Heather's Dad is Donating $1,500 to Camp Quest if You Match Him!

Tommy and HeatherTommy pledges $1,500 to Camp Quest if you will match it. Tommy's daughter Heather had a great experience at Camp Quest Smoky Mountains this summer, and he wants to make sure that more children like Heather get to have the same experience.  

Here's what Tommy has to say:

This past August my 9-year-old daughter, Heather, attended her first sleep-away summer camp at Camp Quest in Eastern Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. She had the time of her life there and is begging to go back next year. She loved the campfires and marshmallows, friends, games, and nature hikes. As a father, however, it was nice to know that her experience at Camp Quest was much more than the typical “hiking and campfires. Camp Quest really stands out in this regard. In-between the standard campfire songs or nature hikes, there are science experiments and even chances for the campers to learn about philosophy and ethics. In an area surrounded by vacation bible school summer camps, it’s nice to know there is a secular, nonreligious alternative aimed at promoting humanist values, learning about science, and encouraging wonder at the natural world. 

My daughter’s camping experience was phenomenal. Not only did she have fun, but I could be sure she was engaged in learning life skills that really matter at the same time. I want other children to be able do the same. The world needs more Camp Quests and that is why I am donating $1,500 to the organization and asking for the public to donate matching funds. 

Help us make Tommy's match and create more amazing weeks of Camp Quest for kids like Heather all over the United States. 

(Psst... we're still finishing up our match from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation. If you've done that math that means that your gift to this challenge actually gets quadrupled instead of doubled! There is no better time to give.) » Read more

Book Review: Code Talker

Code TalkersCode Talker is written by Joseph Bruchac. It has a recommended reading level for ages 11 and up. Given the fascinating history of the Navajo Code Talkers, this historical fiction narrative makes for an excellent read for anyone—even adults!

Kii Yazhi's life began to change when he was sent away from his clan to go to boarding school. This school was not a place for Kii Yazhi and other Navajo children to learn about their own culture, customs and language. Rather they were forced to adapt to the bilagaanaa (the white people) ways. Their hair, which by Navajo tradition was kept long and as such was a sacred thing, was cut off. Their clothing and jewelry were taken away from them (their jewelry was sold to white people), and in exchange they were given military-styled uniforms. It was not enough for the physical appearance of a Navajo child to resemble that of the white people's children. Navajo children also had their Navajo names stripped from them; they were given English names instead (Kii Yazhi was given the English name Ned Begay). Most importantly, Navajo children were never allowed to speak their Navajo language. Never.

It was no good to be Navajo nor to speak Navajo—the white people ways and the English language were the only things acceptable for Navajo children in the boarding schools. Ironically, the very language that the white people tried to eradicate would become the language that would be instrumental to the U.S. Marines winning the battle of Iwo Jima. » Read more

Indoctrination: 4 Tips to Avoid Our Biggest Fear When Teaching Ethics

Scared GirlIn a previous post we argued that teaching critical thinking alone was not enough. There are values, skills, and knowledge that we want our campers to walk away with after camp that are more than just about accurately processing information.  We want them to be good people, we want them to flourish!

So, what do we do to “make sure” our kids grow up to be awesome people with flourishing lives?

Now a lot of parents and teachers may already be saying, “I don’t care who she grows up to be, as long as it’s who she wants to be,” or “I’ll let my kid decide for himself what it means to be good.” 

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Interview with the author of Parenting Without God, Dan Arel


Book cover

Dan Arel's new book Parenting Without God came out this month. He graciously answered a few questions for Camp Quest about the book, writing, and his approach to parenting and living as an atheist.


What did you want to be when you were a child?

When I was very young, probably around 4 and 5 I wanted to be a preacher. I would stand on my grandparents fireplace and preach to them. I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and visited the church of Jimmy Swaggart in the 80’s and the regular church we attended was very flashy as well.

After that, I actually thought I would end up being a history teacher.

When did you start writing?

I had kept blogs from time to time for the last 10 years or so from personal to tech and music and eventually started writing about politics, religion and science. The ranged from LiveJournal, Wordpress, and Tumblr blogs and around 3 years ago I attended an American Humanist Conference and saw journalist and author Katha Pollitt speak on being a writer and was encouraged and  » Read more

Cloning and Transgenics

Dolly the Sheep

Have you ever wished you had a twin so you could play elaborate jokes on people or only do half your chores? What would you do with a few dozen twins: build an army to exterminate Jedi or do massive beach cleanups? Cloning could make these dreams come true!

