Starting My Summer Camp Research Project!

Last summer, all of my thirteen campers wanted to be wizards. Across an afternoon, they each went around our mountainous Colorado woods and found small sticks, bringing back to our camp’s craft center. Some campers whittled their sticks until they were smooth. Others kept some bark at the base for better grip. A few made samurai sword-looking handles out of bright pipe cleaners. By the time I’d caught up with all of them at dinner, thirteen wands sat next to forks and knives. The next day, the wands glistened as my campers found waterproofing lacquer, and the rest of the day was given to wizard fights in the camp pool. The best part of it all: my campers were fifteen- and sixteen-year-old boys.

I have tried hard to think of another place in America today where, as a teenage boy, its cool to rocket yourself out of the water and scream Harry Potter-like spells at your friends. But I can’t; it’s only at camp.

Those kinds of moments are the impetus behind this blog and the larger project that stands beside it. I am a rising senior studying politics at Pomona College and a veteran counselor at Geneva Glen Camp in Indian Hills, Colorado. In my ultimate year at college, I’ve decided to bring together my two biggest worlds and write a thesis about political education in American summer camps, the basic argument of which centers around the idea that camp addresses some of the fundamental anxieties surrounding modern childhood. That camp offers unique solutions to inherently political fears about finding children positive role models, giving them a solid moral foundation, and endowing them with a strong sense of community and tradition doesn’t come as a surprise to camp professionals, but explaining those lessons to people in the “real world”—especially in the academic world—is a behemoth task.   

Through Pomona, I’ve received a grant that will address this task by allowing me to use the beginning and end of my summer to visit camps around America in order to learn about their programs and to try to articulate the collective lessons summer camp teaches. I want to discover the reasons behind the uncanny ability, as a ‘camp person,’ to instantly identify someone else as a ‘camp person.’ In between those two trips, I’ll be returning to Geneva Glen as a counselor. My proceeding blog posts, then, will document my travels this summer and my thoughts about the camp generally. (As I prepare my trip, I would love to hear any and all advice/thoughts/observations about the formative power of camp).

I think about camp every day. And recently, I’ve thought every day about how profoundly lucky I am to have a (really) full summer of camp—of time to explore the magic of a place that can still ignite the imaginative flame of a sixteen-year-old camper wizard.  

I (pictured in the upper left corner) happily admit that I was in on the wizarding. Here’s our staged battle that took place on the last day of the session. 

I (pictured in the upper left corner) happily admit that I was in on the wizarding. Here’s our staged battle that took place on the last day of the session.