Fundy Love Day 3: Literacy

There is a tendency to view fundamentalists as anti-intellectuals and it’s true to a point that they do tend to like their facts and figures hand-picked and of a certain slant (then again have you seen what they’re teaching in public schools these days?). However, I’ve yet to meet a fundamentalist who’s children were illiterate when it comes to reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic.

In fact, fundamentalists put a great deal of stock in school. Most fundy churches over a few hundred members have at least an elementary school, with some going so far as to have a high school, college, seminary, and school of home economics all housed withing their walls. Fundamentalists publishers such as A Beka Book and BJU Press make millions of dollars each year selling to both church schools and more home schools than you can shake a McGuffey Reader at.

Fundamentalist kids may not be able to tell you who Immanuel Kant was or why the Beatles were important to musical history when they graduate but most can diagram the living daylights out of a compound-complex sentence and calculate a tithe plus three percent offering on their gross income without picking up a calculator. If they’re like I was they’re also likely to have read more books in the last month than the average kid will have done in the last year.

Anti-intellectual? Perhaps “selectively-intellectual” would be a better term. My mom and dad who sacrificed so much to give their seven children the best fundamentalist education they could afford have my heartfelt thanks.

86 thoughts on “Fundy Love Day 3: Literacy”

  1. @Bassenco I think he meant as far as there’s basically NO support for his position that fundies at least teach the basics well. I’ve not seen any post so universally objected to for sure! Unpopular doesn’t mean responseless! 🙂

  2. Morgan: Ok, I will jump all over what you said. Homeschooling is not necessarily a joke. I trust that you’re actually smart enough to know better, and simply used the universal form of that statement out of carelessness. I was home schooled from the second grade onward, and could boast about my performance in a secular engineering school in a number of ways. That doesn’t matter, except that your theory is disproved by the examples of numerous fellow home school students who performed similarly. Of course, there were plenty that didn’t do as well, but the same could be said for public education.

    Interestingly, the ones who were more well-adjusted and socially acclimated tended to be raised by parents who, although they may have attended a fundy church, did not subscribe to the n-th degree separation ideology of fundamentalism. The children of all-out fundamentalist parents received an education similar to what they would have received in a fundamentalist school, with similar results. Those of us who were allowed to be involved in 4-H, public school band, sports, or other activities were able to cope with the secular world much better than those who were isolated, separated, consecrated, and all that crap.

    Yes, education is a topic that really gets people going… 🙂

    By the way, if you really want to get me going, talk about the sentiment, popular in the SBC as well, that everyone should pull their kids out of public school to educate them at home. It’s not just fundies who have said and done insanely stupid things about education.

  3. Rob says: Unpopular doesn’t mean responseless! 🙂

    Maybe, then again, every blogger dreams of hosting the mega discussion of the day/week/month/year. And he has done that!

  4. @Morgan Not all who home-school are a joke. In fact I would say it is directly the opposite. All three of our children are home-schooled. Our oldest son is just finishing up his first year at public high school. He carried a full load, no study halls, tested into three advanced placement classes, started on the football team and the baseball, plus choir and is carrying a 3.95 GPA. Interestingly enough, two of his classmates both transferred into public education from home-schooling this year as well. Their high school bio’s would read almost identical to our son’s. The three of them carry three of the highest GPA’s in their class of 400.

    @Darrell Sorry, I will have to join the majority on this one. I attended a prominent fundy high school associated with a prominent fundy college in the midwest and while we certainly weren’t illiterate, I wouldn’t say that we were intellectuals. When I compare my education to the education my son is getting 20 years later in a public school, there is no comparison. The level of learning that is offered and the wide array of class choices is far superior to anything a fundy school can offer.

  5. @Bassenco post something about education, you’ll get everyone commenting. Even singles w/o parents generally have strong opinions about youth & education.

  6. @Rob – ‘singles w/o parents’ – sorry to hear that they are orphans. 🙂

  7. I wouldn’t call fundamentalism anti-intellectual. C’mon, look at many of the great IFB preachers, both past and present, who held doctorates. Some may not even finished high school or got a bachelor’s degree, but they sure got their doctorates…!

