I’m a nerd: I admit it. I love grammar puns. I relish solving algebraic equations, and I will swoon for any man who uses Latinate phrases. I’m such in nerd, in fact, that I attended multiple nerd camps during my youth to cultivate my nerdiness outside of the classroom. One of those camps was the Missouri Scholars Academy, a state-funded program that the Missouri House has just recommended be cut from next year’s budget.
Love my time there, though I did, I must say — to what I’m sure will be the outrage of my fellow nerds — that the House is absolutely right: If funds are truly limited, that particular nerd camp should not get government dollars.
I’m not saying the academy isn’t great fun or that it isn’t beneficial for the attendees. It is, but at heart, the “academy” is really just a summer camp that happens to take place on the MU campus, and there’s no reason the state should pay for nerds to frolic when other, less nerdy Missourian kids have to shell out for their summer fun.
The state-funding proponents, largely program alumni, make a series of arguments to the contrary. They speak about how noble and necessary the academy is to the future of America. KBIA/91.3 FM featured some such defenders in their “Exam” education program last week. Below I present some of their arguments and my humble (but empirical) rebuttals.
Sophism No. 1: The program molds talented young people into leaders of tomorrow, leaders capable of tackling the world’s toughest problems.
The program consists of a three-week “academic program” where campers choose a “major” and a “minor” to study. However, this “study” is only done for 23 hours out of the week, and the subjects don’t necessarily strain the brain. I, for example, majored in “Humor,” which meant that I spent my days making sad attempts at improvised comedy and watching clips from Adam Sandler-esque films.
Outside of those 23 hours, campers have weeks filled with fun activities and field trips, making the bulk of the program just like (that’s right) your run-of-the-mill summer camp. My fond memories of those times include going to Ellis Library (to dance to Nelly songs on its steps) and making my way through a mud obstacle course.
The ad absurdum version of this argument, that if kids don’t experience these three weeks of camp, then they won’t become leaders, is silly enough. But I hardly left the Missouri Scholars Academy more mentally equipped to cure cancer than when I arrived, unless it turns out that laughter really is the best medicine after all.
Sophism #2: This is a case of giving gifted children their due because their potential is so often neglected in public school classrooms.
The above rebuttal also applies to this argument. The academy is not a means of evening out the attention that gifted students get relative to other students. I agree that the neglect of smart kids, in classrooms where teachers are busy not leaving other children behind, is a problem, but sending them to summer camp in compensation is not a responsible solution, especially because only 330 kids from the whole state are invited to attend.
Sophism #3: If the state spends money on these young people, those students will choose to go to college in Missouri, therefore making state-funding of the academy a good investment.
This is the equivalent of bribing athletes to attend schools. Even if some children would, is funding this dicey effort a better investment than funding educational programs where the desired return is simply that children learn something at the time?
Sophism #4: This is the only place in the world where really smart kids can fit in.
The academy certainly did provide tear-inspiring social acceptance when I was there, but it is not the state’s responsibility to pay for creating that environment. Nerdy outcasts should by all means huddle together and support one another in the summer months, but they should pay for that privilege – just as young Christians and overweight children and aspiring astronauts do at their respective camps.
Another point many seem to be glossing over is that the academy does not have to perish simply because it does not have space devoted to it in the Missouri budget. The camp is also funded by the Gifted Association of Missouri, the Missouri Scholars Academy Alumni Association and tax-deductible contributions from the public. This is to say, there are subsidies left, and if there are smart children out there whose families can’t afford to foot the rest of the bill, those outspoken proponents of the program should take it upon themselves to get grants and develop scholarships for that purpose.
The Missouri Scholars Academy is a wonderful place, but it’s not the Sorbonne. If the state doesn’t have funds to subsidize it, we must accept that and start looking for other ways to fund the program rather than hassling the legislature.
Katy Steinmetz is a columnist and reporter for the Missourian. She moved to Columbia after spending two years teaching in Winchester, England, and one year in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has freelanced for a variety of publications, including 417 Magazine in Springfield, Mo., and the Guardian in London. Katy plans to complete her MU master's degree in 2010.