To generations of poor and working-class children, summer has been the time for escape — for just awhile — to another world, one of summer camps run by charities and nonprofit groups. These camps were a quintessential New York rite of passage, part of growing up in the city by getting away from its crowded subways and tenements on the Lower East Side or the South Bronx.

That tradition is quietly coming to an end, as soaring operating costs and declining government aid have in recent years shut down many nonprofit sleepaway camps for low-income families.

Between 1985 and 1996, more than a quarter of the state’s nonprofit sleepaway camps were closed, dropping from 435 to 321, according to a study conducted last year by the New York State Camp Directors Association. About one-third of the city’s 37 settlement houses once owned summer camps, said Emily Menlo Marks, executive director of the United Neighborhood Houses, an umbrella organization. But only one still operates a traditional summer camp: Boys Harbor, which was founded during the Depression and is still supported by the Duke family.

The Hudson Guild, a settlement house in Chelsea, closed and sold one of its camps four years ago and recently put its 75-year-old camp in Hopatcong, N.J., up for sale.

Goddard Riverside Community Center, which serves the Upper West Side, closed and sold one camp in 1994 and is negotiating the sale of Camp Wel-Met here in the Catskills, about 100 miles northwest of New York City.

”It killed me to do it, but it’s just incredible what it costs to keep places like these going,” Bernie Wohl, Goddard Riverside’s executive director, said. ”If you want to take poor kids to camp, there’s no way to take them without subsidizing them.”

Goddard Riverside bought Wel-Met from its founder, the Jewish Welfare Board, a decade ago, Mr. Wohl said. Two years ago, faced with mounting deficits, Goddard Riverside eliminated its two-week summer camp programs and instead began bringing about 150 children in day camp here for a few days.

At Camp Wel-Met’s peak in the 1950’s and 1960’s, children stayed for several weeks; some were even sent on bus trips across the country. Up to 1,500 children gravitated here each summer.

”Everybody knew somebody who went to Camp Wel-Met,” Mr. Wohl said. ”Howard Stern went to Camp Wel-Met.”

So has Jose Alicea, 12. For two summers now, he has left his steamy apartment in New York City and spent a few days at Camp Wel-Met. But this will be the last trip here for Jose and 150 other children.

Jose likes pitching tents with blankets and sticks in his room in his parents’ apartment at 104th Street and Manhattan Avenue. He wants to be an architect. ”A lot of kids, they can’t see the stars because of pollution and stuff,” he said. ”They can’t go camping in Central Park.”

Perhaps it is not surprising, especially in the era before air-conditioning, that the United States’ largest camping industry grew around the nation’s largest and most densely populated city. Summer camps also played a more subtle role in the city’s history, offering new perspectives for New York’s children.

Sheila Krumenaker’s parents sent her and her sister Elizabeth to Camp Ohnehtah in Windham, N.Y., in the early 1950’s, paying on a sliding scale.

”My sister and I both feel that if it weren’t for camp, we wouldn’t be the people we are today,” said Mrs. Krumenaker, 58, who now lives in Stamford, Conn. ”Your self-worth went up 17 notches because everything you did, someone lauded. You climbed a mountain and you got an award.”

Behind these activities were the ideologies of individual camps, some of them affiliated with labor, socialist or other political groups.

Charles Hargate Jr., 77, remembered being among the handful of black children at a Jewish camp in the Adirondacks when he was 12. He went only one summer, but some images, including sitting around a fire, never left him. ”That shows you how wonderful it was,” Mr. Hargate said from the Allen Community Senior Citizen Center in Jamaica, Queens.

Maybe more so than for any other ethnic group, summer camp left a lasting impression on Jewish children, said Jenna Weissman Joselit, a historian who curated an exhibit on summer camps at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia three years ago.

”From the philanthropists’ view, summer camp was a form of moral uplift: removing children from an inhospitable environment to a more salubrious one,” Ms. Joselit said. ”Implicit in all of this, especially for the children of immigrants, was that summer camps were very often artful ways to make kids American, to teach them sportsmanship and gentlemanly codes.”

After a period of decline, camp directors and industry officials say demand has picked up in recent years, as new immigrant groups have discovered the New York summer tradition. Because of the shortage of nonprofit sleepaway camps, settlement houses, churches and other organizations are offering cheaper alternatives, including day camps that do not provide children with food, housing or extended trips outside the city.

