- Camp Anytown and its spinoff leadership camps across the country focus on teaching teenagers about diversity with racial slurs and labels.
- The San Francisco Chronicle reported that two of these camps exist in the Bay Area, and attended two four-day sessions to find out what it’s like.
- At the camp, high school attendees of all racial backgrounds go through exercises that re-enact segregation and degradation to teach kids about real-world injustices.
- Advocates for the camps argue that these immersive activities help better prepare youth to confront discrimination in the real world.
- But The Chronicle asked 28 experts, and 27 of them aren’t convinced.
An article in the The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a leadership camp called Camp Anytown focuses on teaching teenagers diversity through racial slurs and labels.
Karen de Sá reports that the camp dates back to the 1950s, and since its inception, tens of thousands of students across the country have participated in some version. Chronicle reporters attended two four-day sessions in the Bay Area to see what it’s like.
The retreats focus on exercises that re-enact societal segregation and degradation to teach its teenage attendees about diversity. One such camp, Camp Diversity in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is led by camp director Richard Valenzuela, who has led these kinds of camps in the Bay Area and across the country for 40 years.
Here’s de Sá describing the experience:
“Over four long days and nights, Valenzuela, aided by teachers with just 90 minutes of training for the camp, will lead the unsuspecting youth through a series of such painful exercises. Latino students will be ordered to clean up after whites and ushered into restrooms labelled ‘No Mexicans or Dogs Allowed.’ Jewish students will be pinned with yellow stars and taunted about the Holocaust. Some teens will be called ‘retards’ and slapped on the back of the head. And more than once, students will be encouraged to reveal whether they have contemplated suicide.”
The Chronicle reports that advocates for these camps, like Valenzuela, argue that immersing students in in-depth activities meant to simulate real-world injustice results is a “transformational” experience, leaving students with a better grasp on how to confront discrimination.
However, the camp’s programs are unsupported by research, notes Princeton University psychology professor Betsy Levy Paluck, who told de Sá that some of the camp’s exercises are “a hellscape with literally no imagined positive.”
Paluck was one of 27 experts consulted by The Chronicle, who concluded that aspects of the camp’s methodology are “highly unethical” and “educational malpractice.” (The 28th expert consulted did not denounce the camp’s methods.)
Bay Area teachers, whose students are sent to these kinds of camps, “think there must be some research backing it,” Steve Kahl, a Mountain View High School English teacher, told The Chronicle. He volunteered at a camp in 2013 and his experience was worrisome to him.
“It struck me as pseudo-therapy for the masses, without anyone having a diagnosis and no one supervising who is clinically authorised to do anything that’s therapeutic,” Kahl said.
Prudence Carter, the dean of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, told The Chronicle that she also found the camp’s lack of data troubling.
“Where is the psychological theory and research behind it?” Carter said. “If there is none, this is a really risky and seriously problematic intervention.”
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