Connecting Boot Camp to the Common Core



Boot Camp-Leaving Child and Adolescent Rights at a Boot Camp Gate

Aligning with ELA CCSS Common Core State Standards Literacy

Dr. Rose Cherie Reissman

Director of the Writing Institute

Ditmas IS 62, Brooklyn, NYC


CCSS Literacy Alignment Support

Summary/Key Issues


Fifteen year old, brilliant but rebellious Garrett, son of affluent parents, finds himself handcuffed in a car, literally kidnapped and flown to upstate New York.  Ironically, this kidnapping is not a crime and his parents will not be called to provide ransom.  This kidnapping to a boot camp has been done at their order because they “love” him.  He has disrespected them by skipping school, stealing money from their pockets and having a relationship with a teacher at his school.  At fifteen, an American literate citizen for certain, does Garrett have any right to argue, litigate or escape from this Boot Camp otherwise known as a specialty school and behavior modification program for “defiant, unruly and out of control” teens?  Can a seemingly respectable behavior modification school have the right to physically abuse, psychologically mistreat, propagandize, and isolate the “student/individual” in need of rehabilitation (in the parents’ or traditional school view) for an unspecified period of time and also even monitor/censor that individual’s notes to family?  Does the American system of democracy allow for deliberate adult sponsored private rehabilitation centers to “hold” these children and teens captive until they are 18 and can legally exit?


The shocking answers to these  real world questions prompted by the Strasser’s fictional horrendous ordeal of  6 foot four Garrett in a boot camp ironically named Lake Harmony, support extensive  Common Core ELA and SS student research into actual and ongoing American based and those beyond boot camps.  In addition, to a purpose of alerting his teen readers and perhaps unknowing teachers and adults to this ongoing secret prison system in the United States, Strasser’s work also helps teachers to focus students on nuances of language use, special domain language, functional documents (such as the Lake Harmony promotional materials and Bible) that are integral to the Common Core ELA and Literacy in History and Social Studies standards.  But perhaps more importantly, this YA work of fiction is one that can be used to bridge the literary to informational reading, research and discussion gap and to alert teens and adults to their rights and responsibilities as citizens in a democratic society in which teen rights may and can stop at a boot camp gate. 


Common Core ELA and Literacy in History/SS and Civic Education for Citizenship Connections


Todd Strasser’s past works on social issues such as The Wave, No Place, Can’t Get There from Here, Give that Boy a Gun, and If I Grow Up, inform the well researched passionate purpose of this reality based boot camp system.  His closely aligned to ELA plot, characters, word choice (with an emphasis on euphemisms and critical reading of promotional materials, craft, genre and allusions to other to PR crisis management offer student readers an opportunity to learn LIFE and juvenile rights lessons .   The book stimulates student centered discussion around many key rites of passage and self defining moments/benchmarks that are inherent in adolescents’ lives.  Among these life defining issues:  Do I react and act as adults want or do I act according to my own values?  Must I mindlessly do activities and attend events/classes because it is mandated?  When I have a chance to help others but may harm my own self interest, do I go for helping or saving others or work toward my own self interest?  If in hurting others and bullying them, I can improve my standing with adults in authority, should I do so?    


Finally the largest issue within the book and one that can authentically help teachers get students intensely engaged in both Common Core ELA persuasive writing using research and Common Core Research argument writing:  Should a young adult who does not want to follow his parents values about relationships and attend school if he/she tests far beyond his/her chronological grade level, be required because of age and legal status to defer to parental wishes?   Do parents, if they have the financial means to do so, have the right to place their otherwise law abiding youth or even juvenile offender youth in private boot camp settings with the with the freedom to go beyond the corporal punishment restraints that hold back juvenile centers and schools from physically abusing or psychologically mistreating underage (18) youth?   Finally even if they have the right and funds to send their “disobedient” youth to boot camps, should they use this as a method of getting back the son or daughter they desire? 


Making Connections to the Real World of Careers and to other texts/informational literature


 Beyond print and online research for details and arguments/counterarguments to back up  student writing, Boot Camp also immediately lends itself to being used as a springboard for interviews with local elected youth services, school security officers, guidance counselors, deans, parent organization leaders, and school administrators about the ways in which the approaches and rationale behind the Lake Harmony fictional facility would “play out” legally and ethically in the public or private school world.  Finally the work can and should easily be compared with ongoing news stories about juvenile detention, school’s dealing with unruly and disobedient students, Sachar’s Holes,  Roth’s Divergent, and non-fiction works on boot camps (see Strasser’s bibliography).  This work should help sensitize students to their current rights as juveniles and to the additional layer of rights they acquire as persons independent of their parents’ control at 18. In terms of modeling for a life of leadership and heroism, the final actions of Garrett demonstrate how as teens reach adulthood, they still have options and can like Garrett choose to do what they personally define to be right, even at great personal sacrifice.