    Dr. Bob Jones I
    Dr. Bob Jones II
    Dr. Bob Jones III
    Dr. John R. Rice
    Dr. Jack Hyles
    Dr. Curtis Hutson
    Dr. Ron Comfort
    Dr. Lester Roloff
    Dr. Jack Schaap
    Dr. R. G. Lee
    Dr. Joe Boyd
    Dr. Paul Chappell
    Dr. J. Frank Norris
    Dr. Rand Hummel
    Dr. Wally Beebe
    Dr. Hugh Pyle
    Dr. John Vaughn
    Dr. Harold Sightler
    Dr. Les Ollila
    Dr. R. B. Ouellette
    Dr. Clarence Sexton
    Dr. Alton Beal

    1. For some reason totally unknown to me, I recently received the latest edition of The Sword of the Lord in the mail. It was the first time I had seen it in forty years. When I read the church ads for all those IFB churches, I was astonished — and amused — at how many of the pastors have “Dr.” in front of their named. I’m guessing it’s ninety percent. I’m sure these are people who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a pulpit robe, even with doctor’s bars on it — but boy, they like the title!

    2. One of those on that list is my old pastor, and I can guarantee you that I know more about the Pauline epistles, Dispensational vs Covenant theology and Classic/Modern literature than even he does, thanks to the school my parents moved me too after Jr. High…and I’m only 23. The “intellectual prowess” they claim is such a joke, and questioning their knowledge on ANY subject would, as we all know, get you severely reprimanded for “questioning the authority.”

  8. My views and opinions will be on the harsher side of this issue, but my education was harsh. I was raised in various IFB churches from birth, but when I was 11 we started attending what I feel was as an extreme IFB church, a cult. The education before that time wasn’t so bad. I went to BJA and was relatively average when it came to grammar and reading, but did very poor in math. I went from there to Hephzibah House, where I had almost no education. I spent more time memorizing and studying the false doctrine of Ron Williams then I did on any real education. After I left Hephzibah House my mom wanted me to return to BJA and I refused. Comparing BJA and Hephzibah House is like comparing heaven to hell. There is no comparison. I refused for the same reasons I refused to go to church. I viewed God and religion as being a dark place full of pain and hate. I dropped out of high school and took my GED. Shortly thereafter I moved out and left not just my IFB roots behind, but God behind as well. I became an atheist.

    The (extreme) Fundamentalist education is a form of indoctrination that is designed from its conception to dumb down the mind of a child. There is no place for the non-conformist child in this education system. This is a religion that believes that a child’s strength of mind, their will, should be broken in order to preserve the soul. So while there is a strong emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic, these emphases’ are sort of mute, when one considers that the child’s ability to question has been removed. Everything the child learns is handpicked to the extreme, so if a child has questions about evolution, they are immediately slapped down, literally. Not only are they are taught not to question, but they are taught to obey without question, even to their own physical and mental detriment. All of this is nothing when compared to the false and hateful education forced onto these children in the name of God. If a child is unable to question their education, they are certainly never allowed to question the ‘established’ dictates on God. These children are already lost. How is it possible to learn the truth, when you have been so diligently trained in ignorance?

    I returned to my heavenly Fathers safe keeping in October of 2008, and I cannot in any way credit that to my ‘godly’ education at HH. My opinion is based on my experience in an IFB cult church, but primarily it is based on my time spent at Hephzibah House.

  9. Leave the computer for a day and this is what I come back to! I’ll (hopefully) respond in greater detail later, but for now let me respond to one comment.

    @Rob: the same exact thing goes for married people having opinions about singleness and advice for singles. I’m sorry, but just because you were single once does not mean that you have any clue what it’s like to be single. It’s a two-way street here. 🙂

  10. Totally didn’t read the entire discussion…60-some comments takes awhile.
    But, I guess to my luck, I was public-schooled my entire life. K-12. I got a fantastic education, and don’t regret going where I went. Quite glad I didn’t have to go to a “religious/Christian” school. Just sayin’…

  11. @ Amanda

    I’m always amazed that churches always hire a married person to be “single’s pastor.” As a single church worker, I can say that whoever figures out good single’s ministry and writes the book, they will make a mint!

