I really do !
There are a lot of folks out there that think that Merit Badge Colleges (MBCs) diminish earning the Merit Badges (MB), and they certainly do when the MBC is delivered with the intent to “Spend a Saturday, take home two badges.”
Similarly, there are folks that treat MBCs kind of like the summer community college where you took hard (aka Eagle) courses in an accelerated way, so as to avoid doing them during the traditional way. And that is equally bad.
Like most things in life, the problem is in the intent and the execution, not in the thing itself.
MBCs are not the problem – expecting to earn one or two merit badges in a day is.
Many old-school Eagle Scouts tell me that part of their experience in earning (not receiving) merit badges was the seeking out of an appropriate counselor, as well as meeting with the counselors while progressing through each badge’s curriculum. And while some larger troops may be able to deliver a wide variety of badges through a diverse group of counselors, it is impossible to imagine any troop offering all of the badges.
An MBC is a great way to connect Scouts with Counselors, under a few pre-established expectations:
A Scout who attends an MBC with no preparation (reading or work) will likely leave with a few of the “discuss” requirements completed, assuming proper ratios of Scouts and time management. They will also now have started a relationship with a Counselor that can continue 1:1 or few:1 (with two-deep safety of course) until the MB is complete.
A Scout who has already done the work and read the material may leave the MBC with a signed blue-card (having earned an MB), assuming the instructor has ensured there is sign-off time within the MBC course slot.
And there are a range of grey in-between, where more pre-reading and pre-work will result in more items signed off at the MBC (and less to do afterwards).
Why not go back to each Scout seeking out Counselors directly? No reason at all. Scouts should and can seek out Counselors directly – but that doesn’t mean that MBCs don’t have their place.
MBCs provide some great benefits:
– MBCs enable some Counselors to deliver their lecture material once to a group, instead of repetitively delivering the same information. Particularly for MBs that require significant instructor preparation (think home repair), this eases the burden of being a Counselor; as long as each Scout still has the opportunity to individually demonstrate an proficiency of the material.
– MBCs can introduce Scouts to MBs that they might not otherwise have taken, whereby they might sign up for one MB in the morning and then consider “what from the afternoon schedule could I take” because they are already there. Sure, there is more pre-reading and work, if they choose to, but there is also opportunity. There is a lesson there.
– MBCs are a great way for Scouts to learn together, often providing collaboration for tasks such as attending a Town Hall meeting or visiting a vocational expert or any other number of remote tasks that are often more enjoyable and easier-to-coordinate with a small group.
– MBCs are a great way to grow your Counselors for future MBs. New Counselors (or leaders considering teaching an MB) can listen to an established Counselor deliver the course. Alternatively two Counselors can co-teach, providing a broader coverage of the material for the Scouts, an easier experience for each Counselor and new information for everyone.
– And between the new Counselors that listened in, the refreshed Counselors that collaborated, and even pinging the Counselors that weren’t able to teach on a particular MBC — add it up and you have a great list of Counselors that can be published on a District website or though the Troops’ advancement teams.
In life and in Scouting, “You get out of it what you put into it.”
Scouts (and their parents) who clamor for MBCs that easily award decorative patches or provide an easier way to receive tougher core-MBs of the Eagle track should expect their Scouts to get exactly what they put into it – very little.
If you want your Scout to be a good citizen, don’t expect them to learn that in 3 hours.
And if your Scout “completely learned” First Aid in 3 hours, be sure that 911 and/or another Scout is nearby.
MBCs are great for connecting Counselors and Scouts in a scalable way, as long as they are done right.