Quincy and Getting them All
By: Mike Walton (blackeagle)
Posted On: 2020-07-13
Merit badges are earned by Scouts working with a registered merit badge counselor, someone who works or has experience in the topic area and desires to share his or her experiences, knowledge and training with a Scout (and a buddy). There are specific requirements for each badge, which are not just "write this down" or "tell me what the book or I've said to you," but rather "do," "show," "demonstrate," "find," "prepare," "play," or so many other verbs -- actions to the counselor. Depending on the Scout and his preparedness, it may take a couple of meetings or several month's worths of meetings outside of the regular Scouting activities before all of the requirements were completed and the merit badge was earned.
A couple of years ago, I started writing a novel based upon several Boy Scouts' accounts of how they went about earning "every merit badge in the book - and then some." I created a composite character, a young black kid with a bald head -- some called him "Qball" (a jab at his real name -- Quincy), and started out writing the book.
Two months into writing "Got 'Em All!", A national-level volunteer approached me during a meeting. He knew I was writing the book, and he asked me to please don't publish it when I got done with it. I asked him why and he explained the reasoning -- which I reluctantly agreed with.
The Boy Scouts of America want Scouts (and eligible Venturers) to earn as many merit badges as they are willing to earn. You need 21 of them -- including 12 in specific topics -- to use as part of the requirements toward becoming an Eagle Scout; less for Life Scout and even less for Star Scout. If a Scout exceeds the earning of 21 (and most do), they may earn a Bronze Palm to attach to the Eagle medal or the cloth patch representing the first five merit badges used over Eagle; a Gold Palm representing the next five; and a Silver Palm representing the next five after that.
(Merit badges used could have been earned at any time, not just after earning the first 21 or so for Eagle.)
When books are promoting "Earn them all!" the guy explained to me, it cheapens the value and purpose of the merit badge program. The idea is not just to complete some requirements, perhaps learning a skill or enhancing a personal hobby, or do something cool like building a model rocket. "Scouts would run through the various requirements, assisted by counselors who view their role as teaching assistants -- "yup, you've done this" "yup, you've done that..." and signs off the card, even though very little "stuff" was done to earn another badge. The Scout turns it in; his leaders say "okay," and the kid's off to earn another badge."
No, as Quincy explained in his personal quest, "I want to meet a hundred or so people and learn a bit about THEM...why did they choose to be an engineer, a hog farmer, or a nuclear scientist. Were they a Scout in their youth and played around with electricity or chemistry until they blew something up or the electricity threw them across the room when they plugged DC into AC?"
Then the man explained to me that "earning a merit badge, unfortunately, today is more important for the parent than for the Scout; we know this because parents will pay 50, 100, 200 dollars or more for their son to go to a *specific camp* so that they may earn the umphty-umpth Merit Badge, something he cannot do back in his small town somewhere." He stated that some BSA Councils are banking on Mom, Dad or Meema paying for Junior to go to that special camp over going to the one in his backyard, so to speak, and this is a good reason why some camps -- and Councils -- are going out of business.
I objected, saying that's a bunch of crap. Camps exist because Scouts go there and have a good time. When they fail to go camping to have a good time, then the joy and experience of a week of summer camp falls off -- it becomes a "summer course" and not a "summer camp." I further explained that as a former Scoutmaster, I was more concerned that my Scouts had a great time at the pool, lake or busting through the woods -- if they earned a merit badge or two in the process, great! But seeing their grins as they are truly enjoying camping with friends -- you can't put a value on that. I can see his point a little, I guess.
Finally, he said, "The BSA isn't interested in how many merit badges a kid earns or how many Palms he earns afterward. They are interested in him earning Eagle or some other rank, and that's it. Palms are not counted anywhere, and they are not advancement. So the incentive to get a kid to earn all of the merit badges should lie within the Scout himself -- and with his family and Troop's assistance, if that's what he wants to do, let him figure it out and do it. "Don't give every kid in America a roadmap as to how to earn all of them..."
So the book is on my laptop computer, not even a quarter of the way through. It's a shame because I had hoped that by the time Quincy has read 30 books, participated in a year of track and field, created charts explaining the food cycle, how we get drinking water, creating an orienteering course, learned how to play "To the Colors" on a bugle, handled Perry the Python (he's afraid of snakes, but an elementary school teacher had Perry and let Quincy take care of him for a month), prepared, cooked and served a complete dinner for his Mom, sister and brother -- and all of the rest of the things one has to do to earn a merit badge in a particular area -- that it would encourage the reader to say "maybe I could give this Scouts thing a try..."
Someone suggested that instead of a book, that I would write a chapter -- a merit badge -- at a time, and offer it as an e-book, complete with a copy of the requirements and a color image of the badge. I don't know about that.
In my outline, still, on my whiteboard in my office room in Minnesota, I estimated that Quincy would need four years, seven months, from the time he started on his first merit badge -- First Aid -- and when he completed the last merit badge at the time -- Winter Sports. Since then, several additional merit badges were created, and some were retired due to a low number of youth earning them. On the occasion of his last merit badge, Quincy invites all of his merit badge counselors and their families to join him in celebrating the last of his merit badges. The local BSA Council gave him a certificate acknowledging his feat.
The next day, he was shot in a random drive-by shooting while on his way walking to the United Methodist Church, where he attended on his own despite his family's wishes to attend the AME church closer by.
I explained to the man that "you know it's not the number of the badges, but rather the experiences of learning and being around people who really enjoy the subject matter at hand which is important..." This is the reason why the BSA has no special badge, no big award, and discourages local Councils from making such a big deal of this accomplishment. It is also a reason, unfortunately, that some families are making this a quiet "contest" to see who's the "youngest boy who could earn all of the badges."