The Freedom of Limits? Or Is It the Limits of Freedom?

Those of you who are on twitter may know that I put it out there the other week that what my kid really wanted this summer was reading camp. Sure, they have tennis camp, art camp, dance camp, general camp. Why, she cried plaintively, didn't they have a camp for reading?

Well, reading isn't so much a group activity, I offered.

But you're supposed to go to camp to do something you really love.

I may have done some desultory googling last summer, but I didn't find anything, and instead she's heading out this week to Arts camp where she will "major" in comic book creation—the best fit for someone unable to choose between drama, short story writing, and visual art. But it stuck with me, and when I put it out there on twitter last week, lo and behold, the honorable @CaleeL came back with this.

Holy cow, it's a reading camp. And predictably, I am confused and conflicted by it. See, it's a Great Books program, and there are lectures and talks and things like that, and part of me thinks "Awesome!" and part of me thinks, "Oh alas, why isn't there a place where they just throw a bunch of kids into a big cool library with an ice cream freezer somewhere and a beach or a pool nearby, and they just read what they want."

I know, indeed, how little sense all my responses make. Because the thing is I do understand: limits and form can give things meaning. The Cat in the Hat got written because someone told Seuss that he could only use 225 words if it was going to help kids learn how to read, and that limit spurred him on to greatness. I know a complete lack of structure isn't the way, but at the same time, there's part of me that wants to just let her run (metaphorically of course; in real life she's not a major fan of running) and read and do it all without the tarnishing world getting its hands on her.

And yet it's ridiculous to want it to be all one way or the other. And anyway, none of this has to be decided exactly. After all, we're not signing up for it this summer.

But it's more that it's making me think about reading, and kids, and all the strange private calculations and meanings that get wrapped up in it. Reading is so much a part of their lives; it's necessary to their educations, it's a sanctuary for the lost and pained, it's a way to connect to the wider world, it's a way to learn more than they'll ever offer you straight up in school. And with all that, surely there must be room for both guided structured reading and free do whatever the heck you want reading, right? Right?

So why does it make me feel so weirdly sad to think of her proceeding in an orderly way through Aristotle?

4 thoughts on “The Freedom of Limits? Or Is It the Limits of Freedom?

  1. Oddly enough, this topic just came up (indirectly) when I was picking up my friend’s kid fr tennis day camp this afternoon.
    We wanted to know whether the children had played tennis the previous Friday (when it was 104). As it turns out, E hadn’t been there that week, but she speculated that the kids could spent the time inside playing ping pong and air hockey.
    Someone said, “Could you just read a book?” And, E thought you probably could. I, though, thought “Who wants to pay day camp tuition just so that you can read a book?” But maybe it’s cheaper than parking your kid with a sitter if you can’t be around providing an atmosphere of unfettered book reading?
    The Great Books thing seems too “improve your college application” to me. On the other hand, I think I would have loved it, nerdy teenager that I was.


  2. Great Books and planned (forced) book discussions in general make me want to weep. But you’re right about the concept of a reading camp. What kind of camp might actually work? Tents, of course, lots of hammocks and tree forts for places to sit, huge library, then maybe some informal discussions? Themed meals? Books to movies nights? I’ll have to give this some thought!


  3. I think what would have made that camp amazing for me as a teen wouldn’t necessarily been the Aristotle or the lectures– but to be surrounded by other kids who wanted to read all summer–that would have been huge. Think about the late night discussions. The book exchanges. Honestly, it might be worth the trip just for the book recommendations. And- did you see the reading list? I loved that Ursula LeGuin’s story, “The Ones who Walk Away” was included. Nothing like giving kids the chance to think through their place in the world through great (and entertaining) literature.


  4. Oh, my, but I dearly love the idea of a reading camp. I think the Great Books concept sounds deathly dull. But perhaps a few round-table discussions a day, moderated by adults, covering topics like the history of vampire fiction, gendered reading, fun classics and fun adaptations, the rise of the graphic novel, how to write good book reviews, most popular book sites for kids, and how to start a book club? Or maybe author interviews via Skype? I’m salivating at the idea. And every kid would get a notebook or a blog with space to list books their friends recommended, and read-alikes, and where-to-start-suggestions for different genres.
    Sure, you’d have to offer swimming or ultimate frisbee or something, but reading and talking about reading would be the main thing.
    I wanna go! I would have killed for something like this when I lived far away from other kids in the middle of nowhere.


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