About that letter Scouts must write for Citizenship in the Nation MB


Americans have dissected every word of our U.S. Constitution ever since it was created.

Same goes for requirement 8 of Citizenship in the Nation merit badge. It reads:

Name your two senators and the member of Congress from your congressional district. Write a letter about a national issue and send it to one of these elected officials, sharing your view with him or her. Show your letter and any response you receive to your counselor.

A Scouter named Mark has encountered some merit badge counselors who amend that requirement by reading beyond what’s on the page.

Merit badge requirements must be completed as written; nothing should be added or removed. But just like we do when reading the U.S. Constitution, sometimes it’s helpful to seek out experts to understand exactly how to parse every word.

First, let’s read about Mark’s conundrum:

Citizenship-in-the-NationFirst, some merit counselors are requiring boys to hand-write their letter to their member of Congress. Is that a necessary, or even appropriate “requirement?” Due to time constraints, handling costs and safety considerations, our state’s congressional delegation much prefers correspondence by email, preferably through their own dedicated web pages. Unless I’m missing the main point of the requirement, and it is in fact an exercise in penmanship, it seems to me that these counselors are adding to the requirement.

Second, the requirement includes: “Show your letter and any response you receive to your counselor.” Unfortunately, the wording of that sentence is open to a fair amount of interpretation. Some MB counselors are stating, flat-out, that the requirement has not been completed until a reply has been received and has been presented to the counselor. I read it a little differently; the word “any” seems to imply that if a reply is not received after a reasonable period of waiting, the requirement can be signed off as complete.

Who is right?

Thanks for the question, Mark.

For the answer, let’s go to the expert: Mike Lo Vecchio of the BSA’s Content Management Team:

For requirement 8, the Scout is to first name his two senators and his member of congress.

The letter he writes can be handwritten, typed, typed and emailed, or written through the member’s website. He does however, need to show this letter to his counselor.

If he should receive a response, he should show that to his counselor as well. There is no guarantee he will get a response.

Ask the Expert

Find other expertly answered questions here, and ask your own by emailing me.



  1. When I visited my states capital building we were talking to some congress men and they said that an email is the least likely to get a response. A hand written letter is about 10X more likely to get a response because it cant just be deleted or over looked as easy. A phone call is about 10X more effective then a written letter because he/she actually has to talk to you. and finally the most efficient way would be in person because you have their full undivided attention.

    That being said, yes I agree that as long as the scout writes/types it and sends it in it should count, but he would be more likely to get a response (which is cool for a 12 yr old to get a response from someone like that) then I would suggest mailing it to their office!

  2. I’ve come to find out that a) there IS training for Merit Badge Counselors (“The Essentials of Merit Badge Counseling”) and b) it’s NOT required.

    This is the only leadership position I can think of that doesn’t require some kind of leader-specific training. It seems issues like those presented in this post would be greatly reduced if this became a requirement AND National had some kind of online training much like it does for the rest of the leaders.

    • In Cleveland we have a training opportunity we call BPI or Baden Powell Institute and one of the trainings we offer is Merit Badge Counselor training. A lot of helpful hints so everyone is close to being on the same page. Another online trainin
      g through National would be good as well.

    • I think the biggest problem with MBC is that too many MBC take away from what the purpose of a MB is and instead come to the conclusion when a MB is taught the Scout must become an expert of the material. The truth is that a MB is designed to introduce the Scout to that interest and field to see if it would be an area that the Scout would wish to explore in depth.

      MBC Training while it can help to prevent problems but it is not the end all be all solution for this problem. One problem that requiring just another step to becoming a MBC is that it means that less people that are experts in their field would be willing to teach the MB. It is hard enough to convince experts to become counselors when they have to complete YPT. I know that many are going to say if that person really cared they would just do the training but that just isn’t how it happens.

  3. I am a counselor for all of the Citizenship merit badges, and mom of a Life Scout and a First Class Scout. I am pleased to know I have correctly interpreted this requirement. I want, however, to address those counselors who have required the hand-written letter. One of my sons has an invisible disability, which makes it difficult to write. Counselors should be very careful about adding to a requirement. My son doesn’t disclose his condition, and would rather struggle thru writing something than complain or use the disability card. Just something to think about!

    • This whole attitude of “using the disability card” is something that must go away if people with disabilities are ever going to get an even chance of success. Personally, I prefer Scouts to type instead of write because typing is just becoming an everyday skill that everyone needs to learn to be successful in this fast pace world.

      Other reasons I prefer typed responses include:
      A) Eliminates issues in regards to legibility
      B) Allows me to conduct distance delivered MB’s.
      C) Ensures Scouts in more remote regions of me council to have opportunities to comple MB’s.