  12. Wow, looks like I’m late to the party!!! :O

    This topic is so timely and relevant to me since only 4 days ago I graduated from BJU with a degree in computer science (high-five for comp sci, Darrell!). My primary thoughts have been articulated quite well already:


    Fundamentalism pushes *skills*. It teaches how to read (but it has to, by law), how to sew, how to sing, how to drive, even how to do grunt work, but it does not truly educate. It does not teach students to think. It warns them against exploring with intellectual honesty. It frowns upon curiosity. It calls even academic dissent “rebellion.”

    mark rosedale:

    As to the post. I have to say I strongly disagree. First and foremost Fundamentalism is absolutely anti-intellectual. There is no such thing as “selectively-intellectual.” the moment education becomes selective it ceases to be education and becomes anti-intellectual. In fact selectivity is the antithesis of education.

    In order to make the point, we have to emphasize what we don’t mean by “anti-intellectual.” We don’t mean anti-education, anti-learning, anti-thinking, or even anti-excellence. On the contrary, fundamentalists exhibit all the respective positive qualities of those things quite well.

    So then what does it mean to be “intellectual”? An intellectual is one who esteems that– as a universalizable rule–knowledge is superior to ignorance. (the only possible exceptions being things like imminent risks to security). This perspective is backed by the understanding that “selective-intellectualism” is precisely the difference between education and indoctrination.

    Indoctrination is the “default” mode of passing knowledge from teacher to learner. And that goes for anyone–fundamentalist, secular humanist, Unitarian, Mormon, Muslim, you name it. It takes an incredible amount of extra effort to truly educate the learner–to impart facts and values, all the while allowing–nay, encouraging–the student internalize the material by exploring all existing thoughts on the subject and striving to offer his or her own original contributions to the field (without stressing one to the exclusion of the other).

    A couple examples:

    My freshman year, I took Ancient & Medieval Philosophy from the illustrious Dr. Horton (whom I still admire greatly). Besides the obvious reading assignments and tests, the class consisted of a single term paper. Being in college (!) now, I assumed that we were expected to produce something worthy of academia–something that, in some miniscule way, contributed to the field of scholarship on a particular issue. But no, we were expected to read up on a topic and simply write a summary of what we learned. My original proposal–to reinterpret the Augustinian/Pelagian controversy in light of modern scholarly advances in compatibilisitic vs. incompatibilistic determinism–was not met with welcome, but rather received a stern rebuke because it (and I quote directly) “can take you where you don’t want to go on the question of responsibility for sin.” See that? Information is not superior to ignorance. Some information just poses too much of a threat to dogma that ignorance is actually presented as a nobler, more pious state.

    Another example comes from the Fall semester of ’09 when the university president announced to the student body that they would not be allowed to attend a showing of Wicked (the musical), which was coming to town in a few months. His reason? It portrays a wrong view of good vs. evil, and while some students would be mature enough to “handle” it, others might be duped into accepting its flawed worldview. Again, see the connection? Ignorance is safer than knowledge. We’d rather you be ignorant and agree with us than be informed and disagree with us. All of this, of course, is couched in every fundy’s favorite euphemistic buzzword–discernment.

    So yes, while fundamentalists are strongly pro-learning and many are pro-liberal-arts, at the end of the day, it’s only the dogma that really matters. If there’s ever a perceived dilemma between knowledge and dogma, dogma wins every time. And that’s precisely what it means to be anti-intellectual.

  13. Brandon,

    As a former Bojo grad I applaud and congratulate you on your graduation…you must have learned early that it is easier to just go with the flow than to die on the hill.

    Your perspective is absolutely spot on. I think this will be my new definition for fundies…”Ignorance is better than knowledge”…Brilliant.

  14. Not to start a rabbit trail (I’m famous for this on FB), but WICKED doesn’t portray a wrong view of good vs. evil, rather it depicts things aren’t always as they seem. Plus, the music wouldn’t check by BJU standards (too much back beat). Take from someone who’s read all the books and seen the show 4 times.

  15. I’ve come across fundies who are proud that the only book they read is the Bible.

    If that isn’t anti-intellectual then I don’t know what is,

    Don’t mean to offend you homeschoolers out there, but I think you succeeded despite your homeschooling. It may work for kids who are self-motivating and curious, but fails for those who are just punching in the “right” answers to please overprotective parents.

    I was definitely hurt by my fundy school’s complete lack of study of hard sciences like geology and astronomy. Geology was considered to be a waste of time, and any geological formations or oddities were blamed on The Flood.

    Astronomy was just never brought up as a subject except to know that God created the stars for signs and seasons.

