Earning Badges Revisited

Last month we featured an article about a 14-year-old boy who cut corners and presented sloppy work rushed through with little attention to correctness merely to acquire a badge. Now we are surprised to learn that deceit seems to be prevalent with parents anxious for their child to sport as many badges as possible regardless of whether the child has completed the requirements or not. The following is such an example:

“My son has a question for you,” a father told me at the Visitor Center as he pushed his reluctant child toward me.

The young boy was too shy to ask me anything, but, according to his father, he wanted to know if he could get his Junior Ranger badge at our Visitor Center, even though it was a National Park Junior Ranger project, rather than a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Junior Blue Goose Ranger badge. I knew we had a small number of Park badges available, but I needed to check his booklet before handing him the award.

“We won’t be heading back into the Park,” the father said with a smile. “But after he did all this work, it would be a shame if he didn’t get the badge.”

Ranger on Staff

I glanced through the booklet, and it appeared that the boy had written the answers himself. But rather than check it myself, I had a better idea. “We have a Park ranger on staff today,” I said, “so it would be a good idea to have her check this.”

At that moment, the Park ranger emerged from a back room, and I approached her with the boy’s work. She immediately opened the booklet to a certain page. “He hasn’t attended a Ranger-led program,” she said, pointing to the blank spaces where a ranger would sign off the attendance. “This happens a lot! Parents just don’t want to go to the trouble of taking their kid to a program, and they actually spend more time going around trying to find someone who will just hand the badge without checking the work than if they just went to a 20-minute program.”


I was stunned to learn that some parents deliberately lead their children into such dishonesty. I returned the booklet to the father and explained why his child would not receive the badge. He nodded and ushered his son away.

“See,” he said to the boy as they left, “I told you it wouldn’t work.”

No, I thought. You were the one who wanted to receive the badge without complying with all the requirements. Your child is too young to understand!

 To learn that parents attempt this betrayal many times at National Parks left me wondering what they hoped to achieve. Once again, they are teaching their children to cheat and cut corners. The badges will become meaningless to the youngsters and they will have learned little or nothing from the experience other than deception.

On the Other Hand

One the other hand, an articulate young girl recently approached me at the Visitor Center and asked, “Do you have a Junior Ranger program?”

“Yes,” I said. “How old are you?” Since the girl was only eight years old, she needed to fill in only certain parts of the Junior Blue Goose Ranger booklet.

When I handed her the booklet, she thanked me and immediately headed for the stairs where she sat to look it over. Nearly an hour later, she returned with her mother and presented her completed booklet. An overview showed that she had done the work herself with some support from her mother. Her hard work proved that she earned the patch we awarded her.

This young girl learned about wildlife and its habitats while she worked her way around the Visitor Center and read the displays. She was enriched with this new knowledge and can wear her award proudly. Others who cut corners and try deceit to receive their badges only cheat themselves.

Knowledge, not Awards

We need to teach children to revere the knowledge – not the award.



4 thoughts on “Earning Badges Revisited”

    • Thanks for those comments, Char! Raising children is not always an easy task and many times, they must be able to earn awards and accolades themselves with minimal help from Mom and Dad. Having met your children, we often remark how much pleasure it was hiking with them! Also, I hope any of your family members are safe in the Islands with the hurricane. Grew up with them in FL, but never as potent as we’ve been having recently. Take care!


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