      I’m in the Great Alaska Council, which covers 3/4 of the State of Alaska. With the council covering such a big area with many people living off the road system it is essential to be able to conduct distance-delivered training, conferences, meetings, and MB’s. Because otherwise these services and opportunities would be out of reach to many Scouts.

    • Actually, Counselors (and all others) are specifically prohibited from adding to, taking from, or modifying ANY requirements for ANY reason, including for special needs.
      You are 100% correct in your post above. 🙂

      • Actually, when it comes to special needs Scouts, a request for modification goes to the Council Advancement committee to make a determination and grant or deny a modification. The concept isn’t how perfect the Scout can complete the requirement, it is that the Scout completes the requirement to the best of HIS ability. There are times when modifications and accommodations are necessary. If we’re going to give information, lets be sure to give the correct information.

        • However, individual requirements for merit badges will not be modified. Merit badges will read be replaced on a one-to-one basis. So for example if a scout has a disability that prevents him from writing, then he would replace any Eagle required Merit Badge that requires writing with an other Merit Badge of equal difficulty that did not have a writing requirement.

  4. That is exactly how I would interpret the requirement. Nowhere does it say “mail” the letter, so any means of delivery is acceptable.

    Having dealt with FCC and FAA rules for 30+ years I’ve learned (the hard way at times) to never read any meaning into a rule that isn’t actually written there. The rule says “send” the letter. That means hand delivery, Fedex, USPS, email, pony express,and carrier pigeon are all acceptable, as long as it gets to his office.

    While a hand-written letter often gets noticed, that is not part of the requirement. Obviously if the Scout chooses to go that way, it must be legible or it will be ignored. Those offices receive hundreds of pieces of mail a day and the staff doesn’t have time to try to decipher doctor-esk handwriting.

    If the people who last modified the merit badge requirements wanted handwritten letters to be mailed and responses required, it would have certainly been written that way.

  5. It’s always good to receive validation that as a MBC I am doing it correctly. Your articles shows I am on the same page.
    For my scouts the ones that have emailed their letter have shown a better response.
    They have generally emailed the senator who is an Eagle Scout to get a more prompt response as well.
    Good luck this is a fun part of the MB

  6. Good to know I’ve been doing this correctly! I do recommend the boys submit their letters electronically through the member’s web site as that is what our senators and representative prefer. In order to show it to me, though, they have to copy and paste what they are sending into another document and print it out. If they just print the page from the recipient’s web site, the “comment box” won’t show the whole letter and I have to see enough to make sure it covers the “national issue” requirement. They do get an email response acknowledging their submission. When I begin working with a boy on this MB, I suggest he complete this requirement sooner rather than later and most boys have gotten their responses before they complete the badge, though I do not delay signing off waiting for that response.

  7. As a long time counselor for this particular badge I have told the scouts:
    “You need to write the person and show me what you have written. Ideally, I’d like to see it first, so that I can help you in the event of any spelling or other issues (what I’m actually seeking to do is foster conversation with the scout about the topic of their letter to help them identify one of national import). I’d also suggest that you mail it. If you mail it, both our Senators and our Representative will write you back. If you email it, you won’t get a response usually. And I’m sure you’d like to get that response, wouldn’t you?”

    Some scouts still email. That’s fine. They also don’t get responses. But the ones who mail a letter always seem to get a letter back, especially when they’ve written a thoughtful letter. And the result of that… seeing that their voice counts… gets them to learn that they can have an impact and be an active citizen.

  8. I tell the Scout after I see the letter that they have completed the requirement. I do ask them to share with me any response they may get at a later date. I stress that this is not required and that they have indeed earned the badge. I am just interested as a citizen to see the response. The choice to share is their option.

  9. I once counseled a young man for this MB, and this was one of the last required for his Eagle. After waiting 2 weeks for a response we moved on and he earned his Eagle a month later.

    I ran into him at a community event *2 years later*. He came to me with a smile on his face stating “Guess what I got?”. He had received a response 3 weeks before from the letter he had sent. Just for kicks, we got together for coffee to reread the 2 year old letter he sent and to read the response he had eventually received.

    If I had insisted he wait for the response, he never would have earned his Eagle!

  10. My wife counsels all of the Citizenship MB’s for our Troop (although she didn’t do CoTN this time around, as we had to be out of town that Saturday). I know that she signs off as soon as she has a copy of the letter/e-mail in her hands, because of the fact that there is no guarantee that there will be a reply, although she asks the Scouts to show her a copy of any replies they receive (which they often do).

