Over the last 30 years, American political discussion has become in- creasingly fractured with political figures from both parties pledging feal- ty to partisan agendas and rejecting any notion of compromise with their
political opponents. The resulting legislative gridlock hardly serves the public or
advances our common interests. Our courtrooms, too, are often viewed cynically,
where only the well-heeled obtain justice.
If there were ever a lesson our children needed to hear, it is that listening, compromising, and working to forge solutions are what government service is all about.
Fortunately, Washington has a program that is remarkably effective at teaching
these very lessons. Established in 1948, YMCA Youth & Government supports two
statewide programs, Youth Legislature and Mock Trial, to teach democratic values and skills to young people through hands-on experiences. Supported entirely
by program fees, contributions, and volunteer service, these programs serve over
1,100 high school and middle school students annually.
Each year for four days in May, more than 400 students from more than 37 delegations across the state convene in Olympia, where they take over the Capitol campus
to elect a youth governor and other student officers and to consider, debate, and
adopt legislative proposals offered by the student representatives and senators.
Students also serve as lobbyists, attorneys general, journalists, and pages.
For many students coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences
and holding vastly different perspectives and opinions, Youth Legislature is the
first time they will meet and collaborate with other students from outside their
local areas. Students write and propose legislation that has meaning to them and
their communities. Legislative propos-
als have included gun control, banning
tackle football for safety reasons, re-
quiring metal detectors in schools, and
protecting farm lands.
Legislation, it’s often said, is the art
of compromise. Politics requires negotiation and discussion — a lesson that’s
hard to digest in the abstract. But on
the floor of the Capitol’s marble steps,
it’s a face-to-face lesson that becomes
Students in Youth Legislature bring
personal knowledge, passion, and experiences to their legislative debates.
They decide whether to speak and vote
for or against different proposals based
on those experiences. It’s those different ideas and perspectives that lead
many students to the realization that
the task is not to shout more loudly but
to work with their colleagues to identify and solve pressing problems.
Students as young as eighth graders quickly become adept at proposing
and debating original pieces of legislation. Civility is a core principle of
the program. Washington legislators,
lobbyists, and political officials often
watch student debates with interest,
and from the program’s inception student proposals have formed the basis
of actual Washington laws.
Washington’s Mock Trial program
has long been regarded as one of the
strongest high school mock trial programs in the country. Hundreds of
students from more than 40 schools
and organizations across Washington
work with legal professionals in their
community to prepare and try cases in
regional, state, and national mock trial
competitions. The program is also supported by state and federal judges from
around the state who allow the use of
courtrooms for practice and tournaments.
Each year the program is focused
on one civil or criminal case. For many
years, the cases have been created and
written by King County Superior Court
YMCA Mock Trial and Youth Legislation
Programs Teach Valuable Lessons