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Apprentices to power: the cultivation of American youth nationalism, 1935-1970

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Title: Apprentices to power: the cultivation of American youth nationalism, 1935-1970
Author(s): Nicholson, Bryan
Director of Research: Barrett, James R.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Barrett, James R.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Iriye, Akira; Hoganson, Kristin; Leff, Mark
Department / Program: History
Discipline: History
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): United States Nationalism Youth Citizenship Education History American Legion Boys' State Girls' State Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) Youth and Government Encampment for Citizenship
Abstract: This dissertation investigates how privately-operated youth leadership programs promoted citizenship among millions of adolescents and furnished political apprenticeships for many past and current American leaders. It considers four major programs: the American Legion’s Boys’ State and Boys’ Nation; American Legion Auxiliary’s Girls State/Nation; YMCA Youth and Government; the Junior Statesmen of America; and the Society for Ethical Culture’s Encampment for Citizenship (EFC), as well as smaller, likeminded initiatives. From small pilot projects, the programs grew into quasi-official youth movements for the United States responsible for training millions of adolescents and young people in the arts of government. Welding youth politics to the State through a diffuse network of democracy camps, these programs aimed to resolve fears that the next generation of American citizens would be too disaffected or too ignorant to assume leadership of the country and tend the wheels of government. In their hands-on, youth-centered approach to instruction, the programs incorporated tenets of Progressive education and borrowed from models of international youth work. Although the curricula promoted varieties of “civic” nationalism, the general thrust was conservative, especially since programmers generally sought to cultivate a leadership class limited in many ways by gender, race, and physical condition. Over a thirty-five year period, organizers sought to promote various ideological and political agendas, from the maintenance of youth allegiance during the Great Depression and World War II, to the construction of a post-war domestic “consensus” and American hegemony abroad. Students avidly competed to obtain valuable “social capital” to invest in their budding careers. By 1970, the programs had lost favor with many young people and the public because of their inherent conservatism and the curriculum’s perceived lack of relevance to contemporary problems of war and inequality.
Issue Date: 2012-06-27
Rights Information: Copyright 2012 Bryan W. Nicholson
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-06-27
Date Deposited: 2012-05

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