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

This topic contains 16 replies, has 1 voice, and was last updated by  Roland Roberts 10 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).

  • #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.

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