Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Merit Badge Counselor: More than a Signature

http://kswptim.wordpress.comThe other day my EYOS Patrol Leader came over and asked for some Merit Badge Applications (blue cards).  He said he'd already done the requirements and just needed to get them "passed off."

Any Scout can earn any merit badge at any time. And he can complete any badge up to his eighteenth birthday, regardless of when he started it. Completing a Merit Badge consists of two parts:
  1. The study and work of learning and doing the requirements
  2. Working with a merit badge counselor
Thus the merit badge program incorporates at least three Methods: Personal Growth, Advancement and Adult Association. Often the Methods of Leadership Development and Outdoor Activities are incorporated as well. If, however, the Merit Badge Counselor is reduced to the formality of a signature, or if the Scouts’ adult leaders or parents “sign off” all or most of his merit badges, he’s missing 50% of the value of earning that badge. That value lies in meeting, working with and gleaning the insight and knowledge of experts. These individuals signed up to be counselors because they have a passion and/or expertise for the field, whether it be professional, personal or both. They also have a desire to share their knowledge and experience with others, hence the term, “Counselor”.

The first thing a Scout should do when starting a merit badge is to get the name of a qualified Merit Badge Counselor from his Scoutmaster and go see that counselor! Often times in LDS troops, this will conveniently be someone in his own ward. Next, talk to the MBC to find out a few things: what he or she knows about the subject, best practices, choke points and how to navigate them, and other useful bits of information. Hopefully, the MBC has worked with enough Scouts to know these and more. The point is, that the Scout is working with an expert guide on something he’s either very interested in, or simply has to do (Personal Management, anyone?) If the Scout (or the Scoutmaster or the parents) think of the MBC as only a signature, the Scout may read the book and fill in the blanks but he may not be getting any expert, personalized instruction.

Now, about that ward MBC list…take the time to check it over and vet it with your local council. Odds are it’s way out of date like mine is. Many times well-intentioned people will sign up, but no one tells them that they have to actually register with the BSA and get trained as a Counselor, and comply with YPT rules, &tc. I checked my ward’s list and found that of about 30 counselors, one was duly registered.  I’m not faulting MBCs or anyone else, I attribute it to a general ignorance of what an MBC’s role is. Now, at the same time, just because your ward doesn’t have a MBC for the _____ Merit Badge doesn’t mean that a Scout can’t complete it. I’ve told my Scouts’ parents that if Grandma in Des Moines is a registered Counselor for Indian Lore, she can sign his blue card (but don’t expect her to cut him any slack just because he’s the favorite grandson). It’s ok to go outside the ward! Gosh, it kind of reflects the adult world, doesn’t it?

If a Scout simply reads the book and fills in the blanks on those (admittedly very useful) worksheets at MeritBadge.org or BoyScoutTrail.com, is he really learning the concepts embodied in the requirements? Is he really getting everything he could be if he’s not working with an expert who can answer his questions? When my son asks me a question about a requirement, I ask him back, what did your counselor say? I’m certainly not qualified to answer questions about robotics, coin collecting or agriculture. Most parents and Scoutmasters aren’t experts in each of over 120 fields of interest. If he isn't using the resource of the MBC and getting advice from experts is he doing his best to learn and expand his horizons? Or is he just, as we said in the Air Force, filling squares?

Looks like instruction is needed all around, starting with Patrol Meeting tomorrow.

Thanks to Ask Andy over at USSSP for the good info. Here are some resources:

Youth Protection Training
Merit Badge Counselor Training Guide
Blue Card

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