Sunday, January 14, 2018

Taking A Page from the Boy Scout Merit Badge Program

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on........................"

The Merit Badge program is an integral part of the Boy Scout experience, and a requirement for the higher ranks of Scouting from Star and Life Ranks to the Eagle Scout designation - all three of which require earning a number of Merit Badges - some required and others a matter of choice.

The program has expanded to include over 130 different badges since its inception in 2011, with periodic updates as to the requirements for earning any given badge.  The subjects of the badges range from American Business to Woodwork - and include several in the broad Arts category - including original badges for Art, Architecture, Music, Painting, Photography, Sculpture, and later additions, including Animation, Game Design, Graphic Arts, Moviemaking, and Theater.

A Scout must complete the published requirements for each Merit Badge and work with an assigned counselor, who ostensibly has expertise and familiarity with the chosen field.

With a population of over 2.2 million Boy Scouts, nearly 2 million Merit Badges were earned in 2016, of which about 100,000 were in arts categories.  The most popular badge was First Aid - one required for the higher ranks.  The Art Badge came in 24th, with nearly 23,000 Scouts earning the badge.  Music and Moviemaking each garnered over 10,000.  And the Sculpture and Pottery badges were will represented as well.  There is no badge for Dance, nor one for Poetry.

While Scouts can pursue fulfilling the requirements for any badge on their own, the literature suggests increasingly that fulfillment is done in groups at meetings, outings etc.   And while the requirements are not as comprehensive, demanding and arduous as perhaps a curriculum based, sequential arts in school program taught by trained professionals - they are well  designed to advance the stated purpose of the program, which is to allow Scouts to examine subjects to determine if they would like to further pursue them as a career or vocation.

That said, the requirements are not a cakewalk.  Consider, as an example, the Theater Merit Badge requirements:

"Theater merit badge requirements:
See or read three full-length plays or scripts. These can be from the stage, movies, television, or video. Write a review of each. Comment on the story, acting, and staging.
Write a one-act play that will take at least eight minutes to perform. The play must have a main character, conflict, and a climax.
Do THREE of the following:
a. Act a major part in a full-length play; or act a part in three one-act plays.
b. Direct a play. Cast, rehearse, and stage it. The play must be at least 10 minutes long.
c. Design the set for a play or a production of a circus. Make a model of it.
d. Design the costumes for five characters in one play set in a time before 1900.
e. Show skill in stage makeup. Make up yourself or a friend as an old man, a clown, an extraterrestrial, or a monster as directed.
f. Help with the building of scenery for one full-length play or two one-act plays.
g. Design the lighting for a play; or, under guidance, handle the lighting for a play.
Mime or pantomime any ONE of the following chosen by your counselor.
a. You have come into a large room. It is full of pictures, furniture, other things of interest.
b. As you are getting on as bus, your books fall into a puddle. By the time you pick them up, the bus has driven off.
c. You have failed a school test. You are talking with your teacher who does not buy your story.
d. You are at a camp with a new Scout. You try to help him pass a cooking test. He learns very slowly.
e. You are at a banquet. The meat is good. You don't like the vegetable. The dessert is ice cream.
f. You are a circus performer such as a juggler, high-wire artist, or lion tamer doing a routine.
Explain the following: proscenium arch, central or arena staging, spotlight, floodlight, flies, center stage, stage right, stage left, stage brace, stage crew, cyclorama, portal, sound board.
Do two short entertainment features that you could present either alone or with others for a troop meeting or campfire.

Click here for the Art Badge requirements, and here for the Music Badge requirements.

In looking at the program, it occurred to me that perhaps we ought to seek out a partnership with the Scouts to help them with the Arts related Merit Badge offerings, including expansion to include Dance, Poetry and perhaps other disciplines.  Our arts organizations and artists could help expand the Arts offerings and bring additional expertise and experiences to Scouts interested in the badges.

And beyond that, it might be worth considering adopting the "idea" of the Merit Badge program and developing an after school program on similar lines, but expanded and tweaked to complement in school arts programs and other after school arts activities, with, instead of a Merit Badge, some other kind of Award or Recognition.

Such a cooperative venture and community involvement with the Scouts, and / or a riff off the idea, might help to expand arts education offerings and get more students and parents involved in the effort -- not as a replacement nor full alternative to curriculum based, sequential, K-12 arts education taught by trained and qualified artists and teachers - but as an adjunct thereto.  It is also a way for us to expand our outreach for public awareness and support.

By singling out recognition for pursuing the arts, even if at a modest level, we might have another way to increase the arts profile, excite kids about the Arts and get them involved.  And that can help us expand real arts education, and build the support base for the arts for the future.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit