Teens Investigate Urban Legends at UC Berkeley Summer Camp


Every college campus has its own sets of urban legends, from statues coming alive to secret tunnels, universities around the country play host to a number of imaginative stories passed down from generation to generation.

Some stem from actual facts, but others are mere fictional stories made up to inject some thrill and mystery into college life.

This summer, the University of California, Berkeley used their university’s urban legends, myths around the campus, to teach high school students about critical thinking and distinguishing between fact and fiction.

Eleven students, from 6th to 12th grade, were part of UC Berkeley’s ATDP (Academic Talent Development Program), which offers summer courses to young students.

This year, the program offered a summer class utilizing campus myths through the Graduate School of Education.

Elizabeth Scherman, a former news reporter for the Tacoma News Tribune and a Bates Technical College professor, said that the program aimed to teach students

critical thinking and how to analyze the credibility of sources. In this digital age, young people are getting a lot of inaccurate information from social media.

It’s no surprise that many people, particularly students go online to do more research.

Because of the myriad of articles written on the web, many students don’t bother vetting the data they read about.

This summer class was organized to emphasize the need to carefully investigate and assess the information they can gather, and whether such data are correct.

Scherman said that she wanted her students to question the validity of the information’s source, and to do their own on-site sleuthing, if possible.

Adya Gupta, a 13-year-old student, said that she relished the experience they had at UC Berkeley.

She said that they “interview people like a reporter would”.

One of the mysteries the students had to investigate was the L’office de l’Eglise en François, a book bound in skin, located in the university’s Bancroft library.

The students interrogated Nancy Oanh Tran, the library supervisor.

The students had read in a National Geography article that the practice of wrapping a book in human skin was anthropodermic bibliopegy, but interviewing Tran gave them more information: the book was, in fact, made not from humans but from horse and goat skin.

The research made the students more appreciative of investigating information critically.

Had they stopped only at the National Geography article, they never would have found more relevant information.

The summer class participants investigated other myths and legends like:

Are there human bones buried in the campus grounds? Is the Faculty Club Ghost real?

The students read reports from the different university departments.

One such report for their ghost hunting involved a news clipping about a visiting professor who encountered the spirit of the late Department of History director Henry Morse Stephens in 1974.

The students also found evidence that a tunnel had been built in the campus, a remnant from mining students back in the early 1900s, but the students’ greatest achievement was discovering the grave of a dog that had been living in the residence halls around 1972-1976.

With more research, the students were able to learn the dog’s story, something that many people in Berkeley didn’t even know about.

At the end of the training, students were told to come up with their articles on a set deadline.

Students who want to know more about such classes can contact the instructors from ATDP.

Rob Clark

SchoolCampus.org admin staff managing editor

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