For the last five years, the waiting list for Camp Ohnehtah’s six-week session has kept growing, said Eva Lewandowski, the director for the last 11 years. But rising costs have made it impossible to accept more than 300 girls for the summer, a far cry from 1,200 in the 1970’s.

Compared with a decade ago, the share of the annual budget for staff salaries has doubled. Ohnehtah, like other camps, has hired more skilled workers, partly to reduce the risk of lawsuits that sharply raised premiums for liability insurance. A decade ago, insurance was 10 percent of Ohnehtah’s budget. Today, it is closer to 15 percent.

Rising costs hurt nonprofit camps that in recent years also faced cuts in government funding, especially in Federal child-care programs, industry officials said. What’s more, government cuts to other city agencies had a ripple effect on camps like Wel-Met.

In 1990, Wel-Met earned $215,000 in rental income, mainly from the Board of Education and the City Volunteer Corps, which leased the campsite for training programs. But as those programs were scaled back, the rental income they provided Wel-Met began to decline, disappearing in 1994, Mr. Wohl said. Since then, Wel-Met has lost between $200,000 and $400,000 a year.

Many nonprofit camps are turning to private fund-raising with mixed success, said Jordan Dale, president of the New York State Camp Directors Association. A few with corporate sponsors, like the Fresh Air Fund camps that are supported by The New York Times, have done well.

Exacerbating their financial problems, industry officials said, is the growing number of private camps that draw middle-class children who might otherwise pay full tuition at nonprofit camps and subsidize other children. Between 1985 and 1996, according to the association’s study, the number of private sleepaway camps grew by 20 percent in New York State. Private camps often charge from $2,000 to $3,500 for a four-week program, said Jeff Solomon, executive director of the National Camp Association.

Next summer, Goddard Riverside will keep its day-camp program, Mr. Wohl said. But it will not include the short trip to Wel-Met.

Cindy Zingher, the camp director, had told the children that it would be their last summer here. The news, though, hardly distracted them.

City kids to the core, they screamed when a big yellow butterfly flew by. Jason Patterson, 12, of Brownsville, Brooklyn, leaped off a bench in fear when the butterfly flew close to his face. ”I never had one on me before!” he protested.

Curtis Cotton, a counselor, was having a hard time getting the children safely aboard the canoes. ”I need someone who’s been in a canoe before,” he said.

Charles Phipps, 10, promptly stepped up, clambered into the canoe and stood as straight as a tree.

”You never stand up in a canoe!” Mr. Cotton yelled. ”I thought you canoed before.”

Back on the dock, Charles said softly: ”I haven’t done it in a long time.”

Other children, including Jose Alicea, came to swim.

Jose was a little puzzled. Last summer, there had been a third dog, a three-legged black Labrador named Lucy. This time, he counted Shadow and Comet. But where did the three-legged dog go?

Maybe Ms. Zingher would tell Jose and the others about a blizzard last winter. And maybe, before riding the bus back to New York City, the children would also learn about mortality at Camp Wel-Met.


One answer is that we were not paying attention when we might have helped to move our politics in a better direction. While we were writing brilliant articles and books, they were taking over school boards and city councils. While we were holding great conferences in beautiful places, they were taking over state legislatures and governor’s offices. While we were doing science, they were doing politics taking over Congress, the Senate, the court system, and learning the arts of manipulation by television, radio, internet, and social media. While we were growing school gardens and talking about exciting possibilities for renewable energy and ecological agriculture, they were steadily forcing our politics to the right and taking over the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower.

While we were getting in touch with our inner selves, they were staffing up on K Street. While we were trying to make peace with capitalism, they were at Davos advancing the cause of neoliberalism and working to make the rich much richer and the poor that much poorer. While we were trying to be bi-partisan, they were doing zero-sum politics, that is to say heads they win tales we lose. While we were most often right about the issues, they were taking power. While we were trying to be reasonable, they were cultivating and exploiting resentment. While we were reading Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, they were marinating in the bizarre philosophy of Ayn Rand. And, perhaps most important, while we were doing our eco-thing, Richmond attorney and future Supreme Court Justice, Lewis Powell was drafting the memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (1971) that became the battle plan for a massive corporate counter attack against environmentalism and progressive movements. In the fevered politics of those turbulent years, his memo sparked the creation the organizations charged with legitimizing and justifying the politics of a new era of Robber Barons.

