This is fifth in a series of posts about the new rank requirements that take effect on January 1, 2016.
Scout | Tenderfoot | Second Class | First Class | Star | Life | Eagle
Exactly how the new requirements are phased in is explained in this PDF document – Notes on Transitioning to the New Requirements.
I found the new requirements in this PDF – 2016 Boy Scout requirements—parallel comparison.
There are three major components of advancing from Star to Eagle – merit badges, service, and positions of responsibility.
I want to reflect on each of these components and suggest some changes. In my review of Star I’ll look at merit badges, in my review of Life I’ll look at positions of responsibility, and in my review of Eagle I’ll look at the service component.
Star Rank Requirement Changes
1. Be active in your troop for at least four months as a First Class Scout.
A slight rewording in the new requirement, the “notes” section included in the new requirements (see below) indicate substituted terms for Varsity Scouts, Ventures, and Sea Scouts. Previously: “Be active in your unit (and patrol if you are in one) for at least four months as a First Class Scout.”
2. As a First Class Scout, demonstrate Scout spirit by living the Scout Oath and Scout Law. Tell how you have done your duty to God and how you have lived the Scout Oath and Scout Law in your everyday life.
Rewording of the previous requirement with the addition of the second sentence. Previously: “Demonstrate Scout spirit by living the Scout Oath (Promise) and Scout Law in your everyday life.”
I’d note here that the “Scout Spirit” requirement for ranks has been used in the past to deny Scouts advancement when, in the opinion of adult volunteers, they fell short. Many times this denial has been capricious at best, and a personal vendetta at worst. I think it’s a good idea to ask a Scout to tell how they have done their duty to God, but I fear that it also introduces another opportunity to deny them advancement based on a conflicting interpretation or a set of undefined expectations.
3. Earn six merit badges, including any four from the required list for Eagle. You may choose any of the 17 merit badges on the required list for Eagle to fulfill this requirement. See Eagle rank requirement 3 for this list.
Rewording of the previous: “Earn six merit badges, including any four from the required list for Eagle.” I offer my reflections on merit badges below.
4. While a First Class Scout, participate in six hours of service through one or more service projects approved by your Scoutmaster.
Rewording that does not change the previous requirement: “While a First Class Scout, take part in service project(s) totaling at least six hours of work. These projects must be approved by your Scoutmaster.“
5. While a First Class Scout, serve actively in your troop for four months in one or more of the following positions of responsibility (or carry out a Scoutmaster- approved leadership project to help the troop):
- Boy Scout troop. Patrol leader, assistant senior patrol leader, senior patrol leader, troop guide, Order of the Arrow troop representative, den chief, scribe, librarian, historian, quartermaster, bugler, junior assistant Scoutmaster, chaplain aide, instructor, webmaster, or outdoor ethics guide.4
- Varsity Scout team. Captain, cocaptain, program manager, squad leader, team secretary, Order of the Arrow team representative, librarian, historian, quartermaster, chaplain aide, instructor, den chief, webmaster, or outdoor ethics guide.
- Venturing crew/Sea Scout ship. President, vice president, secretary, treasurer, den chief, quartermaster, historian, guide, boatswain, boatswain’s mate, yeoman, purser, storekeeper, webmaster, or outdoor ethics guide.
- Lone Scout. Leadership responsibility in your school, religious organization, club, or elsewhere in your community.
Three changes: Venture patrol leader is removed from the list, the leadership project alternative is now described as Scoutmaster approved rather than assigned, and the addition of an option for lone Scouts.
Previously: “While a First Class Scout, serve actively in your unit for four months in one or more of the following positions of responsibility (or carry out a Scoutmaster assigned leadership project to help the unit):
- Boy Scout troop. Patrol leader, assistant senior patrol leader, senior patrol leader, Venture patrol leader, troop guide, Order of the Arrow troop representative, den chief, scribe, librarian, historian, quartermaster, bugler, junior assistant Scoutmaster, chaplain aide, instructor, troop Webmaster, or Leave No Trace trainer.
- Varsity Scout team. Captain, cocaptain, program manager, squad leader, team secretary, Order of the Arrow troop representative, librarian, historian, quartermaster, chaplain aide, instructor, den chief, team Webmaster, or Leave No Trace trainer.
- Venturing crew/ship. President, vice president, secretary, treasurer, den chief, quartermaster, historian, guide, boatswain, boatswain’s mate, yeoman, purser, storekeeper, crew/ship Webmaster, or Leave No Trace trainer.”
