Why so many badges?
The question was asked on a popular Facebook Girl Scout Leader group – “Why does everyone have to have a badge for every single thing the girls do?”
The original person who posted just didn’t understand why girls couldn’t just learn or do something just to learn or do something. Why can’t they just have fun? Why can’t a service project, just be to give service? Do girls really have to be reward with a badge for everything they do in Girl Scouts?
How did badge earning become a thing?
By looking at how badges evolved over time, it is easy to see why constant badge earning became the common mentality.
Between 1912 – 1947, badges could be earned by all girl scouts, ages 10-17. But the badges were hard to earn. Someone with a scribe badge could easily get a job doing written work because it had so many requirements it was like a certification. That is why they were called proficiency badges. You basically had a test to get them.
In 1947-1963, only ages 10-14 could earn the badges as intermediary Girl Scouts. They now had a Senior level Girl Scout and they had no badges. It was meant to be that the seniors used their skills from Intermediate level badge earning to then go and do things. This period had so many badges in very specific fields, but many were still very difficult to earn.
Then we have the 1963-1980 time period. This where they started easing requirements. In 1963 they introduced the Cadette level and Intermediary Scouts became Juniors. From 4th-6th grade, ages 9-11, you had badges and from 7th-9th grade, ages 12-14 you had badges. They scaled way back on the number available and the requirements started to be a little easier to earn. But Cadette levels were harder than Junior level.
All this time Seniors still had no badges. They were meant to do things of their own accord using their skills. They should improve themselves or their communities and use Girl Scouts to accomplish what they couldn’t do alone or as a support group for doing their own thing.
The Brownies, who have been there since 1926, has no badges either. No badges for the youngest group. They just had activities and knowledge to get the basics. Before 1963, there was actually a test to pass before you could be a Girl Scout, so Brownies got you ready for the test, but you didn’t do that the whole time you were a Brownie. Troop leaders just had to make do with what they could up with.
The start of Badge Mentality
Then the 1980s program came into play. They gave Brownies Try-Its. They were just a simple set of 4-6 activities to earn one Try-It. The girls loved them. So GSUSA came out with more just a few years after the original ones were released. Brownies wanted to earn them all and they were easy enough to earn in a meeting or two for most leaders. Leaders loved not having to come up with their own ideas. And so, badges became very popular during this time period.
Juniors had a revamp for their badges as well. Now badges were easier to earn. They had more steps than we have now, but you could pick and choose which steps to do beyond the star marked required 1-3 steps. The number of absolutely required steps depended on the badge. It was very open, very easy, and girls often earned them outside meetings. Why? Because the handbook gave them a lot of info to help them earning those badges without needing more resources beyond supplies. Lots of badges became a way to show a girl had personally spent lot of time getting them. Leaders could often do the steps in 2-3 meetings. Most troops met weekly, so many were earned that way too.
Cadettes, Seniors, and later the new Ambassador level, got something called Interest Projects (IPs). These were more reminiscent of the old proficiency badges. They had a lot of requirements that they had to dive into a topic more than the other two levels. GSUSA later also required the girls to learn about careers in the topic and to teach it or advocate it somehow before they could earn the IP badge. These were all harder to earn, but the girls who loved badges finally had badges they could earn in the middle school and high school level. However, they took longer so the higher levels did not typically have a bunch of badges on their uniforms like the younger years.
Daisies were introduced without badges, but they wanted them so much they quickly added the Petal pack as an option.
This is the time period where Girl Scouts really started being associated with the Elementary ages instead of the 10-17 years which were the original Girl Scouts. And those that grew up earning so many badges, felt the need to keep earning them. The older years did not have that same program where lots of badges could be earned, so we started losing girls to other activities.
Too late, the badge mentality was there to stay.
Then came the 2011 program. GSUSA took away all the old badges. They came out with only 26 or so badges per level. Only 7 of them were supposed to be ‘legacy’ badges that were inspired by the old badge program. Ambassadors and Daisies actually had less than the other levels.
None of these new badges were outdoor and very few were art or homemaking. On the plus side, all had only 5 requirements to earn. The hope was this could help the older girls staying with easier earned badges. It also simplified things for the younger girls. It made Brownies able to choose which activities rather than the set activities of the try-its and made Junior badges much easier to earn.
At the beginning, girls still earned some of the official badges, but many kept earning the retired badges or started using fun patches for their own activities because of the lack of variety these new badges had. Or the leader will take the new 5 requirement steps, which are very basic and open for interpretation, and make up their own steps that sort of match. Because leaders don’t really care for what the badge steps truly are, it became an even bigger thing to earn a badge in a meeting and be done with it.
By 2015 they started adding outdoor badges due to high demand. By 2017 they gave Daisies the flower shaped badges because of high demand for more than the petal pack and leaves.
No one really cared for the original 3 Traditional Journeys, and leaders across the board threw out the 9-10 meetings that earned only 4 badges. They “kept the spirit of the journey badges” and tried to earn them in 3 or less meetings. GSUSA saw this and added an Outdoor Journey option and then later the three STEM ones.
GSUSA also started their STEAM and future leaders’ campaign as all future badges were related to STEAM, outdoors, leadership/government/entrepreneurship. That still leaves a lot of girls and leaders wanting more arts or homemaking skills. And unfortunately, a lot of the STEAM requirements are a lot like school which many girls hate. Again, Leaders will go for fun patches often or the leader will fudge on the requirement steps.
Fun Patch Phenomenon
Because of all this, the badge mentality actually became bigger, not less. And Fun Patch Mentality became a big thing. In the 1980s program, the fun patches were not so common. Usually it was for cookie sales, council events, or big trips or campouts. In the 2011 program, it is not uncommon to run out of room on the back of the vest before the 2 years in that level is up.
Fun patches became a huge success for all levels of Girl Scouts. Especially the older girls who generally don’t like their badges in the high school level. Because Girl Scouts isn’t supposed to be like school and they join to do exciting things, go places, or to do service for their gold so they can get a scholarship. There are only a handful of badges around those ideas.
Some girls are there for other reasons, but those three reasons are the big ones, and the three big reasons that recruiters can use when trying to get new girls to start Girl Scouts in high school. Remember, in the 1980s, Americans started associating Girl Scouts with the elementary aged girls so many in middle and high school believe being a Girl Scout is ‘uncool’. Scouts BSA, who called their elementary aged kids Cub Scouts, do not have the same issue as their older scouts don’t deal with that same discrimination. To combat this in GSUSA, most older scouts disregard the badges and go for the fun patches, making the program to fit what they want so it’s worth dealing with the stigma of still being a Girl Scout when they are older. Yet those middle and high school girls were the original Girl Scouts!
It’s a very different environment all together from the start of Girl Scouts.