You Are How You Camped
What your enjoyment of sleep-away camp, or lack of same, says about your character.
It's midsummer: the time of year when parents get sick enough of their kids to send them far, far away. In 2006, Slate's Timothy Noah mined the varieties of summer-camp experience for insights into the human psyche. The column is reprinted below.
Slate's "Summer Camp" anthology is available as an e-book for your Kindle. Download it now.
Or perhaps not. Montana Miller, a folklorist who teaches a class called "Summer Camp Ethnography" at Ohio's Bowling Green State University, insists that even children who don't attend summer camp subject themselves to the same psychological sorting process by imagining that they did. In an e-mail to me, she elaborated:
There have been so many movies and books and TV shows—not to mention the stories told by friends who return from camp—that kids internalize whether or not they went to camp themselves. … I had [my students] do an in-class writing assignment in which they recounted an anecdote from camp—presenting it as a personal-experience narrative, but not necessarily real. It could be fictional or something that happened to someone they knew. They read their anecdotes out loud to the class and we tried to guess whether these were real experiences they had had themselves, or constructions from their imaginations and their pop culture educations. You know what? In almost every case, it was impossible to tell.
The summer-camp ink blot, then, is universal. You are how you camped, even if you never camped at all.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Illustrations by Nina Frenkel.