ACA Past President Responds to Obama's Discussion on Education Reform

President Obama has endorsed a longer school year as part of the solution to America’s floundering educational system. I respectfully request that he reconsider that stance, and look no further than to his own daughter, Malia, who spent some of those precious summer weeks at overnight camp last summer.

As a longtime camp professional, who has literally thousands of anecdotal stories to affirm the value of camp’s experiential learning environment, I’d like to ask the President to reflect on his daughter’s growth after having spent out-of-school time at camp. Would those thirty days have been better spent at school, preparing for more tests; or in camp, a virtual classroom without walls, practicing for life’s circumstances? Where was her time better spent? Where was the most learning?

Where did she learn authentic lessons in compassion, cooperation, critical thinking, decision-making, resilience, and responsibility?

We don’t need to teach more answers. Rather, our conversation about education reform needs to consider the whole child — the art of camp, with its social education, is a vital complementary component to the science of school’s lessons. We need to find programs to promote youth development through the camp experience; we need to make camp available to more children, not more school for all.

Children need to be productive, to feel connected, and to learn to navigate on their own. The answers will follow.

Thousands of my colleagues across the nation will attest to the power of camp. No grades. No permanent records. Just authentic connections to the real world. Play is the work of childhood; it’s how children invent and re-invent themselves, find their place in the universe, and learn what they are good at and where they need to practice. Life is the quintessential test tomorrow’s leaders need to pass.

The American Camp Association’s outcomes research confirms that ten measured social constructs enhance the platform for learning: self-esteem, independence, leadership, friendship skills, social comfort, peer relationships, courage, environmental awareness, values (ethics), and spirituality.

President Obama, I’m sure that you and Mrs. Obama have seen exponential growth in Malia since last summer in these skill sets — a direct result of living in a community with shared values and real-life, unfiltered experiences close to nature.

School and camp are the yin and yang of education, interconnected parts that together advance bona fide academic achievement. Mr. President, as you and your administration address education reform, please consider the needs of the whole child — consider the value of camp.

Marla Coleman
New York
Past President, American Camp Association

About ACA
The American Camp Association® (ACA) works to preserve, promote, and enhance the camp experience for children and adults. ACA-Accredited® camp programs ensure that children are provided with a diversity of educational and developmentally challenging learning opportunities. There are over 2,400 ACA-accredited camps that meet up to 300 health and safety standards. For more information, visit www.ACAcamps.org.