The State of Boys State
Senior editor Gary Cartwright on the McCallum boys, Boys State, and democracy.
texasmonthly.com: How did you first hear about the McCallum boys’ experience?
Gary Cartwright: I first heard about the McCallum boys from a friend who is a godmother to one of the boys. Later, one of our interns who attended McCallum a few years ago relayed the same story in more details and then helped me get in touch with them. In fact, she did the first long interview with Sam Bass and Dashiell Oatman-Stanford. John Minnich was out of town at the time, attending another government-oriented seminar at Cornell University. In August, I asked all three to come to my home office, where we talked at length about their experiences.
texasmonthly.com: By speaking out to the media, it seems the boys’ frustration with Boys State has actually sparked a fire in them and compelled them to speak out for their beliefs. Do you think that this experience (and the experience of many who attend Boys State) is in vain, or is Boys State teaching these young men an important lesson about democracy.
GC: In retrospect, all three boys seemed to agree that, as bad as it seemed at the time, Boys State was a learning experience. Democracy is what its participants make it.
texasmonthly.com: While the adults running Boys State took a “hands off” approach, the counselors seemed to make the rules of behavior clear for those attending. Did you ever encounter difficulties getting interviews with counselors and were they willing to answer questions that you had?
GC: The counselors were also adults, most of them former Boys State attendees and/or members of the American Legion. The only rules were to obey laws and not destroy University of Texas property. Otherwise, the boys made their own rules. I didn’t try to talk to any of the counselors. Instead, I talked to the two men in charge, Robert Jackson and Stan Dowell. Both of them were honest and forthcoming in the interviews.
texasmonthly.com: Were any of the boys interested in having careers in politics previous to this experience? If so, do they still wish to pursue it? If not, has this experience led them to considering a career in politics?
GC: None of the boys had decided yet on a career, or even a college. They were, however, interested in government and politics and believed that learning about these subjects would help them gain admission to a good college. John told me that his experience at Cornell later in the summer was an eye-opener in a way far more positive than his Boys State venture. When I talked to him, John was thinking of going to Cornell and studying social science or philosophy.