A sign of a problem in civics education lies in this morning’s AAN article on Boys State:
More than 300 high school seniors-to-be arrived on the Northern State University campus Monday for a weeklong civics exercise that gives them a chance to try their hands at politics and community building.
It was the first day of the 73rd American Legion Boys State, which has been hosted by NSU since its inception in 1940 [Kaylyn Deiter and Kelda Pharris, “Boys State Kicks Off on NSU Campus,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.06.02].
I’m thrilled to have the boys here for a week of practice in government and journalism. I attended Boys State in 1988, back when Aberdeen was an exotic, far-off town and not my home base. I sang in the Boys State choir under the direction of now NSU provost Alan LaFave. I rode Boys State Governor Bryce Healy‘s coattails to election as Attorney General, winning by a ten-to-one margin (further demonstrating that Libertarians would have done better to nominate me to run against Marty Jackley instead of Chad Haber).
I attended Boys State with over 600 fellow South Dakota boys, twice as many as are in town this week for the American Legion’s event. 398 attended in 2012.
Our youth population has not declined by half since my youth. So why are only half as many young men from the Class of 2016 coming to Boys State for a weeklong lesson in civics and networking? Perhaps the increasing number (and, if you want to play varsity, necessity?) of sports camps (USD, Augie) draws more young men away from plain old politics. Perhaps the American Legion is having trouble maintaining its own numbers and thus has trouble recruiting students from every Legion post in the state. Whatever the causes of the decline, we need more boys to come to Boys State, meet their peers from across the state, and learn how politics work.
Fellas, I’m glad you’re here. Now go home and tell your younger brothers and classmates how much you learn from Boys State, how cool it is to have supper with Governor Daugaard, and how every one of them should apply to Boys State 2016!