by a counselor Perhaps we should do the same thing for non-Eagle badges, but at some point it just becomes too much of a burden..

    • Evidently many Scouters need to go back & read the current GTA. Troops that make Scouts jump through hoops after receiving a completed blue card from any MBC is in direct violation of the GTA. Specifically the 1st & 2nd sentences of Paragraph below. When Scout leaders see a problem with a substandard MBC (at a MB Forum/Fair or otherwise), the Scouter should have report it in writing to the Scouter running the event, the District Advancement Chair, and if necessary, the Council Advancement Chair. Just because a Troop will not take the time to follow the procedures to get rid of a substandard MBC, does not allow that Troop to make up their own rules. If I was a parent in that kind of troop and felt my Scout had completed the MB requirements (nothing more and nothing less), I would make sure the troop abided by the rule below. And if the troop did not, my Scout would be in a different troop by the next week. Not because another Troop was “easier,” but the troop that I am going to support with my time is going to follow the BSA regulations and not their own self-made up rules. Maybe those Scouters that are adding additional requirements to MBs earned outside the troop need to review the 7th point of the Scout Law as I don’t think it adds a clause that says “only when the troop agrees with the rules and regulations.” 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, David, what would you do if a Scout attended a 1-day merit badge fair and returned with a signed blue card indicating he earned the Family Life, Personal Fitness or Personal Management badges without any prior work on the badge? Would you actually record the badge?

        • I would ask the Scout to recite the Scout Oath & Law. Then ask the Scout if they completed 100% of the requirements as stated, nothing more and nothing less. I would ask him if he would show me his tracking sheets (Scout doesn’t have to do so). If he then does not volunteer to take back the Blue Card until he completed the actual requirements, I would then ask him if he thinks that the SM should sign him off for exhibiting “Scout Spirit” for his next rank.

        • Tracking sheets? The only allowed tracking sheet is the blue card. That’s it. Read the GTA. It’s pretty explicit.

          Usually it’s impossible to document all the negatives because you can’t document every perversely possible concept. But it is funny because BSA does explicitly say the blue card is the only acceptable form and that troops are not to add or do differently. BSA GTA 2011 Page 37.

        • Fred answered the question for me. That is why I would ask to see the tracking sheet, but the Scout could refuse. I spent over 23 years following a multitude of regulations in the Army. Instead of trying to add one’s own rules to the Army’s, I always sought to find the rule that would satisfy my intent. In the case of BSA, that could be the Scout Spirit piece that the SM can control. So instead of adding to the MB requirements that are prohibited by BSA policy, use the BSA policy that can properly be used.

        • If you can not ask for tracking material, why is it that the BSA has worksheets for all merit badges? When we do a badge at our hut, we use the work sheets. That’s how we know who completed what, and if you miss a meeting it shows on the sheet. Then it is up to the Scout to ask to make up the work.

        • Brian: Can you point me to the “official” BSA website with “official” worksheets? I believe all the websites out there with worksheets for MBs are not associated with BSA, but are constructed by well-meaning volunteers to assist Scouts put their thoughts together so they can discuss/show/demonstrate knowledge/etc. of a specific requirement in an organized manner instead of having a bunch of loose-leaf sheets with scriblings on them.

          This is the disclaimer from MeritBadgeDotOrg:


          MeritBadge.org is an online, open-content collaborative encyclopedia developed by volunteers and is not affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) or with the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM). No content provided at MeritBadge.Org is official content. For official information see:

          The US Scouting Service Project’s disclaimer is:

          REPRESENTATIONS: The U.S. Scouting Service Project is a non-profit organization operated by volunteers and is not affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) or with the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM). The USSSP may advance opinions that are not consistent with other Scouting Associations and its writing should not be construed as official interpretations of BSA or WOSM policy. The USSSP is operated as a public service with the intention of providing a means to share Scouting related information.

          Boy Scout Trail Disclaimer:

          This site is not officially associated with the Boy Scouts of America

          Scoutarama Disclaimer:

          Scoutorama.com is not an official publication of Boy Scouts of America.

        • So, if a Scout comes in to a meeting, and his Dad printed a blue card, (which we do, the actual blue cards cost to much) I should just take his word for it and not ask any questions about it? That is one of the BIG problems with Scouting today, it is to soft.

