Merit Badges in the Boy Scouts of America is one of the most recognized aspects of the Scouting program. Often emulated, never duplicated. If you ever ask anyone who quit scouts, and you ask them why, chances are that its because they did not ever want to get any or that they were too hard or were too "dumb", or what not.
And thats true to some degree, after a certain part in Boy Scouting, you need more merit badges to continue advancing in rank, in order to try to eventually become an Eagle Scout (Eagle Project also required). Only 2% of all scouts actually become an eagle scout. Its really kind of sad, but thats another discussion.
So at last time i checked there are over 120 merit badges that can be obtained, many such as Computer Merit Badge (a must among geeks), First Aid, HAM Radio, Cooking, Camping, etc. So there are a million to meet anyones needs, talents, or lack thereof.
Some badges are much easier than others. I think the radio merit badge had like 15 requirements, and basketry had like two (no exaggeration). And if they were not one of the designated few badges that you had to get, then they were weighted the same. I knew that when i was very active in the program, there were many scouts (including my brother) who saw this as an injustice to the real scouts. They thought that "real" merit badges like archery and rifle should not somehow be weighted more, or real scouts would shoot for woodworking or whatever.
The moral of it is, you needed 22 badges (probably 23 now), and they all basically count the same. The point is to vary your interests and to try new things that you wouldnt noramlly, like Physical Fitness, or Whitewater rafting or any of the remaining hundred or so badges. Good luck.
Here is a list of all the Merit Badges that you can earn:

American Business merit badge
American Culture merit badge
American Heritage merit badge
American Labor merit badge
Animal Science merit badge
Archaeology merit badge
Archery merit badge
Architecture merit badge
Art merit badge
Astronomy merit badge
Athletics merit badge
Atomic Energy merit badge
Auto Mechanics merit badge
Aviation merit badge
Backpacking merit badge
Basketry merit badge
Bird Study merit badge
Bugling merit badge
Camping merit badge
Canoeing merit badge
Chemistry merit badge
Cinematography merit badge
Citizenship in the Community merit badge
Citizenship in the Nation merit badge
Citizenship in the World merit badge
Climbing merit badge
Coin Collecting merit badge
Collections merit badge
Communications merit badge
Computers merit badge
Cooking merit badge
Crime Prevention merit badge
Cycling merit badge
Dentistry merit badge
Disabilities Awareness merit badge
Dog Care merit badge
Drafting merit badge
Electricity merit badge
Electronics merit badge
Emergency Preparedness merit badge
Energy merit badge
Engineering merit badge
Entrepreneurship merit badge
Environmental Science merit badge
Family Life merit badge
Farm Mechanics merit badge
Fingerprinting merit badge
Fire Safety merit badge
First Aid merit badge
Fish and Wildlife Management merit badge
Fishing merit badge
Fly Fishing merit badge
Forestry merit badge
Gardening merit badge
Genealogy merit badge
Geology merit badge
Golf merit badge
Graphic Arts merit badge
Hiking merit badge
Home Repairs merit badge
Horsemanship merit badge
Indian Lore merit badge
Insect Study merit badge
Journalism merit badge
Landscape Architecture merit badge
Law merit badge
Leatherwork merit badge
Lifesaving merit badge
Mammal Study merit badge
Medicine merit badge
Metalwork merit badge
Model Design and Building merit badge
Motorboating merit badge
Music merit badge
Nature merit badge
Oceanography merit badge
Orienteering
Painting merit badge
Personal Fitness merit badge
Personal Management merit badge
Pets merit badge
Photography merit badge
Pioneering merit badge
Plant Science merit badge
Plumbing merit badge
Pottery merit badge
Public Health merit badge
Public Speaking merit badge
Pulp and Paper merit badge
Radio merit badge
Railroading merit badge
Reading merit badge
Reptile and Amphibian Study merit badge
Rifle Shooting merit badge
Rowing merit badge
Safety merit badge
Salesmanship merit badge
Scholarship merit badge
Sculpture merit badge
Shotgun Shooting merit badge
Skating merit badge
Small-Boat Sailing merit badge
Snow Sports merit badge
Soil and Water Conservation merit badge
Space Exploration merit badge
Sports merit badge
Stamp Collecting merit badge
Surveying merit badge
Swimming
Textile merit badge
Theater merit badge
Traffic Safety merit badge
Truck Transportation merit badge
Veterinary Medicine merit badge
Water Skiing merit badge
Weather merit badge
Whitewater merit badge
Wilderness Survival merit badge
Wood Carving merit badge
Woodwork merit badge

Merit badges have their roots in the fact that Scouting was originally designed to indoctrinate boys towards later military service. Thus, there was an effort to create a reward system for learning new skills, analogous to that found in most militaries.

As was noted in other writeups, several of the merit badges are silly and useless, and there are a number of arts and crafts badges with only 2 to 5 requirements, along the lines of "make a basket". However, the list of badges required for Eagle is composed of those skills judged necessary for a "graduate" of Scouting. From http://www.scouting.org:

In addition, a Scout has a choice between Emergency Preparedness and Lifesaving, and a choice among Cycling, Hiking, and Swimming.

One of the first things that a Scout does after joining is to earn a few badges that he knows intimately and can breeze through the requirements for. In my case, these were Computers, Art, and Reading. Later, once a Scout arrives at camp and needs to show off to his friends, he earns Rifle Shooting and attempts Shotgun Shooting. Later on he might branch out and try something like Wilderness Survival or even Aviation.

The practical upshot of this is that any boy who follows the path laid out by the Boy Scouts of America towards earning his Eagle badge is at the very least learning a number of skills which may help to develop later interests, allow him to save a life, or provide him with a sense of civic duty, and in the best case will give him a method for approaching new skills and challenges that he will benefit from for the rest of his life.

I am an Eagle Scout, I earned it 2 years ago. As you were saying, some of the required merit badges tend to be boring (the citizenship ones) or quite tedious (personal management ect.) but the required merit badges woule have more impact on your life then knowing how to make a basket or someother merit badge that is easier.
I have 48 merit badges currently and i have found after you get all of the required ones out of the way you can do things that interest you more. For instance; i earned golf and water sking recently. those merit badges were much more fun than the required ones.

andrew

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