Ask the Expert: Can a troop prevent a Scout from earning a merit badge at a workshop or summer camp?

Ask the Expert: What happened to Bugling merit badge?Updated May 15 with some clarifications.

Not all merit badges are earned in the traditional troop setting.

Enterprising Scouts can earn them at council-run merit badge “colleges” or workshops, summer or winter camps, or on their own with a registered counselor.

But some troops restrict or even prohibit this practice, insisting that merit badges must be earned under their own roof — with only troop-sanctioned counselors.

True, the Guide to Advancement says Scouts must discuss their choice of merit badge counselor with their Scoutmaster, but some troops take it one step farther, declaring that merit badge workshops themselves aren’t kosher.

Is that OK? That’s what a Scouter named Thomas wondered in an email last week. In his troop, Scouts cannot earn Eagle-required merit badges at events like workshops, instead needing to earn those merit badges in-house. He writes: 


Our BSA district holds various workshops such as Merit Badge Saturday and has arranged for qualified and approved MB counselors to run these sessions. The workshops offer many merit badges including some that are Eagle Required. This is supported by the “blue card,” which states the Scout “may also want to take advantage of opportunities at merit badge fairs or midways, or at rock-climbing gyms or whitewater rafting trips that provide merit badge instruction. This is acceptable …”

A concern is that our local troop had established a policy that no Scout in our troop would be allowed to earn an Eagle-required MB at a merit badge workshop. Some of the adult leaders in our troop voiced an opinion that we can and should place this restriction on the Scouts in order to ensure the Scout has a good experience using our troop approved counselors. Does the BSA allow for a troop to establish a local policy that prohibits the Scout from taking Eagle Required MBs at fully sanctioned and approved events? There are good intentions on both sides of this debate in the troop and we want to align our approach with BSA national policy.

Can you shed some light on this topic?


Thomas S.

So what’s the answer? As always, we turn to those prolific light-shedders in the BSA’s Advancement Team.

The gist of it is this: Though Scouters can get away with it under current rules, the BSA highly discourages troops from restricting where Scouts can earn merit badges. And the practice of preventing a Scout from choosing his own counselor (be it at a workshop or elsewhere) will be prohibited in the 2013 edition of the Guide to Advancement, due out this summer.

Here are some other key points on the matter from the upcoming 2013 Guide to Advancement:

  1. Unit leaders must have a discussion with a Scout before the Scout gets the signed blue card. This discussion is meant to be a “growth-oriented and positive conversation” rather than a restrictive one. 
  2. Any registered Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, or qualified Venturer or Sea Scout may begin work on any badge at any time, provided he’s had this discussion with his unit leader as indicated on the blue card.
  3. But to elaborate on points 1 and 2, the blue-card signature no longer indicates “approval to begin work,” meaning a Scout may count certain requirements for a merit badge before he has the blue card. For example, nights of camping completed before he has the blue card for Camping merit badge will still count. (See this Ask the Expert post for more clarification.)
  4. Units, districts and councils do not have the authority to implement a different system for merit badge approval or documentation.
  5. The Scout and unit leader should come to an agreement as to who the merit badge counselor will be. Lacking agreement, the Scout must be allowed to work with the counselor of his choice, as long as that person is registered and approved by the council committee.
  6. A Scout may want to take advantage of merit badge fairs or midways, or merit badge instruction at rock-climbing gyms, whitewater rafting companies, or museums. That’s acceptable, provided the counselors are registered and the Scout has a discussion with his unit leader and gets a signed blue card.

What I’ve written above is just an overview, and those changes will be further explained and made official when the 2013 Guide to Advancement comes out this summer.

(Update May 15): To give you a taste of what’s to come, I have uploaded the relevant page from the 2013 Guide to Advancement (clicking opens PDF). Take a look, but remember that it won’t become “gospel” until the advancement guide releases this summer.

I hope that clears things up a little. Thanks to the BSA’s Advancement Team for handling all the questions I’ve been throwing their way recently.

Have a question?

Send it to me, subject line “Ask the Expert,” and I’ll try to track down answers when possible.

Photo: From Flickr. Some rights reserved by Fort Meade. “David E. shows his Lego robot to James L. during S.T.E.M. Merit Badge Day when 430 Boy Scouts were scattered throughout the post to earn merit badges in science, technology, engineering”

213 thoughts on “Ask the Expert: Can a troop prevent a Scout from earning a merit badge at a workshop or summer camp?

  1. Our troop’s biggest rule on getting badges is that you CAN NOT use a councilor who’s a member of the troop. I think they want to prevent favoritism since we have a lot of active parents. The only badges earned with our own troop leadership are the cooking and camping badges done at the kid’s first troop summer camp. Our Scout Master doesn’t like workshops, but other than give a kid the stink eye, he doesn’t stop them.

