Greetings to my longer term readers, who might already know that I like to investigate memes, using philosophical techniques.
Our meme for today is “camp” and we want to avoid a simple enumeration of definitions, as in a dictionary. Rather, let’s start with a business meeting I was just in, wherein the question came up: “might we want to offer camp as a year round format?”.
More context: in the Geek World (an ethnosphere, a layer), “camp” is something one may attend any time, most probably in an urban setting. A “Barcamp” in geek world is quasi-synonymous with “conference” or “unconference”.
If you’ve never heard of an “unconference” chances are you’ve not haunted Geek World. We’re talking both computers and science fiction cosplay. A good example: OS Bridge. OS = Open Source. Bridge = Bridge City i.e. Portland Oregon. This unconference developed in response to O’Reilly moving OSCON out of Portland, to San Jose. OSCON = Open Source Convention. Portlanders, not wishing to trek to San Jose for their event, decided to “fork it” (create a new branch) instead.
In Adult World more generally (meaning by legacy convention, done with grades K through 16), a daily routine may be punctuated with “intensive” or “immersive” experiences, and for that, the word “camp” may fit.
More frequently we hear “retreat” or “workshop” or “training” in some circles, and these may happen “at a camp” or “retreat center”.
But with geeks in particular, we’ve have FooCamp (from O’Reilly) and later BarCamps (because where there’s foo, there’s bar, like smoke to fire).
A lot of households do a customized education track for their members, adults included, and counting classes like yoga and pregnancy coaching. The idea of sequential immersion, diving deeply into a succession of topics, rather than doing the round robin drill, is popular in homeschooling and unschooling circles. With more families schooling at home, thanks to Covid, that need to cobble together a curriculum has become more pronounced.
The more “folkish” connotation of “camp” though, especially if kids are involved, is something one does in the summer, when people are “off school” i.e. schools are closed. The idea that schools would close, for months at a time, but not bars, was the way of life in those days. Summer was a time for kinetic activity, horseback riding, learning to shoot and to golf. Winter was a time for indoor tasks, including indoor sports, but also more studying, more desk job activities. “Camp” meant “kinetic” and therefore was at the other apogee, the opposite of school.
“School” back then, did connote the more round robin approach to time management. You would do mathematics for a few hours each week, time sliced between some other subjects, a recess, a meal break. You would watch the clock and accept tasks as they were assigned to you. You would not be expected to pick a topic or subject and then immerse yourself in it, for weeks or even months at a time. You might do that in grad school for sure, but not as a first pass learning strategy. Unless, that is, you were an early adopter of homeschooler strategies. In that case, sequential immersion was quite acceptable, considered both viable and proper.
What’s happening, as a megatrend, is Geek Culture (the ethnosphere) has been percolating to the top in some circles, meaning the overseers and supervisors are thinking in those terms. They therefore understand how a “Camp” motif could come to be synonymous with “intensive school” (more school that usual, bootcamp, code school).
However, all that talk of “intensity” leads us to some negative associations of “camp” we may no longer ignore.
In the clash between cultures (any cultures) there’s that no man’s land of forbidden ground (taboo topics), followed by layers of threat (defense), including the risk of being taken prisoner (especially if caught agitating for the other side), and, following that, “re-educated” (again, a euphemism for some cruel process).
The idea of a “camp” as a “prison” wherein perhaps “brainwashing” takes place, is engrained in the language, because history, because etymology. “A prisoner of war gets sent to a re-education camp for brainwashing and only narrowly escapes” sounds like “any B movie” in some TV Guide. We may explore a folk culture through its media listings and plot summaries.
Plus, lets face it, once a youngster gets on the wrong side of enough adults, in any given institution (including a prestigious academy), a prison-like sensibility may set in, leaving the kid openly rebellious to subtly defiant (a wide spectrum), and either way smoldering with resentment. The school-to-prison conveyor belt many write about, appears as a reality to some of those caught up in it.
Nor is it that all the kids feel a certain way, always. Some suck up to the adults, and so on.
I’ve been in a summer camp where the camp leader was openly suspicious of adults as a class of human, having just become an adult herself and not wanting to identity as such, as that would setup a barrier between herself and her erstwhile peers and friends. She had been a camper at this camp, but was now potentially an authority figure, a tough transition to make sometimes.
The notion of “camp” implies “coming of age” in many movies, because “away from home”.
Enter “scouting” as a meme, a trailhead to a vast and overlapping terrain.
I’m describing general patterns of self organization you’ve likely seen, if you’ve been inside a number of institutions, which many of us have. Maybe you were at a dysfunctional summer camp, with cliquey insiders who knew each other during the school year, and clueless noobs who ended up bonding on the basis of feeling left out.
A “camp” may be euphemistic for a place they get you out of the way. Then we explicitly say “death camp” and “prison camp” for identifiable and specific institutions.
Isn’t it somewhat amazing, and testament to our ability to compartmentalize, that this one term “camp” could come with such horribly tragic and dreamily blissful associations in the same language? That fact attests to its deep rootedness. Strong winds don’t blow it over.
“Camp” is like “campus” meaning little more than “place” or “locus” but with the connotation of a population with a shared purpose and/or code of conduct (a tribe).
The word “place” is quite neutral, even though we have all manner of places, from paradisiacal to hellish and everywhere in between.
I’m told “camping” was derived from “campaigning” by the inventor of “scouting” as a thing. Lets take all the “funnest” parts of an inherently grim sport, war, and make up a new lifestyle with those components.
Living out of doors, in tents, was one of the fun parts, ditto the campfire, and singing tunes (a part of war some people forget about). We might even keep the idea of an enemy, or at least a rival.
A school has a campus, but so may a corporation, and why not a religious facility? “The temple in the middle of the campus” or “the church campus” is not especially problematic in English. How about in other languages?
The School of Tomorrow has camps, which could be considered temporary campuses. Or vice versa: a campus is a temporary camp (there’s a beginning, middle, end).
The idea of a campus that vanishes without a trace, after serving as a base for studying the surrounding ecosystem for some time, has a lot of appeal. We can, as humans, move in and study, including in places where mosquitoes are ubiquitous, thanks to our domed-over facilities.
We wear protective gear. This is a tour of duty, not R&R. Our campuses bring us valuable knowledge about our Earth, our planet. Camps on the Moon. Camps on Mars. Camps deep under the oceans. Campuses. Some of them foobar (fubar).
About the School of Tomorrow: the one I’m talking about is accessible on Github and takes you into a brand of futurism that includes Martian Math.