        • Technically the Scout should get the Blue Card before they start the MB along with the SM’s signature. Since your Troop’s policy is to just print off “blue cards” because they are “too costly,” you are surprised that someone with access to a computer might circumvent the system? Many camps and MB Forums/Fairs issue their own “Blue Cards” that are often not really blue cards, but a summary sheet.

          In this case, I would have a Troop meeting to explain the MB procedures to the Scouts that the order is: request the blue card; get the SM’s signature on the Blue Card with a recommended counselor; find a MBC Counselor; complete the requirements; have the MBC sign the card; return the card to the Advancements Chair for the Troop Committee.

          If the Scout got a “Blue Card,” from some other method, this could be addressed by asking the Scout if they are following the Scout Law (Obedient) and through the use of Scout Spirit.

          The GTA is explicit that once the MBC signs the MB as being completed, it’s a done deal.

        • David Pendleton wrote:

          Brian: Can you point me to the “official” BSA website with “official” worksheets? I believe all the websites out there with worksheets for MBs are not associated with BSA, but are constructed by well-meaning volunteers to assist Scouts put their thoughts together so they can discuss/show/demonstrate knowledge/etc. of a specific requirement in an organized manner instead of having a bunch of loose-leaf sheets with scriblings on them.

          I happen to be the Scouter that currently prepares the worksheets on usscouts.org, which are also available on meritbadge.org. We never state that they are official, and in fact specifically state on each one this:

          The work space provided for each requirement should be used by the Scout to make notes for discussing the item with his counselor, not for providing the full and complete answers. Each Scout must do each requirement.

          BTW, any copies of the worksheets I’ve prepared which are posted on sites other than usscouts.org, meritbadge.org, or an official BSA site are in violation of our copyright.

          As for David’s question to Brian, BSA has posted a copy our worksheet for Game Design at this URL:

          boyslifeorg dot files dot wordpress dot com/2013/03/gamedesign.pdf

          They’ve also posted one that they prepared, based on our template, for Robotics at this URL

          boyslifeorg dot files dot .wordpress dot .com/2011/04/roboticsworkbook.pdf

        • Most of the requirements for Family Life have to be done with the family. There are 2 projects to be done that are supposed to be approved by your counselor before you do them. It would be impossible to earn the badge at a merit badge fair without have certain requirements done ahead of time.

        • David, As to tracking sheets, BSA prints them officially in the merit badge handbooks. Although specific forms are not required, many of the long-term requirements need documentation. (e.g. Family life #3 “Prepare a list of your regular home duties or chores (at least five) and do them for 90 days. Keep a record of how often you do each of them. ” and Personal Fitness #8 “. . .Keep a log of your fitness program activity. . .”) I think reviewing these with a Scout is perfectly reasonable. You are not retesting him on the requirement.

        • Paul: I am not upset with any MB tracking sheets or the Scouters that post them. I think they are great!!! The point I was trying to make was that Brian did not know that the tracking sheets were not made by the BSA and thus he could not support his argument that since BSA made the sheets, their Troop could ask for them from a Scout that earned a MB outside their Troop. This was a fallacy based on his lack of knowledge of where the MB tracking sheets come from.

        • Nelson: It is the MBC’s responsibility to review the tracking sheet of chores, etc. Once the MBC signs off on the Blue Card, it is not under the auspices of any Scouter in the Troop to make the Scout show the SM/ASM/CM or any other one his “paperwork”. This is adding to the “nothing more, nothing less” requirement. The GTA says that once the Blue Card is signed, the MB is earned. What more does it take to explain that.

          As stated several times before that if a SM/ASM or any other Scouter is unhappy with a MBC, they need to follow the prescribe methods to get the MBC taken off the rolls. The same holds true for any MB Fair/Forum/University that is held. Trying to punish the Scout for the sins of an Adult Scouter is not the solution to the problem.

  11. What can a unit do if a Scout chooses to earn a badge with a counselor who does not follow BSA guidelines with regards to requiring the Scout to complete all the merit badge requirements? This happens a LOT at Summer Camp, but it’s not the only place.

    • What I’ve been doing for many years is posting summer camp reviews on SCOUTS-L. You would be amazed how quickly a summer camp gets serious about merit badge quality when they know troops are staying away because of poor reviews. The same thing is true about merit badge fairs.

