Tasty Education

When I tell people  I work in camping, their first response is that they want to know what I do the rest of the year. After that I usually get the love. We love camp it transformed our lives. When I tell them that I work in Jewish Education in camping I get a lot of blank looks. What kind of work is that? Camps are just places to socialize Jews. What kind of education might we try to do at camp? There are no class rooms in camp. And if I try to put them into class in the summer  I will destroyed camp. I see it in their eyes. I have been transformed to the Grinch who stole fun from camp.

In these moments I reflect on the wise words of the great educator Geoffrey Canada. In a segment he wrote for This I Believe, he wrote about his belief in camp.  There Canada wrote;

Back in 1975, when I was coming out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I worked in a summer camp in Ossipee, N.H., for kids with the absolute toughest problems: emotionally disturbed kids, autistic kids, oppositional ADHD kids, kids that everyone — even their parents — had given up on. One of the things that I and the staff would do is cook with the kids. These children didn’t know baking powder from table salt, but once they had eaten a warm biscuit out of the oven, smeared with melted butter and a drizzle of maple syrup, they were very motivated to learn how to make some more.Suddenly, kids who couldn’t sit still or focus were carefully eyeballing ingredients as we measured them out, learning the simple math and spelling lessons we could slip in along the way. By the end of the summer, I remember parents breaking down and crying when they saw the progress their children had made.

The biscuits, by the way, were delicious, and I can still remember the taste of them today — and more importantly, I still remember the lesson they taught me: that if we, the adults, can find the right motivation for a child, there’s hope for that child’s education.

If  a child does not succeed, it means the adults around him or her have failed. It is not that camp is successful because there are no classrooms, it is successful because it has a very complex classroom that strives to deal with all kinds of learners.  Canada goes on to write;

I believe that we adults have to help them, and that starts with looking hard at each child, finding out what excites them and exploiting that excitement shamelessly.

For Canada it came with a plate of steaming, hot biscuits that tasted so good they were ready to learn anything.

Last year I took a group of Assistant Camp Directors to Camp Alonim for a training. We were blessed to spend time with another great educator Dr. Bruce Powell. He shared with us a similar story about how the son of completely acculturated family came to be a leader in the Jewish day school movement. Powell’s mother, a secular Jewess, once went to hear a lecture by Shlomo Bardin the founder of Camp Alonim and BCI. When she asked him what she should do to engage more in Jewish life, Bardin did not tell her to go to a Jewish Studies class or a Synagogue. He asked her what her favorite Jewish memory was. Powell’s mother replied that she loved the smell of Challah baking from her childhood. At that moment Bardin asked her to commit to making Challah for ever Shabbat. As a boy Dr. Powell came home every Friday to the smell of Challah. From there he went to Alonim, and has had an amazing career in Jewish Education staring many day schools.

At the end of Shelach, this week’s Torah portion, we read about Challah. There we read:

20 Of the first of your dough you shall set apart a cake for a gift; as that which is set apart of the threshing-floor, so shall you set it apart.21 Of the first of your dough you shall give to the Lord a portion for a gift throughout your generations. Numbers 15:20-21

Today we call Challah the braided loaf of bread, but it is actually the part that we give away. So too, camp is defined of not being school. When in reality it is an amazing place that we could teach anything we want, as long as we make it tasty. I believe in camp, because I believe the only education is fueled by the students passion. The job of the educator is to connecting a child to their passion. This is truly a gift throughout our generations.

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