Homepage Forums Boy Scouts (Scouts BSA) What’s Happening to the "Merit" in Merit Badges?

This topic contains 23 replies, has 1 voice, and was last updated by  NorCalE 3 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #82231 Reply

    John Gaunt

    I am dismayed at the changes that have taken place over time in the implementation of the merit badge program. Although national states that the preferred method is for a Scout to contact a counselor, then meet to discuss how to proceed, then do the work and meet with the counselor (periodically, even) to discuss, the explosion in group “classroom instruction” events (merit badge fairs, merit badge midways, weekend/long-weekend “camping” events with merit badge classes) has, in my opinion, cheapened the concept of merit badges, and is cheating Scouts of a valuable opportunity to learn. I understand that we live in a culture of “participation awards,” but I would hope that BSA is above that, and that national will begin to rein in a runaway system of merit badge giveaways.

    Example 1: I see on the internet a council in a neighboring state advertising a “winter camp” experience over the past MLK holiday weekend. By their own words, “The event is geared around earning merit badges.” Really, why is that? Why should the main thrust of a camping event be “getting” (I shall not use the word “earning”) merit badges. Supposedly, from the start of the first class to the end of the last class, right before dismissal, a period of 52.5 hours during which there are meals, sleep, and other activities, a Scout can “get” up to five merit badges, including Eagle-required badges.

    Example 2: A neighboring council in my state recently held a winter camping event where a main feature was getting merit badges. From the beginning of the first class to the end of the last class, right before dismissal, was a period of 43 hours, during which there were meals, sleep, and other activities – Scouts could get up to four merit badges, including Eagle-required badges. Most telling: the last badge offered, immediately before dismissal (so, no opportunity for follow-up), was a 2-hour class in “Railroading” – take a look at the Railroading merit badge requirements, and then tell me how in a 2-hour group setting a counselor or counselors could ensure that each Scout, personally and individually, completed no less than the exact written requirements.

    If anybody with a pipeline to the head shed in Texas is listening, please forward along this voice crying in the wilderness. You are allowing to be destroyed that which used to be a high-quality program.

  • #82667 Reply

    Roland Roberts

    I’m going to strongly recommend you file the form from here

    Yes, you’re not the only one. It comes up in our district meetings as well where there are multiple cries and reminders about the whole merit part.

    Our boys just came back from the Naval Academy. I won’t name names, but I’m not going to protect the place because, well, they’re guilty. I have scouts who came back after a 3-4 hour session and having no experience in programming with the Programming merit badge. Sorry, that’s my day job. There is no way to get a complete in that. Period. I’ll be sending in the paperwork for that one.

    I’ve already complained about Nuclear Science. I have two boys who got sign-offs as complete on those, too. But they might actually have completes, not because of that class but because I’ve been working with them before they left and they may have finished what was left. But the reports I’ve received indicated everyone in the class was signed off; all they had to do was line up at the end of the class….

    Yes, that will be another form…

    Let me point out, some badges are intrinsically difficult and the counselor needs to figure out how to help a boy get through them. Because of my background, I counsel for several STEM related badges. My favorite is Astronomy, but it’s not easy. Still, when it says “Identify in the sky…” I point out the boys do not have to do this from memory. They can use notes, star charts, etc. (but no smart phones you point at the sky…the scout has to identify the stars and constellations, not the phone!). The point being, sometimes satisfying the badge requirements can be made easier than we first think. But beyond some threshold, they are no longer merit badges.

    So yes, file the form. I am.

  • #83206 Reply


    I agree, and so does my son. In our first year in Boy Scouts, I took him to a museum where he “received” a merit badge, but yes, I don’t think he really “earned” it. He went to resident camp this summer, and said that that’s a “real easy way to earn a lot of merit badges,” because they don’t require you do to all the requirements like our Scoutmaster does. I want my son to earn many merit badges, but not so he can put them on his sash, but so he can learn about the world and possible career opportunities. Sitting in a two-hour class may “get” him the badge, but he doesn’t “learn” much.

  • #84421 Reply

    Rodger C

    Our council offers these merit badge College (one day event) and camps. Some Merit badges are finished at the event, but most (especially Eagle required most of these badges have time restraints in them that would make it impossible to finish at an event like these) are NOT finished at the event. My son started cooking merit badge at summer camp last year, he is still working on completing that. So the fact that the merit badge is being offered does not always mean it will be 100% completed at the event.

