Don Heupel/AP
Charlie Wannall of Texas, tries to imitate
a magician during the first day of
Inquiry held in Holland, N.Y. (AP)

NY Summer Camp Teaches Kids to Question Everything

August 11, 2008 11:53 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
New York’s Camp Inquiry encourages youngsters to think twice about everything they believe, including religion and science.

Teaching Kids to Ask Questions

Camp Inquiry is a traditional summer camp in many ways. Participants make crafts, swim and hike, but they also discuss issues of religion and faith. The premise of the camp is teaching kids to approach their world skeptically, and to think about their beliefs by applying sound reason.

Nathan Bupp says his organization, the Center for Inquiry, started Camp Inquiry three years ago. “Evangelicals have camps. Catholics have camps. So we believe there’s a need to have an alternative for students who are exploring other options out there.”

Many kids at the camp don’t attend church. Some are atheist or agnostic. The camp offers them a chance to discuss their faith, or the reason they don’t believe in faith. “As soon as someone mentions faith in an argument, the argument is over,” says 15-year-old Ryan Lee. “Faith and the scientific method can’t be combined in the same argument.”

Contentious Coursework

The counselors at Camp Inquiry are not the only educators having difficult discussions about religion. History teacher Martha Ball has learned some serious lessons about how faith can cause arguments. When teaching in California, Ball said she had no trouble explaining to students that Catholic priests were the first Europeans to settle the state. But when working in Utah, she said a student threatened to have her sued if she used the word “Mormon” when telling the story of Mormon pioneers; a shouting match ensued in that classroom. The Salt Lake Tribune says the moment taught her that “public schools must find a way to work through, and even in, the land-mine topic of religion or risk producing citizens ignorant and fearful of religious differences.”
Today, Ball is the state director of Utah’s 3R’s Project of rights, responsibilities and respect, which encourages allows for the discussion of religion in a classroom—but within the bounds of educational policy and the law. The program, says Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., is not a religious study. Rather, Haynes called it a “civic character project,” one that can help “people learn to live together in freedom and respect.”

Related Topic: Other controversial lessons

Reference: Summer camp, First Amendment Center


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