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.
I agree with your post. I have come around on MB colleges — some. I am still 100% against “Merit Badge give-aways” but I do see some value in a MB college like the recent MB College for Five Trails District (Circle Ten Council). For MB Counselors, we all want great people. Great people are great in other things besides Scouting. Great people are typically busy people. I am in favor of a MB College for the convenience of the counselors. I heard one great MB counselor tell me, that it took 7 to 10 hours to present the a certain Eagle-required MB. He can present the same material in the same time to 2 Scouts or 20 Scouts. He doesn’t have time to present the MB 10 times to 2 Scouts each but can present the MB to 20 Scouts. I’d rather the 20 Scouts get the benefit of this great MB counselor than only 2.
Quality MB Counselors are a valuable, limited resource. Like other valuable, limited resources, like clean water, oil and gas, we have a duty to use that valuable, limited resource wisely. So, a quality MB college can provide quality MB counselors for the maximum benefit of the Scouts and is a good use of that valuable, limited resource – great MB counselors.
In the BSA we use Merit Badge COUNSELORS. These are not meant to be TEACHERS, but counselors. A good COUNSELOR spends the majority of their time LISTENING. If a requirement calls for “discussing” then the Scout should DISCUSS, not listen to a lecture or watch a presentation. Interviewing a veteran, for example for the American Heritage MB, is not listening to non-stop war stories, it’s asking questions and establishing rapport. Yes, perhaps a war story will come out, but a two way conversation is the intent. A MBC can make a presentation to arouse interest with boys, but it should not become the root of the experience. Some MB’s can be done in a group setting, while others prove to be more difficult. “Search & Rescue” could be a good group learning adventure, but how can “Coin Collecting”? So how much are you willing to sacrifice? When the boys leave their classes, do they even remember the counselor’s name? Are you willing to trade the Scouting method “Association with Adults” for high numbers of advancements? In the first BS Handbook (p402) there is a great paragraph concerning this topic. “An important opportunity which this great Merit Badge Program offers Scouts is the chance to meet and know a man who is a leader in any of the subjects. ….. Here is an almost unbelievable chance, which often money could not buy – a chance to make friends with such men and benefit from their success.” Once you fit this philosophy into your merit badge fairs, then you can claim a good advancement event.
The Merit Badge College offered here in Kansas City offers a few Eagle-required but mostly badges that a Scout would not usually obtain: plumbing, carpentry, electricity, aviation and yes, they do meet a day later to fly, law. It has been a great experience to broaden their horizon and offer merit badges that are more low incidence merit badges and finding a Merit Badge Counselor difficult. They post pre-requisites and stick to it. If not completed, neither is the merit badge but a business card for how to contact the Merit Badge Counselor is given.
I do a Merit Badge program (American Heritage) at the National WWI Museum. It is not a “class.” There are many prerequisites involved so that the Scouts can “discuss” those portions that require it. I feel that the MBCs should be guiding a discussion “class” not giving a lecture class.
For my next one, I have 7 Assistants besides myself. At the end of the event, each Scout meets one-on-one (in the same room for YPT) with one of the MBCs. The MBC looks at the Scout’s worksheet (1 requirement must be completed in writing), their quiz (optional), & based on how much the Scout participated in the discussion during the previous 4 hours and/or talks with the MBC at that time to make sure they meet the standard, nothing more & nothing less. We stay until each Scout gets his Blue Card signed off or he goes home with a partial. They have my email so they can contact me to finish it.
This time, I have a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient that will serve as one of my 2 veterans to interview. About 24 Scouts will get the privilege of meeting him . . . something that would probably never happen if 1/2 Scouts came to work with me through the “normal” method of giving me a call.
This is our 5th time to do the clinic & we ask for feedback. We have made some tweaks, but have it down fairly well. The well-prepared Scouts go home with their American Heritage Merit Badge. The ones that didn’t read the pamphlet or didn’t do the prerequisites don’t. And that is the way it should be.