The Blog of the West Wind

The Blog of the West Wind

Voices and Values

Thursday, December 13, 2007/by Chuck Mills/Go Back

I'm interested lately in voices and values - the way that organizations and institutions seem to have the power to control individual and family value sets simply by shouting out their own agendas... schools and colleges seem to be behaving more like a lobby group for more academic (read "seat") time for kids; school counselors tell them they must go to school all summer, must take more standardized tests more often, must seek resume building experiences by seeking job-focused opportunities like internships earlier and earlier, younger and younger. Whither childhood?!

I feel this strongly as I watch kids and families struggle with how they want summers to look. The message they get is that the camp experience doesn't fit... meanwhile, employers are saying that what they need and look for are people who can work and get along with others, problem-solve, think critically, lead with compassion and a strong work ethic - all qualities that are fostered by experiences like Kabeyun's!

I spoke with a family the other day who spoke of the need for their 11-year-old son to have academic enrichment during the summer because the college application process is so competitive; another mom told me of the intense application process surrounding the very competitive pre-schools in her area; I heard yesterday from the mother of a boy who has been with us for two summers; he's now 16 and wants very badly to come to Kabeyun this summer as a part of the counseling intern program - school counselors have told him that if he wants to get into Harvard, he should begin looking for some different experiences during the summer - he's attending an academic summer program in Cambridge; several summers ago I had a father tell me that his eight-year-old couldn't attend more camp because he was signed up for a hockey camp "to keep his edge"...

It goes on and on. The experience of spending a summer at Kabeyun is important to the cultivation of a strong character and self-awareness, whether as a camper or a counselor. Campers learn invaluable lessons about how to live peaceably with others who are different from themselves; they learn how to work through problems both with other individuals and within groups; they learn tolerance, compassion; they learn about personal potential and how to accept new challenges; they learn how to set personal goals and how to work hard to accomplish those goals; they learn what it feels like to be connected to a community, to be a part of something larger than themselves; they learn how to compromise. Are these not characteristics that any school or business will desire in their own members? Are these not the values we celebrate in a healthy society? For counselors, add to this list the leadership skills required of them every day; how to work with a group of others toward a common goal; how to lead others through conflict; what it means to work hard and to feel the pleasure of the benefits of hard work...

Kabeyun and other experiences like it need to find some way of injecting this voice into the public discourse and establish values in favor of the individual. We need to remind people that, regardless of how powerless they feel in the face of these established social expectations, we have a choice! The summers for kids are growing shorter and are being carved up into smaller bites by pressures from schools and the perceived need to prepare for... whatever. Summer is the time to celebrate childhood and the balanced personal learning forgotten by schools and the institution of youth sports. To foster well-rounded individuals aware of self and community both, we need to rovide the space and time to find ourselves, on our own terms, at our own pace.

Parents complain about how over-scheduled and competitive is their children's world. We do have a choice, but we need to feel the strength in numbers and the volume of voice held by institutions and organizations. Many Kabeyun families have turned off their TVs, chased the kids outside, skipped the last few days of school in favor of a whole summer experience; they have refused to buy into the culture of deferred rewards, opting instead for cherishing each moment of childhood happening right now, focusing on providing solid growth and learning experiences for their own sake, and allowing each child's individual passions and personality drive decision-making. We are not grooming eight-year-olds to play with the Bruins; we're not preparing 12-year-olds for college admission. Instead, we're allowing the eight to be eight, with all the carefree joys that accompany that moment of life's journey...