The main reason I collect Girl Scout handbooks isn’t their value (which is often negligible). It’s the nostalgia factor.
It’s also the fact that, while some of the content is timeless, other parts of the books aged faster than girls do.
Today’s example: “Computer Fun,” one of the badges included in Girl Scout Badges and Signs (1990).
Back in Ye Early 1990s, when this badge appeared in Girl Scout Badges and Signs and also back when I earned it, badges were organized into five “Worlds,” indicated by color: The World of Well-Being (Red), the World of People (Blue), the World of Today and Tomorrow (Orange), the World of the Arts (Purple), and the World of the Out-of-Doors (Yellow).
The World to which a badge belonged was indicated by the color of its border: Computer Fun, being from the World of Today and Tomorrow (which focused mostly on the sciences), had an orange border.
Badges were also graded by difficulty for Juniors and Cadettes: badges with a green background were comparatively easier to earn, and were for Juniors only. Badges with a tan background were comparatively harder to earn, and could be earned by either Juniors or Cadettes. Computer Fun was one of the “hard” ones.
Ironically, I suspect it’d still be one of the hard ones today, but not for the reasons it was hard in 1994.
Here’s the first page of badge requirements:
The instructions, “Complete Six Activities,” were pretty standard for badges. Occasionally there were one or two mandatory activities, but generally speaking, we got to pick from 6-10 options.
This page contains Activity 1:
- Find computers being used for at least ten different purposes. To do this, look through books, newspapers, or magazines, watch television, or go in person. Share what you have found with your troop members.
Today, I suspect most girls could pull this one off without leaving their own room. In Ye Fabled Land of 1990, however, this one actually did take some research. A few lucky folks actually had computers in their own house. For most kids, though, computers were a newfangled thing we were all told not to bother with, for they would surely blow over.
Anyway, here are the rest of the requirements:
(This page is from my former troop leader’s copy of Girl Scout Badges and Signs, which is why it has her signature and our names in it. On most of the others, she marked which activities we’d done, so I’m uncertain why they’re not marked here.)
2. Spend at least two hours learning something new from a computer, either by taking computer-assisted instruction at a school or learning center or by using a computer educational toy.
Today, I’m pretty sure every kindergartener who signs up for Daisies has completed this one. In my day, though, there was an excellent chance that most or all of the girls in one’s troop hadn’t used a computer for two hours in their entire lives.
3. Help put on a demonstration of computer toys and games for your troop.
Time Traveling Troop Leader: “Okay, everybody get out your phones.”
Us, in 1990: “What?”
…In 1990, my home phone was still rotary dial. Touch tone service didn’t reach our part of the U.S. till I was in high school. Portable phones were attached to a battery the size of a small briefcase, so no one used them unless they had to.
4. Visit a business, bank, or other place that uses a computer to solve problems.
- See the computer in action and find out some of the things for which it is used.
- Find out what language the computer users, how information is put into the computer, and how information comes out.
- Learn how to use an automatic banking machine.
When I was a kid, ATMs were magic. I’m not kidding. I spent a large part of my childhood thinking there was a person on the other side of the wall who just sat there and handled transactions all day. When free-standing ATMs became a thing, I was very confused.
That said, I’d like to send some of my high school students to do the first two. We’ve reached the flip side of the coin: Computers were brand new for my generation, but today, they’re so ubiquitous that students often don’t realize what software platforms do or how they’re coded.
5. Invite someone who works with computers to talk to your troop or group. Find out what she/he does with the computer, what training was necessary, and what other people are involved in keeping the computer working properly. or Interview four different people and find out how computers affect their lives.
Ah yes, the old “talk to other humans” activity. Some version of this activity appears in every single badge. And I hated then all.
6. Visit a computer store. Compare different kinds of personal computers. Ask someone to explain the basic options available to the average buyer. Decide which one you would buy.
Honestly? I’d have kids do this today. Knowing how to read computer specs has saved me from making laughably bad purchases on a dozen different occasions.
7. Read a computer magazine. Make a list of the types of information that can be found in the magazine and how this would help you use computers.
Magazines stopped being the best source of this information 15 years ago. Unfortunately, now it’s even harder to find, since The Rise of the End-User has somehow meant that we’re all supposed to just know this stuff even though that’s literally the opposite of what “end-user” means.
8. Learn how to do some basic computer operations. Demonstrate your ability to do the following:
- Format a disc.
- Insert a software program.
- Create a file.
- Print stored information.
- Save something you have created.
Is there even an equivalent to formatting floppies today? I think “backing up our files to the cloud” might be the closest most of us get on a daily basis. For the kiddos in the audience: Yes, we used to format floppy disks all the time. It was the only way to reuse them, and because they only held 1.44 MB (you read that right), we needed a lot of them.
Anyway, my dad had an Apple IIGS, so I learned to do all of this much sooner than many of my peers. When Windows 3.1 came along and all my friends were going “WHOA NO WAI LOOK AT THIS,” I was going, “that’s literally just AppleWorks only less ugly.”
Then Clippy appeared. $#*(#& Clippy.
9. Play an electronic computer game at least five different times. Keep a record of how you do. What skills are needed? How can you improve?
Be a computer games reviewer. Play at least three different video games and write a brief review of your opinions of each. Include in your review: comments on the objective of the game, the skills required, the eye appeal and the quality of the graphics, the interest level, and the educational value.
…Let me show you what computer games looked like at the time this book was published.
Prince of Persia, 1989. I had a similar game for the Apple IIGs, Dark Castle, whose graphics absolutely blew my mind at the time.
EGATrek, 1992. This is your readout as captain of the Federation starship USS Lexington. Oh yeah, I’m feeling very 24th century right about now.
And the crowning achievement of early 1990s computer games, Castle Wolfenstein 3D. This game literally changed how we thought about video games: it was the first one to let us move in three dimensions…more or less.
Stare good and hard at Wolfenstein for a while. I’m serious. Imagine a world where these graphics are incredible. They are blowing your mind. You have never seen anything so photorealistic on a computer screen. Ever.
Yes, I just typed “photorealistic” with a straight face.
Castle Wolfenstein 3D really did blow our minds when it came out. Even EGATrek was enough fun that I’ve gone searching for emulators from time to time over the years. But the technology keeps moving further than we realize: in 1994, the year my fellow troop members and I completed “Computer Fun,” these were amazing graphics.
Today, they’re “retro.” Kitschy, even. There are five year olds doing better work on Scratch.
I have no idea what the updated computer badges look like for Girl Scouts today. I imagine they cover an updated set of the same basic skills.
I do think girls would be hard-pressed today to complete the 1990 version. For one thing, where would they find floppy disks?