For the past week, I volunteered at a camp for children ages 12-18. We’ve been planning this camp since the last one ended last summer. A common sentence from the counselors is that the camp is “for the kids, not the counselors.” However, most of the counselors have a problem putting this into practice. They wanted to talk about theology too advanced for a teenager to understand. For example, the theme of the week was “Prophecies fulfilled through Jesus.” My college offered this as an upper level religion course that spanned 15 weeks; we were supposed to cover this advanced topic in five short days. This mantra is repeated every day, but is rarely put into practice.
Every night after dinner, I led a workshop for the older campers (ages 14-18) on topics they wished to discuss regarding society, culture, putting faith into action, etc. This was my first time leading the workshop, and I started off thinking it was my job to share my knowledge with them. While some topics were me explaining issues such as climate change, others, the campers had a depth of knowledge that rivaled my own. One of the campers came prepared with a list of between 20-25 topics that she wanted to debate.
On the third day of camp, the campers took over and actually lead the debate. Another counselor asked if he could join our discussion for the day, and I said that he could. One of the young women wanted to talk about the minimum wage, which quickly turned into a discussion on the gender wage gap. I talked about some of the well known facts surrounding the issue.
The other counselor, I am guessing, wanted to persuade the campers that what I was saying was false. HIs justification for saying the gender wage gap was inaccurate was that he made less than a woman at his job. An extremely anecdotal argument. I was going to make this point, when one of the young women opened up a can of whoopass on him.
For every point he brought up, she had a counterpoint (and a better one, in my opinion). He tried to tell her things such as women don’t make as much because they don’t work the same jobs as men or if they wanted to make more, then they should get managerial jobs. When the point was brought up that women of color make even less than white women, he brushed that aside by trying to say that they just don’t want it as bad or try as hard.
I was surprised at the inequality that these young women had already seen in their lives; some of them were as young as 14. They had all experienced some form of gender bias, and they all knew how to respond to mansplaining. One of the young women used her own experiences in applying for jobs as an example of how anxiety affects hiring. He told her that if she were to try harder that she would get the job. Another talked about how she, as a woman of color, will probably never be given the chances in life that he would as a white male.
They all agreed that the American Dream is no longer attainable. He pointed out that white picket fences are no longer realistic, to which one replied “Sure, the American Dream may no longer be white picket fences, but it is white men behind desks.” At this point, he became frustrated that no one agreed with his opinions and became hostile, telling one of them sternly to “Let me finish” while throwing out his arm, as an attempt to physically stop her words in the air. Eventually he said, “I don’t know your situation or experience” to which we all replied, “that is the point we are trying to make.” Overall, I don’t think that we got through to him, but it did make me glad to see that these young women were more than willing to fight the injustices that they encounter.
It was heartbreaking to see teenagers defending themselves to a 30 year old man. However, it was inspiring to hear these young women making extremely solid arguments supported by evidence as opposed to anecdotes. Here, we truly saw what happens when we let young people control their own experiences and when we let them have the camp for them and not selfishly keep it for ourselves. If we want the younger generation to lead, we have to let them take the reins. It may just surprise you how willing they already are to control their own destinies.