The veteran English teacher alignment below and suggested directions for projects/short research that address CCSS ELA standards are just the tip of growing reading, writing, speaking and listening and language  options for real reading and life study  of underpublicized nut existing boot camp behavior modification facilities,  personal value challenges, decisions, and interactions with parents. Contemporary and comparison with works like Holes and news stories of deaths in wilderness programs.  The work reads like a film/thriller script. Should the teacher want to engage students in deconstructing the text chapter titles to script dialogue and scenes that would address ELA Common Core Writing a narrative script guidelines. 


Survey=Formative and Summative – Pre and Post and to be used for reflective reference by the students


Before the reading begins either independently or as part of a full class set of lessons the teacher may want to distribute the following survey as a pre-reader/citizen cognitive and attitudinal survey on boot camps:  Tell the students that they are going to get two copies of this survey.  One they will fill out in as much written or art drawn detail as they like BEFORE they read the Strasser work and the second copy which they will fill out and compare and contrast with the first AFTER they have read and discussed the work.  Since this is a survey of what they know about the actual realities of boot camps (most likely very little and they feel that since this is a fiction book they will learn few facts) , they will in no way be graded on it.  However, by comparing their initial survey with their second survey, they will be able to see the extent to which their original preconceptions of boot camps tallied with their research and reading knowledge of the issue after book study.


In order to model staircase of complexity reading and note taking, students can retain their first responses to the survey as they are reading and then write down on separate pages how their initial responses are confirmed or refuted by the narrative and by the research that they do in conjunction with the resources suggested by Mr. Strasser in his bibliography.


They will then write a response to literature reflective comment about the impact and extent to which reading this work has shaped their knowledge of boot camps as a juvenile rights issue that is underpublicized and reported in social media.

Boot Camp IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) and LRE Citizenship Survey

  • What is meant by a boot camp?

  • If a youth is under the age of 18, do his or parents have the right to pay for or agree to have him or her sent to such a facility?  Explain why or why not.

  • Can a school principal or a family member other than a parent battle the parents to get the release of the under 18 youth from the boot camp?  Why or why not?

  • If at the camp, the underage youth is physically or psychologically abused by the camp officials or by other youth who are used to physically threaten peers, can an underage youth lodge a legal complaint against the boot camp owners and supervisors?  Why or why not?

  • If a boot camp youth dies or becomes physically ill at the camp and is taken to a hospital, would the boot camp owners then be criminally liable for what they did to the minor or allowed to happen without stopping it?  Why or why not?

  • If as Strasser claims and backs up with research, boot camps like Lake Harmony exist and charge enormous amounts of “tuition” to malnourish and to abuse minors, how do they stay in business and flourish?

  • What argument could a truly loving and caring parent make for spending money and allowing his/her child to be “kidnapped” to a boot camp until he or she is “rehabbed”?  Could this argument be valid or not?  Why?

  • If a child steals money from his parents, plays truant and has a relationship the parents do not approve, what should the family do to address these issues?

  • If a friend of yours suddenly went missing and you were told he/she had gone to a special academy and you did not hear from the friend, what would you do?  Would you look into the school, why or why not?

  • If you needed to obey your parents or be sent away and could have no legal recourse against them, would you obey or try to fight them?  Explain what you would do and why.

  • ONLY ANSWER after reading Boot Camp.  Look over your initial responses to questions 1-10 before reading this book, in what ways have your reactions changed or remained the same?  Detail how the characters, plot, terms, ideas, and concepts of behavior control and modification have modified or strengthened your initial responses to boot camp.


Depending on the time allotted and whether the teacher wants to train the students in being part of Speaking and Listening “real” student centered discussions, the students could spend a full period talking about both their preconceptions on the issue of boot camps.Are they to some extent “needed” for recalcitrant juveniles or are they the equivalent of a gulag for American underage youth.Are new laws needed t protect boot camp “students” rights as they undergo “rehab”?As their research into the topic will reveal their discussions will among those happening throughout the country.If the students do have the discussion it is important that the teacher NOT share his or her perceptions/knowledge but just moderate their voicing their views.


Boot Camp- A Rigorous Reading and Emotionally Gripping Student Experience


By using Garrett’s real time authorized kidnap and Lake Harmony experiences filtered through his consciousness, Strasser’s work immerses the reader in using the plot key ideas, details, craft and structure, as not only Common Core ELA Reading tools, but also as a means to parallel Garrett’s need to “understand” who and why his parents have paid for this teen prison experience. 

