Governor's Schools
June 13, 2004 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Arkansas Governor's School, one of over 100 "Governor's Schools," starts today. The program is going in to its 24th year despite years of controversy over several mediums.
posted by whoshotwho (17 comments total)
AGS '95 here. I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. It's a wonderful program, especially for the kids from rural schools with limited resources and opportunities. My girlfriend (who also went in '95) is helping her little sister move in today.

I haven't heard much about how AGS is brainwashing kids since The Huck became governor. I don't think there's been a whole lot of change in the curriculum either.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 9:50 AM on June 13, 2004

I am sure that you meant to say "media" and not "mediums". Unless, of course, you did mean the plural of "a person who communictes with others in a different time-space."
posted by davebarnes at 9:52 AM on June 13, 2004

But yes, I meant the plural of medium.
posted by whoshotwho at 10:41 AM on June 13, 2004

this sounds a little bit like shad valley, which i went to in 1996. shad was a great experience for me, pushing me to physical, intellectual and emotional limits.

a quick read of the Governor's School site showed it to have a few distinct differences:
- Shad didn't have specializations, everyone took the same program (though you could pick and choose seminars)
- Contact with the "outside world" was not discouraged
- You were allowed computers, video cameras, etc.

the complainers do sound like religious right types. bah.
posted by paulschreiber at 11:54 AM on June 13, 2004

governor's schools are not dissimilar from a program i was involved in. programs like these are designed to give smart, talented high school students a chance to be exposed to ideas rather more intellectually stimulating than those they're exposed to in high school. most of these programs, while not necessarily so strictly closed-campus, encourage students to devote all of their time to said programs. the closed communities do help students focus on the intellectual tasks at hand, despite the lack of grades or other external motivating factors. the absence of parents allows students to explore new ideas without the fear of being scorned/punished. and - importantly - for most students, this is the first time they've really had much contact with intellectual peers, people who share the same interests. it can be a pretty heady experience.

note that most of the testimonies record parents who are upset because "they brainwashed him into no matter what i told him, to express his own opinions, his own views and not settle for what i told him. " or "she didn't want to come home to her friends and school. they were not challenging, not intellectual. a total elitist attitude." i fail entirely to find it surprising that, freed from the constant imposition of their parents' dogma, and given, possibly for the first time, a chance to learn about less fundamentalist philosophies, some kids who go to AGS turn away from strict biblical fundamentalism. similarly, for most of the students, it's probably the first time they've been able to associate with other kids who have the same intellectual interests. is it any surprise that they're not thrilled by their return home - where none of the students are interested in - where the church and the football stadium [rather than the classroom and the library] are the pillars of the community?

the charge that AGS makes students suicidal is ludicrous. what, you mean to say that some lonely, intelligent students are depressed? the comments to the effect of "she had an experience with alcohol" or "there have been cases of drugs" are equally ridiculous. the parents are upset because AGS doesn't espouse their conservative faith-based views. they're wroth when their children think for themselves, and blame problems like depression and alcohol [extant throughout teenage america] on the "brainwashing" of AGS.

programs like AGS are valuable; it'd be a shame if over-zealous fundamentalists managed to get this one shut down.
posted by ubersturm at 12:30 PM on June 13, 2004

I went to AGS in - yeesh I feel old saying this - 1984. The stuff about discouraging kids from calling their parents is a load of b.s. While we did only go home on 4th of July weekend, we were never discouraged from being in contact with our parents or anyone else, either by phone or by letter (and now I assume email as well, although we didn't have it back then). The "death films"? Well, the only such thing I recall was watching Night and Fog (the second half of a double feature with Triumph of the Will).

AGS opened up my world in ways that still impact me now. I loved it, and I am always going to be grateful that I got to attend. For what it's worth, none of the curriculum ever seemed aimed at making me reject my original values, but I did learn to question everything and to make decisions for myself about what was right and wrong and what I should do about it. For minds that prefer to remain closed, I guess that's a bad thing.
posted by apollonia6 at 5:02 PM on June 13, 2004

I enjoyed my own forays into nerd camp (CTY, for me), but I think we'd have a lot fewer of these 30-something, pathetic-failure geeks out there if they sent the message to smart, misfit teenagers not that "you're so special, eventually the world will recognize you" but instead said, "the world doesn't owe anyone anything -- you're unpopular now because you have nothing to offer your peers want. Lucky for you, you're smart enough to make yourself valuable if you'll work hard and pay attention to the market."
posted by MattD at 5:56 PM on June 13, 2004

South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities here. We have two of these schools here, one for arts and one for academics. They really do kick ass. I got to move out of my house junior year of high school and study nothing but jazz guitar for two years. What could be better? And it didn't stunt the academic side of things either. A great program that all states should adopt.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:40 PM on June 13, 2004

"After Brandon Hawk's suicide and the subsequent fear and confusion, concerned parents in Arkansas asked the same kinds of questions raised after the eruption of evil in Littleton. Why did it happen? Will it happen again? Could it happen to my child? What should parents do?"

I went to AGS in 1990. I knew Brandon Hawk. I dated his best friend (a very cute and talented girl) for a short time. He was a remarkably nice person. A gentle soul, if you will.