Who are they? Whatever else they may be, they are not conservatives in the mold of Edmund Burke or Richard Weaver or even Barry Goldwater. Many are descendants of the far-right of American politics with roots in the South with its long history of opposition to the Federal government as a countervailing force to racial discrimination and unbridled corporate power.

Their agenda includes a hodge-podge of ideas such as “getting government off our backs” (but leaving predatory corporations there), ending Social Security, further enlarging the military, terminating a woman’s right to choose, eliminating environmental protections, defunding social programs, ending restrictions on gun ownership, freedom from public obligations, and always more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. In other words, they don’t like government regulations, taxes, uppity women, assertive minorities, national forests, public parks, the Postal Service, science, a fact-checking, investigative media, controls on gun ownership, and, of course, “liberals.”

They include neo-Nazis, white supremacists, internet trolls, tea-partiers, climate change deniers, extreme evangelicals, FOX news true believers, Limbaugh “ditto-heads,” Ayn Rand libertarians, free market ideologues, and some well-heeled people who really ought to know better. Disproportionately, they’re angry white guys and their enablers who are aren’t as angry but are adept opportunists who know how to make money from those who are. They are well-armed, noisy, and increasingly well-organized. They are inclined to the kind of self-righteousness that justifies means by the unquestioned self-anointed holiness of the ends.

They now control what remains of the Republican Party that once stood for the kind of conservatism that included a commitment to fiscal integrity, personal probity, a regard for facts, public decency, balanced budgets, common sense, and the kind of patriotism that could cost you something. Donald Trump gave voice to their inchoate rage and created a world-class model of a kakistocracy, an ancient Greek word that means government run by the worst, least qualified, and most unscrupulous. They are a minority but an intense, highly organized, and well-funded minority and sometimes that is all it takes to cause political havoc.

The political immune system necessary to counter ignorance, fanaticism, gullibility, fear, misogyny, racism, and violence, begins early on in classrooms where the young learn the basics tenants of democracy: honesty, fairness, empathy, non-violence, and collaboration. None of this comes easily or naturally.
The young must be educated to be citizens of a democracy and to know the costs of careless and indifferent citizenship. They must learn to see themselves as citizens of the community of life as well. As citizens of a democracy, they must understand the intimate relationship between democracy, human rights, dignity, justice, peace, and the human prospect and so must become knowledgeable about history, politics, the law and the workings of government.

As citizens in the ecological community, they must understand ecology, natural cycles, and the web of life. As citizens of human communities they must be learn to value of the wider community and the common good. In other words, they must learn the intimate and reciprocal relationship between politics and our ecological prospects.

“The point is that environmental education has been predominantly about everything but the politics that got us into our predicament and might yet be the path out of it. Our environmental education in particular has mostly excluded civics and the role of politics and governance in our predicament. Often we did so to avoid controversy and the charge of partisan bias. In doing so we were in effect supporting the status quo and the forces that prefer a passive and ecologically illiterate public; consumers not citizens. Alas, there is no way to be apolitical or non-political. In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words, there is no such thing as “cheap grace.”

Some Thoughts On Children And Materials By Tony Kallet

While visiting an infant classroom recently, I spent a few minutes watching and working with six-year-old Karl.  He was building a pyramid out of colored X Blocks, which as their name suggests, are X-shaped blocks that inter-lock with one another in interesting ways.  Karl’s pyramid grew to be about seven or eight blocks wide at the base and perhaps six blocks high with the apex placed symmetrically at the top.

After we had both admired it for awhile, I asked Karl whether he had ever tried making the same structure and then taking a few blocks out to leave some X-shaped holes.  He didn’t understand my question, so I asked him to help me remove one of the blocks.  The result left him wide-eyed with excitement, and he ran off to bring over the teacher to see the hole.  After one near-disaster, his intuition became excellent and he was able to remove blocks that did not serve a vital structural function.

It may be useful to think of a dialogue between a child and materials, accompanied by a second dialogue, or monologue, which the child carries on in his mind.

In order to join such a child-material conversation, you must obviously know what a conversation is about — not just the specific conversation at hand but conversation in general.

My analogy suggests that to join a child-material dialogue, one must know what it feels like to work with materials.

