Camp Fired

Picture 1

 By Travis

The message is clear. Very clear.

On the surface, the message comes across as positive, saying there is an organization out there to help children. I am all for helping children.

However, there is hidden message. An agenda, perhaps? This subtle meaning sends its message to the community even if the community does not consciously read it that way.

Under the surface, I was struck by the phrase "…where schools leave off" as it implies that schools are failing our children. This billboard perpetuates a negative idea of schools. It implies that schools are not working, cannot fulfill the needs of our communities, and as such are failing.

I find this hard to believe because every day my colleagues and I work our minds, emotions, and fingers to the quick. And most continue to do so after school hours.

The phrase "leave off" is present tense, implying that this failure is the way it is (and will always be). A forgone conclusion. Compare this phrase to a past tense version and you will hear the difference. 

I am bothered by the verb tense and the message it sends.

Then I stood there .. staring at the sign because something else was there. Something that I could not place, but knew was deeper than the debasement of my profession.

Then I saw it. I understood. The billboard is really critiquing the public: the public that builds the public schools. If the public school is failing, then the public is failing. You are the public.

This billboard could more overtly state:

Picture 2

I used the present tense as well.

I imagine that most people who past by this sign at 30 miles an hour read the surface meaning. This saddens me because it means that we are allowing organizations and media to perpetuate a negative image of our public schools. Even if the surface meaning is the one that is read, the deeper, negative meanings are understood by the brain. 

With budget cuts, ever-thinning resources, cuttings of the school year, reductions in staff, and increased class sizes, public school teachers are highly qualified and helping students to achieve higher than ever before.

I will share this post with Camp Fire USA to start an open dialogue. I hope that the advertisement campaign was not to intentially discredit the hard work of our schools. However, given the underlying message of the ad, it would be negligent of Camp Fire USA an you to ignore it.

I am curious to hear what Camp Fire USA says. I will keep you posted. 

11 thoughts on “Camp Fired

  1. Mark

    I don’t think this billboard is critiquing the public at all, no matter how much can be read into it. I think it is a sign (no pun intended) of the normalized attitude that schools are ‘leaving’ something left to be done. That presumption has been around a long time–the presumption that schools are leaving work unfinished. After all, the greatest worst education reform ever conceived included to concept of leaving behind unfinished business in its very title.
    I think the reality is that despite what we’d like to believe in this country, our culture has never valued the institution of education, and never will. Think of those silly lists of rules for schoolteachers in the 1890s that appear every so often. Think of Ben Stein’s monotone “Bueller…” That message that you rightly identify as seeping into the readers’ subconscious is certainly not a new one…those deeper, negative meanings understood by the brain are The perception our culture cultivates us to maintain about public education–if not education in general.
    The concept of public education runs counter to the very concept which founded our country and persists to be how every aspect of popular culture seems to be defined: defiance of authority. Nearly every American was subject to the authority of schools for 12-13 years of his or her life. There is no greater (albeit stereotypic) symbol of American authority than the schoolmarm backed by a grumpy principal. Resistance of authority is woven into our identity as Americans. Moviegoing audiences always cheer the kid who makes the teacher the fool. Schools will always be the easy target… no one likes being ruled over, so its a sort of comeuppance that once grown-up you can now criticize, degrade, minimize, and even punish your schools (as an institution) for daring to attempt at authority…

  2. Travis A. Wittwer

    Mark, while I agree with everything you wrote, save one point, I think the sign does devalue public schools as well as show insight into the value the public places on their schools. You wrote to that effect. The examples you gave point out that the debasement of schools has woven itself into our cultural stories: it is funny to make fun of the floundering education system (it’s akin to the bully mindset of picking on the funny looking kids, no one will stop the bully–the kid is funny looking and odd).
    I do believe that the ad campaign did not set out to devalue schools; however, it is a statement that can beread between the lines and as such, it is a statement.
    If I do not want someone reading between my lines, I need to be clear and revise to make sure my message is received on all levels.
    What does this statement say: when you are no longer able to patent, the schools will pick up where YOU leave off. While my intention is not to offend parents, and I do believe that I can support parents and their parenting, I would not use the aforementioned motto on my syllabus.

  3. Travis A. Wittwer

    I guess what bothers me is that public schools are often (a) the butt of a joke, (b) poorly portrayed in media, and (c) easily debased because who is going to argue or who hasn’t had one experience that is clouding the whole school system.

