Sunday, July 16, 2006

Be Careful What Your Kids are Taught at Camp

I didn’t go to summer camp when I was a kid. I almost got to. One of my best friends at the time and I had plans to attend camp, but his father didn’t want to pony up the funds. Even though the camp would take a reduced fee for those who needed it, no questions asked, his dad said no way. He didn’t take charity.

It was probably just as well. It was a church camp anyway.

When my daughter was eight or nine she got to go for a few days before she became bored to tears and had to return. “There was way too much praying,” she said. She also didn’t like sleeping in the dark in the woods.

I did have a nice summer camp experience when I was 22, though. No, I didn’t go to camp as a camper, but as an assistant program director for the Boys Club camp north of Indianapolis. I had just graduated college and I got to spend the entire summer in camp. Every two weeks, a new group of boys would be bussed in, ages 7 to 12.

Being affiliated with the Boys Club, it was a secular camp, so there was no organized praying, though campers could pray on their own if they wished. We did have an ecumenical worship service every Sunday morning. Each camp counselor and administrator got his turn at giving the “sermon.” When it was my turn, I spoke mostly about anger management. Some of the boys had issues.

Camps are not a whole lot different today from when I helped develop the programs in 1976. There is one major difference, however. Many of the church camps, about 50 percent of them according to the Christian Camp and Conference Association, teach lessons on God’s creation. One even has a Creation Walk, where each one of seven rooms is designed to show the little campers one day’s worth of Creation. I assume they get to take a nap in the seventh room.

One education director said the programs were designed to open kids’ eyes so when they go back to school they all think real science is goofy. No, that wasn’t a direct quote, but it was pretty close.

Of course, other camps have a different agenda. When I was the assistant program director at Boys Club Camp, we had a naturalist on staff. He did nature walks with the kids and showed them the wonders of evolution. But he was not competing with the church camps; he was just doing his job as a naturalist.

Now, however, there are camp programs that are designed to counter the Creation and Intelligent Design movements at Christian camps. One camp in California, sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church, has a science camp that uses song, dance and drama to teach children about scientific discoveries about human origins.

Another camp in New York has a Natural History Day, where kids can take the Evolution vs. Creation Challenge. Students are taken for a nature hike where they get to see for themselves how the process of evolution has been working over millions of years.

Of course, when all the kids are done for the summer and meet back at school where they can share their experiences, confusion is bound to reign. I guess for parents, some good advice might be to be careful where you send your kids for the summer. You never know what sort of fairy tales they may be learning.

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