Last week I mentioned that Boys and Girls State appear to be suffering a long-term decline in numbers. Attendance at the American Legion and Legion Auxiliary events is even lower in North Dakota is even lower, with around 160 boys and 60 girls participating, compared to over 300 at each of South Dakota’s weeklong civics-education events.
A Dickinson Press report on North Dakota’s recruiting troubles supports a couple of guesses I offered last week, that sports camps and a Legionnaire shortage are cutting into Boys and Girls State:
Combined, the North Dakota Girls and Boys State programs attracted more than 850 teens in the late 1990s. This year, they will draw just under 220.
Leaders say the drop in attendance is rooted in competition with new summer options for teens, such as jobs and sports programs, and declining membership in the service organizations that sponsor Boys and Girls State: the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary.
“Summertime isn’t what it used to be,” said Boys State Director Neil Litton. “There wasn’t all of the sports programs (and) summer school” [Anne Millerbernd, “Boys, Girls State Programs Struggle to Attract Teens,” Dickinson Press, 2015.06.10].
One radical option for increasing attendance could be combining Boys State and Girls State. Massachusetts holds the two events at the same site and is getting positive results:
In Massachusetts, the boys and girls come together for the program’s academic side and hold a dance at the end of the week, but still create different governments, said Chairman Mark Avis.
Since the programs were combined, he said, the students seem more eager to learn and the enrollment for girls has gone up [Millerbernd, 2015.06.10].
North Dakota officials say most of their Boys and Girls Staters think they’d be more hesitant to participate in a mixed setting. One North Dakota Girls Stater disagrees:
But Shelby Cyr, who was nominated to be the county commissioner for the week, said a male presence would make her even more competitive for the leadership spots.
“Then you’d actually get the sense of what it actually is in the government,” Cyr said. “Not just all females, not just all males … you’d get the equal sense of it” [Millerbernd, 2015.06.10].
I don’t know about my fellow Boys Staters, but I came home from Boys State 1988 with a heightened appreciation for the civilizing effect females can have on males (as well as the intoxicating perfume of the woman in the Spies parking lot, the first thing I smelled when I got out of the car in Madison after a week at NSU with 600+ wild young men… wait! Is that the scent of civilization or distraction?). I’ve heard from subsequent alums that Boys State testosterone, allowed running room by a “Boys will be boys” approach by the male counselors, can lead to some behavior we wouldn’t want our moms and girlfriends seeing. (I don’t hear similar stories from Girls State, perhaps because girls know they have to work harder and take more seats at college to graduate into an ongoing gender pay gap.)
Fellow Boys Staters and Girls State counterparts, what do you think? Do separate events provide girls and boys more opportunities to participate and compete? Or would we make both events bigger and better by combining our young men and women into a true co-educational microcosm of the communities we hope they’ll learn to lead?