Last week, I put out an open invitation on Reddit for anyone with experience of Accelerated Christian Education/ School of Tomorrow to write a piece for this blog. Tim Reinert is the first person to accept my offer, so this marks the first guest post on the blog. Please make him feel welcome.
“Tim, you know that’s not true, right?” That’s what my 10th grade biology teacher told me gently after a particularly spirited “debate” about the origins of life.
I had disrupted his class to make everyone aware of how unhappy I was with the lies we were being told about evolution and abiogenesis. After 7 years in an ACE school in northern British Columbia, I was as unprepared for the idea that man could be related to monkeys, as I would be if you had told me that everyone got their own personal unicorn to ride around on when they turned 16. And so I made sure I told my biology teacher that everyone KNEW that God created the earth 6, 000 years ago, and it took him only 7 days to do so. When I think about it now, I’m not even sure why I argued.
That time in my life found me engaged in a struggle of passive resistance with my Christian fundamentalist parents regarding pretty much every aspect of their faith. I had left the ACE program several years before, and had struggled with my grades in public schools ever since. I was going to church as little as I could, and was not shy about telling the youth group that I was still a member of how silly I found most of their teachings. So it’s not like I really cared one way or another about evolution, or creationism, or whether or not we were created by an ancient race of sentient space ferrets. It didn’t really matter.
But the claws were deep. When people whom you love and trust tell you something is true every day of your life, it’s an almost insurmountable challenge to go against those teachings. Think about it for a second. You know the earth revolves around the sun, right? It’s a fact. We know it’s a fact for a lot of reasons: Geometry, parallax measurements, and the fact that ships and probes that we send all over the solar system actually end up where they’re supposed to. But before you knew all of that “proof”, you knew it for one simple reason: Your teacher told you it was true.
It’s simple right? You go to school to learn, so obviously everything you are “learning” must be true. But what if it isn’t? What if it’s not only NOT true, but that you discover later on that the very methods used to “prove” those facts are faulty. That’s what I struggled with throughout the rest of my public school life. Plus, ACE’s rejection of the classroom system pretty much guaranteed that I would buck against the learning structure that most children take for granted for the rest of my days at school.
So what did I learn at ACE that was so wrong? Well, I learned that human beings and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time (I seem to remember there being a picture of a man in a biblical-style robe riding a dinosaur, but I can’t swear to that). I also learned that that very same earth is only 6,000 years old. (Jonny has posted quotes from ACE Paces demonstrating how evolution is “false”, but I don’t remember the word “evolution” even being discussed). I also learned that Apartheid was a necessary evil (with emphasis on the “necessary”), and that aboriginal Canadians should be glad that we (i.e. white Christians) brought the word of God to them hundreds of years before. I also learned that the best way to deal with unruly children was to beat them, as was demonstrated on my backside at least a few times a month for 7 years straight.
But those weren’t the worst of it. The worst thing I learned was how NOT to learn. How NOT to think critically, how NOT to question authority, and how NOT to come to my own opinions using objective source material. For someone who does actually love to learn new things, it was torture. It was like a 7 year S&M session, with “Jesus” as my safe word.
If I’m cataloguing the miseries that ACE inflicted on my youth, it’s only fair that I mention the positives. Unfortunately, I can think of only one. Speed reading was a mandatory part of my school’s curriculum, and so once a week I’d be placed in front of a machine solely designed to increase reading speed and information retention. And it worked. By the time I left the school’s program at the age of 12, I could read 3-4 times faster than most adults. It’s a skill that I still have, that eventually grew into a life long love of reading and learning. Ironically, it was that love of reading that eventually made me question everything I had been taught as “facts”. Reading Kurt Vonnegut when you’re 14 will go a long way towards making you question your entire life, as small as it is at that young age. And so it goes.
So how did things turn out? Differently than they would have if I had been the scholastic success some of my friends were, to be sure, but I can’t complain. Although I have struggled with anything like formalized education ever since, I still learn quickly in applied settings. I’ve identified as a humanist, and (less importantly) as an atheist for almost 20 years now, and while those things don’t define who I am as a person, they definitely inform many of my decisions. I have an amazing wife, whom I wouldn’t have met if I had gone on a different path. And despite my lack of fancy book learning, I have managed to do moderately well career wise. But Christmas dinners with my parents, who are even more fundamentalist than they were when I was a child, can be awkward. We decided long ago that it was best for the long-term future of our family not to talk about anything “controversial” (When gay marriage was legalized in Canada we barely spoke to each other for a year), and that we would avoid topics where we might have differing opinions. And so things like religion, or politics, or history, are completely off the table. And so are my father’s beliefs that he gets visions of the future, and that he has the ability to see an endless array of demons, angels, and ghosts that seem to be waging an endless battle for my very soul. We talk about the weather a lot.
That being said, I know they put me in that school with the best of intentions. They were convinced that this world was days away from a rapture-sized apocalypse, and that the world was full of evils like sex, marijuana, and the music of the Blue Oyster Cult, and that the devil had created all of these things to corrupt the minds and hearts of the children of God. They were just trying to protect me from that. I know it, and I try not to blame them too much for it.
But that doesn’t mitigate the fact that what happened at that school was abuse. Intellectual, emotional, and physical abuse, that gets covered up and down played because it’s propagated in the name of religion. And while ACE deserves its fair share of blame in all this, let’s not forget who makes the decision to put their children in programs like this one. Lies in the name of religion are still lies. And just because you have chosen a particular faith to follow does not give you the right to ensure that your child doesn’t have the critical thinking skills necessary to form their own opinions about that faith, or about the world they live in. Parents, the best tool your child has to be a success in life is their brain. Please, let them use it.
If you have any experience with Accelerated Christian Education/ School of Tomorrow, I invite you to write a piece for this blog. I don’t care if your views are positive or negative. Unlike School of Tomorrow, I don’t believe the best way to respond to dissenting voices is to try to silence them, and I guarantee freedom of speech on my blog. Just email me if you want to write something.
Many thanks to Tim for his excellent post. You should also check out his great comics at http://condoofmystery.com/, and his blog about comics and film at http://fourcoloursandthetruth.wordpress.com/.