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A merit badge is an award that a Boy Scout can earn by displaying knowledge and ability in a particular subject. There are currently over 100 different merit badges available for a Boy Scout to earn. Each merit badge represents a specific field of knowledge that a Boy Scout might find interesting and useful. Earning a merit badge is an honor in itself, but it also serves as a stepping stone towards a new Boy Scout rank.
The Boy Scout handbook contains a list of each merit badge available, as well as the required skills and knowledge necessary to earn each merit badge. The handbook also explains the number of merit badges required to reach each rank. In order to attain the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Boy Scouts, the scout must earn 21 merit badges. Of those 21 merit badges, the scout must earn 12 of 15 possible required merit badges.
Each merit badge covers a specific subject. When a Boy Scout decides to work towards earning a merit badge, he must first find someone to supervise his progress, and in many cases, to teach him. This merit badge instructor could be a parent, a scout leader, or a professional in the same field as the merit badge. For the Family Living merit badge, a scout must work with his parents. To earn the Dentistry merit badge, the scout must work with a dentist.
In order to earn a particular merit badge, a Boy Scout must complete a list of requirements and show his scout leader or merit badge instructor that he has gained the required knowledge and mastered the required skills. Each merit badge has its own list of skills and knowledge required. The Journalism merit badge, for example, has a list of five requirements, including learning about careers in journalism and explaining how freedom of the press works in America. The Fire Safety merit badge has a list of twelve requirements, which include understanding how a fire burns and taking steps to make the scout's home safer.
With so many different merit badges to choose from, a Boy Scout has the opportunity to learn a wide variety of skills and gain a great deal of useful knowledge. Each merit badge represents specific know-how, as well as a step toward greater understanding of the world, an advancement within the Boy Scout organization, and personal growth toward becoming an adult.