What is American Legion Boys State?
As a program of The American Legion, Boys State developed from the concept that youth should be offered a better perspective of the practical operation of government; that the individual is an integral part and commensurately responsible for the character and success of his government. As such, it is an activity of high educational value, born out of a need for youth training in practical citizenship.
American Legion Boys State is easily classified as a leadership action program where qualified male high school juniors take part in a practical government course designed to develop in the young citizens a working knowledge of the structure of government and to impress upon them the fact that government is just what they make it.
How and Why Boys State Started
Boys State was born of a desire to counter the Fascist inspired Young Pioneer Camps of the 1930s, where boys of high school age were being taught that democracy had outworn its usefulness and should be replaced by a new form of governmnet, namely Fascism.
The Boys State program was formulated in the minds of Legionnaires Hayes Kennedy and Harold Card, both educators and both members of The American Legion of Illinois. It was their desire to start a counter movement within the ranks of American youth that would develop a better understanding of our system of government, and to instill in our youth a desire to preserve it. The format for Boys State was laid out by Harold Card and fashioned from a method employed by him in earlier years to properly police and organize a Boy Scout camp. Shorthanded on staff, he permitted the boys to govern themselves, hold an election and elect a mayor and a city council. Appointments were made to cover positions like police, fire, health and sanitation officials. Harold Card quickly found that the boys became so enthused in carrying out their 'city' duties, they almost neglected their Scout assignments. The boys were learning by doing.
The first Boys State was conducted at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois, in June, 1935. Now, 61 years later, the program is still providing that opportunity to young men . . . to learn by doing, and through this time well over one million young men have experienced American Legion Boys State. Though Fascism no longer poses a threat in today's world, our way of life is still threatened by forms of government alien to our democratic ideals, and by apathy among our own citizens. The American Legion continues to sponsor and to conduct Boys State in the belief that young citizens who are familiar with the operation of our system of governmnet will be better prepared to uphold its ideals and maintain it for future generations.
Objectives and Goals
A program of this scope encompasses many important objectives. Those which we, The American Legion, feel are most important and for which we strive the hardest are:
The final two objectives are taken from the Preamble to the Constitution of The American Legion.
Description of Program Curriculum/Activities
Boys State is conducted in 49 Departments of The American Legion. Hawaii does not conduct a program. As separate corporations, Boys States vary in content and method of procedure, but each and every Boys State adheres to the basic concept of the program -- that of teaching government from the township to the state level.
A Boys State program, generally, is fashioned after the government structure of the respective state. Political offices and agencies that serve the people of a state would also exist within a Boys State. Every Boys State operates under a two-party system with instruction provided in the organization and operation of political parties at different levels of government. On the average, a Boys State program covers a period of seven days. Enrollments vary from as few as 25 to well over 1,400 in a single program.
Operation of a Boys State
The supervision of activities at Boys State and the responsibility for the full program is entrusted to its director. He is assisted by an Administrative and an Instructional staff that usually includes voluteer educators, attorneys and other professional people, many of whom are drawn from the membership of The American Legion.
The Administrative staff has responsibility for providing services such as a Boys State bank, a post office, a public relations office, a first aid station, and a Boys State store.
The Instructional staff consists of those individuals responsible for the educational and recreational aspects of the overall program. In this group are the classroom instructors, the counselors, and advisors for those phases where the Boys State citizens 'learn by doing'. They are selected for their experience in the field in which they are expected to instruct and would include lawyers, judges, journalists, law enforcement personnel and civil servants.
City Counselors are assigned to groups of up to 30 boys that comprise a 'city' within a Boys State. These Counselors have the physical welfare of the young men as their chief responsibility, with the supervision of city activities and elections also a part of their overall duties. A County Counselor is usually assigned to oversee and assist the activities of two or three 'cities' that constitute that county. American Legionnaires and cadets or midshipmen from the U.S. Service Academies fill many of the Counselor positions.
Upon arrival at Boys States, the citizens are assigned to one of two political parties, the 'Nationalists' or the 'Federalists'. Though some states may use other labels to identify the two parties, they are in no way reflections of the two major political parties in American government, but are established to allow instruction and participation in the two-party system of government.
An effective political system is created in each Boys State to operate from the precinct level through the State committee. A breakdown of the political organization to its smallest components and graduated to the state level may look like this in many Boys States:
Here is found the greatest variance in any function that makes up the overall Boys State program. However, these variances are only in procedure since each Boys State adheres to the basic concept of teaching government from the township to the state level.
The Instructional Program is carried out in three phases: limited classroom instruction, functional activities, and general assemblies. It is important to note that about 50 percent of the program hours of Boys State are devoted to government instruction and practice.
Classroom Instruction is held on subjects such as law, civil service, election procedure and parliamentary procedure. Other special 'schools' are held to inform candidates of the duties of the office they seek, and, following election and appointment of officers, to instruct in the operation of the respective offices held by the citizens. Some states use general assemblies to instruct on many phases of government with individual instruction given for particular Boys State officials.
All citizens of a Boys State receive instruction in Parliamentary Procedure, and every citizen is expected to participate in a special school such as law, civil service, election officials, peace officers, office holding, civic planning, public safety, etc., when such school is provided. Classroom instruction includes detailed explanation and instruction on the legislative, executive and judicial procedures of the respective state government.
Functional Activities start with a caucus or other method of nominating candidates for city offices and conclude with the election and inauguration of the Governor of a Boys State. Here is the heart of the instructional program. The functional activities (citizenship practice) such as elections, caucuses, conventions, operation of the courts, legislative assemblies, administration of law enforcement, and public welfare are government in operation. These activities take a considerable portion of the time allotted for instructional purposes and constitute the chief means through which citizens 'learn by doing'.
General Assemblies are for all citizens and are intended as a means to spur enthusiasm and spirit, inspiration and patriotism, political fervor and a real zeal for 'the American way'. In short, every citizen becomes and integral part of Boys State, assuming responsibilities and performing duties either as an elected or appointed official, or otherwise fulfilling an assignment entailing the duties of responsible citizenship.
Selection and Eligibility
The American Legion has established certain qualifications for prospective Boys State citizens. Following are the recommended guidelines that are employed by most Boys States. (The American Legion Auxiliary has a similar program for girls called "Girls State")
In the actual selection of boys as citizens of Boys State, merit and ability alone are the basis for selection. No boys are permitted to attend because of either poverty or wealth. Boys State is not a program for underprivileged boys, nor is it a summer camp for recreation. Fees, or 'tuition', are paid by American Legion Posts or other community-minded organizations, with little or no expense to a young man and his family.
In order to secure equal representation from all areas of a respective state, American Legion Departments assign quotas to high schools and/or Legion Posts in the state. The quota is determined by the number of Boys Staters that a program can accomodate and the number of schools or posts in the state. A school's total enrollment may be a factor in establishing quotas, with the number of representatives based on the size of the student body.
The selection process varies in the Departments of The American Legion, but generally the school recommends several more boys than a sponsor has quotas. The sponsor, either a Legion Post or other organization, then selects their representatives from that list.