  • #84740 Reply


    I do agree with some of this. I have seen both sides of it. My son bridged over into his troop just over a year ago. We have been to a couple of these “camps or colleges”. I have seen amazing instructure that have been doing it long enough that they are organized and are able to discuss things and still teach the scout the info. OH WAIT A MINUTE!!! The scout was to read the book before even coming to the class. There is a lot of the problem also is that the scouts are not reading the books and knowing the information going into the class. My son just went to one for landscape architecture because I was not sure how easy it would be to find a counselor in our area. Unfortunately he was a first time counselor and he covered all the requirements thoroughly except for the hardest one and he did not get to that one. We had 3 1/2 hours in the class. I believe it was taught well. The instructor said in the future he will request a full day. So now he is left with an incomplete merit badge that we drove 2 1/2 hours for him to get. Personally I think the do try to cramp to much into a 3 or 3 1/2 block of time. I wouldn’t mind the classession running longer just so they could learn more and have more discussion. But also the scouts need to read the book! My son was the only one answering questions for awhile til the instructor made the other ones start answering. Then you could tell they didn’t read the book. Personally if the scout is not pa Ying attention and answering questions then they should not get signed off on the badge.

  • #87892 Reply

    Ethan Angell

    As leaders don’t we get the final sign off. I have refused to sign off on merit badges when I know the scout has not completed everything. Example we attended a different summer camp this year. Scouts took reptile study and camping merit badge. All the scouts came back with completed blue cards. these were all first year scouts. None had 20 days and nights and none had taken care of a reptile for a month.

    • #88992 Reply


      Ethan, NO YOU DO NOT.

      Once the Merit Badge Councilor signs off on a completed Blue Card, you do NOT have any authority to hold back the Merit Badge. While I would suggest talking to the scouts and explaining how they SHOULDN’T present their blue cards for the SM’s final signature and registration with your Advancement Chair… it’s very important for you to recognize that you do NOT have the “authority” to withhold a “completed” merit badge.

    • #97785 Reply

      Roland Roberts

      I know this is old, but I missed this comment. Sorry, the SM does have the authority to not give a badge if he knows the scout could not have completed it.

      Section in the Guide to Advancement directly discusses this. However, remember to read that in the context of If the badge was already given, it cannot be taken back even if you believe it was unearned. discusses how you should take quick action to correct the issue.

  • #89975 Reply


    Paul, Ethan, I would defer to the Guide to Advancement, section You do have limited recourse IFF it is blatantly obvious, like claiming to complete the communications merit badge in a classroom setting; one certainly can’t do requirement 8 or 5, and I would wince at some of the others. This has happened here locally, so file the form I did (today – hand carried to council office). After addressing other troop leaders, the SM wants to be courteous over assuring the scout actually EARNED the badge, so yeah, I feel your pain.

    I have used this as a powerful teaching moment for my own son, who feels about as strongly about this as I do. Someone once said, “wise is the man who can learn something from everyone they meet.” Sometimes that thing we learn is how NOT to do something.

    • #92431 Reply


      Yes, you are correct. BLATANT violations do leave SMs with some recourse, noting that such steps include engaging the “offending” party (MB councilor) and then sitting and discussing the details of the situation with the Scout before trying to use “veto” powers.

      However, after reading a bazillion of these posts, my initial comments were meant to be far more “general” as there are always “those guys” (scoutmasters) who don’t understand the reach, and limits, of what a SM’s job really is and try to impose their views over top of official BSA policies and guidelines.

      No harm… and thanks for the clarification.

  • #90565 Reply


    My anecdotal experience as a parent of a scout that works on many different merit badges is that if NOT FOR THE MB CLASSES, he simply would have no opportunity to gain any exposure to many MBs other than the Eagle required and a handful of others (outside of summer camp – which is a class too).

    For every MB my son has tried to do “the right way” it has been a pain in my backside and his to get a MBC to be responsive. I can’t tell you the number of emails my son has sent to registered MBCs that either never responded or that agreed, but then stopped responding when my son was ready to meet again to obtain credit for work done. It has taken him months, no exaggeration, to simply get credit for work done last year.

    The classes are probably a natural outgrowth of the lack of time and interest displayed by the MBCs. I am a MBC but have not once been contacted by a scout to help them. I often wonder if they have been turned off by the process that they no longer try to do it “the right way.”

    Of course, not every troop, district and council is the same but I doubt that my experience as a parent or a MBC is unique. I don’t know the solution to fix this issue but I don know that kids (and sometimes adults) often take the path of least resistance and in my experience, we don’t make the process simple. Even starting the process (getting “permission” from the unit leader is cumbersome considering the fact that some troops have 100 scouts) creates a burden on both the adults and the scout. It would be nice if the scout could go direct to the MBC with their interest.

