Searching for Mr. Holland

July 21, 2015
Photo courtesy of YMCA Camp Abnaki, North Hero, VT.

Before my first day of teaching high school, a colleague came to my classroom as I worked feverishly to get it set up and ready for the students. He came to give me a gift. This gift was three films: Dead Poets Society, Stand and Deliver, and Mr. Holland’s Opus.

This gesture is one that is frequent among teachers and one that brings a sense of pride to the profession. Teachers would quote these movies, aspire to the qualities of the main characters, and inevitably pay the gesture forward by one day giving a similar gift to a new, young teacher coming into the profession. As a teacher, I wanted to be like the countless role models I had in the school where I taught, but when I needed a bit of inspiration outside of school, pop culture delivered with these tales of the power that an effective educator can have.

When I left teaching and became a full-time camp professional, through the American Camp Association® (ACA) I found the role models who inspired me to advance my program and my own professionalism. However, when I turned to pop culture for additional inspiration, I saw that we as a profession fall drastically short of the impact made by educators in the films I was gifted as a teacher. With the latest camp parody, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (WHAS), on the verge of release, camp leadership is again portrayed as incompetent goofballs, and the camp experience is shown as one that is built upon sex and other adult themes. Just watching the trailer leaves me wondering why pop culture has not been able to identify our own Jaime Escalante, our own Professor Keating, or our own Glenn Holland?

Judging by the pre-release trailers, the new WHAS series will test our ability to laugh at ourselves in some scenes and will make us uncomfortable in others. I do not doubt that the series’ creators are truthful when they state that the 2001 original film and this new series came from their admiration and passion for the experience of camp. But, I am almost certain that if we were to share the series with a future camp professional, it will fail to inspire leadership in our industry.

And while it may not inspire us, the release of this new series should motivate us.

It will motivate me to foster our future leaders by encouraging them to look toward professional organizations like ACA for their inspiration. One need not look any farther than an ACA conference, be it the ACA National Conference, a local conference, Tri-State, New England, or Mid-States, for our own Jaime Escalantes, Professor Keatings, and Glenn Hollands. They are alive and well – and it is their story, not one in an online TV series, that will define our industry. Hollywood, please take note. If you want your next powerful story about education, motivation, and the development of young minds, look no farther than the leaders in the camp profession.

Further, the series will motivate me, and hopefully you, to educate more people about our cause. We have been superb in telling our story to ourselves. We fondly say that we are "the best kept secret" in youth development. Well, I am tired of being a secret. To be recognized for the positive impact we have had, are having, and will continue to have on the world, we need to grow our voice, expand our audience, and realize the collective impact we can have when we unite our voices together. This will not happen overnight, but when it does, the ways in which camp is portrayed in pop culture will shift as well. 

Read ACA's Official Statement.

Photo courtesy of YMCA Camp Abnaki, North Hero, VT.