A person who is not used to handling materials in a free way, who is not used to listening to them, is not likely to be sensitive to the two-way communication between the child and the materials.  He may readily enough see what the child is doing with the materials, but he is less likely to consider what the materials are suggesting to the child and what it feels like to engage in this kind of interaction.

Tony Kallet
Outlook Mountain View Center For Environmental Education
6: Autumn 1972

Children are less in need of answers than of paths for exploration, and above all, models of explorers to copy.

No matter what we do in the classroom, no matter how we provide the models and suggest some of the paths, much is gained if we are human, alive, a little bold and daring.

Tony Kallet

Few Adults Crawl: Thoughts On Young Children Learning

North Dakota Study Group 1995

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What It Means To Teach

There is a portraiture involving the child’s style – strengths, weaknesses, skills fears, and the like.  I single out one aspect of this complex, the way a child comes to grips with some subject matter, matter originally provided because it matches the general level of interest and ability of a still individually unknown group – building blocks, clay, paint, batteries and bulbs.  If this subject matter represents something which the teacher has valued and learned from, and seen others learn from, then the teacher has a background for reading the behavior of that child.

In a film from Cornell University, a series of kindergarteners come spontaneously to a table to play with an equal-arm balance and a large number of washers and other weights.  In watching the film, the observer begins to recognize in himself – if he is personally familiar with the large variety of balance situations which are possible here, and with some of the underlying ideas – the ability to read the levels and the specializations of interest represented in these children, no two alike.

What he finds himself doing (but only if he is acquainted with this kind of balance phenomenon and others related to it) is beginning to build what I would call a map of each child’s mind and of the trajectory of his life.  It is fragmentary, fallible, but it is subject always to correction. and next the observer thinks to himself, what could I do to steady, extend and deepen this engagement I have glimpsed?

The important thing is that, as in all self-instruction, the participant DOES something.

What It Means To Teach
David Hawkins
Mountain View Center For Environmental Education
12: Summer: 1974

Out Of The Classroom And Into The World

Learning from Field Trips, Educating from Experience, and Unlocking the Potential of Our Students and Teachers

Bank Street College of Education professor Salvatore Vascellaro is a leading advocate of taking children and teachers into a wider world as the key to improving our struggling schools.

Combining practical and theoretical guidance, Out of the Classroom and into the World visits a rich variety of classrooms transformed by innovative field trip curricula—showing how students’ hearts and minds are opened as they discover how a suspension bridge works, what connects them to the people and places of their neighborhood, and as they come to understand the ecosystem of a river by following it to its source.

Vascellaro shows, equally, that what teachers can offer children is fueled by their own engagement with the world, and he offers stunning examples of teachers awakened by their direct experiences with the social issues plaguing American society—from the flood-torn areas of New Orleans to the mining areas of West Virginia.

Based on the core principles of progressive pedagogy, and the wisdom gained from Vascellaro’s experience as a teacher, school administrator, and teacher educator, Out of the Classroom and into the World is a direct retort to test scores and standards as adequate measures of teaching and learning—an inspiring call and major new resource for anyone interested in reinvigorating America’s classrooms.

Amazon Books

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Paul Goodman’s Primary Grades

The compulsory system has become a universal trap, and it is no good. Very many of the youth, both poor and middle class, might be better off if the system simply did not exist, even if they then had no formal schooling at all.

Our urban and suburban environments are precisely NOT cities or communities where adults naturally attend to the young and educate to a viable life.  Also, perhaps especially in the case of the overt drop-outs, the state of their body and soul is such that we MUST give them refuge and remedy, whether it be called school, settlement house, youth worker or work camp.


Dispense with the school building for a few classes.  Provide teachers and use the city itself as the school – its streets, cafeterias, stores, movies, museums, parks, and factories.  Such a class should probably not exceed 10 children for one pedagogue.

Along the same lines, but both outside and inside the school building, use appropriate unlicensed adults of the community – the druggist, the storekeeper, the mechanic – as the proper educators of the young into the grown-up world.  By this means we can try to overcome the separation of the young from the grown-up world so characteristic in modern urban life.  Certainly it would be a useful and animating experience for the adults.

