Weekly Feature

2011-08-04 / Lifestyles

Young and skeptical

Camp encourages open minds, critical thinking

Several student campers at “Camp Inquiry 2010” participate in “Hoopdom,” a team-building exercise using hula hoops, that enhances critical thinking skills and group communication. 
Submitted photo Several student campers at “Camp Inquiry 2010” participate in “Hoopdom,” a team-building exercise using hula hoops, that enhances critical thinking skills and group communication. Submitted photo Why are we here and what’s the meaning of life? These are just a few, ageless questions people ask as they pass through life, wanting to discover more about their purpose.

The educators and scholars at the Center for Inquiry’s sixth annual “Camp Inquiry” have one goal in mind: teaching children how to think — not what to think.

CFI, a nonprofit, educational, advocacy and research organization based in Amherst, is sponsoring this year’s program at Camp Seven Hills in Holland.

Highlighting themes such as imagination, investigation and illumination for a duration of one week, the camp will offer various speakers from around the country who will present children with learning tools from their areas of expertise. Michael Cardus, founder of Create Learning; Jennifer Michael Hecht, a philosophy writer; James Randi, a pseudoscience “demystifier”; and blogger Rebecca Watson will share their experiences with the young minds in attendance.

The camp’s director, Karen Strachen, said the goal is to have the children walk away applying critical thinking skills not only to the classroom setting, but also to the many avenues of life. She added that she really wants the campers to focus on something they know to be either absolute or impossible, challenge what they know of it, and discuss evidence-based reasoning and concerns.

“It all sounds really heavy when we, as adults, think about it, but it’s what these kids are doing anyway,” she said. “We want to encourage them to ask good questions and respect one another, even if they don’t come to the same conclusion.”

Camp Seven Hills, a vast, 620-acre parcel of land where the program is held each year, seems like the perfect atmosphere to question authority, existence and humanity in general, preparing the next generation on how to use effective tactics to sift through the information coming at them from hundreds of outlets.

Strachen said the camp is not strictly limited to critical thinking, and the students will also get to enjoy the usual camping activities, such as hiking on the various trails, eating s’mores by a campfire and listening to ghost stories.

Cardus, the founder of Create-Learning, said this will be his third year working with the program. His local business is described as a learning and consulting firm that provides experiential corporate, college and classroom development to improve performance and build team leadership skills.

One of the team-building exercises Cardus leads is called “Hoopdom,” which includes two phases: re-creating a structure made of hula hoops in a small group setting and then applying the knowledge gained to a larger problem that’s a bit different. At the camp, it’s building a bigger tower with the hoops. The purpose, however, is learning how to incorporate information learned on a daily basis and apply it to their lives as citizens of the world, Cardus said. The time spent throughout the seven days at camp asks the children to focus on asking the right questions and challenging assumptions, two factors that Cardus said create a stronger educational learning experience, especially when young people are faced with an information overload.

“Nowadays with the Internet, you can pretty much Google anything,” Cardus said. “There’s a high ability of what we call ‘service-level’ knowledge, but the depth is lacking as far as how much we know about one topic area and how to do things.”

He added that many of his experiences working with corporate groups has shown him that most individuals who can process knowledge, ask the right questions and analyze data perform much better in the workplace.

CFI’s president and CEO, Ronald A. Lindsay, said the camp allows children to think for themselves, be themselves, and cultivate critical thinking skills crucial to learning and development.

“It’s also important for young people to have the opportunity to be free to question anything and everything and to be in an environment where they are not shunned by others for voicing doubts.” email: jolenez@beenews.com

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