  12. On my honor I will do my best? My fellow leaders and I do follow the guidelines. However, we also hold our noses. Our council here in the triad of NC allows scouts to earn merit badges at their summer camp and at merit badge colleges where the Scouts are given a blue card indicating completion yet we know that they did not complete all the requirement. We’ve had the discussion over the past seven years with those in charge…no changes have ever been made. So much for the Journey to Excellence (guess what – shortcuts here also). As such, in our council, we do cheat our Scouts out of a quality program. I know that sounds harsh…not sure how to present it happier. From the previous comments, it appears like other Scoutmasters have the same situation in their councils also. Our tact has been to encourage our Scouts to be trustworthy even if doing so is not modeled sometimes in our council.

    • The merit badge clinics and fairs are huge money makers…Why are they going to change a thing….

      • Huge moneymaker for whom? Ours cost very little and usually go to the logistics involved.

      • I would post the link to the one my scout attended but it was gone off the website…..

        The cost was $75

        • I haven’t seen a $75 one yet. My son has now been to three MB Forums/Fairs. The cost of these were $10 (two 1/2 days of 1 hour, 45 minutes each session a month apart to earn 2 MBs); $15 (three 1/2 days with 1 hour each time to earn 3 MBs); and $25 (all day to earn 2 MBs). The latter included facility rental, lunch, and supplies for the MBs.

          In conjunction with the National World War I Museum, I facilitate the American Heritage MB twice a year. Current cost is $15. This includes admission to the museum (special tour during the MB Class with an option to return to the Museum after the class is over until the museum closes), a special Scout patch, breakfast, snack, and drinks for lunch (Scout brings their own lunch). Adults who attend (Scouter or just parent) can go on the tour for free and receive a patch if they want. The class begins at 8:30 AM and ends when the Scouts have completed the requirements as stated, nothing more and nothing less. If the Scouts do their prerequisites, they are usually done between 2:15 and 2:30 PM. Those that do not do their prerequisites either receive a partial Blue Card if they completed any of the requirements and can leave; or they can stick around to work with one of the MBCs (we usually have between 3 and 6 qualified American Heritage MBCs on hand) if the requirement can be met on the spot.

  13. I’ve experienced the opposite, where we had 4 Scouts who went to camp and DID earn the First Aid Merit Badge or at least did all of the requirements, and then the counselor didn’t fill out the accomplishment appropriately. So then we had to do it over again in the troop level. But this council doesn’t give or sign blue cards, they have an online tracking system that they make available for download after the event… You can’t fix this system… SO we have a bunch of ticked off scouts and scouters…. (Circle 10 Council Winter Camp)

    But you can’t add requirements to a Scout nor can we take anything from them that they were presented. Matter of fact, we have had people that think they are the Scouting Police and try to evoke all kinds of craziness adding to the program by creating hoops scouts or parents have to jump through to get their advancements going…. That ALWAYS goes over like a fat lady doing the high hurdles… (THUD!!!)

    • I’ve seen this with Circle 10′s summer camp, sometimes there are MBs with NO completed requirements listed for the boys. I try to get this verified before the boys leave on Saturday so that it’s easier to check the paper forms the MBCs turn in.

  14. It’s okay to ask them to be trustworthy and to call on their conscious. But not to put a guilt trip on them or for someone else to take away something that’s been completed. The point is that the merit badge COUNSELOR decides when the MB is complete. The MB program is *** NOT *** a troop function. It’s a district / council function. If you don’t like how it’s being done, tell them. Don’t penalize your scout.

  15. I had a scout earn 8 merit badges out of a single day merit badge fair……..

    While he will receive them, unless he decides to own up to the fact he did not do the work he is finished advancing in my troop.

    I will fail him on scout spirit until he says he did not earn 8 merit badges in 6 total hours. I have had an SMC with the scout and told him such…..He stands firm that he earned them……Despite the fact the Clinic Fair was less than 6 weeks ago, he cannot tell me about his weather instrument, his electronics project, or the robotics competition. All things he should still remember.

    I will let some other scoutmaster give him his falsified Eagle.

    Quality control is a unit level function…..Too many units hide behind the GTA and other documents and throw their hands up……

    If you are just giving these boys a pass on things you know they didn’t complete…..you have no right to complain about the quality of the scouts or the program.

    • You are doing the right thing because Scout Spirit is your control mechanism. 8 MBs in 6 hours must be a new record.

    • It is not your place to judge whether a scout completed his mb satisfactorily or not.

      He may have been working on them before he went to the clinic and the counselor acknowledged that the work was done, ie started at summer camp but because some requirements weren’t done he couldn’t finish at camp.

