The joy of learning

On Volokh Conspiracy, Jacob Levy writes about the life-transforming joy of a summer at the Center for Talented Youth, which a New Yorker article jovially calls “nerd camp.” At CTY’s summer program, Levy realized he wanted to go to an academically first-rate boarding school, and got a scholarship to Exeter. That put him on his way to “nerd heaven,” the University of Chicago.

Had I stayed in my medium-town New Hampshire public school system– which was fine but nothing like the public-preps of wealthy suburbs — I would have stayed pretty miserable and continued to get full-time negative reinforcement for intellectual excitement and curiosity. I wouldn’t have understood the range of possibilities that were really open to me, and would have had my sights set much, much lower than they were ultimately set. And I do think I would have ended up internalizing (what I perceived to be) the hostility to nerdiness among my peers . . .

But what I remember about (CTY) . . . was the sheer joy and amazement at being around kids my own age who were not only not hostile to the desire to read and learn and think, but who shared it themselves.

Tyler Cowen endorses CTY too.

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  1. Sigh.

    How long before the ACLU tries to shut it down because of its obviously exclusionary policy?

  2. My daughter went to the Duke University version of this, the Talent Identification Program. She took the SAT in 7th grade to qualify and made a pretty high score. She attended 3 times, studying Shakespeare, Philosophy of the Mind, and Greek Philosophy. While the academic part of the program was fun for her, the important part was haning out with other scary-smart kids. The private elementary/middle school she went too had high academic standards, but none of her peer group was as smart, nor were they as interested in what I’d call intellectual pursuits – philosophy, political theory, ancient history and the influence on today, etc. The other girls were more concerned with who Britney was dating. Finding out there were other kids that liked these things greatly lessened her feelings of alienation, and since she exchanged email addresses with her new friends, they still keep in touch.

  3. It started after my (SMPY) time, although I did teach at CTY a few times. Great program, IMO. Several of my nieces and nephews have attended and I look forward to my kids going in a few years.

  4. I wish I had had something like this when I was a nerdy kid in school. What I would have given to have known someone else who loved to learn and loved to read and didn’t get insulted for being smart! They used to make fun of me in grade school because I loved to read the encyclopedia yearbooks when they came in, especially the physics and space articles on advancements.

    Sadly, my daughter is still experiencing that attitude – and from her teachers as well. They see to think it is ‘uppity’ or ‘elitist’ to be too smart, and she needs to ‘learn her place’ and stop standing out and making the other kids look bad. Really pathetic, since these are supposed to be inspiring role models for our kids. Instead they’re teaching them to disparage and ridicule those who are ‘different’ in the name of the appearance of ‘diversity’. Unbelievable.

  5. I went to CTY, too, and enjoyed it (and taught at TIP)… but I’ve got to plug a different program: Mathcamp! (

    Still, it’s true the most important thing for most of the kids is the social atmosphere in all these programs. That was the making of my high school, too: NCSSM. Until I went to CTY, the only people I liked hanging out with were adults, who were the closest to intellectual peers (though my wisdom level was way, way low.) The biggest problems at these camps is lack of sleep, because the kids stay up all night playing games and talking. When they leave, it’s like a group of zombies creeping off into the daylight… it can be sad, too, because a lot of kids get depressed about the environment they have to go back to. At least there’s email, chat, and unlimited cellphone minutes now…

  6. Meep:

    I had a wonderful experience at an Ivy League science honors weekend program as a kid, and was able to attend a gifted performing arts camp for several summers. Enrichment does not begin and end with CTY, but it is one of many terrific programs.

  7. I just came back from CTY UCSC.. I’ve gone for three years and loved every single part of it. At home i get along great with peers but it’s not the same. At CTY it’s a much better atmosphere then what i will ever experience at home. kids care about school at CTY and they aren’t nerds just kids that know how to balance out life and know what’s important in the long run. This was my last year at CTY becuase of the age limit but I’m going to Brown Uni summer program next summer. It’s more liberal beacuse it deals with older children but CTY is my favorite place in the world. In two years i’m planning to go back to CTY but this time as an RA. I want to help kids experience all the wonderful stuff CTY has to offer