Decentralize an urban school (or do not build a new big building) into small units, 20 to 50, in available store-fronts or clubhouses.  These tiny schools, equipped with record-player and pin-ball machine, could combine play, socializing, discussion, and formal teaching.  Give the Little Red Schoolhouse a spin under modern urban conditions and see how it works out.  That is, combine all the ages in a little room for 25 to 30, rather than to grade by age.

Use a pro rata part of the school money to send children to economically marginal farms for a couple months of the year, perhaps 6 children from mixed backgrounds to a farmer.

(Or how about sending them to an environmental camp, a volunteer opportunity with Habitat for Humanity, a bus trip investigating Appalachian Culture and Mountain Top Removal, a walkabout studying Montana waterways or cattle ranching, a co-oop or internship placement with any number of non-profits across the USA or abroad.)

Compulsory Mis-education AND The Community of Scholars by Paul Goodman, Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York, 1962.

Joseph Featherstone’s Schools Where Children Learn highlights the work of Elwyn Richardson in northern New Zealand.  Featherstone suggests that In The Early World may be the best book about teaching ever written.  Certainly it’s one of the most beautifully designed. Reproductions of children’s art of an astonishing quality fill its pages – wood and linoleum cuts, pottery, and fabrics, as well as writing.

Featherstone reflects that it takes time for the reader to understand that a long account of how the class took up pottery is meant to be emblematic of a whole style of teaching.  Clay of various grades lay in deposits near the school, and Richardson and the children tested samples to see which kinds were good to work with.  They built a small brick kiln and pottery became the standard activity in the school.

Messing around, the children slowly learned the limits of the material – you couldn’t build wet clay too high or it would collapse.

Pottery grew into writing deeply influenced by the natural world surrounding the school.

The pine tree stands
With cracked sooted arms
With stumped branches
Rotted into the ground

Richardson’s testimony on the work:  I saw that I had to teach as much as I could when opportunities arose, and that this was a better kind of teaching than I had known when I was following through topic after topic.  If I did not teach at such times, the work became poor and lifeless….The series of developments taught me too, that I must use environment to the full and encourage individual expression rather than class.  This meant more individual and small group observation.

Elwyn S. Richardson, In The Early World, Pantheon Books @ 1964.Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 10.29.31 AM.png




During the time of my visits, a 6 1/2 year old named Alan invented a learning environment for himself.  Alan’s basic metaphor was WAR.  I was at first a bit put off but then I realized that Alan, more than anyone I had met, hated and feared war and the consciousness of WAR that pervades American life.

It was as if, by understanding war down to the roots, Alan might gain some sort of dominion over it.

Alan’s home base was a corner of the reading-reference-junk room at the school.  There he had built and impressive fortress that changed in character and armaments as the campaign he was imagining changed.  Alan spent quite a bit of time helmeted and armed, within the fortress.  But he spent far more time at what he called “my work”.  His work consisted of filling large sketch pads with line drawings of battle situations.  Vivid and accurate in detail, the drawings were produced with great speed and economy of line.

When I told him my own combat experience had, fortunately, kept me out of the trenches, he said, “Do you want to see what trench warfare is like?” and leafed through a completed sketch pad.  The sketch he showed gave me the EXPERIENCE of being in a World War I trench – the cramped surroundings, tangles of barbed wire, exploding shells, the distant yet ominous presence of the enemy.

After a couple of days I learned that Alan’s “work” involved a project of grand proportions: he was creating a picture history of every major war the U.S. had fought, from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam.  At the time of my visit, he was up to the North American Campaigns of World War II.  When Alan needed further information about some battle or mode of warfare, he would take a book about the campaign, retire to a corner and read avidly.  No “motivation” problem here.  Or he would go to the Art Room and paint combatants’ flags and insignias, or model tanks and warships in clay.  In the Woodshop, Alan would build appropriate armaments.  In the Gym, he would invent war games.  Or in perfectly reasonable switch, he would organize peace marches, with hand-lettered signs like “War Is Sick”.

Perhaps not by accident, Alan’s headquarters were located within easy hearing distance of the table where Wilbur Rippy (Educational Director) read aloud about and discussed history, geography, evolution, etc.  While Rippy would read, Alan would continue his work, hardly seeming to notice the “lesson,” but actually taking it all in.  When Rippy would leave, Alan would rush to the table, scan the written material, look at the pictures, study the specimens, then mutter” “I must get back to my work.”

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