      It is your job to make sure the scout is capable and ready to do the mb. If he had 8 blue cards you weren’t doing your job.

      • Oh dan my boy…..Do you know this scout??? I assure you he wasn’t prepared, I will bet $100 he spent his time there playing games on his ipod.

        The folks at the merit badge fair issued signed blue cards after each session….The boys who attended never approach me for blue cards or even asked about attending….Had he asked me for 8 for the Event….What do you think my reaction would have been.

        I suspect what happened was the blue cards were left in an unprotected location and my scout helped himself to the signed one.

        His buddy turned in two cards…..and seemed to have completed the merit badges when I talked with him about it…..He had an battery powered LED mini flashlight he assembled. and a leather neckerchief slide……

        Was I grilling the second scout….No, but he proudly showed me his projects…

        • I stand corrected.

          My son works on merit badges all year. In some cases, he fails to complete all the work at the fair, clinic, or college. When this happens I encourage him to bring his blue cards to camp. There are many good counselors there who have helped him finish the work.

          Last year he spents almost 10 extra hours meeting the final requirements.

          I understand your position. I would let all your scouts know that unless they talk to you first, you will not sign any blue cards. Second, let them know that because of inconsistencies in that particular merit badge event. Future merit badges from that event arenot allowed unless a rep from the troop verifies the process.

  16. mr pendleton,

    I feel sorry for you….

    I don’t know if you live the Guide to Scouting because you have too?? or it is by choice.

    These discussions are about chasing Eagle…. It is about check marks on list…It isn’t about the individual scouts experience….

    • Mr. Basement: I do not get your point, but no need to feel sorry for me. The BSA has a set of rules set out in the GTA for earning MBs. As a firm supporter of the BSA program, I attempt to obey the policies as written and not come up with my own rules. If I do not like the policies, there are three things I can do: (1) Leave the organization; (2) Make Up my own policies and disregard the policies that I disagree with; or (3) Work through the approved procedures to change the policies that I disagree with and cannot accept. Troops that blantantly retest Scouts on MBs earned outside the Troop or their own internal counselors; do not accept MBs signed off by approved MBCs; not accept MBs earned at Camp; or add additional hurdles to the MB process are in direct violation of the national BSA policies. My point is that once a Blue Card is signed, the Scout has earned the MB. The mechanism for the SM is Scout spirit and if you missed it, I fully support you not signing up on the Scout Spirit for the Scout who earned 8 MBs in 6 hours. In this instance, I am suggesting to use the tool (Scout Spirit) that the BSA offers us instead of breaking other policies.

  17. But why does National need to remove the SM’s ability to assign a know Merit badge councilor….I have absolutely no ability to address the quality of the councilors my scouts visit..

    Picture this…..Eagle driven family…What are they going to do……Merit badge fair where scout can pick up All three citizenships in a single day….Or visit the local judge who is my preferred merit badge councilor for the citizenships….

    Who is going to be tougher on the scout???

    Who will have the better experience????

    While some SM’s are on ego trips…..I would rather my boys visit the MBC that I direct them too…..While it maybe more work, the experience for the scout is far superior.

    Is it the journey or the destination????

    My scout was terrified walking into the judges chambers…..He participated in a Naturalizaiton ceremony, and shook the hands of 40 new citizens…. It was an amazing experience…..He still talks about it….The MBC was fantastic to say the least…..

    • Who will be tougher? I don’t remember seeing tough in any of the requirements. If that is one of the things you look for you are doing a disservice to the Scouts. Now the good experience, that’s key!

      • When I say tougher….I mean actually hold the scout to achieve what is written.

        Not some cub scout, attendance=participate=patch crap.

      • Bob, while you claim not to be a SM on an ego trip, I’m afraid that is precisely what you appear to be. Advancement is not about making up arbitrary rules for your unit which throw roadblocks in front of Scouts. I hope that for the good of your troop, when the new GTA comes out, you will read and embrace it.

    • The intent of BSA National was never to allow a SM to “assign” a MBC to a Scout. What if the “assigned” MBC did not answer his telephone because he was out of town on business for 6 months. Is the Scout suppose to wait 6 months until he returns? Does he go back to the SM a month later & says, “I tried to reach this MBC, but he never responded” so the SM now assigns him MBC #2? Does a single SM know the “best” MBC for all 130+ MBs? Does every SM have the knowledge to know which lawyer would make a great MBC for Law? What if the Scout’s parent knows someone that is a MBC for that MB who he wants his son to associate with, but the SM does not know the individual? Who wins that battle?