  16. I think that Amy’s post above had great merit. The Roloff Homes, Hephzibah House, New Bethany, Camp Tracey, and many more are distinctively Fundamentalist. Let’s not forget that a huge stratum of Fundamentalism pushes these boarding schools to refurbish your kids for you and turn them into “right thinkers”. That such a monstrosity could exist in a culture is evidence that it views education largely as a tool for indoctrination and propaganda, and not a means to educate a human mind and supply it with the tools to apply both reason and morals to its findings and conclusions.

  17. <>

    Which explains why so many people are anti-public schools, after all, if *they’re* using schools as an indoctrination system, then *we* should, too.

  18. This is a sore spot for me. Actually, almost re-opening an old wound. I am a product of why it’s not good for a child to have one of their parents to not only be their parent, but also their principle, preacher and teacher. That parent doesn’t seem to know how to draw certain lines or when.

    When I was in the IFB school that I attended in high school, I was required to repeat a history class over again, not because I didn’t pass it the first time around, but because “history basically repeats itself” it was decided for me that I should take it over again. IMO, since I was the only one in my grade, it was easier for the powers that be to just shuttle me into the other class (who happened to be two years younger than I was). Another example was my chemistry class. What a Joke!!! I went through Alpha – Omega (life pacs) on this class. I got through the first 2 life pacs before I got stuck. My teacher ( who happened to be dad) couldn’t help me, so instead of finding out for himself how to help, he gave me assignments in the form of monthly reports on various chemists and what they did instead of actually learning the stuff. That class went bust!!!

    The problem that I had with this was 1) I didn’t learn any critical thinking skills and 2) I had a limited education in order to function normally in the out side world.

    Also, this reinforced the ideas that my hard work meant nothing and that it formed a certain type of apathy that caused me to shut down every time I was met with a challenge.

    I do know that there are some christian schools that have done a better job than the one I attended. Personally, I think that most christian schools do well for children up until the sixth grade because I don’t think they do as well teaching older children critical thinking or provide a well-rounded education.

    The only time that this really frustrates me is that when my 14 year old son asks for help in geometry, I can’t help him because I don’t know much beyond the very, very basics. I would have to teach my self first, but I don’t have the time for that since I am in school my self. It saddens me that he is getting a better foundation than I did, especially since he is going to the public school. The only thing that is holding his school back is the usual – funding.

  19. I try to avoid 100% statements about the intellectual capacity of my opponent. However, I learned critical thinking from my parents, not my PCC education.

  20. @Amy the Hephzibah House, Roloff Homes BS is pretty new to me. Just heartbreaking. I wish there was something more that could be done to stop that utter ridiculousness. That’s the kind of stuff that make me wanna believe anything but public education should be illegal. Which obv is an overreaction, but just is infuriating that that is allowed to happen.

  21. I think Classical schools are an interesting approach to education. (Just as a side note.)

    Homechooling–can be good or bad, depending on the family.

    Christian schools– Depends also. Good ones, bad ones. They tend to be better now than “back in the day” (i.e. the 70’s-early 90’s). . .at least where I live (which is the “liberal NE” lol)

    I grew up w/ a combination of Christian school/homeschool. Bottom line: my science/math skills still suck, but my reading/writing skills have always been great (even on the college entrance tests).

    I did find ways to educate myself beyond the textbooks we were given. 😉

    Oh, a final note: public schools are not necessarily better either. A friend of mine works in higher ed., and he claims that the writing/research skills of the public school graduates are pathetic.

  22. Interesting thoughts on education…thank you for the thought provoking discussion.

    I’ll tell you where I “sit,” before I tell you where I “stand.” Public, Catholic and Fundamental Christian School trained K-12, and a BJU grad. Christian School teacher for 4 years right out of college. Currently self employed and serve as President of a Christian Homeschool State Organization out west. Attend an OPC church. Theonomic, and a strong believer in the Doctrines of Grace. And, oh yeah, a very undeserving, wicked sinner, saved by God’s marvelous grace.

    I think the basic question that must be answered in any form of Christian education(I think the Greek work paideia actually fits better here, because as best as I know, our word for education isn’t in the Word) is this: Is it in the Fear of the Lord? If not, then we are in violation of Proverbs(what appears to be God’s main book on education) 1:7, 1:29, 2:5, 8:13, 9:10, 10:27, 14:26, 14:27, 15:16, 15:33, 16:6, 19:23,, 22:4, 23:17. Few Christian schools get this right because they don’t understand the balance of fear and love, grace and law, hearts and hands…etc. And unless you have a Christian teaching you in a Public School setting, it would be impossible to get it there. Homeschooling seems to be the best way to “set the table” in this area, but it still depends on who’s cooking and serving the food, and how it gets eaten.

