Earning Badges

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 Majority

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.

Sloppy Work

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.

3 thoughts on “Earning Badges”

  1. Thanks for this article, Betty.

    Working in a museum and teaching classes puts me in contact with a lot of kids & parents. I find that kids (and their parents) today seem to believe that cutting corners, doing a sloppy job, trying to “hoodwink” people into thinking you have done the work, and covering up a shoddy job is the NORM.

    This, in my estimation, is simply a form of cheating…kids cheating themselves out of a learning experience, cheating themselves out of an honest work ethic, and cheating themselves out of successful life experiences. As for the parents? They are teaching their children that success (both personal and later on in the real world) is simply seeing how you can manipulate people, cheat yourself and others, cut corners, and deceive people with dishonesty and deception. Smiling about the badge your child received while knowing that they did not do the work nor do they deserve the reward is, in my opinion, shoddy parenting, as well…and borders on child abuse. Teaching your child that this is OK and not taking that situation and making it a “teachable moment” is tragic…these kids are being abused by not having the “tools” for success in life and the training to be honest human beings.

    Thanks for writing this and for sharing it….this is a real problem with our society and needs to be addressed.

    • Sue,

      Thanks for those great comments! We’ve long felt that much of the educational process has been diluted and Betty’s article further illustrates that feeling. Your expertise in the educational arena mirrors our feelings and we are disappointed in the direction that our experience at the encounter with the young man appears to be taking. We really appreciate your view of the problem!

  2. You are MOST welcome…I am just glad that Betty had the foresight and the vehicle to get this message out there…it is tragic.

    Keep up the good work and promoting good, accurate science…we need you both SO much and the jobs you do are VERY special.


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