  • #91290 Reply

    Mike M

    RE “getting permission from the unit leader is cumbersome considering the fact that some troops have a 100 scouts”. In the Guide To Advancement (GTA) section The Scout, the Blue Card and the Unit Leader there is a box that states “…However, in circumstances when this may be impractical—for example, in large units or when the unit leader may be absent—the unit leader may delegate authority to sign cards and conduct the discussions. …”. So it does not need to be cumbersome. It would depend upon the individual troop organization. In addition section Merit Badge Counselor Lists of GTA discusses who develops/maintains and distributes the MBC lists (district and/or council) and who has access (troops, teams, crews, & ships). But “Scouts should NOT have access.”.
    (I know in our troop of about 25-50 boys the SM has delegated this process to some of the ASMs.)
    Paul’s response to Ethan,
    In section of GTA “Limited Recourse for Unearned Merit Badges” there are some cases where the MB is NOT awarded even with a signed completed blue card. “…however, if it remains clear under the circumstances that some or all of the requirements could not have been met, then the merit badge is not reported or awarded, and does not count toward advancement….This procedure for recourse is limited and reserved only for clear and evident cases of noncompletion or nonparticipation….” In addition as report should probably be sent to your council advancement committee see GTA section Reporting Merit Badge Concerns. I.e. fill the form as Roland Roberts states.

    • #92406 Reply


      Thanks Mike M.

      The idea that scouts can get started with a blue card from someone else helps but the idea that “Scouts should NOT have access” to the list does make it more cumbersome. Such a requirement means the other leaders must tell the scout which adults are MBCs for each MB vs the scout doing their own research. If was a leader in that position, I would have to access a list every time to give the scout some names in the same manner as the scout. I am just not sure what is accomplished by making the scout seek approval prior to making contact with the MBC. When I think of other elective activities, I can’t think of any that require such (summer camp, Nova, and Supernova for example can all started or registered without such permission).

    • #201310 Reply

      Hunting White Wolf

      Responsibility for the integrity for how your troop runs rests with the leadership. SM/CC/committee members. If they want the badges “earned” instead of a participation list, then that needs to be discussed and enforced. For the concern over why a scout (requirement) must contact a SM/leader before starting a badge; that is to direct them to a list of available counselors, not their dad, or some other random person that hasn’t even read the requirements. This also allow the troop to track what they are working on. I’ve seen this process hundreds of times, takes about five minutes.

      After every “MB Camp” and Summer Camp we would sit down and sanity check the accomplishments, and counsel each scout individually to let them know what requirements were still lacking. Like Wilderness Survival without building any fires, Cooking without planning or cooking anything, Astronomy despite never going out at night. I could go on. I’ve received completed blue cards for scouts that never attended a minute of class; the instructors just processed the entire enrollment roster.

      Our troop outbriefed the camps every time. Little by little changes are made. It is more important to have some pre reqs, and a few requirements that can be accomplished than to have a one way lecture and a roster turned completion. Be frank in your discussions about what can and cannot be expected to be accomplished in the time frame allotted. The camp counselors are usually 20 yr olds and they could use some backup. They are not the ones turning summer camps into MB mills.

  • #105757 Reply

    Bill Lang

    To those that are concerned about merit badges being handed out without the scout actually fulfilling the requirements, please reference to Section in the Guide to Advancement.This manual is available for free as a downloadable pdf from the scouting.org website or the paper manual is available for purchase through scoutstuff.org or your local scout store. It gives the unit leaders and advancement chairs a recourse when this situation occurs. Section Group Instruction is also a valuable reference regarding merit badge events where group instruction takes place and the merit badge counselor is no longer a counselor to the scouts, but a teacher/instructor for the requirements. There is no way a merit badge group instruction class can properly complete a merit badge during a limited amount of time if the MBC actually follows the requirements and has each and every individual scout discuss/explain/demonstrate/show/etc what the requirement is.

  • #114658 Reply

    Elmos world

    Some time ago my two boys have completed merit badges and there is evadence, pic and paper work to support that thay have done the work, but the scout master will not award or singe off on the blue card. what action dose a parent have?

  • #148557 Reply

    John Gaunt

    Contact your local council office.

  • #152954 Reply


    I earned all 24 of mine 1976-1983, and was proud of the accomplishments. How can they still be proud of theirs? The BSA values have been under attack for a few years now, and I no longer feel proud to have been a former Eagle. My BSA has died.

  • #195236 Reply


    yes, my son is now a scout and i am asking that very question. i thought eagle meant something, but now it feels like it has gone the way of participation awards.

  • #195988 Reply


    I have noticed at many of these merit badge days sponsored by troops that the counselor will ema everyone reminding them of prerequisites and let the kids/parents know that if certain prerequisites are not completed before the day of camp that their blue cards will only be Partially signed off. We have experienced this both ways- having completed months of work in advance for a citizenship badge then bringing all the completed work and proof to class. Also there was the time my son did not turn in his log for dog care and he only got a few things signed off. But it’s fair and at the next camp we will be able to make more progress. I agree that the merit badge counselor system using individual parents is less effective than getting everyone together all at once for one big day. At another event the organizers had managed to get all kinds of EMS professionals together for emmergency preparedness, plus a police, ambulance, and fire truck and officials who spoke to the kids. It’s obviously much easier to get that level of professional participation with a large group. I would say as parents we should just me mindful of making sure our boys understand they need to complete their requirements Before the camp/event or accept only partial credit.