    I would also recommend that, as the MB counselor, you take the time to get to know something about your Senators/Representatives. One of our Senators will ALWAYS reply to youth (especially Scouts), usually personally, but almost always over his signature; he sees it as part of his role to foster civic responsibility. You’re lucky to get a response to a letter from our other Senator (even signed by a staffer).

    • Yes, telling your Senator/Representatives you are a youth most definitely helps to get a more personalized response to your letter. Additionally, another idea to help get a more personalized response is to include that you are a Scout and you are doing this for a MB requirement that is required to become an Eagle Scout.

  11. Some of this may come from scout camps that teach this badge as part of summer camp. If there is limited or no computer access, the counselor may be asking the students to write the letter so that they don’t get a partial. Of course, the scout may opt for the partial to send an email from home, but most scouts want to complete as many badges at camp as possible.

  12. My son wrote an email to his Congressman for a school assignment and did receive a phone call from a staffer in response. Responses vary depending on the legislator and staff! Thank you for this post, since he will be starting Citizenship in the Nation soon.

  13. My son just sent off his letter last week. Great timing! We learned that he had never mailed a letter for and did not even know how to address an envelope properly and mail it. We felt it was a great experience to bag the usual high tech garb (“really? Can’t I just text her?”) and write an actual handwritten, US Postal delivered via snail mail letter. He learned a lot not just about national events, but life.

  14. When my son was working on this merit badge, he typed a letter and mailed it to our local Congresscritter. He spent a fair amount of time crafting his letter with some thoughtful statements and questions. My son said he didn’t really expect a response, but was thrilled a few months later when an envelope arrived…until he opened it.

    The response was obviously a stock talking points memo about the subject my son had written (in his case it was about job creation) that not only didn’t address anything my son had written, but just was pure campaign rhetoric. Lots of “why I’m right” and “the other guy is ruining our country because” followed by the suggestion that my teenage son should support our congressman and comsider donating to his reelection campaign.

    It was pretty obvious that no time was spent reading the Scout’s letter, and that a staffer probably said “Not another Boy Scout letter! He’s talking about jobs, let’s send back the jobs letter.”

    I dare say it was not the best impression to give the young man of our political process, even if it was pretty accurate portrayal of what our elected representatives are doing at the moment.

  15. A letter by all definitions is not an email.

    If emails are acceptable, then the requirement should be amended to include email communications.

    Unfortunately, actually writing or typing a letter is becoming a lost form of communication.

    • disagree: certainly writing a letter by a few definitions includes emails. when was the last time anyone “dialed” a phone, yet we say that all the time.

      • Using dialing is a colloquium or slang not a definition.

        A definition is defined by Webster, Oxford or the such. Therefore an email is not a letter, it is merely a message.

        I realize I am being the grammer police but slang & the define word are two very different thing.

        Therefore I can understand why some MBCs do not accept email. Prior to this blog, I would have never considered it acceptable for my some to write a message for Cit. Nation.

        • Definition #2 from google …

          “2. a written, typed, or printed communication, especially one sent in an envelope by mail or messenger.”

          We type when making e-mails so I’m going with the definition.
          “Especially” indicates there are other ways of doing it besides using paper and an envelope.

          And “e-mail” is “mail.”

          I’m saying that “writing a letter” can now be considered a colloquium since sending an email is considered by many to be a letter. Either party can print it to make it a paper “letter” if that’ll make them feel better about it.

          Mike Lo Vecchio’s explanation seems to back me up on this.

          And this blog reply from me is my letter to you. Give me your address if you’d like it sent via USPS. 🙂

    • You are probably correct about the “lost art” portion. However, “letters” have been transferred in electronic form since the advent of the telegraph. The medium is unimportant. The content of the communication IS. Email is considered formal communication throughout the planet not only politically, but in the social and business world as well. Using it correctly is probably more beneficial to a Scout than ever before. Again, that is only tangentially related to the real intent of the requirement. Regardless, National has rendered discussion moot as above: email counts.

      • You’re correct when saying national has proclaimed emails can be used. However you are incorrect in saying telegrams are letters. Telegrams are yesterday’s equivalent of a text. A letter is a letter, until Webster changes the defintion, an email is not.

        I can understand why a MBC would not accept an email. A letter takes time, thought, some skill, and some knowledge.

        • Joe, when I look at Webster (online, naturally), I find them to define “letter” in this way: “1: a symbol usually written or printed representing a speech sound and constituting a unit of an alphabet
          2 a: a direct or personal written or printed message addressed to a person or organization
          b: a written communication containing a grant —usually used in plural ”

          Clearly, email fits their definition. The only difference between a snail mail letter and an electronic mail letter is the method of delivery. The time, thought, skill, and knowledge should be equally present in either.