  4. Tom

    This is from Campfire’s website:
    “Camp Fire Cares. Across the country, Camp Fire cares for children in the out-of-school-time hours through a variety of quality child care opportunities.
    Camp Fire offers early childhood, before- and after-school, full day, school-break and drop-in center programs supporting the child care needs of families. Children participate in indoor and outdoor age appropriate small group activities where they can explore personal interests, learn to make healthy choices, develop social skills, and have fun.”
    I think it puts the billboard’s message into the proper context. Campfire – and other non-profits of that ilk – exist to give kids what schools are not in the business of doing. They do things like crafts, archery and fire-building; we do things like math, reading and science.
    I agree that the sign sends a negative message, but I honestly don’t think it was an intended affront to the teaching profession. (but maybe I’m naive)

  5. Travis A. Wittwer

    Tom, agreed. I do not believe the ad was an intentional debasement of schools. However, if an ad can be read a way other than intended, then the message is still there.
    Camp Fire USA is not new to advertising. They probably hire people to create the billboard ads. These people should be trained to tweak messages until the message states exactly what is wanted. To not pay attention to negative messages is an oversight that, in my opinion, cannot be ignored.
    In the end, the goal of my post is to point out how easy it is to pick on schools and how little is done to stop it. People seem to be okay with schools getting a beating. I have not hear from Camp Fire USA yet. I expected to receive an email stating exactly what you posted–the obvious–that Camp Fire USA is a great organization that cares.
    America needs an open dialogue about its schools. This next 10 years will be a trying time for education in America. America will need to come to terms with what they value, or don’t and either way it is fine, so long as America gets what they decided to want.

  6. Tom

    Amen, Travis. It’s true that educators are the butts of a lot of jokes, but when you stop to think about it, who isn’t?
    We make fun of priests, doctors, lawyers, athletes, police officers, politicians, and plumbers.
    The only people I can think of who aren’t mocked in this country are engineers and fire fighters, mostly because there isn’t anything particularly funny about what they do.

  7. Travis A. Wittwer

    Hey, Tom, an engineer and a fire fighter walk into a bar ….
    Yes, it seems that every professional gets to be the but of a joke and I do not have issue with a professional person being a joke (within reason). A light-hearted and friendly joke about a police officer could be funny. However, I would draw a line at making fun of the police force. The police system is there for our good. And like schools, it represents what we value and want. To make fun of the police force is to make fun of the public, ourselves.
    Sometimes that is good and allows for reflection, but sometimes it is just negative.
    Thanks for helping me think through.

  8. Betsy

    The perspectives presented by all comments, while understandable, is a little off the mark in my opinion.
    This advertisement is directed at parents. Campfire wants parents to enroll their children in the program.
    “When resources are subtracted…” I think all parents are feeling the pinch of the current economy and can relate to this. Parents are more likely to be struggling to pay for after-school activities and/or day care. Campfire is an affordable option for families.
    “Picking up where schools leave off” from the selling-to-parents perspective makes me think that Campfire will continue doing all those things schools are doing in caring for kids.
    Now, I could start a conversation about Campfire potentially advertising the fact that schools and organizations such as scouting and Campfire are all picking up where parents leave off as they abdicate responsibility for their children. But that would be painting with too broad a brush. I believe parental abdication is the exception, not the rule.

  9. Travis A. Wittwer

    Thank you all for a good bit of discussion. It would appear that the second and third layer message, which is there, has been decided by the greater commenting population, both here and through other venues, as reading too much into it.
    Accepted. Thank you. I appreciate the perspective and conversation. The thoughts and arguments. While I still believe that a slogan or motto should be fully thought out for the message(s) it sends, clearly this one from Camp Fire USA is not read by the majority the way I read it.
    All readers saw the second and third layer messages, and understood, but stated that either it is (a) an unintended syntactical error (agreed), or (b) is reading too much into the writing (understood).
    Good bit of thinking. Now to move on. However, I hope that the next time you pass by media portrayal of schools, you stop and think. What you see could be benign like this Camp Fire USA ad is. But if it is not, you will be primed for observation.

  10. Tom

    …the bartender says, “Hey, what are you doing with that pig!”
    The engineer says, “That’s not a pig, that’s a fire fighter.”
    The bartender says, “I was talking to the fire fighter!”
    See? Not funny.

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