Immediately after introductions, we launched into the first of four three-hour sessions with the campers. Brian and I were standing in the center of the sacred circle trying to settle the hellions down, with no help from the counselors. And, very quickly we realized we were going to have to move on to Plan B. Plan A, which was to keep all of the campers together and work as a large unit had failed miserably in about five minutes, and taking into account that we didn’t have a Plan C, all of our hopes now rested on Plan B. We only were able to have a five minute emergency pre-workshop meeting to reevaluate our lesson plan based on the ages of the kids, number of campers (ten), and their seeming lack of interest, concentration, and discipline, so we decided to separate the them by gender so they would be less likely to act out. Brian would show one group how to make sculpture out of found objects while I did a writing exercise with the other half, and start to talk to them about some ideas for the final show at the end of the week. It was Plan B or epic failure.
I took the boys over to a picnic table near the eternal campfire, and told them that we would start things off by doing ten minutes of continuous writing. They weren’t into that at all. I tried to exert my male dominance. That didn’t work either. I looked over at Brian; he seemed to be making some progress with the girls. Now, I had to make something happen. In the end, with a mixture of pleading and threatening, I got the boys to start writing. And, slowly, the picnic table lapsed into silence. I couldn’t believe it was working. As a part of teaching, I figured it’d be a good idea to write with the kids, so I pulled out my journal and began to write about how scared I was, and how I thought that all of the kids hated us. The silence lasted for about eight minutes. Then, they were over it, which I can’t blame them for. It’s one of my most hated exercises that I do every day, and I’ve been writing for a pretty good while now. Some of the kids wanted to share their writing, which I was excited about until I heard what they had written. One camper had used the time to write about how much he hated one of the girls in the camp. Another had spent the entire eight minutes repeating the same line, “I have nothing to say”, over and over and over and over again. In the end, it probably wasn’t the best exercise to start with, but it really drained some of the massive reservoir of anger the kids carried around with them. I then tried to engage them in a conversation about the theater piece Brian and I wanted to make with them. Another mistake. Nobody cared what we were doing, and I ended up watching them in silence as they traded insults with the girls who, by this time, had also staged a mutiny against Brian. Time to switch.
The girls were far more intimidating than the boys. Boys at that age are pretty much stupid; there is no getting around it. They raise their hands for no reason. They make fun of girls they like…? They like to play kickball. There really isn’t a whole lot of depth yet. I remember that age and not really caring about much except for video games and basketball. The girls, on the other hand, are schemers. And, who can blame them? They have to put up with twelve- to fourteen-year-old boys (pre-humans as Brian calls them), and that’s enough to turn anyone over to the dark side. The gang of girls trudged up to the picnic table, sat down, and proceeded to ignore me and everything I was saying. I got insecure and pretended that I had to ask Brian something, when I was really just trying to get the hell away from their piercing stares and comments for a minute. Another grand mistake. I accidentally left my journal on the table when I walked away. They were on that thing like a sick gazelle in the Kalahari. From across the campfire, I could hear them reading it to each other out loud, and then Leticia, one of the more verbose campers, shouted out that they didn’t hate me…yet. I, again, was transported back to junior high. Had I learned nothing? Show no weakness. Make fun of everyone else and be vicious about it so they won’t come after you. Be a part of the pack. Make sure to ostracize someone else so you don’t have to worry about getting picked on. All hard earned lessons that had fallen by the wayside after teaching respectful, polite undergrads in San Diego. The girls and I ended up doing some drawing, and they realized that you can come up with some pretty fun nicknames for Sharif (Sha-queef, Sha-beef, etc.). In the end, they settled on the Mad Hatter, which was fairly innocuous considering some of the other options available.
At the end of the session, we brought all the campers back together to play “Pass the Clap”. Sadly, there were no campers that saw the joke potential in that one. It must be a generational thing. Anyway, the premise of the game is to have everyone stand in a circle. One person starts by clapping. The person to their left times their clap to match the first persons. Then, the second person turns and claps with the third person in line. In essence, passing the clap around a circle. The game can be fun when everyone is paying attention because the clap can work its way around circle faster and faster. We finally got everyone to stand in a circle. They started the game. Even the cool kids seemed to be into it. Then, after a few minutes, one of the campers decided to pass the clap by slapping the guy next to him in the face. A fight ensued. The original offender ended up with a bloody nose, and that was the end of our first days work. I spent the next forty-five minutes in the bathroom hanging out with the kid who got his ass kicked, trying to make him feel a little better.