          While ensuring our youth have the knowledge of how to send paper communications is important, so is teaching the dying art of looking up a phone number in the paper phone book. Neither, however, are requirements of citizenship (or the citizenship merit badge). 🙂

        • I’ll guess you’ll have to tell your son his college acceptance letter doesn’t count since they all initially come via email now.

    • While an e-mail is most definitely not a letter, in society today an email has same level of importance as a letter did. Just think about this:
      A) Universities send all official correspondence including financial aid, funding, and registrations with them typically not sending you a hard copy.
      B) Banks are giving the option to people to receive all official correspondence through email without a hard copy.
      C) More and more employers are requiring you to send your Cover Letter, Resume, and other required documents through email instead of sending them by fax, mail, or hand delivered.
      A couple of ways to accomplish this requirement without rewording it could include any of the following:
      A) Have the Scout send the letter as an attachment to the email ensuring it is formatted correctly for sending official correspondence.
      B) Have the Scout type the letter, review it with him to ensure proper business letter formatting, then have the Scout copy the email into the the required form to email your Senator/Representative.
      C) Have the Scout print and send the letter via the mail and then send an emailed copy as well.
      D) Have the Scout print and send the letter via the mail and hope for the best.
      All of these accomplish the requirement while still staying with and not adding to the requirement. Personally, if I were to counsel CTN MB I would have the Scout review with me a typed letter using proper official correspondence formatting. FYI, I do not counsel any of the citizenship MB’s as I feel their are other MBC more qualified than me to do so.

      • One thing I forgot to mention is that it is a little ridiculous to argue over over the definition of a word when it comes to this requirement. I could go to at least 5 different sources and find 5 different definitions. Does that mean one definition is better than another? Not necessarily. But does it really matter? NO! Were here to serve boys and that’s that.

        • You’re right arguing over the definition of a is ridiculous. However, Dr. Nordquest* (spelling) who is a composition & grammer expert. He’s a published university professor ( I’d have to look up the university from one of his books). He states there is a distinction between a written letter & electronic correspondence.

          An email does not hold the same weight or importance as the written letter.

          Here’s fitting example, let’s say your son little Jimmy has earned his Eagle rank. His troop request a letter from the President of the United States of America. Instead of a written letter, the staff sends an email. I’d lay money most parents would be irked. Framing an email is not the same a typed written letter from the President.

          Here’s my question for you or anyone would this email hold the same meaning or weight?

        • Obviously not but if you looked at my other comments you will see some suggestions on how to get a better response from your elected officials that still stay within the spirit aka boundaries of the requirement IMHO.

    • The requirement is quite clear. Just because you don’t understand it, don’t take it out on the Scout. Perhaps you should not be counselling for this merit badge

  16. What about for the dozens of troops in Washington DC? We have no senators or representation in congress. We go with the intent of the requirement and suggest alternative public officials.

    • DC does have representation. Just because they are non-voting doesn’t mean they don’t exist. That said, your solution seems reasonable. The Scouts could also contact someone in MD or VA. I’m sure the representatives there understand DC’s lack of representation.

    • Washington DC does have a 2 representatives in the senate. Michael D. Brown and Paul Eric Strauss. They are called Shadow Senators. From Mr. Browns Wikipedia page

      As a shadow senator, Brown receives no pay from the government, receives no budget from the government, and cannot vote on matters before the Senate. While he does not have an office in the United States Senate, the Government of the District provides the position with an office. Brown lobbies the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives on behalf of the citizens of the District in their attempt to gain full representation in Congress, self-determination, and eventually admittance to the union as a state. As shadow senator, Brown also works with the District’s delegate, mayor, and council to advance the interest of local residents on Federal issues. Brown is a member of the Democratic Party.

      Mr Strauss Website http://www.paulstrauss.org/

      I could not locate a page for Mr Brown.

    • As the Scouts from DC should learn doing the badge, DC has Delegate to the US Congress (currently Eleanor Holmes Norton).

  17. Great article. This does demonstrate the bigger problem with MB counseling. On one hand, we have well-intentioned counselors adding their own requirements. On the other hand we have boys filing out on-line MB worksheets thinking this means they’ve qualified for the badge, and Scouters who push the boys to use these worksheets, when the completed worksheets does not even come close to do demonstrating that the Scout knows the material.

  18. I (not the MBC) had my son email both his Senators & Congressman thru their websites on the same subject. Each had a dropdown box with the subject of their email . . . probably so it would go to the right staffer. Each of the reps my son wrote emailed him back. I am guessing that it was probably done by a staff member, but that is beside the point. He took them with him when he did his Merit Badge at the HST Museum/Library. The MBC he got (there were about a dozen) had no issues with doing it by email.

