This post, written by Tyler Francke, was originally published by Jonny Scaramanga on his blog Leaving Fundamentalism, which is dedicated to examining the effects of fundamentalist culture, especially Accelerated Christian Education (ACE).
The piece details my wife’s experiences growing up at a small ACE school in Oregon.
It’s not typical (though probably far more common in Accelerated Christian Education schools) that your principal is also your church pastor, but such was the case at the small private school in Oregon that my wife attended from preschool through twelfth grade.
Based on her experience, I wouldn’t recommend it. Giving a single man (always a man at ACE schools, of course) such broad and absolute authority over impressionable children’s intellectual, spiritual and moral development just seems like an obviously bad idea.
She could tell you horror stories. One of the pastor/principal’s favorite exercises on Wednesday morning chapel services was to call the students up on stage and “separate the sheep from the goats.”
In the original parable that inspired this grim practice, Jesus spoke about how he would judge the nations at his second coming, separating those who lived righteously and gave to the needy from those who were wicked and ignored the poor and suffering.
In Pastor/Principal’s version, he would separate those whom he deemed to be the “good kids” from the bad ones, and my wife always ended up with the goats (those are the ones destined for the eternal fires, by the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the story).
Pastor/Principal made my wife — who was then and still is a woman of remarkably strong faith — terrified of heaven, telling her how — in his twisted version of Paradise — her clothes would be burned off and she’d be forced to stand naked before the masses and watch a projected slideshow of every sin she’d ever committed.
The Bible I read says that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” but Pastor/Principal must have missed that part. He was probably too busy gleefully studyingRevelation to be bothered with all that fruity talk of love and grace that comprises most of the New Testament.
During the frequent lectures he gave to the kids he considered the worst offenders, he was fond of gravely informing them that if they made it into God’s heavenly city, they’d have nothing but a cardboard box to live in and their skivvies to keep them warm — no mansion orwhite robe for them.
He’d wave a Bible in his victims’ faces during these little chats and repeatedly accuse them of not being a “true Christian.” My wife, who had to endure more of these lectures than she could count, eventually learned that the only way to stop the sermon quickly was to burst into tears. That signaled “victory” as far as Pastor/Principal was concerned.
I know my wife’s experiences are not completely unique, though she may be in the minority. I certainly hope monsters like Pastor/Principal are not in charge of schools all over the planet. But even minus the spiritual and emotional abuse she and her friends and family grew up with at the hands of that profoundly misguided man, the ACE education that they received was far from world-class.
Most of the material she and her classmates learned from was at least a decade old — usually older. And it wasn’t just that the PACEs used information that was obsolete; the very curriculum itself seemed to have been fundamentally inspired by a worldview that was musty and archaic.
She recalls “computer skills” classes that used worksheets so absurdly outdated that they were actually about typewriters. One of these lessons went so far as to caution students againstcomputers, saying that having such a device in your house is like “giving the devil a window into your home.”
The girls were forced to take home economics while the boys received an extra shot of Bible training (given the guy who was teaching them about scripture, I’d have much rather they learned sewing any day).
Biology and chemistry were taught primarily through shoddily made, grainy videos. She remembers watching the dissection of a worm that may just as well have been a straw or a bit of string for all she could see it.
Videos were used for just about everything. Struggling in math? Watch a video! Not exactly “targeted teaching,” but that’s ACE for you.
And boy did they ever have stuff to say about evolution. Everything — and I mean everything— disproved it. Nessie? Disproves evolution. Rotting carcass dragged up by a Japanese fishing vessel in the ’70s? Disproves evolution. Paluxy human/dinosaur tracks? Disproves evolution. The coelacanth? Yeah. I think you get the idea.
Suffice to say, she struggled mightily in the introductory science courses she took at a local community college after graduating from the private school. She later earned her BSN at a respected four-year institution, but this was in spite of her years in ACE, not because of them.
As a Christian myself, that fact alone is troubling. Christian education should not be virtually synonymous with “bad education.” Those who claim to both represent and be empowered by the God who made the universe should not be putting forth cheap knock-offs of secular material in his name.
But beyond that, and beyond even my wife’s experiences — which were dreadful — I oppose any “education” system that, when reviewed with even the barest level of scrutiny, more closely resembles an indoctrination system.
I can think of no greater contrast between Pastor/Principal — a man who would presume to take the place of Christ in separating the “sheep” and the “goats” — than Christ himself.
Jesus was no brainwasher of children. Don’t get me wrong: He had no shortage of teaching for the adults around him. He spent the bulk of his ministry training, correcting, rebuking, instructing and otherwise trying to reach wayward adults. But children? Nah. He just wanted to be with them.
In fact, Jesus told the grown-ups they could take a lesson from the kids. Yes, really. “If you want to go to heaven, you need to be more like these children,” he told his disciples.
Look, I understand the desire that devout religious folks have that their children would come to share in their faith. Honestly, as a soon-to-be father myself, I get it. But spoon-feeding kids warmed over doctrine doesn’t help anyone. A house stands strongest when it’s built on a solid foundation — preferably one that the homeowner laid himself.
And heck, if Jesus’ example counts for anything (and I certainly think it does), there is a lot more than we can learn from our children than they could ever learn from us.
Originally published on Leaving Fundamentalism.