St. Louisans first became aware of Werner’s revolt from conventional education policies when he organized the Sebago Club in 1923 to give normal city children of the so-called better families a satisfactory outlet for their energies in a normal child fashion. He was not yet 21 years old at the time, scarcely an age when most young men are deeply interested in enriching the experiences of the neighbors’ children.
But Werner considered himself at the time far from inexperienced in educational methods. He has been at the receiving end for many methods, most of which were unsatisfactory to his way of thinking. Before completing his high school course he had attended eight different institutions, and, ready at last to enter college, he refused point-blank to go. All efforts of his father, the late Percy Werner, to get him to follow his own profession of the law were futile. Just what he wanted to do was not yet clear in the boy’s mind, but he did know he did not intend to take a law course or even to go to college.
If he had had only memories of unsatisfactory school routines and disagreeably metal chores, this account of a successful career would probably never have been written. Sandwiched in between the dull winter months, however, had been glorious summers spent in camping in the open. Under the tutelage of a camp director who was far ahead of his times in breadth of vision and insight into boys’ psychology, Werner had had a taste of learning by doing, with interest instead of disciplines as the spur to achievement.
Their friendship started inauspiciously enough. The irate principal of the school Werner happened to be attending yanked the spindly-legged, hotly-enraged boy into the class room of A. E. Hamilton with a few curt words that justice was to be administered without delay, Hamilton knew boys better than the principal did. At the close of the school year, Werner gladly followed his new friend and teacher to the camp of which he was the director and for nearly 20 years since they have camped and roughed it together during vacations. At 19 Werner had taken over the directorship of a separate section of Hamilton’s camp. The following summer he organized his first independent recreational group in New Rochelle, N.Y., among boys who had been at the camp. Then came the organization of the Sebago Club in St. Louis that fall to spread summer camp activities and methods over the entire year. A year later Camp Ironwood at Harrison, Me., was established for 40 boys.
Today at 33 years of age, with 12 years of camp directing experience behind him and two small sons to educate, Werner had evolved definite educational theories of his own.
The summer camp offers the best opportunities today of bringing to children truly progressive education. Its freedom from the formal, traditional expectations of parents, schools and colleges gives it the chance to adventure into the realms of the old Greek schools when interested learners gathered around a chosen teacher to guide them along the lines of their interests. “Stuffing,” instead of leading, is the characteristic Werner applies to most school methods.
Camps should not be well-equipped summer resorts offering carefully rehearsed plays, well-drilled orchestras, picture shows and highly organized athletic programs. Camping should offer new experiences and not a chance to do the same old thing in the same old way merely in a different environment.
Competitive games and supervised competitive activities with prizes, medals, cups and ribbons for achievement rewards sacrifice the finer values to be found in participating in sports. Most of the time should be devoted to water sports, camping trips, wood lore and other phases of real camping. A baseball diamonds is essential for boys, but tennis, basket and volley ball courts can well be eliminated. Boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling and fencing can be made valuable additions to camp programs, particularly on rainy days.