  19. I have learned to loath the utterance of the word “interpretation” in advancement discussions. It has become a euphemism for an adult’s opinion that runs counter to the written requirement. Religious texts, legal texts, and Scout Advancement seem to attract “interpretation” like cows to a new gate.

  20. I tried before, but my response didn’t get here. Some points to consider: Since the anthrax scare, snail mail to DC addresses of persons/agencies takes considerable time, unless things have changed. Snail mail to in-state offices will probably get there a lot faster. I fill out my personal info on several political/civic petition services addressed to my Congress people. I always get an auto-response that my message was received and will be forwarded to the appropriate staff. If these petitions receive a response, I would think that more attention would be paid to emails from constituents. All incoming email is attended to. Just think of the political heat if an important email was ignored. Also, I believe the District of Columbia has a non-voting representative in the House of Representatives.

  21. It’s always fun to see who responds and how. In Illinois, Senator Durbin is not very good at responding. When President Obama was a senator, a response by email almost always arrived within a few days, or via USPS within a week. When I wrote a letter to Senator Paul Simon in 1985, I received a postcard in a week or so with an invitation to visit the Senator’s Washington DC office. I dropped in with my Jamboree patrol in July, but the Senator was home then. We did get our pictures taken sitting at his desk…

  22. I remember as a Cub Scout, somehow we got to visit with Sen Al D’Amato in his office in NYC. It was really cool for an 8 year old to meet with a US Senator. I’ve Also met Mayor Ed Koch, by accident, and shook hands with President Bill Clinton while serving in the Navy.

  23. Years ago, when my son was doing this requirement, he did not get an answer from our senator. Not until i sent a copy of his letter with a strongly worded letter from me, did he get a response with an apologize.

    Too busy for under aged voters!

  24. In talking to various government officials, I can say there is no one “best” way to contact the different elected officials. There is no question that traditional mail to Congress or the Senate will be delayed due to security screening. That may mean snail mail will stand out as unique, assuming it isn’t too time-sensitive. On the other hand, savvy representatives (i.e. those with tech-savvy staffs) may find electronic information easier to use and respond to. I know my Congressman is great at responses, he even has a field on his e-mail form asking if you want a response or not. My son earned his CiN in 2008 and he is still on Congressman Perlmutter’s (Colorado 7th) constituent communication list. (We also received a timely response on our request for an Eagle letter.)

    When counseling Scouts in this one, I suggest that type it up in Word or GoogleDocs first and paste it into the web form if they plan to use it. This makes it easier to use tech tools to proof and easier to provide me with a copy. I also tell them that, while they may need to tweak formatting, it helps put them in a “letter-writing” mind-frame rather than the IM mind-frame that the typical contact web form inspires.

    (When counseling Communications, I do the same thing, unless they can directly e-mail the editor – then I have them bcc me.)

    On side note prompted by some of the disappointing experiences above, I think you will find a number of our elected officials care and have dedicated and caring staffs. This past Monday, I received a message from Congressman Perlmutter’s office through our Charter Organization. One of our new Eagle Scout’s parents had sent a letter request to their Congressman (Degette) in an adjacent district. Through some SNAFU, the request was directed to a third Congressman’s office (Polis). That office determined that the Troop was in Perlmutter’s district and forwarded it to his office, which took the time to find and contact the Troop to insure that the Eagle letter was properly handled. I think this story provides a great example of what public service can be for our Scouts.

  25. I teach many Scouts this merit badge every year. I follow the merit badge book closely, but the only minor change, is I allow the Scouts to write their letter to any elected official clearly stating their case or opinion. Most popular person to write to is the President. Scouts tell me they do receive a letter back. Other popular officials written to is the Speaker of the House, Secretary of Defense, etc. I don’t see a problem in allowing them the ability to write to an official of their choice. I review each letter to ensure it is appropriate and also for content. Scouts like it.

    • Pete…you are changing the requirements! It clearly states who this letter/email should go to:

      8.Name your two senators and the member of Congress from your congressional district. Write a letter about a national issue and send it to one of these elected officials, sharing your view with him or her. Show your letter and any response you receive to your counselor.

      It CLEARLY states your Senators or Comngessman, not the President, Sec. of Defense.


  26. The only problem is BSA advancement says that the requirement must be completed as written, you cannot change it. By allowing them to write other officials you are changing the requirement in violation of BSA policy. Just my 2 cents. BTW Sec Def is not an ELECTED official, neither is any cabinet member, so writing them is not meeting this requirement.

  27. I am a Citizenship in the Nation counselor (I’ve counseled dozens of Scouts) and am also the District Training Chair and instructor for Merit Badge Counselor Orientation. I am glad to see Mike Lo Vecchio’s clarification, which is consistent with what I have always done and taught to other counselors in our District.

