Relearning everything you know

Samantha Field is one of my favourite bloggers. You might remember my contribution to her blog, Defeating the Dragons, and now she is returning the favour because of her awesomeness.

For some time I’ve been concerned that this blog has focused on ACE while ignoring all the other types of fundamentalist education out there. In this post, Samantha explains her experience with ACE’s competitor A Beka, and how it has affected her since.

We were going to be driving to Michigan the day after Christmas, heading in to the last few weeks before our wedding in Ann Arbor. Standing in the middle of the Barnes & Noble, we pondered our options. We wanted an audiobook for the road, but a non-abridged Hobbit wasn’t available, and neither of us were particularly interested in Janet Evanovich, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or Lee Child. I spotted Team of Rivals, and suggested it as an option. My fiancé shook his head, so we moved on– and eventually left the store empty handed.

A week later, during our road trip and I had been fruitlessly searching for a decent radio station for what felt like an eternity, I threw out a moderately acerbic comment about wishing we’d gotten Team of Rivals. The sound he made – well, it can only be described as a snort of derision.

“I’m not really interested in listening to a 10-hour Lincoln love fest.”

“Why not?”

“C’mon– the man suspended habeas corpus.”

My jaw dropped. “He what?” I stared at him blankly. Since he was driving and (very properly) paying attention to the road, he missed my palpable shock. I’d never heard of this. The thought of Lincoln doing something that was anything less than perfectly noble and wonderful and full of unicorns and puppy dogs and rainbows and butterflies … it was a foreign concept.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My now-husband could barely restrain his laughter as I started ‘yelling’ (he calls it yelling, I call it explaining with enthusiasm) about fact checkers and continuity editors in the middle of the Art Institute in Chicago. We were standing in the middle of their Of Gods and Glamor exhibit, and I was exclaiming about their incompetence– they’d confused Athena/Minerva with Artemis.

We circled around the exhibit, and found one filled with treasures gathered from all ends of the globe by the British Empire. I read one of the sign posts that mentioned that England’s economic success could be somewhat attributed to their abuses and oppression around the globe. I chortled, and when my husband asked me why, I just shook my head.

“In high school and college I would have told you that Queen Victoria handed the governor of Mombasa a Bible and told him it was the only secret to England’s success.”

He chuckled with me. “She probably would have.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As a homeschooled child growing up in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement in the rural South of America, my family depended on textbooks provided to the homeschooling movement by Christian publishers. We used a smattering from a variety of publishers– Bob Jones Univeristy Press, A Beka (distributed by Pensacola Christian College), Saxon Math, McGuffy’s Readers, Alpha & Omega, and a few others.

I was intensely proud of my homeschooled education. In many ways, it was a good one. I studied Latin, Greek, and logic all the way through high school. I had the freedom to read everything Jane Austen and Charles Dickens ever wrote before I was sixteen. In some ways, my education was solid. It was good enough to get me through a Master’s degree, at least.

In other ways . . . it was dreadful.

There are huge– monumentally huge— gaps in my education, and I’m not talking about the fact that many homeschoolers tend to struggle with science and mathematics.

The most glaring problem with Christian-published textbooks is that they’re wrong. Factually and ethically wrong. I could supply you with an endless litany of examples– like how A Beka’s tenth grade history textbook describes the entire country of India as “backwards” and blames it entirely on Buddhism. Or how the A Beka biology textbook uses satirical cartoons– and almost nothing else– to explain the Great and Terrible Theory of Darwinian Macro-Evolution– to high school students. Or how most of my literature books from BJUP and A Beka used nothing written by women after Phillis Wheatley and Emily Dickinson. I could tell you that I read biographies about Benjamin Banneker and George Washington Carver that explained chattel slavery as a benevolent mercy– after all, the slaver ships brought them to America and to The Saving Knowledge of Jesus Christ. And, after all, Benjamin would never have become an astronomer if he’d been left in Africa. He owed us Washington D. C.

It goes on like that through every single year of my education.

And when I got to adulthood, and I was sitting in genuine conversations with non-fundamentalists for the first time in my life at the age of 23, I realized that there were barriers between us– barriers created by an educational environment where multiculturalism and post-colonialism and and globalism were Of The Devil, and free-market capitalism was the only possible way of understanding human nature as well as economics. The first time I realized that Marxist theory, with its identification of power and class struggles, made a whole lot of things make a whole lot of sense, I struggled with the feeling that I’d just betrayed everything I’d believed.

My education crippled me as a human being.

It’s taken me three years of concentrated effort to even begin to catch up. And I’m still struggling to understand basic ideas that those who received a decent public education just take for granted. I have to fight knee-jerk reactions that cause psychological dissonance so bad I want to cry– with something as simple as walking through the dinosaur exhibit at a natural history museum for the first time in my life at 25.

These struggles are not purely the result of the textbooks I used; they were mixed in with an extremely conservative and isolationist church. But, they continue to play a huge part in my life now, as I’m constantly have to re-learn pretty much everything. I’m suspicious of nearly everything I previously thought was “fact.” I’m constantly second-guessing myself, having to evaluate everything I know and assume that it’s wrong– just to be safe.

