More Camp Liberty

Last month I had a post, “Camp Liberty,” in which I wrote:

At the time my fellow counselors and I used to joke that “boys day”resulted in an anarchic state like Lord of the Flies, with the only exception being that we didn’t kill Piggy.  But looking back on it, I see that summer camp was probably the closest thing to true liberty that our kids had experienced.  It was certainly more conducive to liberty than school, which gave almost exclusive emphasis to obedience to authority.  School was where kids were trained to obey the state and become cogs in a giant corporate machine.  Camp was where they learned to be free….

I’ve argued before that schools might have a lot to learn from camps.  They are both engaged in the activity of trying to prepare young people for adult life.  But I think camps are much more effective at preparing young people to be free adults.  I even think camps are remarkably effective at conveying traditional academic content.  And they do so at much lower cost. 

Continuing this theme I want to draw your attention to a great essay by Mark Slouka in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago describing his memories of summer camp.  Be sure to follow the link and read the whole piece but here is a good snippet:

How do you describe bliss for a sixth-grade boy? We ate what we wanted, slept when we wanted. Nobody cared. There were ponds. Older girls, their hair shining in the afternoon sun, lay out naked on floating rafts. This was scary. And not….

And so it went, a blur of mud and glory. When problems appeared, solutions—both eloquent and effective—were right behind. After listening to me argue with a kid named Scotty Steinberg for a week, Don went to the barn and came back with two pairs of boxing gloves. We should “figure it out,” he said. Everybody made a circle around us (something boys are hard-wired to do) and Scotty and I banged away at each other. I won. I think. After that we were friends and talked about it a lot….

During our last week, Don drove us to a rock climbing place near New Paltz, N.Y., where he introduced us to a guy named Tray who knew about climbing. Tray, as I recall, was very strong and didn’t wear underwear, and his girlfriend, who lived with him in the tent next to ours, often didn’t wear anything at all. Every now and then the screen door would unzip and Tray or his girlfriend would emerge from a cloud of smoke that didn’t smell at all like my father’s cigarettes.

Did we climb a cliff and risk our lives? Why, yes, we did. When another camper named David Mosher and I proved we could do 10 pull-ups on a tree branch (this was the qualifying test), Tray escorted us up a 250-foot cliff. I can vouch for the fact that 250 feet is very high. The pine trees between my sneakers looked about an inch tall. David started to cry. I was too scared to cry. When we came down, though, we told everybody it was fun. And it was. By God, it was.

When my father picked me up at the end of that month, he hardly recognized the feral, grinning creature that gave him a quick kiss and crawled into the back seat of the car. Or maybe he did, having been 12 once himself.

Yep.  Camp Liberty.

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One Response to More Camp Liberty

  1. Duncan Frissell says:

    Then there were those of us who hated camp because we were fat and liked nothing better than to read.

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