    Counselors can neither add to nor subtract from requirements.

    Joe’s comment that “a letter by all definitions is not an email” is simply wrong. The Merriam-Webster definition of a letter is “a direct or personal written or printed message addressed to a person or organization.” The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a written, typed, or printed communication, especially one sent in an envelope by mail or messenger.” (Especially, but not exclusively.) At one time, this may have meant hand written and sent via Pony Express, but in the 21st Century, more and more this includes email.

    Requiring that the letter be hand written or sent via U.S. Mail is adding to the requirement. The requirement is to “write a letter” and “send it.” It does not say “hand write” or “mail it.” In fact, a typed letter is generally considered more formal and appropriate for business or official governmental correspondence. I have always told the Scout that he can hand write the letter or type it and can either mail it, email it or send it via the Senator’s/Representative’s website. His choice. Whatever he chooses, I expect it to be in the form of a standard business letter (he can copy and paste it into an email/website). I have him tell me what he intends to write about so that I can ensure it is “about a national issue” before he writes it. This avoids him having to re-do the letter if it is not about a national issue. I also tell him that if he wants to improve his chances of getting an answer, he should send it via email. Responsiveness of our elected officials varies. One of our Senators always replies, the other one almost never does. It’s hit or miss with our Congressman. All three of them specifically ask that correspondence be via email.

    Allowing Scouts to write to someone other than a Senator or Member of Congress is subtracting from the requirements and is counter to the intent of the requirement. The idea is that the Scout express his opinion to someone who represents him and can affect legislation; i.e., a Senator or Member of Congress. DC and the U.S. territories of Guam, Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Northern Marianas and Puerto Rico all have Delegates (Puerto Rico’s is called a Resident Commissioner) who are Members of Congress, albeit nonvoting. Those are the officials to whom the Scouts in those locations should be writing.

    • John, in none of my responses did I say, imply, or infer a letter should be hand written. Also, you’re adding to Webster’s & Oxford’s definition by adding email to their definitions.

      Please look up grammer & composition experts. Most will specifically say there is a distinct difference between a letter & email.

      Having stated this, the BSA can define whatever they’d like however they’d like. They’re a private organization so if they wanted to define blue as green. It wouldn’t be correct but it would the BSA definition.

  28. Emails are deleted, archived and avoided, despite the best intentions of sender and intended receiver (or staff). Paper letters are becoming a lost art. Letters (not email) are saved, handled (by hand!), considered, noted in the margin, saved for posterity.
    Did your mom save your email from summer camp? CAN your kids expect you to save their tweets from college? Letters need consideration, thought. Emails are much more (less?) spontaneous and often intended to be minimalist rather than something to save and savor. Letters require more muscle memory, as the physiometrists would say.
    I was at Scout Camp last week, filling in for SM. Tuesday, I required Scouts at siesta time to sit down and write a postcard to their folks. Some of them DID NOT KNOW their zipcode. Some of them asked “do I put their name on the address?” Some of them asked “do I say their name or mom and dad?” All of their handwriting was worthy of a sleep deprived medical intern. These are 11, 12 , 14, 15 year old kids. Handwriting, letter writing, ANY writing is not important at school today..
    AND…. the Trading post had no Postcards for sale. “folks take their own pictures of the camp” was the answer I was given by the clerk. So I provided 3×5 plain cards. Still haven’t arrived at home…..

    • James, I manage to avoid quite a lot of my snail mail as well… 😉

      While I certainly agree with you that many of our youth do not know how to write or address paper mail, that doesn’t mean that it is the intention of the Citizenship merit badge requirement to teach that skillset. The requirement is about reaching out to your elected representative and expressing your viewpoint about an issue of concern. As has been mentioned many times here, that can be done equally well via email or website submission.

  29. Joe — I suggest you re-read my post. I did not add to or delete anything from the definitions I quoted. In fact, I cut and pasted them directly from the online dictionaries. The word “email” does not even appear in either of them. Please check out the definitions yourself at: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/letter and http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/letter?q=letter.

    My post was not just about your comment. I also addressed the original question raised by Scouter Mark (does it need to be hand written?) and the entire thread of posts, some of which also suggested that the letter should be hand written.

    I do agree with you that there is a “difference between a letter & email.” However, the difference is that a letter is a particular form of writing and has its own format and style (as opposed to a note or memorandum or post card or position paper or short story) and email is a method of transmission (as opposed to US Mail or FedEd or fax). As I noted in my post, a Scout can write a letter (in appropriate form) and send it electronically via email or a website. Query whether a hand written letter ceases to be a letter if it is scanned as a pdf and attached to an email for transmission? Or faxed instead of being mailed? I don’t think so. The method of transmission does not change the nature of the writing.