Cloning is used in movies, books, and cartoons to create complex plots and “what if?” scenarios. But shortly after the first Jurassic Park movie premiered in 1993, cloning became possible in reality. In 1996 the first mammal was cloned from a single adult cell: Dolly the sheep!

She was an exact duplicate of her mother: they had the same DNA pattern. DNA is a set of chemical instructions on how to build a sheep (or a starfish or a turnip) that is in each cell. Every individual's DNA pattern is unique, like a fingerprint...unless you are an identical twin or a clone. Dolly’s cloning used three moms: one who gave the DNA, one who supplied the egg that the DNA was put into, and another who carried the egg and eventual fetus in her womb. She could have also been cloned with just one mom to supply all three of those things.

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Book Review: Grandmother Fish

Grandmother fishGrandmother Fish is written by Jonathan Tweet and illustrated by Karen Lewis. It has a recommended reading level for 1-7 years of age, but with the motions added it's a really fun book for parents too.  

Grandmother Fish is a clever new book about evolution. Aimed at preschoolers, this book engages children by asking them to imitate various motions and sounds that they can relate to and that our ancestors would have made. With simple text and beautiful illustrations and colors this book draws children in, inviting them to explore evolution in very easy terms.

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Ethics Education: Going Beyond Critical Thinking

Discussions at Leadership SummitBack in February, Camp Quest held a discussion with some of our leaders about our curriculum projects. And, as with any good Humanist group, we got into a few debates about the nature of community, identity, intellectualism, when to use of jargon, and on and on. One such debate centered on the new HELP curriculum - which stands for Humanism, Ethics, Logic, and Philosophy.

In the closing minutes someone introduced a new question: what do we want our campers to walk away from camp with - in respect to HELP that is? 

The answer was pretty unanimous: critical thinking! Teach reasoning, debate skills, basic logic, and the nature of human biases! At Camp Quest we definitely want to make sure our kids are curious, questioning, and skeptical.


More than Critical Thinking 

Now, critical thinking skills are a panacea for many of the world’s worries and woes.  But is that all we want? Is critical thinking ‘enough’? 

A bit into our discussion, while listing out some of the character traits and ideals surrounding critical thinking, someone introduced a novel question: was critical thinking sufficient? Was it enough? We quickly agreed that we wanted each campers to walk away from their Camp Quest experience with much more than just thinking skills. For instance, take honesty. After all, a liar can still be perfectly rational and understand human biases. Actually, it’d probably make them a better liar. But we don’t want “better liars.” We want rational people who are also honest!

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Celebrating Camp Quest on my Birthday

Amanda and August Summer 2003Today I turn 35. Get me a present?

Here’s the thing, if I could go back in time and tell 22-year-old-Amanda where she would be now and where Camp Quest would be now, I don’t think she would believe me. (Although she looks a bit credulous in this picture, so maybe she would.)

In June of 2003, when I was 22, I volunteered as a counselor at Camp Quest for the first time. That week I became part of a small community of freethinkers, as young as 8 and as old as 80. After just one week of fun, friends, and freethought, my life was forever changed.

Twelve years ago I became part of a scrappy band of activists who were doing something world changing, and maybe just a little bit crazy. » Read more

Pollinators: A Guide and Activity

BeeHave you ever thought about how strange and amazing flowering plants are? They evolved to be entirely dependent on other animals (like bees) or processes (like wind) to reproduce. Plants are generally stationary so they had to think of something, but the diversity of flowers (400,000!) is just incredible. Plants entice bees or bats to pollinate them by giving them some food (nectar) in exchange for their pollination services. Certain flower shapes, colors, and scents attract a specific type of animal. In response, animals evolved to be able to extract even more nectar and find more flowers. This coevolution is a great idea that benefits both species involved...until something happens to one of them.

In the last few decades a number of pollinating animal species have suffered population declines. Millions of bats are dying from white nose syndrome and entire bee colonies are dying due to colony collapse disorder. Neither of these phenomena are well understood but they are having a measurable impact on both wild plants and food crops for human use. Try to spend one week without eating any foods pollinated by bees or bats. You might be surprised that you have to give up chocolate too! » Read more

What is a Famous Freethinker?

It's important that we have a shared understanding of what makes someone a famous freethinker. Let's start with some definitions:

famous\ˈfā-məs\ A: widely known B: honored for acheievement » Read more

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