Since its inception one hundred years ago, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has earned a reputation for grooming character, physical fitness and good citizenship in boys ages seven-17. The Boy Scout division encompasses 11-17 year old youth, and Scout Law dictates that the boy exemplifies the best of the human spirit – he's trustworthy, loyal and courteous. He's always willing to help others, and brave when the situation calls for it.
The Boy Scouts develop future leaders through a variety of programs, such as annual jamborees, community service projects, merit badges and outdoor adventures. In 2011, there were nearly 850,000 active Boy Scouts across the States, and this year-round program also boasts a long list of prestigious alumni, including United States congressmen, governors, presidents and astronauts.
The Boy Scouts pride themselves on personal growth through fun, educational experiences – their motto is, after all, "Be Prepared." Within the structured framework of a merit badge program, Scout leaders teach and challenge their troop while allowing individuals to develop at their own pace. Whether the test setting is the in the great outdoors or local community, Scouts strive to earn merit badges that signify an in-depth knowledge of a particular skill set.
There are over 130 merit badges – from sports to culture to trade – as part of the program. Any Boy Scout can work to earn a merit badge at any time, and the most often earned ones include first aid, camping, cooking and swimming. The Boy Scouts earned over 2 million merit badges last year alone, with over 110 million since the organization's establishment.
Each badge has its own comprehensive list of standards, and a Boy Scout must dedicate a significant amount of time and energy to achieve it. If a Scout is interested in earning a particular merit badge, he talks to his Scoutmaster, recruits a buddy to attend meetings with his Merit Badge Counselor, and begins the process of working through the badge's exact requirements.
Achievement of the First Aid Merit Badge exemplifies a Scout's desire to be a good citizen and is one of the most basic – and essential – skills a Scout can earn. But to get it, a Scout must learn the prevention, symptoms and first aid care for a whole host of conditions, such as dehydration, hypothermia, broken bones, shock, heatstroke and frostbite. He must also explain how to get and provide medical assistance in a variety of situations, like being on the open water or a wilderness camping trip.
Intentionally, many of the Boy Scout of America merit badges center around the great outdoors. It's a method of capturing a youth's interest and reinforcing the organization's ideals. Orienteering challenges require finding a location without the use of a map or compass – a skill that humans have had to master for thousands of years. The Whitewater merit badge offers the thrill of whitewater rafting by canoe or kayak, but to obtain it, Scouts must identify and understand how to operate the equipment involved, follow proper and safe whitewater rafting technique, and have respect for the power of the natural world.
Merit badges often promote exercise, like hiking, skating, scuba diving, rowing and swimming. The Archery merit badge not only instills an appreciation for personal fitness, it also tests hand-eye coordination and mental focus. Scouts must recite and explain archery rules, safety and commands, and demonstrate sport comprehension such as making a bowstring and pointing to the parts of an arrow. Proper form must be shown by shooting at a target, and archery skill is demonstrated by achieving a minimum score. The Climbing merit badge cultivates mental toughness over physical strength. A Scout must be willing to practice specific climbing skills over and over again until mastery, and be able to push through the challenges to earn the coveted badge.
At times, a Boy Scout must overcome fear and nerves in order to achieve a particular merit badge, such as public speaking (theater), troubleshooting when the unexpected happens (wilderness survival) and animals (dog care). Scouts are encouraged to be well-rounded, educated citizens of the world, gaining key skills – like communication – to help them throughout life. Some merit badges offer a solid foundation of knowledge for potential career paths, teaching a Scout about potential opportunities. If a Boy Scout is considering dentistry, engineering, welding, medicine or journalism as a profession, for example, the merit badge program is a good place to start.
Boy Scouts have a century-old tradition of wearing uniforms that include the official shirt, neckwear, pants, headgear and insignia. It's intended to create a sense of belonging, commitment and identification. But the Scout uniform is also a way to demonstrate the level of activity a boy devotes to the organization. Earned badges are attached to the front and back of the Merit Badge Sash.
In a new National Geographic Channel series ARE YOU TOUGHER THAN A BOY SCOUT? six elite Boy Scouts and three adult men embark on a hilarious, action-packed, unexpected competition over the course of three days and two nights. Can the adults hold their own and show that they are merit-badge worthy? Find out how the seasoned Scout judges vote on the premiere episode, Monday, March 11th, at 8 PM EST!