    The important point in all this is: counselors should not add to or subtract from the requirements. And it is important to keep in mind what the requirements are trying to accomplish. In this case it is to get the Scout to form an opinion about a national issue and express that opinion to his elected representative. Mike Lo Vecchio’s answer supports this objective, is consistent with the actual wording of the requirement, and makes perfect sense.

  30. Sometimes people will not embrace the future until it is too late. Do we teach our children to drive a horse & buggy and shoe a horse because that was the mode of transportation in the 1880s? Do we teach our children to use a Slide Rule when the current method is a calculator? Do we use an abacus because that is the way the Chinese counted 2000 years ago.

    There are only so many hours in the day. We can either have our children learn things that they will never use or rarely use because that is the way we have always done it or have them use the current technology that they will use the majority of the time. I vote for the latter so email is probably as good a way as any to contact a representative.

  31. as a scout that has earned this merit badge all i had to do was show the counselor the typed letter(because handwriting the letter would have resulted in my congresswoman not being able to read it)and he signed off the requirement without waiting for a response… in the meantime i have waited five months, so far, for a response. if i truly want a response should i send it again??

  32. My 13 year old Scout recently finished this MB. He saved “the letter” requirement as one of his last 2 requirements. He began working on the requirements while age 11 and in 6th grade and finished the MB at age 12 and in 7th grade. He wrote the letter, reviewed it with his counselor then mailed it sometime in late June. Upon return from our vacation this past week, my son found a letter addressed to him from our Senator to whom he wrote his letter. He was over the top excited that such a busy man would write him back and talk specifically about the issue my son addressed in his original letter. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the Senator had one of his staff members write the letter and it was a form letter. What mattered was that he had a positive encounter with an elected representative about an issue that he’s interested in. This was the experience that my son needed. Scouting is supposed to fit the Scout.

    • Hey for a Scout, it’s more about just getting something in the mail. Because well mail is lets say………old fashioned to most Scouts. But I know as a youth that I was always excited to open mail that was directly addressed to me.

  33. I teach Citizenship in the nation at camp and other places. We follow the MB book, but I allow the Scouts to write to any elected official and I read then mail their letters. Most Scouts like writing to the President, Speaker of the House, etc. Is it OK to expand who they can write to as long as it is an elected official? Scouts love getting letters back from the President. Please let me know, I don’t see the harm. thanks

    • Merit badge counselors are not allowed to change the requirements. BSA specifies who they are supposed to write to. While there may not be any harm, they are not completing the requirement if they did not write to the people specified in the requirement

  34. I don’t know if the situation has changed, but after the anthrax scare a few years ago at the Capitol, mail went through decontamination/screening and was delayed a very long time. Email is by far my preferred method (I don’t counsel these badges). I have gotten an automatic bounce response that says someone will be looking at your message when my emails, including on-line petitions, have arrived. I got a letter yesterday from one of my Senators thanking me when my contact was by on-line petition. They all have someone on staff that reads/tabulates all manner of communications.

    If the Scout emails his Senators/Representative, what is to prevent the counselor, as well as his parents from being cced. Personally, having a Scout communicate with his elected officials is what the requirements are all about.

  35. Interesting to see the discussion this has generated. As a MBC for all the Citizenship badges, it is of particular interest to me. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to speak with one of our Congress representatives. I asked him flat out which he and his staff prefer: paper or electronic. He told me that he prefers email, because it gets to him immediately. And that as a former scout he particularly enjoysthe letters from them. So, I encourage the scouts I help to use email. What I do is give them a couple of weeks to get a ‘real’ reply, not an auto responder that the email was received. If no reply, I sign off on the requirement.

    It pains me to see such vitriol here. The spirit of Scouting is fellowship and cooperation. How can we give a good example to our scouts when we don’t live the Oath and Law ourselves? Can’t we all just agree to disagree and move on?

  36. this requirement has been written ambiguously for years…why cant BSA just rewrite the requirement to clarify it so we can all move on?

    • Because they seem to love gray areas….just like they throw hot topics on this site, then just sit back and watch the feathers fly, usually without any further comment or moderation.

    • As far as the letter goes, I think it is crystal clear — write it (no required format or media), send it (no required process), share any response.

      The rest is also clear if you live (or have a legal residency) in one of the 50 states. The only place it is deficient is for Scouts living in DC or one of the Territories (e.g. Puerto Rico) — they don’t have Senators and only have a non-voting Delegate or Resident Commissioner representing them in the House.

    • BSA intentionally requirements vague, so that it allows people some leeway. Every unit is different, every person is different. Not leaving all the gray areas that they do would make it harder for some people to complete the requirements. If you read the requirement, it specifically tells you what you have to do.

