GorT sent us a memo last week stipulating that he was going to do a series on scouting, particularly on merit badges. The Czar serves officially as a “committee member at large” for his boys’ scout troop, although everyone refers to him as a “consultant.” Like Liam Neeson in Taken, the Czar is consulted on all manners of special training: firecraft, knots, navigation, wilderness survival, and so on. He is, in fact, an official merit badge counsellor for various related merit badges, and unofficially guides the many scouts in Muscovy’s troop in all sorts of other badges.Further, the Czar notes with joy that GorT’s explanations of scouting’s organizational structure, ranking system, and so on are spot on. As an update, the Eagle rank currently requires the scout achieve a total of 21 merit badges, with the following being mandatory:
- First Aid
- Citizenship in the Community
- Citizenship in the Nation
- Citizenship in the World
- Personal Fitness
- Emergency Preparedness or Lifesaving
- Environmental Science or Sustainability
- Personal Management
- Swimming or Hiking or Cycling
- Family Life
If you’re interested in the requirements for each—you may be shocked at the level of difficulty—these are widely available online.
Scouting isn’t all about merit badges, of course—to be promoted from rank to rank, there are all sorts of physical activities to master, documented community service hours to provide, primitive camping in all weather and seasons to perform, and a lot of adventure-type events to do. As GorT notes, each troop is different from the others, and the amount parents become involved and resources are available will dramatically affect the scout’s experiences: in our troop, scouts also learn climbing, survival, archery (typically), flag care, construction-related skills, and so on. Other troops do different things, but troops often share resources and get along great.
Back to the merit badges. Most adults think of these from the context of Cub Scouts or Brownies. Build a bird house kit, and you’re now a Construction Expert! Draw a map, and you’re a World Traveller! Make a hot dog, and you’re a Chef!
Boy Scouts merit badges are often very, very difficult. Parents cannot help, except to provide distant guidance or to coordinate getting the scout from point to point. Merit badge counselors are individuals who are experts in a particular avenue, and review each and every requirement with the scout to ensure there is fundamental understanding of the concepts. There’s no skating by or coasting through: it can take months or even a year to earn a single badge.
Take the Personal Managment one. It’s practically an “adulting” course: investing, understanding the different types of loans, using a credit card correctly, budgeting, writing business plans, knowing how the stock market works and what all the terms mean, and so on. Family Life sounds like a blowoff, but in fact teaches the boys how to do household tasks. It’s not listed explicitly, but the boys are taught to vacuum correctly, wash dishes, do laundry, and anything else mom wants out of for 90+ days. The counselors all know that “brushing teeth,” “combing hair,” and so on, do not meet the requirements for five or more chores. Chores also cannot be season or occasional: no lawn mowing or leaf raking—they have to be daily or weekly, so that by the end of 90 days, the scout actually knows how to do this stuff.
Does it stick? So far so good, but the Czar will defer to the Mandarin—Mandy learned how to fold laundry earning this merit badge, and damn if he doesn’t fold a shirt into a perfect square in one freaking move every single time, decades later. We assume GorT can do it, too.
Merit badges are probably the one area the Czar plays defense on harder than anything. For all the ribbing or ignorant comments people give us about Boy Scouts, by far the most pervasive one is on the difficulty level of merit badges. Yes, there are some easy ones (Indian Lore), and some frankly weird ones (Nuclear Science), but the Czar is happy to challenge any homemade AR-15-purchasing badass with just-out-of-the-box Leupold scope to meet or beat the requirements for the Rifle Shooting or “Riflery” badge the way the scouts do it—a cold .22 LR rifle with unzeroed iron sights, getting three holes in a quarter-size group five times at 50 feet. Bear in mind, at that distance, the front sight completely covers the entire target, so you have to shoot almost instinctively. And that’s just one requirement in that badge.
Or take a look at Personal Fitness, which gives you 12 weeks to show progress, each week, in a variety of physical fitness challenges. Can you run a mile? Maybe you can walk a mile, but you then need to improve your time each week for 12 weeks. If you fail to do so one week, you run it again that week until you exceed. Ditto for push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and so on: after 12 weeks of this, we saw kids unable to do a couple sit-ups spanking out 70 or more. Everyone passed, to give you an idea of how focused this was. The Czar had his doubts, looking at some of these muffins, but it’s amazing to watch a doughy kid, after 12 weeks, suddenly execute military-style pull-ups one after the other.
Well, we could go on and on, but the point is that the merit badge program is astonishingly good. If all you do is read the list of the 134-or-so names, you might raise an eyebrow. But read the requirements. Game Design? Actually, it’s about psychological game theory, not video games. Canoeing? You can eventually do a high-speed obstacle course. Search and Rescue? You learn UTM, dividing geographical areas into search sectors, managing SAR teams, and more.
It’s tough stuff. But it’s even more impressive to see an 11-year-old perform dead reckoning with a handheld compass and a blank map two weeks after not knowing where North was.