This notion of a Biblical mandate for Christian school is hardly unique to fundamentalists but the idea of the necessity of alternative Christian education is so inseparable from the fundy culture that it’s worth noting here anyway. To demonstrate the point here’s an excerpt from Dr. Charles Walker in a pamphlet entitled “Is Christian Education A Biblical Mandate?”
Whenever I happen to reminisce with people about days gone by at fundy schools, one common theme almost inevitably emerges: there were some teachers who were pretty awesome people. It is a paradox that in the midst of such oppressive rules and sloppy scholarship that there are a handful of teachers who are both decent human beings as well as accomplished in their field. And often times it was that one English professor or Computer Science teacher or choir director who helped make life just bearable enough to survive through one more semester or one more year.
It’s not as if the teachers themselves have a particularly easy time dealing with the administrations of their schools either. The hallmark of teachers in fundyland is that they are paid a pittance and then assigned constant menial labor in addition to their actual teaching duties. Then they are generally disrespected and belittled at every turn. Yet, somehow, a few still manage to maintain a shred of humanity and goodwill and do their best to minister to the students that they teach.
So let’s hear it for the few good eggs that manage to bring a little cheer and comfort to the hearts of fundy students who are on the brink of despair. Let’s give our thanks for kind words, encouraging smiles, good humor and overlooked faults. And let us send our best wishes that they soon find employment in other places where they will truly be appreciated and rewarded for their efforts.
By the time a young fundamentalist has reached high school the focus of their spiritual instruction has narrowed down to two basic points. 1) Not having sex with anybody and 2) Finding God’s perfect will for their life. The first one is accompanied by tales of terrible tragedy that will befall them if they DO the second is accompanied by tales of terrible tragedy if they DON’T.
It’s a little ironic that so much time is spent telling teens to find “God’s will” (as if it has somehow been accidentally dropped down the sink or hidden under a couch cushion) when the reality is that a fundy teen really has very few decisions that he or she can call their own. Their pastor will likely pick their Fundy U. Their parents will pick (if they do courtship) or strongly suggest (if they are allowed to “date”) their spouse. Their lack of any real world experience and limited higher education options will also in all likelihood help pick their vocation. Added to this is the fact that by the time a teen graduates high school they are expected to have already picked a vocation by walking an aisle and “surrendering” their life to some ministry function or other such as preaching, missionarying, or marrying said pastor or missionary and bearing seventeen children. The choices here are not exactly broad.
The truth is that the expectations for most fundy high-schoolers is set pretty low. For the most part they are not taught to shoot for greatness. The young fundamentalist will not become a world-class musician, a captain of industry, or a nationally known architect or scientist. For the most part they’ll simply return to work in the church that spawned them in hopes of nothing greater than making more mediocre copies of themselves. A select few may enter the ministry and start their own fundy schools and churches to produce even more fundy teens no real prospects. These will be considered the greatest successes of all.
There are notable exceptions to this scenario. I once even heard that a young fundy graduated from a state school and became a marine biologist. As far as I know, his family still mourns that he isn’t in “the ministry.”
By the time a fundamentalist child has spent any time in a fundamentalist school they have learned a fair amount of the three R’s (Reading, Writing, and Rhythmless Singing) but mostly they have learned an awful lot about what NOT to do.
They’ve learned not to question or express themselves. They’ve learned that it’s not what you do that counts but how people perceive what you are doing. And they’ve learned that perfection on the outside is actually better than perfection on the inside. In a thousand tiny unspoken ways they have begun to skip down the primrose path to fundydom.
By this point, they have also become well acquainted with the phenomenon of “chapel” which involves giving the men from the local Basement Bible College (and occasionally a visiting evangelist or pastor) a chance to bellow fantastic lies at a captive audience for forty minutes. What those children are subjected to in that time is the very worst of what fundyland preaching has to offer. For what is on display here is not the polished and practiced efforts of the veteran preacher, who has perfected his patter and picked his points. Nay, this is instead the sound and fury of those who are so unpolished they would not usually be allowed into a pulpit in front of an audience of adults so instead they are given young impressionable minds to practice on.
Middle school therefore becomes a time of terror for the student who is at all prone to believing what he hears as he is showered with tales of horrific deaths, terrible judgments, and new and novel sins that had been heretofore unknown. For not deterred by the fact that the children in the audience are all church-going kids from good fundy homes, the preacher inevitably assumes that the class of third graders in the front row are prone to the most heinous debaucheries he can imagine and delivers his rants accordingly.
If there were ever a case for homeschooling in fundyland the daily chapel service would be its strongest argument.