  2. The Scoutmaster is always, and in EVERY case the last say in any Troop operations and policies. That is why we have Scoutmasters. If the Troop sponsor, or the Troop Committee has a problem with, or disagrees with the SM decisions, then they can either solve the problem with the Scoutmaster, or find a new one. The boys, or their parents cannot operate as they please. If the Troop Scoutmaster doesn’t allow MBs earned at a certain place, there is usually a reason. One year I let my Scouts attend a MB ‘Midway’. They came home with 3 or 4 MBs they had earned at a half hour class each. Needless to say, my Scouts are no longer allowed to earn MBs at this midway! We have too many 13-14 year old Eagle Scouts and this is one reason why. I am proud to know when I pin the Eagle Scout rank on a Scout, he has earned it.

    • 3-4 MB in a day sounds like a give away to me. Our scouts only earn 1 or 2 MB. Most MB offered are one day MB’s sessions. A few are 1/2 day MB’s. It comes down to the MB councilors and Integrity of the scouts.. I have seen too many Eagle Scouts that can’t even tie a square knot. It isn’t doing a scout a favor by giving away badges or ranks. Eventually their training or lack or training will come out. People this day think they are entitled to everything, but in the business world, it isn’t that way. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Scouting combats this welfare mentality.

      • I’m sorry Daryl, but your assertion that the troop answers to the SM is incorrect. The SM answers to the committee and charter org.

        • Daryl,

          That might have been what you were implying, but you made it sound like the SM is not wrong until he is fired. While the SM is the unit leader, s/he must still follow the guide to advancement and operate with the committee and obey the chartering organization. As the guide is written, if a youth and the unit leadership cannot come to a consensus on any advancement, including the Eagle rank, then the youth has the authority to work up the chain of command and override the troop’s decision at the council level.

          More importantly, what many of us think about in Boy Scout advancement is not correct. Many of us think that a Boy Scout must complete a task and master it to a certain level and then is tested over the skill or trait at either the end of the MB, at the scoutmaster conference, or at the board of review. If the youth failed the test at these meetings then he is not worthy for the next rank is not how we are suppose to do Scouting. The guide to advancement actually says

          It is important to remember that
          in the end, a badge recognizes the Scout has gone through
          an experience of learning something he didn’t previously
          know. As a result, through increased confidence, he
          discovers or realizes he is able to learn similar skills or
          disciplines. Advancement is thus about what a young man
          is now able to learn and to do, and how he has grown.
          Retention of skills and knowledge is then developed later
          by using what has been learned through the natural course
          of unit programming; for example, instructing others and
          using skills in games and on outings.
          Advancement, thus, is not so much a reward for what has
          been done. It is, instead, more about the journey: As a Scout
          advances, he is measured and he grows in confidence and
          self-reliance, and he builds upon his skills and abilities.
 2013 Guide to Advancement

          So a youth could have a really bad experience in cooking at a campout, but if he tried then he succeeded in that requirement. We should not be Judge Dredd to a boy who tries but a point of support and say “yeah, that did not work, but now we know how to do better” and then work with him in making it better.

      • Fingerprinting? There are a couple of Merit Badges that can be accomplished in 1 to 2 hours. Not saying that there could be some elaboration and cultural enrichment (for Fingerprinting MB a police station tour and police officer’s “war stories”), but here we are talking about the basic printed requirements.

        Reading and Scholarship MBs are basically checking off the requirements that were done before the meeting with the MB Counselor. This is true for many merit badges where a _diligent_ Scout has done the requirement and fulled out the worksheet in advance — and there is little left to do but some discussion.

      • The Troop Committee and/or the Troop Sponsor solving problems with the Scoutmaster is not the Scouting way?? Not mature??

  3. Daryl, My point is this. You say that the SM has the final say on all troop policy and procedure. Why does your unit need to set policy and procedure in the first place? All of the resources you need to run your unit the way its designed to run has already been provided to you. All you have to do is follow it. The SM’s job is to train youth to lead their troop. Period. Advancement is a committee responsibility. If you’re not happy with scouts earning badges at clinics, but your adv. chairperson is fine with it
    – it is your option to walk. You answer to the the committee. Not the reverse.

    • Diane, there may be Troops out there that operate as you say. If so, more power to them. But I can tell you in my 38 years as Scoutmaster, I have met very few Scoutmasters who’s only job was to ‘train youth to lead their Troop’. I know what the books tell you. And it all sounds great. But in actuality, most Troops wouldn’t last a week if all the Scoutmaster did was train boys to lead the Troop. I have 19 Scouts. I have a Troop Committee of 5 parents that are lucky to meet once a month for an hour. I’m going to rely on this Committee to handle Troop advancement?! You are living in a dream world.