    After the Fear of the Lord, we need to consider the relationship of teacher and student. God never separates learning from relationships We see this inJohn 3:21 and of course in the ministry of our Lord for 3 years. I think it was Augustine who said that we “believe in order to know.” Aquinas took us down a dangerous path when he essentially declared that knowledge could be separated from the heart(probably drank too much Aristotle.) It’s a path that has destroyed many a Christian home and school since.

    Lastly, our education must be principally driven, and not as much application driven. This is where the Fundamantal Christian School has failed miserably. Most haven’t learned that one can’t “love God with all their heart, soul and mind” for someone else. Each one must internalize it for themselves.

    And all this must be bathed in lots of love, humility and grace.

    May God grant us mercy as we train the next generation for His Glory!

  23. I think there are two distinct spheres within fundamentalism. There is the anti-intellectual sphere represented by those who were greatly influenced by Jack Hyles and his crowd. Hyles once said something to the effect that we don’t want any scholars teaching at Hyles-Anderson. We want soul-winners not some ivory tower, book worm type. People in this group often refer to seminary as “cemetery.” Of course the KJVO folks are part of this group. Calvinism is usually decried by this group as well.

    Then there is what I would call a “scholastic fundamentalism.” This group represented by BJU, Detroit Seminary, Calvary Seminary, Central Seminary, the Master’s College and Seminary, and perhaps even the SBC seminaries. This group promotes scholarship and academics BUT with the provision that nothing can contradict our established theology. This group begins by assuming a priori that their understanding of the Bible equals “truth” and anything that disagrees with it is error. Therefore, whatever one reads is judged by this standard. There is no open-mindedness or “intellectual honesty.” Books that contradict the “party line” are read only to be refuted and to warn the less knowledgable Christians of the danger.

    Let me give one example, when I was at BJU, there was a controversy about Gary Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God . Friesen was not an unbeliever. He was a Dallas Seminary grad. He merely contradicted the party line. He maintained that the concept of a “perfect will” of God that every Christian should seek was not biblical. He argued that God does not necessarily have a particular will for your life that you need to find somehow through prayer and inner intuition but rather that the Bible contained principles of wisdom that when applied would direct a person to the best decision regarding a mate, a school to attend, a vocation, etc.

    Bob Wood railed against the book in chapel. I overheard a brave student ask him afterwards if he had read the book and he sheepishly admitted he had not. I asked Stewart Custer after a class one day if he had read the book. He said: “No, but its on my list because Dr. Bob has asked me to write a refutation of it for Faith for the Family.” I told him that I found the book to be solidly biblical and he said he was sure it wasn’t but he hadn’t even read it yet.

    So some fundamentalists are in favor of education but only to maintain and promote the “party line,” which they have presupposed is the truth.

  24. @ Ken, I ran into that first sphere at the first church we went to after we graduated from BJU. The pastor often said, “I went to college for four years and never learned a thing.” Personally, I thought his statement revealed either that 1) he was a very poor student with a very bad attitude or 2) he had chosen a very poor school.

  25. @Ken The case of Friesen’s book is an interesting example of how times change even at BJU. Though it’s not promoted by name, largely since other books have eclipsed it, the idea of decision making based on biblical wisdom rather than mystical feelings is now preached from the chapel platform. (There was a two-day chapel series by one of the younger Bible faculty members on Friesen-esque decision making this past semester.) Part of that may be due to the influence of Greg Mazak, who is not afraid to hold or promote views traditionally deemed controversial. In doing so, he manages to rile students on both sides of the fundy fence (after all, there is now an increasing number of students coming from non-fundy backgrounds).

  26. Hey now, no dissing homeschooling 😉

    Then again, I had an awesome mom wouldn’t put up with shoddy work from us: we were always way ahead in the standardized tests we took every year or so. And since there were so many of us, through high school we had to learn on our own. Taught me how to think and be responsible to get all my work done!

    Now the fundy college I went to: college algebra was algebra 1/2. ??? It was all so very dumbed down. The whole thing was to keep the little academy robots out of the “evil” colleges where they might question their beliefs and see the fallacies.

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