      There is no criteria for the amount of “work” that goes into a MB. Each MB has its own requirements and the Scout must meet the requirement to the MBC’s satisfaction. Yes, there is a problem if a Scout goes to a MB College & gets all 3 Citizenship MBs in the same day w/o any prerequisites completed. In that case, the District Advancement Chair needs to be advised of the situation so they can take care of the MBC. If the District Advancement Chair fails to act, then elevate it to the Council Advancement Chair. That is your quality control & you do have a say. If you do not think a MBC should be counseling, notify the District Advancement Chair in writing. Then get your SM friends to do the same if they have had the same problem with the MBC. If there are more than just a few complaints, I would want to believe that the MBC would be “retrained” or be dropped from his role in Scouting.

      By the way, there is nothing in any of the Citizenship MB requirements that states that a Scout needs to go to a Naturalization Ceremony & shake the hands of 40 new citizens. If that was required/directed by the MBC it was wrong. If the Scout did it on his own, then more power to him.

      • Judge invited him to attend at their first meeting and scheduled their next meeting to coincide with the ceremony…..

        A quality merit badge experience….

  18. This topic is a great one! As a scoutmaster in the past I have discouraged (but not prohibited) scouts from earning merit badges at “merit badge colleges”. Part of the valuable experiences that scouts gain by using what has been the age-old process of: meeting with his scoutmaster to get approval to work on a merit badge, determine an appropriate counselor, then make an appointment with that counselor and work thorough the requirements toward final completion are excellent life skills that are often missed in if a scout ONLY earns merit badges through unit meetings, merit badge colleges and summer camp. There have also in the past been issues with how merit badges have been administered at some MB colleges where just by attending the sessions they automatically earn the MB often not truly completing the requirements. All this being said, with youth protection sensibilities required in the world in which we live in today MB colleges are a great option when administered properly. I think the change in SM approval suggested is however throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This is an important tool for any scoutmaster…a tool which must be used correctly, but a tool just the same. Perhaps the National Advancement Committee should focus on making sure that Unit, District and Council Advancement committees don’t create their own rules and requirements which unfortunately has been the recent history in my area…eg the limitation of how many MB’s a registered counselor may be a counselor for…this is a local addition not a national policy and therefore not really enforceable. The last item…Merit Badges being “taught” at troop meetings is a very bad practice. Introduced..yes..but not taught, especially the book work. Scouts should experience fun and action filled troop meetings. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited troop meetings and found scouts sitting on their backsides, bored to death, listening to some merit badge counselor lecture them. Introduce a skill during the skills instruction portion of your meeting along with a handout on how the individual scout may learn more, including earning a merit badge related to the skill. Merit Badges aren’t just about advancement, the Eagle required ones are appropriate skills necessary to be a good citizen, and the other optional MB’s might even introduce a scout to his future life’s work…

    • The issue of the number of MBs one can counsel is a tricky one. Based on my hobbies and experience, if I was in a rural area w/o that many MBCs I could probably counsel at least 50 MBs comfortably. Our Council would like for MBCs to only counsel approximately 6 MBs. Because of our location, there are more than enough MBCs so that number works. I did check out the council’s MBC list & did see that one guy was counseling over 30 MBs. That seems a little extreme for me, but maybe it is a small troop and no one else wants to do it. It, however, could be a SM who is wants to make sure that no Scout earns a MB from a MBC outside the troop.

      • No limit here on numbers of MB/ counselor. I do Astronomy, Radio, Environmental Science, Fish & Wildlife Mgmt, Forestry, Geocaching, Mammal Study, Nature, Soil & Water Cons.

        Not an issue. You know why? Because in the 20 years I have been a consular I have only taught 1 kid Environment Science (he had one requirement he didn’t finish at camp). I taught radio but did it at a Winter Advancement. Sad…very sad.

        Another peeve is those who are listed on the District list as a consular but beside their name it is noted they will only do kids in their own troop. Where I work I have considered offering MB days and advertising to to scouts just so I can get some blue cards for once. That or give up and remove my name.

        • Mike you beat me too it…..

          I have the district and council merit badge councilor list and I was also astonished by the number of Troop X only merit badge councilors…

          National wants to man up…….That would be a great place to start.

