1. The ideals of Scouting (the Oath, Law, Motto and Slogan)
2. The patrol method
3. The outdoors
5. Association with adults
6. Personal growth
7. Leadership development
8. The uniform
Merit badges factor into each of those aims to some degree, but particularly with association with adults. Or rather I should say, a variety of adults. (Because in almost all Scouting activity there is some adult supervision, but when doing Merit Badges, a Scout has the opportunity to get to know someone they otherwise wouldn't). Enter the Merit Badge Counselor! This is a person, who by vocation, avocation or special training has the knowledge to guide and instruct a scout on a particular subject.
Merit Badge Counselors must meet certain requirements:
- he or she must register annually with the BSA and submit a Merit Badge Counselor form each year.
- must be at least 18 years old.
- be of good character (i.e., a good role model).
- be proficient in the merit badge subject matter.
- be able (and willing) to work with scout-age youth.
- be approved by the Counsel advancement committee.
Those conditions being met, there are few other limitations. (Two-deep leadership isn't specifically required for Merit Badge Counselors, but according to the Gospel of firebirdluver, it would be unwise to put oneself in a situation where there might be the appearance of evil. In other words, never be alone with a Scout and always have another adult present. Besides, each Scout earning a merit badge should have a buddy to work through the badge with). Youth Protection training is also very important for Merit Badge Counselors.
There is no limit to the number of Merit Badges a Counselor can make him or herself available to teach, although he or she must be approved for each Merit Badge by the Council.
In fact, one of the few limits is that a Counselor cannot change the requirements of a Merit Badge. A Scout must do only the requirements, no more, no less. (Which isn't to say that if the Scout is interested, the Counselor can't help pave the way for the Scout to do more, just that the Scout isn't required to do more. This rule makes the merit badges fair and equitable for everyone). The exception to the rule is in the case of a special needs scout.
Two things that I think are important to note are that Scoutmasters and their assistants are not automatically approved to be Merit Badge Counselors. I was involved in a troop some years ago where the Scoutmaster, who was a good and well-meaning man, taught the Photography Merit Badge. During the course of the instruction, it became apparent that he had common knowledge (nothing technical or specific) of film photography, but was completely in the dark about anything digital. He should have found someone better trained to teach the Scouts.
The other important note is that a Merit Badge is an individual award. Group instruction is great and can be very beneficial to both the Scout group (who can help each other accomplish their goals) and to the Counselor (who then doesn't have to repeat the instruction over and over). However, each Scout must individually pass off all of the requirements.
The process for a Scout earning a merit badge goes something like this:
- The Scout decides he wishes to pursue a Merit Badge. He tells his Scoutmaster.
- The Scoutmaster either approves or dis-approves the Merit Badge. (Why might a Scoutmaster tell a Scout he can't work on a Merit Badge? Well, there could be a number of reasons; perhaps the boy is already working on several Merit Badges and the Scoutmaster feels it would be appropriate for the Scout to finish some of them before he starts another. There are some Merit Badges that are better earned in a certain order (Family Life, Cit. in the Community, Cit. in the Nation, Cit. in the World).
- If approved, then the Scoutmaster gives the Scout a Blue Card and tells the Scout the name of a counselor for that Merit Badge. (It is the Scoutmaster's prerogative to either select a Counselor or let the Scout select one from a list. This might help the Scout be exposed to a number of different individuals, as he might otherwise be tempted to always select people he knows).
- The Scout contacts the Counselor, discusses the topic, makes arrangements to complete the requirements and meet again with the Counselor. This may have to happen more than once.
- The Scout works on the requirements. When complete, he contacts the Counselor, who ensures the Scout has completed all the requirements and signs the appropriate documentation (Blue Card). The Counselor keeps his or her portion of the Blue Card.
- The Scout takes the Blue Card to the Scoutmaster, who verifies completion of the Merit Badge.
- The Scoutmaster gives the Blue Card to the Advancement Chair.
- The Advancement Chair submits the award to the Council and purchases the award.
- The award is presented to the Scout, along with the Scout's portion of the Blue Card.
My recommendation is to carefully complete and guard any documentation (Blue Card) while completing a Merit Badge. Even if it's only partially complete, because a partially completed Merit Badge can still be completed up until a Scout's 18th birthday. (But if you lose it, you'll probably have to start over). Also, it's not entirely unknown for Counsel records to be incomplete, so it's good to have a copy of your own to back up your claim that you have completed the requirements for an award.
Merit Badge counseling can be a very rewarding experience for the Counselor. If you have some in-depth knowledge on a subject, please consider applying to be a Merit Badge Counselor. It could change a life!