  • #199119 Reply

    Scott R

    In The GTA 2019 edition under contents then Section 1 introduction FAQ’s, then under scout BSA, question #9
    “What can be done if a unit leader comes across a Scout who has a blue card signed by a merit badge counselor, but it is clear the Scout did not fulfill the requirements? ( Limited resources for unearned merit badges

    In most cases, with a fair and friendly approach, a Scout who did not complete the requirements will admit it. Short of this, however, if it remains clear under the circumstances that some or all of the requirements could not have been met, then the merit badge is not reported or awarded, and does not count toward advancement. The unit leader then offers the name of at least one other merit badge counselor through whom any incomplete requirements may be finished. Note that in this case a merit badge is not “taken away” because, although signed off, it was never actually earned.

    Please read the entire section in the GTA on this,( I’m glad I’m aware of it now.) I’ve only provided a portion, which I only became aware of this tonight as I was researching another matter along these same lines but with “a concern that the requirements for rank as written have not been fulfilled” yet was signed off.

    Troop Advancement Coordinator

  • #201575 Reply

    Leonard Nederveld

    I totally agree with previous opinions regarding how easy it is to earn merit badges these days. The Boy Scout leadership should be discouraging quick and easy merit badges instead of finding ways to make it easy and quick. If scouting continues this travesty Eagle will mean nothing in 20 years except that a Scout attended lots of classes. It will not mean that he worked and learned how to camp, cook, survive, hike and be a productive part of society amount other skills.
    I volunteered to be a merit badge counselor after retirement and was surprised to find that they are rarely used. The Scoutmasters and scout camps have taken over that role. When I “taught” a merit badge at a Scout camp almost none of the scouts had a merit badge booklet, nor had read it. They did not even know the requirements. Several were in attendance because the leader did not have any other place to put them (Great planning and leadership). There were boys that were not even tenderfoot yet that were attending Eagle required marit badge sessions.
    I had one leader upset because their scout did not complete the badge as the other scouts in past years had done. When you need to teach several scouts, including a life scout, how to tie simple knots all morning it is difficult to complete a merit badge in a day (which should not be the case anyway).
    Wake up BSA if you want to continue to give youth the skills needed to be leaders. It appears that it is more important to “get” merit badges that to learn the skills required to “earn” them.

  • #213102 Reply


    Regarding Elizabeth G’s statement: “at the next camp” I would ask: why wait?

    Merit badges can be worked on at any time, not just at summer camps, merit badge camps, or merit badge midways.

    If your son has completed the parts of the Dog Care MB then I would suggest he merely complete the merit badge using the BSA published instructions Step 3 according to the BSA website is: “Call the Merit Badge Counselor.”

    As a merit badge counselor, there have been many times where a scout started a merit badge at a camp coming home with a partial blue card and later I worked with the scout to complete that merit badge.

  • #213738 Reply

    Jay the Antelope

    You’ve all made great points on this topic. I’ll add that summer camps are guilty of cutting the MB program into a less educational, less valuable methodology tool. Camps are too frequently offering First Aid within their respective programs for new, first year Scouts. It’s ridiculous!
    In the past two years I’ve seen parents come into the room and present numerous unsigned blue cards to our advancement chair and expectantly ask that their sons be credited for badges. When told “no”, even though they weren’t laughed out of the room, those same parents have voiced their concerns and threatened to go to our council. Only recently have any of them taken the opportunity to become a MBC and help.

    A year ago we had an unfortunate outcome with a family removing their Scout form our unit. After summer camp, we did not award First Aid MB to our first year Scouts. It was included in the first year program offering. Swimming was not. When the rationale was explained to the parents, they took the stance that we had no right–the camp said they had completed it. That camp which I’ll not identify out of compassion, has a massive first year program and awarded more than 100 First Aid MBs to first year Scouts during the week we were there.
    Requirement 1: Demonstrate to your counselor that you have current knowledge of all first-aid requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class ranks.
    The program director was unwilling to discuss it. He simply told us he “does what he’s told”.

    Given what I’m seeing and reading daily in Scouting lately, I’d offer that it’s been a great program for a really long time. I’m glad our unit still follows the program to the standards in the books based on the words on the pages of its handbooks and MB booklets. The Bloom’s taxonomy used for the badges is there for many reasons. We hold the requirements in high regard and require the boys to complete them as they are written-no more, no less.

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