          My favorite guy on our list is a security guard at the local federal building who is listed as a Nuclear Science MBC….I know him…..

          I have yet to ask him about it…..I hope it is a clerical error.

        • Bob- Most of my MB’s are taught at summer camp so that is probably why I do not get calls. I understand that but I am a Wildlife Biologist. I would think I could compete with some kids at summer camp knowledge wise if it were not for them having to call me vs. picking it up at camp. Heck I have scouts in my own troop taking them at summer camp.

        • Mike: I’ve been doing MB Counseling for only about 3 1/2 years & still waiting to get the call out of the Blue from a Scout. Our Council only puts those MBCs on the website that state they will do it for anyone. Those that are only for their own Troop must be kept in a separate place because I have not found that list yet.

          Just about 7 months ago, I coordinated with the National WWI Museum (where I volunteer also) to do the American Heritage MB there. The HST Museum/Library was already doing Citizenship in the Nation and American Heritage and it fills up so quickly that I figure that they could use some “assistance”. They do 150 Scouts in a day while the WWI Museum only has 2 rooms that are useable & one of those in the Conference Room. We have space for about 24 Scouts in the Education Center. The 1st one had 18 Scouts when a few no-shows. The one we did last month had 28 with 2 no-shows. Space was tight, but we managed.

          I just noticed that the St. Louis council has several programs over there. They do Stamp Collecting when the big Stamp show is in town; the Carpenter’s Union helps out for a day-long one for Woodwork and that appears to be one that there are not a lot of MBCs around. There appears to be some good ideas out there, just need to make sure they are are adhering to the standard.

        • Until recently our district was the same way. Of the 136+ meritdges offered, our district covered about 120. Of those, there were multiple counselors for each.

          The problem arose when most of the counselors would only do their troop’s scouts. When our council made the districts reevaluate the counselors, many of the counselors dropped out because they did too many merit badges or they didn’t want out of town scouts calling them.

          My troop has eight scouts. How am I supposed to provide a good learning experience to these young men when we can’t even get counselors to return phone calls because the scout is not from their troop?

        • Dan: I just checked our District MBC Website (I hadn’t been on it for about 5-6 months) & noticed that the number of Counselors are way down. I do not know the reason for it, but will ask. Even the Scouter who heads up the annual District MB Forum was not listed for any MB & neither is her husband. Before, they had about a dozen MBs covered between them. I do not know if they chose to restrict their services to their Troop or if they have other fish to fry so do not have the time to be MBCs right now.

        • Mike: I had my 1st Scout call me out of the blue . . . well not really. He attended the MB Forum I ran at the National WWI Museum for the American Heritage MB several weeks ago. The Scout needed to leave early for another appointment so I only signed off on the requirements that he completed. He emailed me last week & we set up a time to me with him & his Father on “neutral territory” at the local Panera. He came prepared to complete his final 2 requirements and I signed off on his Blue Card. This was his 1st MB since he just crossed over in February. Now I’m waiting for the others from that class or my Coin Collecting one that had incompletes to contact me.

    A lot depends on the instructor. A number of our Scouts worked on their Forestry Merit Badge. “IT WAS LIKE A SCIENCE LAB” in the field. The boys had to return three times for instruction and Q & A. They were very excited and couldn’t wait to get started each day . A lot of HANDS ON and in the dirt. THEY LOVED IT! When its like that, I’m all for it.
    The most Merit Badges earned at camp that summer by any of our Scouts was three, and a lot of partial work had been done before they arrived at camp.

  20. This topic has sparked an interesting debate on SCOUTS-L. You may review the discussion during the past few days at

    • Looks like it is impossible to post a link. Do a google or bing search on “scouts-l dot org” and you should be able to see the comments.

      • Just looked over the discussion on Scouts-l.org. Much the same as here. The only thing that I thought was not right was not using local resources. The MBC does not have to be the one “teaching” the Merit Badge. A Scouter with some inkling of the subject could then get an “expert” to come teach it because the non-Scout is even more of an expert. This would be like getting the local orienteering club to teach orienteering to the Troop while the SM or one of the ASM who knows a little about the subject serves as the MBC. That MBC would be able to certify that the requirements were met even though the teaching the finer points of the subject were not the MBCs.