As students read through the first few chapters of the book


Reading- Key Ideas and Details


Standard 1 –Cite textual evidence


Standard 2- Determine a theme or central idea of a text


Standard 3- Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story propel the action


Garrett as Kidnap Detective and Victim- Getting the facts


1. Teachers who want to focus on student authentication of the Key Ideas and Details standard, can ask the students to take notes of the key details in Chapters 1-4 through which Garrett and the readers learn about Camp Harmony.  They should also be reminded as readers to reference back the ideas and details they collect and compare them with the assumptions about boot camps they brought to the reading.   (Speaking and Listening Standards- Engage in a collaborative discussion)The teacher should provide at least ten minutes for the students to share details and to talk about their findings thus far and their reaction to Garrett’s story.  The teacher might even ask them to reflect on whether this story could “happen” to them or one of their peers.  Is it a well written fiction by a master writer?


Strasser as a writer of a fiction with an impassioned crucial message for his YA readers.


2.  Ask the students to now switch from the perspective of Garrett and focus on how they can express what in the first few chapters appears to be Strasser’s theme/central idea in this work and how he is using the unfolding of the plot, its setting, and characters to communicate and to alert them as readers to that theme.  In terms of having them talk to the text, ask that they pick out characters other than Garrett and demonstrate how the ways these characters are depicted through description and dialogue works to underscore Strasser’s theme and purpose. (Speaking and Listening- Engage in a collaborative discussion)  After they have cited individually or in pairs at least three descriptions, give them a chance as readers to talk about what they identified and have that discussion be student centered.


Craft and Structure- As the students progress through their reading of the book, to focus them on these key author devices and how their use enhances the author’s themes.


Standard 4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text,. . . analyze  the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone


Standard 5 Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts


Standard 6- Analyze how differences in points of view of the characters and the audience or re4ader create effects such as irony or humor.


Lake Harmony – a behavior modification facility with a language all its own and its own special domain euphemisms.


3. Challenge the students as they are reading to begin to collect individually or in reading partners, words whose use has different meanings at Lake Harmony than beyond its gates.  Have students focus particularly on words that Garrett interprets differently from his parents.  Ask that the students start to compile4 an alphabetic dictionary of these terms.  Have them look up or explain to them what euphemisms are and ask in what ways some of the terms used at Lake Harmony are pleasant sounding words for horrendous and psychologically /physically damaging actions or activities.  Discuss with students the special domain, special use words that schools have.  For example, “guidance,” “monitor,” “detention,” “special need,” “accommodations,” “supervision” and other terms have a special school domain specific meanings.  Challenge the students to come up with a list of Lake Harmony/ Boot Camp specific domain vocabulary and to define or to illustrate in art or clip art or even photos from research the special domain vocabulary of Lake Harmony.  These activities also address the ELA Common Core Focus on Language Standards- Particularly Standard 4 –Vocabulary Acquisition and Use.


Among the euphemisms of Lake Harmony , the students should identify on their own the quotes from its “bible” which Garrett has to read,  The students should note that Strasser uses these quotes as chapter titles to underscore the way they epitomize the “values” of Lake Harmony as a parent sanctioned book camp.


Among the quotes students can and should identify as euphemisms and as written evidence of Lake Harmony values are:

  • You will be released when you are judged to be respectful, polite and obedient enough to return to your family.

  • The type and degree of restraint administered will be at the discretion of the staff.  Lake Harmony and its employees will not be held liable for any injury sustained by you during the administration of restraint.

  • You may be placed in Temporary Isolation at any time for any reason.

  • You will deemed ready to leave Lake Harmony when you have expressed gratitude to your parents for sending you here.

  • Success at Lake Harmony can only be achieved by changing your attitude.

  • Success at Lake Harmony requires renouncing your former life.

  • Lake Harmony has your parents’ consent to administer whatever punishment is deemed necessary.

  • You must earn the right to speak.


Special Domain Vocabulary that students will identify as they read Boot camp, may include the following words: shiv, TI, Reflections, RLs (Right Living), mothers, fathers, transport, manipulator, Dignity family, Shut down.


This text reminds me of . . . .Comparing and contrasting how other authors and narratives treat some of the same issues and challenges.


4. As students are reading this work, ask them as readers what other YA works this setting with its camp and dealing with different values and behaviors, suggests to them.  The teacher should quickly be able to elicit even from a few students the following YA works:  Sachar’s Holes, Roth’s Divergent, and perhaps even Golding Lord of the Flies or Dashner’s Maze.  Suggest that those students may want to compare and contrast the values, levels of adult and student authority and the “rules” underlying each work’s society.  Creative writers might even enjoy considering how characters from these other works could interact or appear in Boot Camp. (This activity also addresses the Range of Writing ELA standard in that students are comparing and contrasting a range of YA readings in conjunction with this work).


This is NOT what I learned in School Law, Law Studies or American History-Constitutional Issues.


