It’s just science: Merit badges educate boys in STEM

Proud to be an American? Absolutely, but this hurts a little: American fourth- and eighth-graders are far from No. 1 in math and science.

In fact, we’re just outside of or barely in the top 10 in both categories, lagging behind countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland, according to a study released late last year.

Fortunately, there’s hope, and it’s called the Boy Scouts of America and our merit badge program.

Boys get real science education when earning merit badges, and I’m not just talking about those badges with science in their name (Animal Science, Environmental Science, Nuclear Science, Plant Science).

Actually, a study published in 2009 by Ohio State University researcher Rachel Sterneman Hintz found that 103 of the 121 merit badges available at the time (85.12 percent) had at least one requirement meeting the National Science Education Standards.

Four years later, we now have 133 merit badges, and the newest crop builds on the science-heavy tradition from the past 103 years of the BSA. With the exception of the Scouting Heritage merit badge, all the other new badges contain science elements. That includes obvious examples such as Robotics, Inventing, Welding, and Sustainability, and less-obvious ones like Kayaking, Search and Rescue, and Chess.

By my unofficial count, 11 of the 12 merit badges released since the 2009 study have at least one science-related requirement, raising Hintz’s number slightly to 85.71 percent.

This PDF brochure, published last year by the BSA’s National Foundation, really spells out the importance and history of STEM in Scouting. Send it to parents who worry their boys will fall behind in school if their sons join Scouting.

In fact, the opposite is true. Three out of four Scouts agree that earning merit badges helps them do better in school.

What do you think?

Have you found this to be true in your unit? How can merit badges help Scouts excel in school? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

11 thoughts on “It’s just science: Merit badges educate boys in STEM

  1. My son earned 7 merit badges through the summer. He earned 4 through summer camp and 3 independently. The most impressive was camping which he did not take through any class type structure but one on one with his counselor who is very strict on the requirements. Now that he is back in school which started in early August, he seems better prepared and is working almost entirely on his own in his studies. This is a significant improvement from last year.

  2. Two things really helped me excel in the sciences as a youth …

    1. Christian disciplines of reading, prayer, meditation, and stewardship.
    2. Nearly every scouter I knew could talk about their profession in terms of science and technology, be they miners, police officers, journeymen, or professors.

    Understanding the mechanics of the universe was not optional.

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