A merit badge for making?

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Inventing involves finding technological solutions to real-world problems. Inventors understand the importance of inventing to society because they creatively think of ways to improve the lives of others. Explore the world of inventing through this new merit badge, and discover your inner inventiveness.

That’s the intro to the guidelines for new Invention merit badge offered by the Boy Scouts of America. At first blush it seems like a wonderful inclusion: America has spawned countless genius inventors. However, I suspect a lot of makers may find the requirements a little dated. For one thing, the requirements test on a knowledge of the history of invention in the US, but don’t actually teach any making skills (but in all fairness, the Electronics badge teaches soldering so why should it be in Inventing as well?) The scouts do get to create a prototype of their invention.

Not unexpectedly there is a heavy emphasis on intellectual property, with Scouts learning about the importance of patents, how to look them up and how they’re registered with the government. This brings up my biggest complaint about the badge: it doesn’t teach about the maker world’s affinity for openly shared ideas. Although they do mention it obliquely:

Discuss with your counselor the types of inventions that are appropriate to share with others, and explain why. Tell your counselor about one nonpatented or noncopyrighted invention and its impact on society.

No mention of Community Commons, copyleft, or open source? C’mon.

However, all is forgiven because the guidelines suggest MAKE as being one of two periodicals scouts should reference for inspiration. I couldn’t agree more.

[Via Fast Company]

8 thoughts on “A merit badge for making?

  1. We’ve got to hand it to the Boy Scouts for finally getting an “Inventing” merit badge. Even without the open source content that DEFINITELY needs to be included, it is a huge step in the right direction to influencing a new generation of Makers.

    Full Disclosure: I am the scoutmaster of Troop 1349, SLC, UT. The Boy Scouts take a LONG time to adopt new ideas and get feedback from society… It took 100 years for them to stop using shorty shorts in their uniforms, and the new centennial uniforms look pretty cool. Everybody hates those shorty shorts and knee socks… don’t you remember how much you hated them as a kid?

    Good Job, BSA. You did one right. Teach those eager kids the skills to make it in today’s tech world.

  2. Not everyone hates the old-school scout shorts or the knee socks. I gladly wore them through my decade working as a counselor and camp director even as the new uniform rolled out. Though, props should be given to Jim Schwieger for introducing the basis for the current incarnation of the uniform during his tenure at Sea Base.

    My real comment is to point out that there’s lots of over-lapping requirements between merit badges. Take a look at the first aid requirements for camping, wilderness survival, hiking and a half dozen other badges, they’re all the same. The idea of merit badges is that the great majority of them are non-required so there’s room for things to be redundant in the requirements.

    Hats-off to the BSA for adding this badge. Would that they’d join the WOSM in the 21st century in some other ways as well.

    1. I guess stating that “everybody” dislikes the shorty shorts is a broad stereotype. I just remember not liking them.

      Back on topic! Requirements are redundant its true, but mostly to instill importance. If a boy can’t do basic first aid and take care of himself in the wild, how can he expect to take care of himself at all? Typically merit badges start out with “Demonstrate first aid for the following… that can occur while…” and ends with “discuss with your counselor careers in…”

      Those are the most important things to teach the boys. Survival skills and getting a good vocation/education. My days in Scouting and VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America) now Skills USA, helped prepare me the most for my career, a Support Analyst for Survey Grade GPS.

  3. Merit badges are not meant to make the Scouts specialists in fields of interest. They are meant to give introductory experience and knowledge in regards to the skill. Just as you wouldn’t expect the requirements for the First Aid badge to enable a Scout to know methods of performing an emergency tracheotomy, you shouldn’t expect the Inventing badge to focus on Open Source ideas.

    The merit badge covers the basics and encourages Scouts who have an interest to seek out additional information. If a Scout has the inclination to be an inventor, then chances are they already know about Make: and the Open Source movement. Merit Badge counselors, adults and leaders who provide direction and assistance to the Scouts while they work on the badge requirements, will be aware also. To think that this important aspect of “invention” is being excluded because of a lack of mention in the official guide is just plain ignorance of the entire Scouting program.

    Instead of pointing out the negatives, maybe you can focus on the positives that this merit badge brings to the Scouts. Maybe volunteer some of your own time to help guide these boys with your expert knowledge of the subject. Being a parent and a volunteer myself, I know that your time will be well spent and greatly appreciated by the Scouts, Leaders, parents and communities where these Scouts meet.

    If you don’t know how or where to get involved, start with http://www.scouting.org

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My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal nerdage.net

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