  21. I as a Scoutmaster for over tewnty years do not promote MB Universities or other quick and easy MB classs especially Eagle required badges. My troop does attend summer and winter camps every year and have no problem with scouts earning their badges at BSA camps. Should a scout wish to attend a MB class at a MB Fair, Expo or other seeting we talk it over to make sure he knows the material before we sign off and present the badge.

  22. Regarding Midways:
    In the course of study, It is not uncommon that scouts will complete coursework, whose compulsory scholarship far exceeds, corresponding to merit badge pamphlet requirements .

    During this initiation, the scout is developing a healthy relationship with an, albeit non-BSA registered, adult instructor.

    In cases like these, A merit badge midway allows an alignment of demonstrated scholarship with a BSA registered merit badge counselor well versed in dynamics reflecting the BSA path of development.

    The midway can advance an opportunity for a scholar-scout to reintegrate a disjointed analysis of a topic with a holistic approach to citizenship preparation based upon life skills education, leadership development and values training.

    Midways also provides scouts with an option for finishing partial completions and correcting deficiencies if any counselor qualifications have not been met. (see Guide to Advancement

    In closing, establishing prerequisites to midway each course, by the Midway host/ MB counselor, are often helpful in provoking appropriate preparation by the scout. The MB pamphlets are advanced as required reading.

  23. I had not read this thread before today. I find myself on all sides of this issue (Eagle Scout, 5 time camp staffer, former Scoutmaster, current MB counsrlor and sometimes presenter at MB Fairs). As the last two items on my list show, I’m a fan of going outside the troop to earn badges. As a Scoutmaster, I saw to it that certain badges were always available in the troop, but we relied on the council summer camp for things like swimming and environmental science. As a camp staffer and MB fair presenter, unit Scouters were and are always welcome to observe.

    I split my merit badge duties down the middle. Most Eagle Required badges that I counsel I do limit to one troop (Citizenships and Personal Management), on the theory that most troops have available counselors . As a unionized Public Sector employee who manages Information Technology for a state department of transportation, I counsel all comers for Railroading, Truck Transportation, Computers and American Labor.

    It still all boils down to training, both of the troop leaders AND of the MBC.

  24. In reading the comments, it seems the problem is that Merit Badge Counselors need to be better trained.
    No counselor should ever begin counseling a Scout unless a blue card has already been signed by the Scoutmaster.
    No counselor should ever sign off a Merit Badge as completed unless ALL requirements have been completed AS STATED. No requirement should be modified to make it easier, or harder, unless the Scout has some sort of documented disability or special needs. The time constraint of summer camp or a weekend event is not a valid reason to alter the requirements.
    I’ve been an area director at 2 Scout camps, and I have always directed the staff members under me to never sign off a Merit Badge unless the Scout completed ALL the requirements. As a counselor at our local Merit Badge Challenge, I do the same.
    This issue needs to be addressed at the national level. I’ve long held that all adult leaders, including Merit Badge Counselors, should be required to go through more rigorous training on advancement standards, in the same way they are required to go through Youth Protection.
    The Eagle rank, or any other rank, doesn’t mean anything if the Scout didn’t complete all of the requirements. On the other hand, adding to the requirements can keep a Scout from receiving what he has rightfully earned, and is a disservice to the Scout. The only solution is to train all adult leaders to stick strictly to the requirements AS STATED.

  25. Our Troop does this for Eagle Required MB’s. Reason was when I was the Scoutmaster a boy went to a MB University and took Citizenship in the Community. He had done NO pre-requisite work. At the end of the 8 hour class he came back with a signed/completed BLUE Card. Part or the requirement is to do 8 hours communtiy service which he didn’t do. This was brought up to the District Executive, Council Advancement and the Council Executive only to fall on deaf ears. I certainly don’t like what we did BUT I will not see the program cheapened by rubberstamping Merit Badges especially Eagle Required.

    • Sean,

      Did the scout accept the MB with out doing the service project? That would be his desision. My son got Disabilities Awareness MB signed off but did not do the service time. So he did it later and turned in his blue card. He didn’t want the MB until he did the work.
      The same thing happend when the District Advancement Chair was notified. They didn’t seem to have an issue with rubber stamping MB’s. But this was one MB councilor from the fair. The rest of the MN were completed.

      • Kelly
        Even after it was brought to the attention of everyone it happened again the next year. As a Troop we made the decision to let the boys go but NO Eagle Required.