I want to be clear – I don’t think homeschooling itself is the problem. There are healthy, honest ways of homeschooling children. But homeschooling plus an exclusive reliance on “Christian worldview” textbooks and isolation from anything that could have offered a different perspective . . . it’s dangerous.

Because it leaves you with a pile of half-truths and purposeful omissions that could leave an adult incapable of engaging with the world in a critical, intentional, and intelligent way.

Related posts:

Make sure you check out Samantha’s blog Defeating the Dragons. I’d also like to invite readers with experience of A Beka, Bob Jones University Press, or any of the other fundamentalist curricula to submit guest posts.

About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on June 10, 2013, in Christianity, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. I was not homeschooled, luckily, but did spend time in a fundamentalist school. Relearning the world is a work of a life-time. Once you start get over the feelings of betrayal and loss for all the crap you where taught, there’s an endless supply of genuine, verifiable, and above all, really interesting stuff out there. The fundamentalist worldview is so impoverished in comparison.

    • I was so shocked to find out how much of what I had been taught had been lies, like Wicca = Satanism. The first time I ever met a Wiccan, she showed me more love and acceptance (and patience), than most Christians I have ever known.

      • Reminds me of the time all the 7th and 8th graders were given a Mike Warnke lesson. (This was in 1994–after Warnke had been discredited by a mainstream Christian magazine!) We were all told that the following were Satanic:

        – The peace sign (that whole “broken cross” BS)

        – Yin-yang (their explanation showed they knew nothing about yin-yang, calling the two parts “good” and “evil” instead of “light/action/masculinity” and “dark/passivity/femininity” that appears in the Tao.)

        – The biological symbol for female (I’m guessing this one was because of the women’s-libbers of the 70s)

        – The ankh/Egyptian cross (the same stupid “cross = empty” argument they tried to pull with the symbol for female)

        – And of course, the number 666 or any arrangement thereof.

        The Warnke video we had to watch explained that there were evil bogeyman Satanists out there, who tortured and killed kids, made blood sacrifices to the devil, and made it their duty to break all of the 10 commandments.

        We were also taught songs during 6th grade that implied that people only followed other religions because there were demons in them, and that prayer could drive those demons out and make them Christians.

        I was so badly sheltered that I didn’t quite grasp “Communist Russians are atheists” (my textbook was written before the Iron Curtain came down, and it hadn’t been down for more than 3-4 years at this point). I considered being a Christian to be the default state of humanity, and thought that the folks in charge in the USSR had had to constantly drill and browbeat “There is no god” into everybody’s heads for them to not believe. (It didn’t help that I have the mental hookups that make it impossible for me, personally, to not believe that there are any gods out there.)

    • It really, really is. Since I’ve gotten away and have been able to start reading anything that catches my fancy… I’ve learned so much. I’m practically insatiable at this point for anything I can get my hands on that shows me a better world than the one I grew up thinking of as “on its way to Hell.”

      –Samantha Field

  2. I’m studying everything; or planning to 🙂 my history was spotty and biased, and of course science was very biased although I think parts of my science were good. Math I’m actually good on. I need more worldly lit. I should read a huge list of banned books…. (Already read Harry potter – brilliant!)

  3. I really don’t know much about other fundamentalist textbooks rather than ACE. Maybe a new series should be started here about Abeka.

    As for Lincoln, I have no sympathies for the Confederacy and what it stood for (and contrary to what some conservatives today claim, it really was primarily about slavery), but there were some disturbing aspects to Lincoln’s presidency.

    As Samantha’s husband pointed out, he did suspend habeas corpus, and he practically enacted martial law in Maryland, and what Sherman and Grant did to the South probably would have people all over the world wanting to charge them with war crimes if they did it today.

    Sherman and Grant (Sherman especially) burned down entire cities deliberately, burned down farm homes, destroyed crops, bridges and railroad infrastructure. They thought it was necessary to break the will of the southerners, and prevent a prolonged militant resistance after they conquered the south.

    • From Crash Course:

      “Me-from-the-past, in high school you will have a US History teacher named [I forget his name]. You will tell him that the Civil War was about states’ rights. He will answer, ‘A state’s right to what, sir?’ and your mind will be blown.”

  4. Samantha, thanks for your post on your experience. A Beka is the only home school curriculum I was aware of, as it was created not long after I was out of public school. Fortunately I missed it completely!

    I was a fundamentalist throughout my twelve years of public school education. I had challenges because so much of what was taught differed from what I believed. I was isolated from the other students because they were of the world and there were very few fellow fundamentalist at school.

    However, I did know what was being taught contrary to my beliefs, so they were never a surprise to me later. I am so glad I was out of school before fundamentalist home schooling became common. My break from fundamentalism, though difficult, was not as traumatic as what many home-schooled students describe.

  5. Ooooh, you are right about Abeka. I remember those lines but never remember what textbooks they come from. crap. good post.

  6. I still find myself tripping over old evangelical mantras from time to time.

  7. In fairness to Lincoln, it’s totally Constitutional to suspend Habeus Corpus. He may have abused the privilege, but people often cite this fact like it’s a clear violation in and of itself. In this respect at least, your friend’s education served him/her no better.