6. With your parent or guardian, complete the exercises in the pamphlet How to Protect Your Children From Child Abuse: A Parent’s Guide and earn the Cyber Chip award for your grade.
Requirement six is included in the BSA’s published parallel comparison of the new requirements. Is it a typo? It is identical to Scout rank requirement 6.
7. While a First Class Scout, participate in a Scoutmaster conference.
Slight rewording of the previous – “Take part in a Scoutmaster conference.”
8. Successfully complete your board of review for the Star rank.
Slight rewording of the previous – “Complete your board of review.”
NOTE: For Varsity Scouts working on Boy Scout requirements, replace “troop” with “team” and “Scoutmaster” with “Varsity Scout Coach. For Venturers working on Boy Scout requirements, replace “troop” with “crew” and “Scoutmaster” with “Crew Advisor.” For Sea Scouts working on Boy Scout requirements, replace “troop” with “ship” and “Scoutmaster” with “Skipper.”
- Assistant patrol leader is not an approved position of responsibility for the Star, Life, or Eagle rank.
- If your family does not have Internet access at home AND you do not have ready Internet access at school or another public place or via a mobile device, the Cyber Chip portion of this requirement may be waived by your Scoutmaster in consultation with your parent or guardian.
- If the board of review does not approve the Scout’s advancement, the decision may be appealed in accordance with Guide to Advancement topic 188.8.131.52.
How I would Change Merit Badges
It’s long been my belief there’s significant dissonance between the merit badge program and the experiences we promise our Scouts. Over thirty years I have counselled hundreds of Scouts in many different merit badges, and watched hundreds more earn badges. If I had a nickle for every completed blue card that passed through my hands I would be living on my own private island.
Ask Scouts and they will tell you many merit badges required for Eagle are a huge diversion from the fun and excitement of Scouting. Each one of the hundred or so Scouts who earned Eagle during my tenure as a Scoutmaster have looked on many of these badges more as necessary evils than something consistent with why they are Scouts in the first place.
I have also heard a lot of anxious talk about the mass Merit Badge events that have grown exponentially in the past decade. Oft expressed concerns over the thoroughness of instruction and the skill of counselors demanded the creation of a form to report such problems to a council advancement committee! That this, apparently, is such a pervasive problem it requires the creation of system of recording and reporting grievances ought to be a clear indication that something about the merit badge program is seriously flawed.
None of this is the counselor’s fault, and none of this is the Scout’s fault, it is the fault of the way the badges are written, the expectations of adults, and an approach that has gone unchecked, unstudied, and unmodified.
The way environmental science merit badge is written (one I have counselled a number of times) is a good example of what I mean –
- Instead of appealing to A Scout’s powerful drive to explore and discover their surroundings the requirements are so closely defined that they sap any excitement or engagement out of the work required. The experiments and observations are written with constraints that make them more perfunctory than exploratory.
- Nothing in the requirements is directly related to the outdoor activities Scouts do all the time or to the life of the patrol, and this is particularly frustrating when it would be so easy to do.
- Completing most of the requirements is, as is true with most badges, simply regurgitating the information found in the merit badge book.
Eagle required badges are worthy subjects that we’d like Scouts to understand, but rather than encouraging investigation and experiences that develop understanding they are mostly a game aimed at finding predefined answers. Many Eagle required badges lack any connection to the life of the patrol, adventure, or the outdoors, they are boring and school-like. This is intensely frustrating because it would be so easy to make those connections.
Because most merit badge requirements are written with lists of closely defined constraints they lend themselves to two major developments that have become a real scourge in Scouting;
- The merit badge worksheet; exercises that have Scouts fill in the blanks with easily obtained correct answers.
- Mass merit badge events where crowds of Scouts walk through a largely perfunctory program of filling in the right answers.
If you listen to Scouts you will get the strong sense that they understand the system, find the right answer, fill in the blank, check off the requirement, get the badge, move on.
Visit any summer camp and you’ll see Scouts squandering the opportunities of actually being in camp sitting on their backsides listening to a lecture of one kind or another about a subject far removed from their actual interests. Ask them why they are doing this and they will tell you “it’s Eagle required, and I want to get it over with”, or “my (Scoutmaster, parent, etc.) said I have to get merit badges.”
Adults complain about ‘merit badge factories’, but our expectations create them!
We don’t understand that our expectations define the shape of a camp program and drive the choices our Scouts make.
We tend to select camps that offer as many different merit badges as possible, and the more Eagle required badges the better. This expectation makes the number of badges earned the way we evaluate a successful week at camp.
