When two young girls entered the Visitor Center recently sporting vests laden with Junior Ranger badges from National Parks, I assumed they had worked hard to earn those badges. But after an earlier encounter with a 14-year-old boy trying to earn a Junior Blue Goose Ranger patch from the National Elk Refuge, I didn’t know how I could be sure.
The vast majority of youngsters who present us with their finished Junior Blue Goose Ranger booklet have spent much time and effort in locating answers to the questions, searching their own feelings about wildlife, and drawing simple pictures of habitats. Even though the work can generally be identified as created by the child, their parents undoubtedly helped, and that’s good. It’s a project that can draw the family together and instill a feeling of accomplishment. And it gives us great pleasure to witness their success, as long as the parents haven’t done the work themselves just so their child can sport another award, as has happened on occasion.
The Junior Blue Goose Ranger patch requires about 45 minutes of work searching the Visitor Center for answers to questions in the activity booklet. When the 14-year-old boy returned in less than 15 minutes and handed me his booklet to check, I was amazed that he had finished so quickly until I opened the booklet.
If I had been his teacher, I would probably have returned the work to him to re-write in a form that was legible. For most of his answers, I had to ask him to translate his scribbles so I knew what he had written. And because a good portion of the answers were wrong, I had to ask him to read the question and see where he had made his mistake.
“It looks like you’ve rushed through this,” I told him. “Maybe you should do it again.” But since he was not interested in that idea, we struggled through it. Later, when his parents appeared, I told them that he had probably rushed through the project and may not have absorbed much of its meaning. They smiled as if it didn’t matter and beamed at the patch that I had reluctantly awarded their son.
What he Learned
It’s not that the boy didn’t learn anything with this activity. He learned to cut corners, he learned to disrespect himself and his parents, and he learned that trophies can be easily obtained. More than likely the patch he was given will become meaningless to him.
No Feeling of Accomplishment
“The kids really hate it when they do sloppy work,” said a Forest Service employee. “It’s not only that they don’t learn about the subject. It’s that they don’t get a feeling of accomplishment.”
It’s also a disservice to those who work hard on their own or with a little parental help to create a finished project that gives them insight in and understanding of the resource in which they are immersed. Parents who hold their children to a higher standard help them develop pride in their work.
The two young girls who entered the visitor center with vests full of Junior Ranger badges may (or may not) have worked hard to earn them. The few children who rush through the project with sloppy, hap-hazard efforts (and the parents who allow it) merely to acquire more badges are not only cheating themselves, but also those who have put forth much effort. It diminishes the meaning of the badge or patch and casts doubts on the accomplishments of others who actually earn their badges.