  26. About a month ago, I led a Merit Badge Forum at the National World War I Museum for the American Heritage Merit Badge. One of the Scouts that had to leave early due to another activity contact me this week. He did not receive a completed Blue Card from me because he did not meet the requirements, nothing more & nothing less. I am meeting with the Scout and his Father tomorrow as the Scout has said he completed the rest of the requirements. We shall see. This is the way the system should work. Still waiting to hear back from several Scouts who only got partials from me for Coin Collecting at the District Merit Badge Forum because they failed to meet the requirements (most forgot to bring in their coin collections), but I am not going to hold my breath.

    • Part of a scouts is learning to be more mature and responsibility. If they chose to leave a merit badge class to go to something more important, then they should not be disappointed to receive a partial. They just made a desicion that the councilors time is worth little. Perhaps the councilor can have a make up session, but that it their perogative. I have given out partials and some boys return to complete and others do not.

  27. My unit discourages the sole use of these fairs and events as a means to deliver an adequate advancement program. I think it’s still appropriate for a scout to discuss with his Scoutmaster or appointed unit leader, his desire to earn a certain badge before he works on the core of it. That’s not to say he can’t complete some requirements before this happens, as in Camping MB, etc It’s more of a quality issue for us, as there have been certain MB fairs, etc that have not measured up to any reasonable standard. We’ve also had those moms that drag their kids about trying like crazy to push them into a rank at the earliest possible time, usually because little Johnny’s mom got her boy to earn Star when he was still in the womb – I know you all have seen this in action.

    As a Scoutmaster it was disconcerting to have a boy show up with his mother’s apron strings attached and hand me 5 or 6 blue cards that had been signed by a MB counselor at a fair and have never discussed this with me prior. Did the boy earn his MB? well he did sit through the 5 one hour classes. Did he retain anything from this experience? not a bit. Do you tell them no? That’s a big question. This has happened and I did have to have that conversation with the boy and his parents. I set out clear expectations of what was needed for any future MB earning and it was followed typically after that exchange.

  28. There seems to be a perception, which unfortunately can be a reality, that a Merit Badge workshop or fair can become a merit badge mill. When I became the Dean of Merit Badges for Tomahawk District three years ago, there was a lack of advancement in regards to the merit badge curriculum. We have since held a merit badge fair on the first weekend of December and they have been successful in a number of ways. First, the Scouts eagerly anticipate them now (I can tell by the emails I get asking when they are and what badges we are doing). Second, the leaders now trust that what we do is a positive influence on the program. We only offer 8 to 10 badges. We make sure that months in advance the leaders and Scouts know what requirements they will need to complete before that day if they anticipate to earn the badge. Instruction is only given on certain requirements that will work in a group setting,. We only offer 2 or 3 Eagle required badges and we make sure to offer a couple of the badges that are least earned from the year before (so we can show the Scouts the vast variety of badges in the curriculum). Third, we are now using the event to raise FOS contributions by allowing “sponsorships” of certain badges.

    Even despite the great level of destruction to the personal lives of over 200 Scouting families in my district this past fall, we still managed to have 44 Scouts attend the December 2012 Merit Badge Fair. Stats for Dec. 1, 2012 Merit Badge Fair.
    Scouts – 44: Tomahawk District – 16 ( 588 – 6; 105 – 3, 139 – 9, 237 – 1); Founders District – 6 (351); Brukellen District – 12 (76 – 10, 96 – 2); Pathfinder District – 8 (390 – 7; 427 -1)
    MB Earned: 73 (Cit in Nation: 1; American Labor: 10; Electricity: 14; Medicine: 14; Cit in Community: 19; Cit in World: 14, Personal Management: 1)
    MB Partials: 48 (Cit in Nation: 13; American Labor: 2; Cit in Community: 6; Cit in World: 14, Personal Management: 13)

    We have also offered to have counselors do certain badges at troop meetings. I personally worked on Weather, Game Design and Scouting Heritage with 2 different troops in the last few months over a three week period.

  29. One other bit of minutiae I just noticed. On the old MB blue cards, the verbiage on the bottom of the page where the unit leader signature goes says “and is qualified to begin working on the Merit Badge listed on the reverse side” (this is pictured in the 2001 Guide to Advancement, section On the 2012 printing of the MB blue cards, it now says “I have discussed this merit badge with this Scout and recommended at least one merit badge counselor”. At least with the new blue cards are now in circulation, that should help reinforce the change.

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