“I was shunned, but survived”. I’m thrilled to present today’s guest post, from Rebecca Arman of Tasmania. Rebecca mentioned to me in emails how difficult her experience of fundamentalism was to get over, and she was unsure about writing her story, so I hope you’ll all leave comments to thank her for her honesty and courage.
Of all my stories of my past life challenges, I find this one a very difficult one to tell. Perhaps I’m embarrassed knowing what I know now, to remember those days. And perhaps I still feel loyal to my partner and a reluctance to dishonour him. But I make this bit clear. I do not dishonour him. I loved him dearly and fought hard with him to beat the tumour that took his life. I did not want him to die, nor my children to grow up without a father. But sometimes men make bad decisions. And he sure did make one bad one…..
I am writing this in a lovely bakery near Salamanca market on a balmy Hobart Saturday afternoon. I’m feeling at peace, in my new independent travel mode, enjoying the buzz and beauty of Battery Point. With old buildings containing galleries and shops on one side, a sea port on another, a mountain backdrop, and green parks to laze in, it is a stunning part of Tasmania I rarely knew when I lived here years ago. Nearly 30 years has passed since my first baby was born on the opposite part of Tasmania in very different circumstances. ACE is Accelerated Christian Education, and it is still taught in church run schools in Western Countries today.
When my first baby was born, my husband had started a job as a teacher in a Baptist Church School that used ACE curriculum. During the years leading up to this I was the only daughter of a strict, verbally and emotionally abusive father and an unhappy, resentful mother. When I met my children’s father, he was a ‘normal’, fun loving, attractive, fit, kind hearted person, a graduate from teachers college seeking employment. A few years later I had involuntarily become a fundamentalist Christian teacher/pastors wife, and the indoctrination of those years had a huge tole on me. Many years of counselling, thinking, reading and reprogramming was needed before I became a real person. I drifted into early marriage after my loneliness of teenage bully years, which together with my parents nightly fighting and totally dysfunctional relationship, had created an insecurity and void in my life. I had no confidence, and my friends were few. Nothing I did could please my parents and I felt I didn’t fit in or belong anywhere. I was unloved, so I married, for love, had babies to be loved, and accepted, and before I knew it my life spun out of control and I was in a community where I knew little of life outside this church school. It killed my soul and broke my heart, but I recovered.
As a fundamentalists wife my days were spent providing food on a tiny allowance, this involved grinding wheat, and making my own bread daily. Blackberries were picked for jam-making, an outing was a picnic, take away food or eating out was not on the budget. I did crafts to earn a bit of money. My husband was paid a pittance, and was starting to talk about ‘living on faith!’, obviously a move that made him a ‘better Christain’. God would provide! My role of mother and a supportive wife together determined my worth as a woman. I was voiceless in any decision. Outside interests or jobs, were not encouraged, and never done on a Sunday! Buying nice clothes for myself was selfish. Divorce was unthinkable. I sold bookmarks with bible verses on them to buy my own pad of nice paper and a calligraphy pen! I did macramé by knotting string to decorate the house!
ACE is a right wing Christain curriculum that teaches children in a silent environment on a one to one basis, implemented as children sit in cubicles completing their ‘paces’, or workbooks. It is a sterile environment. Much of it is rote learning, repetition and filling in blanks in pages. Discussion rarely happens, and when they do, vthere is a ‘right’ answer. I can’t remember the school children ever attending a Library, and books were screened. Literature of other school curriculum was often scoffed as being inappropriate and leading children to error. The paddle is used to correct misbehaviour. The children needed to ask permission to move from their cubicle, and work time was strictly monitored. Rewards are given for completion of paces. Dress codes are strict, and rules must be obeyed or punishments were given.
There was a strong one sided opinion that penetrates all areas of the curriculum centred on the Bible. Discussion, debate, alternative thought was not part of this education, and creationism is taught as fact. Music, drama, literature, art and every subject is centred on reinforcing biblical notions. It is severe indoctrination. To be ‘Christlike’ was the focus, not to be an independent thinking or partake in creative or play pursuits. Creative writing was non existing. Church services and events were plentiful. Many extra curriculum activities and community involvement fostered in traditional schooling were absent. Socially, intellectually and culturally children in these schools were and still are being deprived. This boarders on neglect, add the aggressive corporate punishment, and depravation of normal childhood activities together makesACE a cult like existence.
