I very strongly opposed the trip, have sent a letter to the principal and have called my local Trustee to explain the gravity of my concerns. If you lived within the boundaries of my school board, I would hope you'd do the same.
You see, the camp is a Christian Camp. Here are the first two paragraphs from the Camp's Welcome page (I have omitted the camp name):
Camp 'M...' is a Christian Camp that is committed to introducing children and young people to the message of Jesus Christ from the Bible through a camping experience that incorporates practical spiritual teaching, skill development, physical activity, friendship and lots of fun.
We want each camper to feel welcome, safe and accepted for who they are. Our goal is to provide real experiences; character-building opportunities that will develop young people physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually and allow them to stretch and flourish – to be the people God wants them to be.
The main purpose of this camp is not to provide outdoor education, it is to introduce, strengthen and indoctrinate children into the camp's specific view of Christianity. The camping experience is merely icing on a cake. I'm reminded of the story of Hansel and Gretel where they are attracted to the house by its candy covering but this is merely a ruse to get the children inside the house for an unrelated purpose.
My local trustee immediately recognized my concern. The two representatives at the school I have spoken to (a teacher and an administrator) did not. There is no requirement that they agree with me but it is disturbing that they do not even understand my objection. Instead of questioning whether the trip may violate Board policy or the Education Act they are trying to defend the trip. I understand that the trip may be a very important activity for the kids and I completely support its purpose. However, it may not happen at this camp!
Why am I so concerned? So what if a bunch of new teenagers hear a few prayers during a camping trip? Won't most of the kids simply ignore any of the religious messages? Why not just let the kids and the school have some fun?
The answers to these questions are complex but I believe it boils down to a simple, fundamental principle of public education; a grand pillar that must never be allowed to fall.
Education of children must take the form of giving them useful and substantiated skills and knowledge. The ultimate strength of the public education system is that it does not teach opinion, it teaches facts. We recognize that every human on the planet has a unique and complex combination of opinions on thousands of issues from aesthetics, politics, history to the supernatural and beyond. However because they are unique, it is impossible for there to be two or more humans holding opinions that are completely true. Either one person holds only true opinions, or no one does. If one person holds the truth, how do we find them? What tools do we use to determine that their opinions are, in fact, true?
The answer to this is the greatest strength of public education. 'Separate' or 'private' schools, by definition, tout that they are the ones with the answers. They wish to remain separate and private for the very reason that they believe they have the 'correct' opinion and they want to be able to enclose impressionable young children within a confined bubble where the only opinion they get to hear and are not allowed to question, is that of the school, its administrators and the benefactors.
The power of the public school system is not that it allows all opinions free reign in the school but that it allows only those opinions which have clear, substantiated and peer-reviewed evidence on their side. One plus one equals two is not taught because it is the opinion of some people that say it is true, it is taught because mountains of evidence demonstrate that it is. Public education teaches public knowledge that has passed the rigorous scientific method, the greatest tool that humans ever invented.
Teachers and administrators must recognize that their opinions may be flawed. They must also recognize that they are likely to not know which of their opinions are flawed. For this reason, teachers and administrators must agree to keep their opinions to themselves and never try to convince the children in their charge to adopt their specific ideas. They are bound by an understanding that it is their job to ensure that children are given only the knowledge which has been gathered by the most educated people in their field. As the saying goes, "only the facts."
But, teachers have one more important role. It's to teach kids how to think, not what to think. They need to teach children how to recognize the difference between opinion and fact. How to analyze opinions, how to distinguish between real evidence and anecdotes. Ultimately, it is not the teacher's job to make children think like they do, but to teach them how to find the flaws in the teacher's own opinions. Any teacher should feel proud when a student makes the teacher reconsider an opinion. They've done their job well.
I opposed the trip to the Christian camp because the camp will attempt to pass their opinion of their specific brand of religion onto the children under the guise of truth. They know that most children will not fall to their knees and believe during prayer before spaghetti but they are planting seeds. And, like every farmer and marketing person knows, the more seeds you plant, the greater the chance your crop will grow.
Stand up for public education! Contact your schools and convince yourself that your school is adhering to these high standards. Let's raise a generation of children that will not adopt our opinions but scrutinize and improve them.