5.  Students who have taken a Law or School Law elective in junior high or high school can compare and contrast the administration of punishments and student discipline at this boot camp private school with what is allowed by state and federal law at their own school. This will allow for students balancing this literary work with non-fiction research online or in print.   Student reports on their findings would then reflect ELA and Literacy in History/SS Writing Texts and Purposes Standard 2 writing informative /explanatory texts to examine a topic and ideas.  This activity also addresses Writing Standard 7 – Conduct short research projects, 8- Gather relevant information from multiple digital and print sources, and 9 –Draw evidence from sources to support analysis, reflection and research.  

Reaching out to Counselors, Parents, Administrators, and Other Professionals on these issues.


6.  Of course students can also interview counselors, deans and administrators as well as parents at their schools with a focus on the discipline, punishments, regulations and rules of Lake Harmony.  The students could do written interviews or a podcast or a forum featuring various adult professional and parent response to these issues.  They can also investigate the bibliographic resources Strasser includes at the back of his book.  They might want to update that with at least five new sources.  (As students work on this activity they will have a chance to enhance their level of Text Reading and Complexity in literary nonfiction and also address Speaking and Listening posing questions to several speakers, and engaging in collaborative discussions.)


After the work has been read at least for a first time by the students as a group or as individual or paired readers.

Retelling and revisiting the story from other points of view.


This story is so haunting and horrifying as it is told through Garrett’s perspective, that students might overlook the multiplicity of perspectives and many themes involved in this powerful narrative.


Boot Camp- Authorities who Bully and enable some “students” to bully without fear as well to enforce adult authority.


7. Have the students focus on Pauly , Sara, Adam, Ron and Jon.  Ask them how they might describe the ways in which Adam, Jon and Ron are allowed to function at Lake Harmony.  Elicit from them the idea of a sanctioned gang and bullying which is built into the rules structure of Lake Harmony. Students can address a variety of Writing Standards by writing an explanation of how bullying is a sanctioned part of the Lake Harmony Structure and how Adam, Jon, and Ron operate in that context with Pauly and Sarah as particular victims.  Students can argue for or against strategies which might work or should work in dealing with the bullies of their own schools or neighborhood and potential ways Garrett and others at Lake Harmony could deal with bullies.  Of course this issue in and of itself can address Writing Standard 7- research to build knowledge and can be a subset of the research into boot camps.  Challenge students to examine the adult authority figures at Lake Harmony and consider how they function as bullies intentionally.

The story told with sound and conviction by other characters.


8.  Boot camp works as a compelling and frightening tale because of the vivid portrayals of Pauly, Mr. Z, Joe, Mr. Sparks, Sarah, Rebecca and others.  Challenge the students to address the Writing Standard 3-writing narratives standard by actually retelling the story through the perspective of one of the other characters.  This can also include the briefly glimpsed parents of Garrett and Sabrina plus Rebecca and Harry.  Students might want to create a back story for Rebecca and detail what happened to her when she was at Camp Harmony.


Garrett Post Lake Harmony- Happy Harmonic Ending or Lost and Confused?


  • Students can also as readers create a sequel to Garrett’s story.  They can examine the last line and realistically consider the aftereffects of this boot camp experience on his character, values and individual self expression.


Lake Harmony- Lose the Legacy or is it needed by some?


  • An interesting concluding question for students might be:  What is and what should be the fate of Lake Harmony in light of what Garrett has revealed about it?  Will it survive the bad press and a single or a few law suits?  Should it be allowed to survive in the US?


Booting up the Media Version


11. Todd Strasser has written for television and film.  Which would best suit Boot Camp-an ongoing series or a film of this story?  Have the students work in groups or pairs to write up a short digital media proposal for Boot Camp.  They can also provide potential actors they feel would enhance the project, suggest a director and even offer a playlist that could score the film. Encourage them to present their potential media version proposals to the whole class, group by group with as much detail of casting, setting, location, scoring, and arguments for television or digital media.  The Twilight, Harry Potter, Fault in the Stars, Hunger Game, and Maze films should provide them with sufficient prototype possibilities.


At the end of the reading, students need to return to their initial surveys and to talk about how their original perceptions of the possibility of boot camps have been realized.  Given their reading of this work, reflections and research, should this ongoing type of specialty behavior modification program exist legally in the United States?   They can react directly to Strasser’s Afterword essay.  Whatever their responses, they will have grown as readers, writers, and citizens of our constitutionally framed United States.  They will gain awareness of how before they reach 18; their rights could indeed end at a boot camp gate. As a result of this initial reading and conversation, Boot Camp readers will also have an opportunity to examine the values they have adopted thus far and to consider how strongly they would advocate them if it were in their interest to discard them.  They should also ask themselves, whether like Garrett they could fall prey to an intense physical and psychic programming such as Lake Harmony provided.  If the answer is “yes,” then how could they prevent it?  If “no” what inner strength would they use to combat it and how could they train others in using that strength.