Boys State provides a relevant, interactive, problem-solving experience in leadership and teamwork that develops self identity, promotes mutual respect, and instills civic responsibility.
History & Details of Kansas Boys State
The essence of Boys State is a program in which participants learn about leadership by becoming a mock, or virtual, government. This technique, which we refer to as learning-by-doing, was the goal Legionnaires Hayes Kennedy and Harrold L. Card wanted to reach when they founded Boys State in Illinois in 1935.
Kansas was the fifth state in the country to adopt this program. The first session of Boys State was held June 6 – 12, 1937 at Wichita University (renamed Wichita State University) in what is now called Wilner Auditorium. The program was also held at North High and West High during the Wichita years.
In 1963 the program moved from Wichita to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.
In 1991 the program moved to its current location, Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.
Our major goal at Boys State is to challenge you to consider, perhaps for the first time, your political belief system. Our experience indicates that most people have developed their political thinking by borrowing ideas from respected friends, teachers and parents. We are not interested in whether your personal political interests are conservative, liberal or somewhere in between. Our concern is that your opinions are yours, based on your own convictions about the role of government.
The big question is–where do people ‘learn’ such convictions? We would not assume for one minute that a week-long experience with us will shape your political thinking for a lifetime, but we know that many of the 50,000+ young men from Kansas who have attended Boys State can trace the beginning of their political interests to this experience. Even if you are not interested in ever running for political office as a career, per se, you will be interested in the laws which are passed which will affect your life and the lives of people around you.
It all boils down to leadership. Leadership is a hard thing to teach because good leadership is usually only learned over a lifetime of challenges and opportunities. Your week at Boys State condenses what might take several months in real life to less than 168 hours. We think that such a compressed simulation helps people learn lessons about the actions and consequences of leadership in a very realistic way.
The process of making laws, understanding taxes, cooperating with political action organizations are all part of the week you will experience called Boys State.
Once all 450-550 applications are processed, you as a delegate, are assigned several characteristics which you will ‘play’ while at Boys State. First, you are assigned to either the Nationalist or Federalists party. The Nationalist party is generally more liberal and the Federalists party is generally more conservative. The average Nationalists would think that government plays an important part in keeping people and businesses operating in a fair and honest way. The average Federalists would think that government should have a less significant role in the daily lives of people and that free enterprise keeps people and businesses operating in a fair and honest way.
Which system is better? In all honesty, neither by itself would function well for long. The dream of the founders of this great democracy was that the best government lay somewhere between the extremes of each political party. However, they knew that the political parties would play a significant role by constantly putting their message forth into the public arena, or marketplace, of ideas.
Today, just as as Hayes Kennedy and Harrold Card saw over 70 years ago, the youth of America can be easily discouraged by people peddling the truth wrapped up in easy answers which require little work grappling with complex issues and which see compromise between extremes as a sign of weakness rather than strength. To that end, Boys State still fills an important role in the education of emerging political minds.
You will also be assigned a race (regardless of your actual race). At Boys State we have two races, the blue race and the red race. For many of you this will be your first chance to see what it feels like to be a minority. For others of you, this will be the first time you will have the chance to experience what being a member of the majority race is like.
Beyond party affiliation and race, you will be assigned to a City and a County. Those assignments have no connection with where you actually live in Kansas. We do our best to make certain that you do not live on the same floor with people from your high school or city so that you have the chance to work without anyone having any prior opinions about you. Within your City and County you will have a job. That job is part of the major computer simulation you will play during the week.
It works together this way.
Let’s say you live in Bradley County and you work for the city as a police officer, and you are a member of the minority race. The city council will have to make a budget given its resources, and your position, or the position of someone you know may be cut if taxes are not increased. Of course, in this case you would support a tax increase. The owners of business within your city and county, however, are not as happy about the tax increase because it will mean that they will make less money and subsequently may have to lay off people in order to stay in business. This means that another person or group of people may be out of a job. However, the business has a great deal of pull with the Governor because they contributed heavily to his campaign. The business may also be part of an Association which has even more influence in the government. What will happen? Is there a way you could solve this problem so that everyone keeps their job?
The bottom line is that you won’t find this story problem on an ACT or SAT test. However, it is real and it is one small example of the kinds of issues you will face at Boys State. Each day your City and County will be given projects which will call for a great deal of action at all levels of government. There are no right or wrong answers, but each answer, or series of answers, has consequences. The computer program we have designed to simulate the economy will take into account each city and county ordinance as well as all state laws and then adjust accordingly. So, some action in one part of the state (i.e. blocking the major water source for the state which flows from west to east) could have disasterous effects on some other part of the state. The cities or counties involved may call for hearings and ask for the legislature to intervene.
O.K., if you have come this far, you are probably pretty interested. Honestly, many people see this week as one of the best experiences of their lives. Why? One of the things we have seen over the years is that people are looking to either become good leaders or to support good leaders, but most people are timid about their ability to lead or support other leaders.
Our society is in need of great men and women to take a stand for causes and issues which will help our society to achieve the goals of life, liberty and the pursit of happiness for all of its citizens. You as a citizen must have a good understanding of how government works to make this a reality. High school government classes are helpful, like driver’s ed classes are helpful, but without some practical experience it is hard to understand all the consequences of your actions.
On one hand, you may consider yourself a good leader in your high school. This program will help you test those skills among a completely new crowd of people you don’t know and who won’t know you. On the other hand, if you haven’t really exercised your leadership skills very much, this is a great place to try out your ability at leadership. For many, many people this week has been a wake-up-call, a reality check of who they are and what they really stand for.
This process is accomplished through an outstanding group of counselors and advisors ranging in age from one year older than you through people who may be your grandparent’s age. You will find different opinions and ways of solving problems across the spectrum. The benefit to you is that you can pick and choose what you see as the best ideas that you would like to encorporate into whatever is uniquely you.
You only get one shot at this program. It is well worth a week of your time to test the waters of democracy and see if you have what it takes to be a leader.