BSA merit badge team continues efforts to improve existing badges

Can you improve something that’s pretty close to perfection already?

The BSA’s Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force thinks so.

It’s the job of Scott Berger, volunteer chairman of the task force, and his team of volunteers and staff advisors to keep our current library of pamphlets and badge requirements up-to-date, relevant and fun.

The BSA will always consider the development and release of new merit badges when appropriate, but this task force regularly reviews all merit badges and welcomes your input to help improve the Scouting experience.

I talked with Berger last week to discuss the difficult but rewarding task facing his task force.

“Keeping the program strong and interesting will always involve developing new merit badges, and currently, I think we are in great shape,” Berger says. “In the near future, you may not see as many new badges as you have during the past. Our task force’s job is really a concentrated effort to maintain each of the existing badges.”

This usually results in small “tweaks” to requirements. Sometimes the wording of a requirement might be improved, with the text clarified but the underlying intent unchanged.

Other times one or more requirements might be completely out of date, “and we’ll fix that,” Berger says.

Going forward, I would recommend Scouts, parents, leaders and counselors always check for the most current requirements at this site.

What if a Scout has already begun work under a previous version of the merit badge requirements? Under most circumstances, he can continue working using these older requirements. To help with that, the task force will post those older requirements online as well.

Why merit badge maintenance works

The constant-improvement approach makes sense.

The BSA has 136 currently available merit badges, each offering Scouts a chance to learn a new skill, trade or hobby. The selection is vast, spanning a wide range of what Scouts love: sports, crafts, science, trades, business and future careers. Though a handful of Scouts earn every available merit badge, that’s not the goal. The reason there are so many is because Scouts are interested in so many different things.

BSA volunteers and professionals believe improving and expanding existing merit badges serves Scouts well. Take the Snow Sports merit badge, for example. Beginning in 2016, Boy Scouts now can earn that merit badge on snowshoes. Before 2016, only downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding options were available.

Updating requirements means merit badge pamphlets and the Boy Scout Requirements book need to be updated as well. In the past, this process slowed down the update cycle, at times causing delays of a year or more. Not anymore, Berger says.

“As soon as we have new, updated merit badge requirements, we’re going to immediately get them on Scouting.org, as well as in our new interactive digital merit badge pamphlets and on Scoutbook,” he says. “We’re not waiting for reprinted pamphlets or requirements books. This should help to get the very best information and resources into the hands of Scouts as quickly as possible.” (I’ll also blog about new merit badge requirements here.)

Again, if a Scout has started working on a merit badge using earlier requirements, he’s fine. He doesn’t need to start over. The new requirements must be used by Scouts beginning work on the merit badge from that point forward.

Changes to merit badges aren’t taken lightly — never have been. The volunteer-driven Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force works with experts on that particular topic and professionals at the BSA before approving any changes.

So which merit badges have recent updates? This list was printed in the 2016 Boy Scout Requirements book:

Revised Merit Badge Requirements

  • Cooking
    • Grouped requirements in a way that’s easier to follow.
    • Cleaned up redundancies
    • Removed the section requiring Scouts to describe nine different food-related illnesses, instead combining that with a requirement about food allergies and food intolerance
  • Lifesaving
    • Added principles of BSA Safe Swim Defense
    • Added requirement to watch video or live demonstration of rescue performed using a rowboat, canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard
    • Updated CPR mentions to reflect the fact that CPR techniques frequently change.
  • Photography
    • Too many to name, though the revised requirements do a much better job teaching Scouts how to take quality photographs with smartphones and digital cameras
  • Snow Sports
    • Snowshoeing joins downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding as an option for earning the badge

Minor Merit Badge Requirement Updates

  • American Business (2a)
  • American Labor (3)
  • Archery (options A and B, 5f[3])
  • Camping (3)
  • Chemistry (1b, 1c, 7b)
  • Citizenship in the Community (2, 7)
  • Citizenship in the World (4c)
  • Emergency Preparedness (2, 3b, 6, 7, 8)
  • Environmental Science (3e[2], 3g)
  • First Aid (2b)
  • Mining in Society (1a)
  • Personal Management (2a, 5, 9e)
  • Railroading (5b, 7d)
  • Skating (1; Ice Skating option 2d)

 I’ll share more about the four merit badges with major revisions in separate posts coming soon.

How to suggest a merit badge revision

The Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force accepts input from fellow volunteers. Suggestions for merit badges updates can be send to merit.badge@scouting.org.

Update, Jan. 26: Scott Berger asked me to share this message with readers: “The Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force appreciates all of the comments to Bryan’s blog. We will consider all of the ideas and thoughts you have expressed. We know that keeping an open ear to the fantastic volunteers and BSA professional staff throughout the country will result in improving the best youth program in America. Thank you.”