    • Aside from derailing the conversation, I don’t think my husband made any assertions about whether or not it was Constitution. I realize I’m quibbling here, but his education was fundamentally different, since he was taught to recognize that even some of America’s “greatest” Presidents are still human. I was taught that people like Washington, Lincoln, etc, could do no wrong, and people like FDR and JFK were Satan Incarnate.

      So yes, his education served him better.

      –Samantha Field

      • Samantha, I know what you’re talking about. When I was a young fundamentalist it was the same way. Some political leaders were 100% heroes and others were evil. I remember the night Kennedy was elected in 1960. We stayed up late watching the election returns on a black and white TV. The adults were so stressed that Kennedy seemed to be winning; he was a democrat, a Catholic, AND a northerner. The world was at an end and destruction was upon us.

  8. Oh my goodness, how much of this I identify with. :/

  9. This entire entry hits VERY close to home. I was homeschooled until eighth grade, using Bob Jones and A Beka. (And a little Alpha and Omega.) My husband is constantly amazed at how bad my education is. He’s helping me work my way through a high school Biology textbook at the moment. Thanks for re-affirming that I’m not alone!

    • I encountered a young man who was educated through K-12 with A&O as part of the deliberate emotional and psychological torture to which his parents subjected him. (They didn’t want him to become a mature adult.) He knew something was fishy, started searching the Net for answers (his parents kept NO track of where he was going online), and found an online community I frequented.

      With help from other community members, he ran away from his parents’ house at age 18 (and even then, it was murder trying to get hold of his birth certificate and SS card so he could use them to help him get a GED and a job). They didn’t take it well.

      He’s taken a while to adjust to life outside the bubble:

      – He had never cooked anything except TV dinners.
      – He had never cleaned house or done any laundry.
      – He had never been to a museum, movie theater, or ice cream shop.
      – He had never been to a store of any kind without his parents and (non-abused) sister present, nor had he ever bought anything with his own money.
      – He has severe anxiety disorder from being essentially locked in the house all day for years.

      I wanted to cry when he was telling us what A&O alone was like, much less the rest of his life. When he moved out, that turned into tears of joy–the kid’s going to be all right, I think.

    • How nice to meet another Crystal! I also was on the A Beka curriculum, and although I personally found it academically good (in reading, writing, and arithmetic; we learned techniques from it I don’t think we would have learned in public school), I didn’t realise how RACIAL some of the things I was told really were!

      I think I need to do more digging!!

  10. Wow. Thanks for the post, Samantha. I can identify with you and so many of the comments. I’m 27 now, it’s been nearly ten years since I’ve graduated high school and two years since I first realized just how shallow my understanding of the world around me is. I believe that a lifetime of learning will never catch me up to my peers. I have pop music (Pink! will not corrupt my soul), evil literature (Harry Potter is next on my list!), politics, science, history (yes, I remember the A Beka books “Stalin is from the devil”), and even my entire approach to learning to re-discover. How incredible the world around me is; sometimes I feel like an infant having just been born.

    My homeschooling education was firmly rooted in rote learning, which earned me a diploma but not understanding. Next September I’m off to university to start a BSc in biology and must admit that it’s daunting. Some days I feel as though I started life with an unfair disadvantage but then I must remember that in many parts of the world girls aren’t granted any sort of education.

    • Good work on starting the BSc. There is an exciting part to all of this: The world is an amazing place, and now we’re free to discover it. The sense of possibility and excitement is huge.

  11. I homeschooled my 3 children k-12 grade. I remember the other homeschool parents touting these textbooks but I always felt that reading widely and learning “how to learn” was a better education than using textbooks, so my 3 children’s education came primarily from the public library. We did attend a very conservative church and a very conservative homeschool group, but I just couldn’t buy in to the rhetoric that those publishers were espousing..so I just encouraged my children to answer their own questions through their own research. I was constantly criticized by my fellow homeschooling mothers and by other members of my church for “letting my kids get away with too much” and “not monitoring their reading material close enough.” My children are all adults and except for the fact that I did not teach them formally about Darwinism and the theory of evolution, I feel that they have a very solid education that has allowed all three of them to attend their first choice colleges. One went to a Christian college, and the other two did not. It was their choice where they went to college. If I were to do it over, I may not have been so rigid about some things that I was rigid about back then, but I remember always telling my kids, “God loves balance” meaning that extremes in anything…even religion…was something to guard against.

    • It sounds like you did a great job. It’s encouraging to hear. I think there should probably be a blog in response to stuff like Homeschoolers Anonymous which acknowledges the potential pitfalls of home education, and talks about how to overcome them. It seems like most of the home schooling writing by Christians is ridiculous HSLDA propaganda, talking as though abuse never happens.

  12. Jessica Hoffman

    I’m new to this blog. I’m wondering what you did to fill in the gaps in your education. What resources would you recommend for recovering fundamentalists?

  1. Pingback: guest post at Leaving Fundamentalism | Defeating the Dragons

  2. Pingback: an average homeschooler: introduction | Defeating the Dragons

  3. Pingback: An Average Homeschooler: Part One, Introduction | H . A

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