The sad truth, as far as I knew it from the periphery of the situation, was that Brandon in essence committed suicide because he was A) Gay, and B) his parents were telling him that they were going to disown him and that he was going to hell. In my opinion, his parents acting like jackasses had an awful lot more to do with his committing suicide than any interaction with anyone or any ideas he may have gotten from AGS.

So, yes, for that reason, among many others, that Clinton's Governor's Scool article is utter bullshit.

Two cents worth.

And yes, AGS changed my life. I had a blast, and the experience helped me become the centered relatively happy and successful person that I am today. I was NEVER discouraged from contacting my parents. There was a phone in the basement of my dorm where I called my parents probably every other day. We could receive visitors on the weekends. Friends and family came up to see me on several occasions. I never felt like I was cut off from the world. Rather, I felt like I had come to place where I could think about things without all the pressures of the outside world. But without deprivation.
posted by geekhorde at 8:43 PM on June 13, 2004

AGS '89 here (and guest speaker to the music areas in '96). I'll just echo what others have said - it's anything but dictatorial in nature, and has had a lasting positive impact on me. My specialty ("Area I"), was in instrumental music, and it was the only time I ever got to perform with an orchestra (I played sax). I was exposed to music I'd never experienced before, and seeing that I'm a composer now, it was a pretty practical and useful experience beyond just some philosophy courses.

I've only just realized this in reading the letters on the AFAAR site, but I do think it might be helpful for there to be more focus on the transition back to home life, especially for those students who come from rural areas, and who were the only one from their school/area to attend AGS. Several of my friends were at AGS, so our circle of people with a common experience continued beyond the program. Never occurred to me before now, but that was nice to have as an antidote to possible feelings of isolation.

All in all, though, it's a healthy, kick-ass experience. Very cool to see it here on MeFi.

(On preview - geekhorde nails it re: outside communcation - there was plenty whenever you wanted/needed it - this was a refuge, not a prison).
posted by gsalad at 9:25 PM on June 13, 2004

Also a 1990 alumnus. My p.o.v. was very different from geekhorde's (hey there you!), as I came in from the "big city" of Little Rock.

But trust me, we needed a shot of perspective too. That the whole world didn't exist in our bubble, and that people could be more conservative, more isolated, yadda yadda and still be smart like us.

Another thing--this program, save for transportation--is free. Free, damnit. Free housing. Free food. Free classes. Free goofy little parties. That was a huge thing for my family--an opportunity that I never would have had.
posted by nita at 9:36 PM on June 13, 2004

Well, I came from a suburb of Little Rock with an Air Force Base, so it wasn't as much as a culture shock for me as, for someone from Yellville or DeQueen or so on. Someplace rural.

I imagine for people from the more isolated communities, encountering so much diversity of points of view could be quite challenging.

Hey nita! Cool halloween pictures!
posted by geekhorde at 10:15 PM on June 13, 2004

"Well, I came from a suburb of Little Rock with an Air Force Base, so it wasn't as much as a culture shock for me as, for someone from Yellville or DeQueen or so on. Someplace rural."

Heh. I'm from right next to Yellville, Zinc actually.
posted by whoshotwho at 5:11 AM on June 14, 2004

I lived in Sherwood and went to Central High.

And I'll echo what gsalad said about where you came from. I already knew 25-30 people the minute I stepped on campus, and we all had a support system (for lack of a better word) when we went back to school in the fall. I can understand how the kids from the rural communities felt that they stuck out like a sore thumb once they got back home.

I talked to my sister on the phone last night; she works for a conservative organization in Little Rock. She said a woman came in the other day on business, and in the course of conversation the woman said her grandson was going to go to AGS. The woman was very worried about him, and she was planning to give him a book, along the lines of How to Stay Christian in College.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 5:56 AM on June 14, 2004

I live in Little Rock and know several people who've gone to governor's school. It didn't seem like a big deal to them. ..Interesting.
posted by thisisdrew at 2:06 PM on June 14, 2004

I went to the Virginia Summer Governor's School for Visual Arts five years ago; my sister is leaving to do the Humanities program in a week and a half. Both those programs (there are others I know less about) are held on the U of Richmond campus for four weeks. It's true that outside contact was limited: there was one permitted family visiting day and one teacher visiting day, and we were not allowed to socialize with non-GS people while on campus or on field trips (looking back, I think this was more a safety/paranoia issue than a desire to isolate). We could call, email, or write/receive letters as much as we wanted, though functionally this was limited because there were few phones and computers and our days were so thoroughly scheduled. Discipline was tight, and rules were sometimes arbitrary--these people took in loco parentis very seriously.

I'm from a fairly liberal family but a conservative area--nearly all my good friends up to the point of my attendence were Republican and either Catholic or Baptist. GS was a godsend. There was actual diversity of a kind I have not seen at any other time in my life, and more comfortable mixing of people from different backgrounds than I've seen since. My friends and hallmates were deaf, Pakistani, from towns with names like Rural Retreat, from Richmond's upper crust, lesbian, engaged at age 16, abused, Chinese, possessing of pink mohawks, Communist, into the occult, born-again...all minor, but all things I had never experienced among my peers, much less among people I was close to.

Damn straight it was hard to transition back. I had gotten a taste of living in a world where I trusted everyone around me, where race and sexuality weren't constantly used to attack people, and where I could have serious intellectual and artistic relationships with both fellow students and my teachers. I wanted to remake the world in that image.
posted by hippugeek at 11:38 PM on June 15, 2004

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