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!

  » Read more

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

Ethics Video Library

EVLDoes the thought of discussing ethics and social issues with kids make you feel overwhelmed? Unqualified? Bored? Intimidated?

To help solve some of the problems parents and educators face when planning and discussing complex, important issues in areas like morality, evolution, social debates, politics, and comparative religion Camp Quest, in collaboration with the American Ethical Union, is launching a new project – the Ethics Video Library!

What is the Ethics Video Library?

The goal of the library is to save parents’ and teachers’ time and energy while ensuring that quality and engaging materials are injected into the conversation.  Having a third party speak on important social and moral issues allows groups to speak for themselves and experts to explain the facts of the matter.  It also allows a new perspective to be introduced into the conversation without anyone feeling they must defend it or that they’d hurt someone’s feelings if attacking it. 

 » Read more

Book Review: Girls Think of Everything

Book coverGirls Think of Everything is written by Catherine Thimmesh and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. It has a recommended reading level for 9-13 years of age, but still informative for all ages! 

What do Kevlar, windshield wipers, flat-bottomed paper bags, and chocolate chip cookies all have in common? They were all invented by women. Women can be found behind many items, some of which you may use everyday. Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women features some of these inventions. The stories are quick and to-the-point; the women highlighted are “ordinary”, “everyday” women. Some of these women did not set out with the intentions of inventing something but found themselves needing to literally take problems into their own hands to create solutions. Sometimes it began with a mistake or an accident. Sometimes it began with a problem that no one else had created an ingenious solution to. Sometimes it began with a question (Why? How? What if? Why not?) or an idea. The result is advancements in medicine, high-tech gadgets, or common, everyday items like household products, that allow us to better our lives. » Read more

Citizen Science

The typical stereotype of a scientist is an older man, wearing a white lab coat, puzzling over equations on a chalkboard, with a chemistry experiment giving off an oddly colored gas in the background. This stereotype could not be farther from the truth. Scientists span the gamut of humanity, they come from all races, genders, religions, sexual orientations, economic backgrounds, etc. Basically, scientists come from all walks of life. The one thing they all have in common is some sort of higher education.

But what if you don’t have a college degree and still want to participate in the furthering of scientific knowledge? The answer. Citizen Science.

Citizen science is defined as ‘a member of the general public who engages in scientific work, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions.’ These citizen science programs have really exploded in popularity over the past several years as the idea of ‘crowd sourcing’ has become popular. Probably the oldest, and most well known citizen science program is the Audubon Society’s Great Backyard Bird Count, which was first launched in 1988 and uses thousands of volunteers to count birds of different species they can identify to help determine species and ecosystem health.Kids discussing science

Other programs can range from counting and mapping the craters on the Moon and Mars or identifying never before seen asteroids with CosmoQuest, to joining one of the many projects found on SciStarter, to even just letting your computer crunch through data for Seti@Home as they hunt for intelligent extraterrestrial life. » Read more

Wedding Bells are Going to Chime!

This weekend Camp Quest is celebrating not one, but two amazing partnerships! We are so excited to celebrate with two of our board members and two of our volunteers this weekend. Caroline Martin and Dan Smucker are getting married today in Ohio.  Rachael and Tom Quisel are celebrating their commitment ceremony in California tomorrow. Both couples have asked for gifts from friends and family to be made to Camp Quest to celebrate!

Caroline and DanCaroline Martin, a Camp Quest national board member, says:

In 2011, Dan and I met volunteering for Camp Quest Ohio. As our relationship grew, so did our roles at camp. From counselors we grew into roles like Cabin Area Leaders, Camp Director, and Board Chair. We have supported each other through tough decisions, long board calls, and seemingly endless summer days. Camp Quest has shaped who we are; we have become not only partners in life, but in work. The growth and success of Camp Quest is so dear to us. We work throughout the year to create a place where both kids and adults can explore and create in a welcoming, warm environment. In celebration of our partnership, we ask you to help ensure Camp Quest’s future by making a donation in our honor.

 » Read more

The Importance of Religious Literacy - Even for the Non-Religious

Girl speakingScience explains the world around us in a way we’ve never been able to before. So why study what uninformed people use to think? Or the harmful ideas religion has promoted? Plus, to be honest, a lot of religion is just boring, right?

I’ve heard – and said – all of these. And there’s certainly something to them. However, there are also a lot of good reasons we still need to make sure our kids at least have a basic understanding of religion.

Even non-believers have group biases, and learning about others helps us get along

This first reason is a really big one for me. For my masters dissertation I focused on religious identity formation and conflict, and for my research I interviewed Muslim and Christian teachers in post-war Bosnia. So what does it take? How do we avoid group conflict? Well, my own research obviously didn’t come up with any one answer, but teaching religion – and teaching it right – was at least part of it. Each school in Bosnia is split up by religion with government funded religious ‘instruction,’ i.e. Sunday school in the classroom. The result, unfortunately, is that each group only had uninformed caricatures of what others believed.  » Read more

What Camp Quest Means to Me: Liberty Bliss

Liberty Bliss has been going to Camp Quest since the first year of Camp Quest Chesapeake in 2011. She started as a CIT, and now coordinates the CIT program.

Liberty and frogs

Growing up, I was raised by a freethinking mother who started the first secular homeschooling group in our area. My mother taught me to think for myself and to be respectful of other people and their beliefs, and as a kid, that's how I expected everyone else to be. When I entered my teens, I discovered that this was not the case. My self identification as an atheist set me apart from the other kids, and not in a cute and quirky way.

Lacking a community on the ground, I turned to the online non-theist and skeptic communities as I tried to understand what being an atheist said about me. It was online that I found out about Camp Quest Chesapeake and excitedly sent it to my mother. Then 16 years old, I had never been to summer camp, but I was thrilled at the idea of spending time with likeminded kids my age.

I didn't know it until I got to camp, but as a sixteen year old I was classified as a Counselor-in-Training.  I was assigned to assist the counselors in the youngest girl's cabin. Had I known that, I Liberty teaching knotsmight have reconsidered attending camp. At 16, I was shy and not at all confident in my abilities. At the time, I thought, Who in their right mind would put me in charge of children? I just wanted to be a kid and not be judged for my lack of religious faith. » Read more

RELEASE: Expelled Eagle Scouts Lead Secular Summer Camp

As Camp Quest embarks on our ambitious Envision 2020 campaign to double the campers we serve by 2020, we're proud to be led by two former Eagle Scouts.  Check out our press release issued today, and consider supporting our expansion. The first $50,000 raised will be matched by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.

April 14, 2015

For Immediate Release

Contact, Amanda K. Metskas, Executive Director

Atheist Former Boy Scouts Lead Secular Alternative Summer Camp


Shawn Jeffers Camp QuestCOLUMBUS, Ohio -- Camp Quest, a summer camp serving youth from non-religious families, is now led by two Eagle Scouts, Shawn Jeffers (Chair) and Neil Polzin (Vice Chair). Former Boy Scout leaders, both men are unwelcome in the Boy Scouts of America because they are atheists.

Having a place to continue to practice the skills they learned in Boy Scouts and passing those skills and a love of the outdoors along to children was a big motivation for both Shawn and Neil's involvement with Camp Quest.

"Camp Quest is a place where kids develop independence, have fun, and make friends. They learn critical thinking skills alongside traditional camp-craft. It combines the best of what I got from being in the Boy Scouts with inclusive policies promoting empathy, open questioning, and integrity," Neil Polzin said.

Over the last two decades many atheist scouts, like Darrell Lambert, have been faced with the choice of feigning belief in God to stay in the organization, or being honest and that leading to their expulsion. » Read more

Syndicate content