      • Usually the SM does just about everything because the parents are too busy to help out with the troop. When you actually do get parents helping out, it is a blessing. But many times, you get some jerk that lets leadership go to their head and they want to control people, especially the SM, instead of working with people bringing them together as a team to assist the goals of the SM. Leadership is leading, politics is control. Two different camps here. There are too few people out there that are talented enough to work with the boys. Good SM’s are hard to come by. Usually if you get a poor CC and you get them on a camp out, they will get a dose of reality. They will usually come around to the SM’s view point.

      • If the parents are not on the Committee and helping out, there could be many reasons for it. First, could be that the parents are coming from a Pack and they do not understand what functions the Committee does? Did anyone have a meeting with the parents of the Scouts that just crossed over and tell them how Boy Scouts is different than Cub Scouts and what vacancies are on the committee? Our Troop never had that type of meeting, but again my son just crossed over. The SMs did have the time to have a “parent meeting” for summer camp that didn’t tell me much more than what I read on line. Second, could it be that the SM/ASMs so cliquish that they do not want additional help? Are they afraid of new ideas because we have always done it this way in the Troop? Third, could it be that the SM is not a delegator? Maybe he is one of these that believes that if he wants something done right, than he has to do it himself because other adults will not meet his standard. Like the Scouts, Troop Leadership needs to learn that just because an adult did it differently than they would have done it is still ok. Even if the final product is not as good as if the SM would have done it themselves.

        Why do I think some of these things could be the issue? Because I have experienced all of these in my relatively short “Scouter” career. Five years ago when my son joined as a Tiger, I did not know what I did not know. Only my doing lots of reading and attending all the training I could (on line and in person) did I start to figure out what I actually knew, what others thought were the policies, what the policies are in actuality, and what I still didn’t know. Even today, I still don’t know what I don’t know.

        After I attended BALOO training early on as an Assistant Den Leader, I marked the box on the evaluation that I was willing to serve on BALOO/OWL staff. I never heard from anyone for over two years despite knowing that they could have used additional help. I have over 23+ years training people so it could not be from a lack of “experience.” I finally got to serve on the BALOO/OWL staff because I kept running into the same people when I did Wood Badge, EDGE training, and other events. Either they got tired of me asking if they needed help or I finally broke the invisible barrier that got me into the clique.

        I have already completed my SM training, both indoors and out, with the first half done over 1/2 year before my son even crossed over. I have taken almost every course available on line (Safety Afloat, Safe Hiking, Weather, etc.). While I am now part of the Committee, I have not been asked to take on a role. We have a SM/ASM corps of over 7 adults (including some in college), but only one of the ASMs has a son in the troop. On our May campout, only two of the SMS could go. The Camping chair for the committee and I drove and camped for the weekend. The Troop was split into two groups, those going to Philmont and those not for the hike (major activity of the weekend). One SM went with each group along with one other adult as the two groups carried different packs (full pack vs day pack) and traveled at different speeds. If it was not for the Committee members who would have gone, the campout would have been canceled.

        What I am trying to get to is that if the parents are not doing anything, have they been asked? I found out that if I asked my parents in my Cub Scout den (I was an Asst DL or DL for 5 years) to do something, they usually did. What I did was have a primary activity in mind and a lesser role as a backup. If the adult said what I asked was too much because they were too busy (or whatever), I immediately said, “OK. If you cannot do X, can you do Y for me.” Almost every time, the adult would say “yes”. I got to the point where I would really want them to do “Y” so I created a larger “X” for them to turn down.

        We have a small Troop of about 20 Scouts in 2 patrols. During the meeting, at least 3-6 of the other parents stay but out of the meeting area. This usually includes the Advancement Chair (SPL’s Father), the Treasurer or her husband, and myself. In addition, several other parents hang around but who they are change from month to month. There is almost always enough to hold a BOR and if the SM/ASMs need help, all they have to do is asked. I don’t think I’ve heard any of our parents say “no” unless they already had a conflict with something else. But then maybe, I found a troop where the SM/ASM Corps & Committee are both fully operational.

  4. Ok, Daryl… I concede that with a troop as small as yours, the SM probably has a lot more to do than in a troop like mine. We have about 110 scouts and a very active committee which handles advancement and most other aspects of running the troop. This frees up the SM to do what he is intended to do. I hope that as your troop grows, you can relinquish some of the many hats you are currently wearing, and concentrate on training your unit to become boy-led. It’s not a dream world. It’s very real, and absolutely attainable.

  5. So under what circumstances under the new guidelines could a SM withhold a signature of a blue card? My district advancement chair seemed to indicate that a SM could simply not sign a blue card for a Scout, but that seemed to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the new GTA.

    • Hopefully this section of the GTA will help you out.

