Of all people, it was Bono of musical fame in a New York Times op-ed who set off the light bulb for me. As he posited, in his piece, that America is not just a country but an idea – “a great opportunity for all and responsibility to your fellow man” – it occurred to me that camp is not just a place but an idea, a vista for building hope, independence and resilience.
It seems to me (and anecdotal evidence bears it out) that many people (those who have not themselves had a camp experience or whose children have not) simply don’t know what opportunities for personal greatness fall by the wayside because they or their children haven’t passed through the gates of camp on their way to adulthood. While the American Camp Association has mobilized its almost 3,000 members to ensure a “20/20 Vision,” the words do not automatically translate into accomplishment. The shorthand conversation for us professionals is that we pledge to do everything we can so that 20 million children will have had a camp experience by the Year 2020. Achieving that goal would mean that double the number of young people would attend camp.
And if, indeed, those words were to signal action, then there will be an additional 10 million children whose social education grows along with their academic learning, resulting in children who become more respectful, more responsible, and more resilient – because that is the syllabus of the camp experience, regardless of the grade or age of the camper.
When Mary Travers, the Mary of Peter, Paul & Mary, died recently, I was reminded of the galvanizing force the trio had in effecting positive social change decades ago. Whether it was “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “If I Had a Hammer,” the message was clear – and their voices rang out with conviction, leveraging a groundswell of support for their ideals.
Perhaps it’s time for Peter (of Peter, Paul & Mary) Yarrow’s catalyst song and theme for his world-wide anti-bullying campaign (Operation Respect), “Don’t Laugh at Me,” to become the next anthem for the current generation. And if enough children get to go to camp in the next 10 years, there could be a sea change to civility, tolerance, and acceptance much as America has the potential, according to President Obama, for a “global plan [to] set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.”
“Rebrand. Restart. Reboot.” Bono talks about the Millenium Goals, a global set of commitments made nine years ago, to halve extreme poverty by 2015. “In dangerous, clangorous times, the idea of America rings like a bell,” Bono suggests.
Instead of thinking that improving national math scores will lead us out of murky times, or that adding days and/or hours to the school calendar will provide the missing cues to eradicate the world’s overwhelming issues (poverty, war, climate change, economic instability….), let’s take a new look at the camp experience and attach a different lens — camp’s importance as an essential component of a child’s education:
Because it is only at camp — where children are unencumbered by walls, filters, and grades — that they can leave their comfort zones and take healthy risks to invent and re-invent themselves; where they can learn their role as belonging and contributing members of society; and where they can bounce back from adversity in a nurturing environment in which adults are trained to “catch them when they fall” in both the literal and metaphorical sense.
Research underscores camp’s three pillars of hope: intimacy with nature, authentic human connections, and human-powered activities.
The world is ready to embrace a new idealogy – one of collaboration and collegiality and transparency – regardless of political affiliation or personal propensity. Pundits generally agree that is why the Nobel Peace Prize was bestowed upon America’s primary representative, the President of the United States.
Carpe diem! So many life lessons will be learned at camp – let’s make sure every child passing through childhood on the road to adulthood in these next 10 pivotal years benefits from a camp experience – it’s the best demonstration of moral order and democracy.
Camp: It’s good for life!