  37. The fastest way to get a timely response from your elected official is not to send them a letter. Due to the anthrax spore scare of a few years ago, written materials are impounded and tested before they are opened and read. And e-mails come in so profusely – often due to one-issue Internet campaigns – that they are generally classed together by a staffer by subject and get a rote “Thank you for your letter” response – again, not necessarily in a timely fashion. So what’s the best way?

    Write it out – especially handwritten – and FAX IT. That’s right. It gets there immediately. They see it’s handwritten, so they know right away it’s not a bulk mailing from some advocacy group. It’ll get read quickly and the answer may very well actually respond to the content!

    Trust me, I’ve done it and it works.

  38. What are we teaching our SCOUTS?? The Merit Badge requirements have been approved by national. Now they are now a judge and change. The merit badge book gives guidelines.
    Will the people he will work for accept a short cut or bad work?? NO..

  39. Regarding your article regarding Citizenship in the Nation, the requirement is impossible for youth in Washington, D.C. as it has no Senators. Its elected representative to Congress does not have a vote. It their are Boy Scouts in Puerto Rico and American Samoa, the are in the same situation or may have even less representation. See http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ASSOQDQvVLU

  40. On occasion I fill out online petitions to my Senators and Representative. On at least two occasions I have received a telephone call from a staff person in response. I always get an bounce that says my message is being directed to the proper staff person. Within a day or two, I always get a response specific to my concern. I believe there is at least one and probably more staff people whose job responsibilities include responding to emails or forwarding them to the proper staff. Since the anthrax/smallpox scares in D.C. in the past, snail mail (USPS) has taken an extremely long time to get to the Congress people. You may have better luck using USPS addressed to an office in their district.

    • Read the requirement. It does not specify any length. It could be one sentence. It could be two words. Since our acquirement doesn’t specify any length of the letter, as long as the scouts idea is communicated clearly, he has completed the requirement.

  41. When I worked at Camp Freedom in Germany, a summer camp ran by the Transatlantic Council, it became a scramble to figure out WHICH politician the Scouts needed to write to. We went with the state your parents claim residence in.

    That being said, at summer camp, most Scouts didn’t have access to e-mail or a fax machine or a computer, unless they lugged one from home. If they did, they were hard pressed to find a tree to plug it in to. They sat and wrote a letter. Now, here is the fun part… It was published to do this requirement as a prerequisite, as well as several others, prior to coming to camp, and bringing a copy of your letter with you, and a response if you got one before camp. Some Scouts thought ahead and requested their replies be sent to camp. It not only made a great experience for the Scout, but the other campers, leaders and staff as well when those letters showed up. If the Scout received the letter after they left camp, we contacted the unit leader and made a point of getting the letter to the Scout. God Bless the MPS! (Military Post Service)

    Here’s the bottom line, we are an organization of adult volunteers that work with youth that have similar philosophies. Where we veer off the path is when we “insist” we are right, and the youth has to do what that counselor tells them to do, even if it is misinformation. You cannot guarantee you will get a response, so you have 2 options. 1, you thug up and hold it against the Scout, or 2, you go with the spirit of the requirement and discuss and ask them why they didn’t get a response and sign off on the requirement.
    I’m sorry, but the requirement is simple, and clearly worded. Someone is reading too much into it…

    Not only is there a Merit Badge counselor specific training available, along with the counselor application, BSA form 34405, http://www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/34405.pdf but there is also a form for reporting Merit Badge Counselor Concerns, BSA form 512-800, http://www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/512-800_WB.pdf .

    In the end it boils down to, are we here for the Scouts, or for our own glory? You can decide when you look in the mirror. And if you believe it or not, Scouts talk to each other, and we adults, leaders, and merit badge counselors have reputations that they talk to each other about, and warn each other who is easy, who is fair, who is hard, and who to avoid at all costs…

    • The Scout could have been gone to a different merit badge counselor next plane the situation to them. What’s the requirement is completed, the Scout does not have to redo it. The only exception is when you go to a different merit badge counselor, that merit badge counselor can choose to accept previously completed at work or not. Of course if the Scout doesn’t like what the merit badge counselor says, he can go to another one.

  42. I want to read a news article where a reporter contacted a bunch of senators and congressmen using different means. Phone call, email, type letter, handwritten letter. In some of these communications he also made a donation to The politicians reelection fun. Then he posted the stats for which form of communication received a response and which didn’t.

    In about 90% of the cases no matter the form of communication it was accompanied by a donation it received a response.

    Handwritten letters receive the fewest responses, then emails, then phone calls, typewritten letters received the highest rate of response.

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