There are many reasons why I strongly believe this type of education is not suitable for children in modern Western (or non Western) countries.The community itself does not mix with the wider community, even sports are competed within similar schools. Children are not exposed to the possibilities of careers, education and the potential for a well rounded adult lifestyle. The children are deprived the many opportunities good schools offer to facilitate learning and career opportunities. Fear is instilled, fear of the evils of the outside world, fear of the consequences of disobeying God and the ‘wages of sin’. Girls are taught to be virtuous, homosexuality and abortion are frowned upon, and sex is not allowed outside marriage. Does this sound like Australian or British twentieth century values? I also remember being told aboriginal land right movement was evil and dangerous, and everybody’s backyard would soon be claimed, that politics and leadership was for men not women, and other ‘facts’, all that were all incredibly racist. The emphasis in learning about other countries was on missionary work, imposing christain values to ‘heathens’, and robbing cultures of their own traditions and values. How we as Australians tolerate this system, and allow schools to continue in an education system that is is supposed to be ‘secular’,’ free’, and ‘compulsory’ baffles me.
Although I have lost contact with most families in this era, I understand the children mostly remained in these conservative communities, marry young and raise their children in a similar way. Babies follow, soon after marriage, as they are a ‘blessing’. Leaving any community, after children are born is very difficult for a number of reasons. Without the opportunities of education, travel, jobs and outside interests, life is insular. In short, like Brethren and the Amish communities, it is very very difficult to survive ‘shunned’ and alone, whatever ones age and circumstances.
My leaving of Tasmania was not easy. I’m also still saddened that the time of my life which perhaps I’m the fittest and smartest (and sexiest), my twenties, were spent in such a narrow world instead of doing other things. One of my dearest friends in Adelaide spent her twenties travelling and back packing, and I so admire her courage. My children and their friends are now doing amazing things with their lives in their twenties. They are free. I was trapped. They speak their mind. I was judged and corrected every time I expressed an opinion.
Two weeks ago my oldest son, at twenty nine was married to a smart and beautiful girl we all love. He has already backpacked through Asia, Europe and South America. Another son is a scientist and phd student, a daughter is a well travelled human justice lawyer and the youngest has achieved amazingly in a career of town planning, including overseas aid work. None are involved in religious propaganda, they are fit, healthy, non racist, happy, tertiary educated young adults who mix widely cross culturally. I am a very proud mum.
My husbands mentor of that time now has 8 children, 21 grandchildren and his wife nearly died pumping out babies in her menopausal years. I believe there were many miscarriages.
I’m now an artist, free spirit, traveller and involved in normal community life.
Yet the move away from a community, and ultimately away from my island home was very painful and very lonely………and very very difficult…..
I am glad I have spread my wings, and grown into a strong, independent, creative, wiser woman but I still love my Tassie homeland.
Years later I caught up with a christain friend in Tasmania. Even though I had brought up four children on my own, completed a degree, started selling contemporary art, travelled through non English countries alone and was helping my parents in their old age, I was still a failure. Did I love Jesus? She wanted to know. Nothing else mattered.
I was shunned, but survived.
More survivor stories:
- Aram’s Progress (Aram McLean, in three parts)
- Be careful, or your karma will run over your dogma (anonymous)
- Speed reading and dinosaur riding (Tim Reinert)
- A collection of ACE/ School of Tomorrow survivor stories
- Top 3 ACE survivor stories
- The dogma that followed me home (Cat Givens)
- Pinochet good; gay bad (Greg)
- A reverence for received knowledge (Matthew Pocock)
- The best email ever (name and address supplied)
- Putting the fundamental in fundamentalist (“Sheldon Cooper”)
- Former ACE employee turns whistleblower (Christine Gregg)
And, putting forward the positive side of the argument:
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