Charlotte Mason and the Boy Scouts

As a boy scout, Neil completes merit badge requirements. I’m still new to how the process goes, but when I bought him the books for several merit badges, I was surprised to discover how very well they would fit into my homeschooling curriculum for him. For instance, the Astronomy merit badge requirements will function beautifully as the lab portion for the astronomy course he’ll be taking.

Knowing that much I became more concerned because of the hostility of some boy scout troop leaders against homeschooling. Just as background, we wanted to look at several boy scout troops for Neil, and one of them was one with the sons of two of my fellow homeschoolers, Denise and Lin. It wasn’t the same troop his Webelos den fed into, which we were also considering. But apparently his “home” troop had assumed he’d be transferring into them, and when I mentioned that I’d be homeschooling Neil and that a troop with his fellow travellers might be a good fit, I found his presumed troop leader who obviously thought it was a bad idea. At first the leader thought I was thinking of an exclusively homeschooled troop, one which was very religious and thus didn’t suit us, and then when I mentioned the troop leader of the troop with the other homeschoolers, he said “Richard doesn’t homeschool! He’s normal.” (True, but I didn’t think of Denise and Lin as abnormal.) Denise and Lin had mentioned to me that they’d been able to use some of the merit badge books in their sons’ education, too, but when I brought this up, I just got a shake of the head, as in that sort of thing is just not done. In fact, Denise told me her son had almost been denied a merit badge when she mentioned she’d used it for his high school American government class.

But now that I’ve seen the merit badge books, it’s just ridiculous not to allow them to be used for school instead of limited for strictly extracurricular use. They include the information (or information on how to do the necessary research) with hands-on requirements for putting the information to practical use. The merit badges run a wide gamut through science, liberal arts, fine arts, sports, outdoorsmanship, and more, and requirements for a well-rounded education. Quite a few of them tie in beautifully with the scope and sequence for Charybdis and Scylla. Best of all, to earn the merit badge, after completing the requirements you have to pass a review with a counselor who’s not your parent, further validating their merit and the scout’s personal effort.

In fact, since my educational philosophy is similar to what a private tutor teaching a rich country child would use, I wondered if Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the boy scouts had been educated by a private tutor. He wasn’t. However, Charlotte Mason, whose method of teaching I naturally fell into recognized and embraced the educational value of boy scouts, and later inspired Baden-Powell to build its educational aspect.

Boy scouts was an effort to allow all boys to gain the knowledge, skills and leadership qualities that only aristocrats could be presumed to have at the turn of the 20th century. It’s not the only education a boy needs, but it’s a magnificent adjunct to the basics and beyond. So I’m disappointed boy scout leaders would distain their use beside a classroom curriculum. Neil ended up in a different troop from either of the ones above, but if he gets any hassle about his merit badge work being used in conjunction with his formal education, I’ll raise the specter of Charlotte Mason and her relationship with Robert Baden-Powell. And the Charlotte Mason angle explains why the merit badge requirements suit my school so well.


  1. andrea

    I LOVE the idea of using merit badges for homeschool. What else do you include in your cirriculum. My ds is only 9, and we are doing plenty of cub scout requirements along with school. I figure along with merit badges, I’ll still need English and Math- how about science? history? can merit badges cover everything needed to learn?

  2. cjbickford (Post author)

    The homeschooling with the thought of including merit badges is only two weeks old, but I’d already say (at least for a Classical curriculum) that the badges won’t cover everything, or in the majority of cases need a lot of supplementation. From what I can tell (and have heard from homeschoolers who do use them), they’re excellent for citizenship and American government requirements, and the Boy Scout program is also excellent for the community service requirement (which is required in the California State curriculum, if you follow that.) The science badges seem to fit in well with a middle/junior high science course. Literature, mathematics, history and formal composition aren’t in the Boy Scout program; on the other hand, it has a lot of badges that I could classify as advanced Charlotte Mason nature studies, i.e. Forestry, Surveying, White Water Rafting. I imagine someone doing unit studies or unschooling could use the badges as a basis better, but my method is still very structured around some academic subjects. Part of the rub is also that scouts are encouraged to focus on only a few badges at any one time.

    That said, the Boy Scout program is particularly good for homeschoolers, both with and beyond our “classroom.” So I continue with my assertion that leaders need to be clued in to this, instead of thinking homeschooled scouts are oddballs who won’t fit in with or do as well as institutionally schooled scouts.


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