Staff Orientation Day 1 ~ (Latgawa 2017 – Jim)

Jim at Staff Orientation. Photo by Dandy.

First day at Not Back to School Camp (ever)

When I first heard about camp last year, I imagined one day I might have the chance to work at it. Last month my imagination became my reality. While visiting Oregon for the first time to perform stand-up comedy at the Oregon Country Fair, Grace unexpectedly extended the invite for me to be an advisor at this year’s camp. This was an offer I could not refuse.

Since it appears I am the only staff member here who has never worked at NBTSC before, and possibly the only one who also never attended as a camper, I suppose my first impressions are pretty unique as are my expectations.


As I understand NBTSC, this is a place for unschooled teens to come together for a magical week where they get to live amongst their own tribe members, liberated from the sometimes isolating and often judgmental world of mainstream civilization (and free from parents!) I’ve seen this tribal magic in action at a couple unschooling conferences I’ve attended and am excited since NBTSC has a reputation for providing an even more potent dose of magic.

Using the word “magic” three times in a paragraph feels a little unusual for me, so I will try and describe what this tribal magic is that I speak of. For me, I feel like at many different points in life, I’ve taken the path less traveled. In doing so, it’s felt empowering to know I’ve made a courageous decision that I truly believe in. Unfortunately, in taking the path less traveled, I’ve often looked around and felt alone on that path. Then I begin to wonder: Did I make the wrong choice? Why aren’t others on this path with me? Am I destined to travel this path alone forever? If I speed up, will I catch up to some others, or if I slow down, can I wait for more people to meet me? Am I destined to either (1) take the path I believe in and be lonely or (2) to choose the path that feels less authentic yet allows me to be around more people?

Then, magically, I stumble upon a community of likeminded individuals. Suddenly, without any tangible change in the world, my perspective changes and I am not alone.   That is the power that having a community can bring to you. This is not to say that one should live in a bubble their whole life, surrounded only by likeminded people. But there is no doubt about it, being around people who have made similar life choices to you brings validation to your decisions, and opportunities to exchange ideas and share experiences that will increase the enjoyment of your journey.   I think of this sudden feeling of belonging as “magic” because it is a transformative change that happens quickly and without any noticeable physical changes – it is invisible and powerful.

As to the specific process that I expect to take place at NBTSC to create this magic, I’m not really sure. I know we are in a beautiful campground in the woods, there are many workshops offered for teens to get involved in, the staff I’ve met seem like great people, and there’s a waterfall and swimming hole for relief from the heat… but I think more than anything, the camp is about teen unschoolers connecting and bonding with other teens. The workshops, activities, and natural setting are the vice that holds the community in place while the magical glue sets. Describing the camp as a vice that is holding unschooled teens in place is pretty much the opposite of the reality, but I think the literary paradox is worth keeping in this paragraph. A better analogy might involve gravitational waves holding them together, but using Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation as a metaphor for love and community deserves a blog post of its own.

I’m reminded of a talk I saw Patch Adams give where he described his frustrations with the way his medical philosophy was portrayed in the film named after him. He said, “People believe that I think laughter is the best medicine. It is not. I believe friendship is the best medicine. It just happens to be that laughter is the best way to lubricate the magical machine that builds friendships.”

Of course I could be completely wrong about all this… this is all an educated guess. Much like the teens who will arrive tomorrow for their first day of camp, I am also about to learn for myself what NBTSC is all about.