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.

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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.”

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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.

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About Jonny Scaramanga