As a camp director and staff member for many years we tried to create programs with lots of camping skills, adventure, and excitement but they inevitably drew few participants. Why the lack of interest? They did not result in a completed blue card. Engaging, interesting and exciting activities like pioneering, cooking, camping, hiking and other great outdoor pursuits aren’t acceptable activities in camp unless they are fulfilling some requirement or aimed at earning a merit badge.
Given the constraints the adults expectations created we acquiesced and applied a lot of energy to making our merit badge instruction thorough, engaging and exciting. At every turn we encountered two problems –
- The exactingly close wording of the requirements, and the number of requirements for a given badge, gave us few opportunities to change the way they were presented.
- The most heavily attended badge sessions (inevitably those required for Eagle) were not things the Scouts were actually interested in but things they were compelled to do. This leads to –
- Large sessions (many with 30-50 Scouts), a corresponding drop in the ability of a counselor (or a team of counselors) to instruct Scouts personally or to be thorough in their evaluations.
- A big herd of disinterested Scouts looking for the easiest way to a blue card creates significant challenges to controlling their behavior.
These perennial difficulties are not going to fix themselves, they are built in to the way we write badges and the adult expectations driving the program.
To address these difficulties we’d need to first change the way badges are written, and then reset our expectations for Eagle required Merit badges.
Here’s some ground rules I would apply to rewriting merit badges –
1. Requirements must have significant integration into the patrol method.
Wherever possible badges should include activities conducted by the Scout with and for his patrol (well beyond ‘give a presentation about what you learned’).
2. Requirements must be integrated with camping activities in the out-of-doors.
Few activities should require writing, and as many badges as possible should have at least one requirement that is completed while camping. If Scouts have to go camping to complete a badge that means they won’t be completed perfunctorily at a mass merit badge event.
3. Eliminate passive requirements.
As they are presented now completing many requirements means simply regurgitating the information in the merit badge book. I’d introduce much more in the way of independent research and open-ended engagement. Simply recreating a list of definitions found printed in a merit badge book is not a representation that Scouts have learned or understood anything at all.
4. No badge has more than five, one line, core requirements.
No nested lists of eighteen requirements, no “define these terms” requirements, no requirements that can only be completed with school-work. Creativity and innovation grows out of some sort of limiting factor, if you can’t communicate the introductory understanding of any subject in five requirements there’s a lack of focus and creativity in communicating..
5. All badges require a Scout-designed project rather than a pre-defined project.
A universal requirement for all badges “Complete a project defined in consultation with your Counselor that demonstrates your understating of…”. Even when badges include a list of “do one of the following” the choices are defined too closely. There’s no way that such a requirement can be the right tool for every Scout’s location, abilities, or (most importantly) their interests.
Once we re-wrote the badges here’s how I would re-write Eagle requirement 3, (and change Star and life requirements accordingly).
I would arrange badges into five groups. Each group would have one required badge and a number of alternatives to choose from. Scouts choose from the alternatives in each group according to their interests and local conditions. I think Scouts would be much more invested in badges they get to choose rather than a long list of ones that are specifically required.
Earn a total of 20 merit badges as follows:
Earn the five required badges, and two of the alternative badges from each group for a total of fifteen.
Required in this group: Environmental Science,
Alternatives in this group: Astronomy, Bird Study, Fish and Wildlife Management, Forestry, Geology, Insect Study, Mammal Study, Nature, Oceanography, Plant Science, Reptile and Amphibian Study, Soil and Water Conservation, Weather.
Required in this group: Citizenship in the Community
Alternatives in this group: Citizenship in the Nation, Citizenship in the World, Communication, Family Life, Personal Management.
Required in this group: Camping,
Alternatives in this group: Backpacking, Canoeing, Cooking, Climbing, Fishing, Fly Fishing, Hiking, Kayaking, Orienteering, Pioneering, Whitewater, Wilderness Survival.
Required in this group: Personal Fitness
Alternatives in this group: Athletics, Cycling, Golf, Horsemanship, Rowing, Scuba Diving, Snow Sports, Sports, Swimming, Water Sports.
Required in this group: First Aid
Alternatives in this group: Disabilities Awareness, Emergency Preparedness, Fire Safety, Lifesaving, Public Health, Public Speaking, Safety, Search & Rescue.
Five Merit badges of your choice.
Earn five additional merit badges of your choice (including any alternatives from the list above not applied to the core fifteen) for a total of 20 merit badges.