      Once a Scout has been tested and signed off by
      someone approved to do so, the requirement has been
      met. The unit leader is accountable for ensuring proper
      advancement procedures are followed. A part of this
      responsibility includes the careful selection and training
      of those who approve advancement. If a unit leader
      believes a boy has not learned the subject matter for
      a requirement, he or she should see that opportunities
      are made available for the Scout to practice or teach
      the requirement, so in this way he may complete his
      learning and further develop his skills. 2013 Guide to Advancement

      So the Scoutmaster has the authority to approve who the counselor is and if he thinks the requirements were not met then see to it that another opportunity is available or try and have the youth become the instructor for another youth. The best way to learn something is to teach it.

      • The scoutmaster does not have the authority to approve the counselor. That’s a Council responsibility, sometimes delegated to the District. The section you have quoted from the GTA pertains to rank advancement. Check the Merit Badge section of the GTA for the role of the SM in that process.

  6. If you scroll back to the beginning of the talk on this subject, where Brian excerpts the new GTA guidelines you will have your answer. Bottom line, the SM cannot withhold the blue card, no matter the venue, as long as the counselor is properly registered with the council. That may mean some prior investigation must happen- particularly if the venue is a clinic or workshop.

  7. In my mythical “Troop A for advancement”,
    every Scout expects to get all 120 some MBs, \so when they cross the WEBELOS bridge to Scouting, there is anr early request to the SM is for the Blue Cards for each and every Merit Badge, please.
    This gives them something to do in their spare time while waiting out the 30 days of exercise with the other requirements completed for the award of Tenderfoot/Second/First Class at the end of the month!!!!!

  8. Our troop’s scoutmaster has planned on limiting the boys to 2 active merit badges that they can work on for 2014. I’m not sure the details yet but this does seem interesting. Do any of your troops have a similar policy and what are the pros and cons you have seen?

    One one hand I think it keeps the boys focused on the MBs they have selected to work and it relieves MB counselors from checking in and planning activities; however, on the other hand, who cares if the boy has 20 outstanding blue cards.

    Would the scout turn in their blue card if they have abandoned work on a MB to start a new one?

    How does summer camp overlap with this rule?


    • my home troop did not have a limit of “active” merit badges, but when a scout came to the SM for a new blue card, the advancement chair (who held all the blue cards) would remind the youth of all of his outstanding blue cards and partial merit badges from summer camp. This usually got most of the youth to finish what they started, but some of the boys knew that, say, Archaeology was incomplete but they still wanted to start Space Exploration because they were no longer interested in archaeology and didn’t care in finishing that badge.

      With summer camp, we made it pretty clear that a summer activity was expected. either summer camp or a high adventure trip. This is because summer camping is a staple of Scouting and should not be seen as a “who is interested?” kind of thing. go ahead and plan on your younger youth to attend summer camp and have a high adventure trip planned every summer for your older youth. It will not be Philmont every summer, but with four national high adventure bases and many more council high adventure camps there is an option every summer for your youth. and if they don’t feel like being a camper, have them be summer camp staff! that was by far the best times I had in Scouting and the one thing I looked forward to every year for 6 years.

    • This is a bad rule, and not supported at all be the letter or the spirit of the GTA. A scout advances and earns merit badges at his own pace. The SM is not the gatekeeper of blue cards. He or she provides them to scouts that ask, discusses the MB with the scout, and provides the scout with the name of at least one council-approved MB counselor.

  9. I’ve been studying this for a while now. A troop does not have to organize, support one merit badge for a scout to earn Eagle. Merit badges are council managed activities and it’s completely up to the council to certify each counselor and merit badge earned and is really not up to a troop to decide one way or the other. The troop is responsible for making sure each scout masters the skills to earn First Class. The troop is responsible for making sure the patrol method is implemented. The troop is responsible for making sure scouts get to safely participate in outdoor activities. When it’s all over with and a scout reflects on his scouting years he will remember the basic skills the most. Merit Badges will just be something they did for a very short period of time. So as scout leaders we really need to focus on what’s important.

  10. all of this is interesting especially since my boys just crossed over to a Troop. I recently found out that this Troop does not meet during the summer or have any summer events except for summer camp. My boys asked to do some MB classes with another Council as they are helping out there for the summer and have been turned down. The reason given was that they want them to work on their rank to 1st Class (which they cannot do outside of Troop meetings or campouts). So what is supposed to keep them interested in Scouting during the summer besides one week of camp if the Troop doesn’t meet or do anything else?

  11. What about the reverse? Can a merit badge counselor refuse to work with scouts based on their age, rank or maturity? I have seen my council hold clinics that restrict by rank (must be first class or higher) for Citizenship in the World. Personal Management is another where I have seen clinics held that require boys to be 14 or First Class. Can a counselor make this decision?

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s