By Mary Bradney-George
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.
~Anais Nin (1903 – 1977)
There were thirty-four of us standing in a circle, singing. On every face there was a hint of uncertainty and the air was thick with excitement. Our voices joined together, strongly, sweetly, loudly, more and more joined in until everyone was singing and we were all smiling. The second Camp with Wings had begun.
Camp with Wings is a week long camp for home educated teenagers. Janine Banks thought it up after working at the Not Back to School Camp, held in the United States. She believed that the home educated teens here in Australia needed a similar sort of thing so she set out to give it to them.
We finish singing and everyone seems more relaxed. Singing is an important part of Camp. Everyday we sing together, reinforcing the fact that we are a group and we’ll support each other.
Within hours of meeting the other campers, people are chatting as if they’ve know each other their whole lives. People are comfortable to be themselves and everyone seems happy. It’s completely different to the atmosphere of a school camp.
I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.
~Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)
I’ve been to school and during that time I went on a number of school camps. They’re all the same. You line up at the school; all dressed identically, the girls in skirts and blouses, the boys in shorts and shirts. The teacher calls the role and you enter the bus in alphabetical order, finding a seat suitable to your position in the schoolyard hierarchy. Lastly the teacher climbs on and tells you to ‘keep the noise down’. They sit at the front of the bus looking authoritative and glaring at anyone who dares to talk too loudly.
The power of the teacher last until the students realise that, yes, they are missing out on school time to be here. The more excited you get the more the teacher fades into the background.
When you arrive at your destination the teacher again call the role. Did any of you vanish while you were on the bus? You file into your accommodation, which is generally rundown and not very nice. For the length of the camp you can look forward to an enforced wakeup time, an enforced breakfast time, an enforced bed time and an enforced daily timetable. The is no room for your wants in this camp.
Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self respect springs.
~Joan Didion (1934 – ),
At Camp with Wings things aren’t like that. We are given responsibility for our actions and taking care of our minor needs. We choose when to go to bed. We choose what activities we want to participate in. “With great power comes great responsibility” and with great responsibility comes great power. And at Camp most people don’t misuse that power.
I think allowing young people to make decisions about their own wellbeing is a great way for them to learn to consider the effects of their actions on others. Having the power to decide gives them more self respect and more respect for others. It also cuts down attention getting behaviour because they realise that by abusing the power they’ve been given they are not respected.
There is a freedom at Camp. People are less self-conscious when they’re out from under their parents gaze. They feel free to take responsibility for themselves and for others too. Most of the Campers run a workshop, teaching the others a skill or a game. Everyone who participates learns so much and has a lot of fun doing it.
At the last Camp I learnt a Bollywood dance, I made jewellery, I made a plaster mask and much more. Each time I went to a workshop I was excited because I was there to learn something new. We didn’t have to go to the workshops, and sometimes people didn’t, but when we went we went because we wanted the experience. Unlike at school.
Show me a man who has enjoyed his school days and I’ll show you a bully and a bore.
You sit at table, dressed the same as all the others, tinkering with a craft project that might be fun if you didn’t have to do it. Around you your classmates are making the exact same thing as you. Some play around and use a bit of creative licence, not because they have any urge to be creative, but to gain the admiration of their peers.
Your teacher stalks the gaps between the tables, telling off those members of your class who take it into their heads to be original. They are made to start again if they don’t do it just right. Your teacher tells you all that you must be finished by a certain time and you all rush to finish.
Around thirty identical projects sit nicely on the tables. You’ve all written your names on them so that you can tell them apart. You leave the identical projects and move off to eat identical lunches. Later you’ll all sleep in identical rooms in identical beds.
The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.
~Anatole France (1844 – 1924)
At Camp I ran a drama workshop. Just a few games that I thought would be fun. When we started I was surprised at how much effort everyone was putting into the games. They were all getting really involved and creating characters and situations that I’d never imagined.
I’ve taught drama to school kids and home educated kids and there’s a huge difference in the way they approach the games. School kids look at their friends and see what they’re doing. They constantly think about how people will react to them. They’re self-conscious about the games.
Home educated kids don’t seem to consider other people reactions before they act. They’re more into thinking of something interesting to do to surprise the others. They’ll explore a situation and go with the flow if anything unexpected happens.
I spent nine years as a school student. During that time I kept in contact with my home educated friends. I always found that there was a huge difference between people at school and people who’d never been to school. There seem to be huge differences in their creative thinking.
School moulds people into a shape that fits the system. They tend to think about how other people will react to them and what they do. This means that they’re more susceptible to peer pressure and advertising. I’ve heard people at school regurgitate political messages in an attempt to appear intelligent.
In home education people can develop in their own way without worrying about how they fit into a system. They seem to be more willing to express their own ideas without worrying about others opinions of them.
Of course this is just a general statement. I’ve met exceptions from both sides. But this is how it appears. All in all I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to experience both sides of education.
I hug the other thirty-three people as we prepare to part. Camp is over and for many of us it’s hard to leave. I know that I’ll see most of these people again but it’s still sad to leave them. I know that “Life’s truest happiness is found in friendships we make along the way.” For a week we were family.