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Bhutanese School Children-Wikicommons -Ryanne
TWW is pleased to have " Leila," a regular commenter, as a guest poster. She is publishing under her pseudonym. We want to take this opportunity to defend "anonymous" posts and comments. We believe that many people have been deeply wounded in their Christian experience and are reluctant to be hurt all over again. Also, some of these individuals, who have left churches, leave behind family and friends in that entity. Out of respect for the privacy of their family and friends, they do not wish to identify themselves.
After a year of blogging, Deb and I went public with our names so that we could advocate for those who wish to remain anonymous. We believe that these narratives are stories that need to be heard by the greater Christian community. We know the identities of those who post and hold those identities in strict confidence. In other words, it would take a subpoena and a guaranteed court fight to get us to release the names we hold in confidence.
We thank Leila for sharing her insightful story.
My husband and I planned, from the beginning, to send our children to private school, since we weren’t happy with the public schools in our area. Right before our oldest was ready to start kindergarten in the mid-90s, a new Christian school opened in our area and we eagerly took a look. We loved what we saw. This Christian school was started by parents and was different from any other we’d ever seen. This one was classical. They taught Latin starting in 3rd grade, had a phenomenal writing and literature curriculum, a systematic approach through the grades for history and geography, and, of course, that dangling carrot for parents of students everywhere … small classroom sizes. The method, we learned, was based on Doug Wilson’s “rediscovery” of the classical trivium approach and which assured our children of an excellent education.
Let me say right now that for the most part, we never had an issue with our kids’ teachers. They were great. They were warm, caring, loving Christians who were very good teachers. Nor did we have an issue with the rigorous academic standards at the school. We still love the classical approach … if it’s the right fit for the child. The school our children attended is on the east coast, and is considered one of the “flagship” schools of the Wilsonian classical schooling movement. People from all over the country who attend a classical school have usually heard of it.
What we didn’t love, as the years went by, was Wilsonian theology and thought seeping into just about every aspect of the school. It was a gradual transition, and it happened so slowly that we were like the proverbial frogs who are placed in a pot of cold water while the heat is gradually turned up. Unlike the proverbial frog, however, we finally jumped out and escaped.
One of the first things we noticed was that normal childhood behavior was often attributed to “rebellion.” For instance, I got a call one time from one of the mothers who was a founding member of the school. Our children were in first grade together. My daughter was a chatterbox. Apparently, my little 6 year old was leading this woman’s son into temptation by … gasp … talking to him in class! He, of course, being a normal kid, would respond. The mom asked me to work with my daughter so she wouldn’t tempt the little boy to talk in class with her … because if he did, she was going to have to spank him. (For talking in class? Really?) Another time, my son did something wrong (I don’t even remember what it was) and his teacher confronted him about it. Immediately my son denied it. (What kid doesn’t?) But within about 5 seconds, he broke down and admitted it. The teacher punished him, not for the original wrongdoing, but for “lying” about it. No grace, no willingness to give a 10-year-old boy’s conscience and the Holy Spirit five seconds to work!
One of our children, although very bright, struggled with paying attention, focusing on multi-step tasks, and impulsiveness. A number of times throughout the years, I asked the principal (who was also my child’s teacher for awhile), could my child have ADD? No, I was told, my child’s problem was sin and rebellion. It was a character issue. I should have listened to my gut … because years later, while in high school and tested with an IQ of 136, my child was practically flunking out of school. We worked with a specialist and determined that yes, it was ADD along with a couple of learning disabilities. But sadly, my child was turn off of school forever by that point.
By the time our oldest child was in 6th grade (and we had two younger children there as well), we knew something was very wrong. We could no longer brush aside the gut feelings we’d been having. The school felt spiritually oppressive and legalistic. When we tried to put it into words, it was easy to start second guessing ourselves. (Was it legalistic for administrators to write kids up for wearing the wrong color ponytail elastic? Or was that reasonable?) And we were reluctant to share our feelings with other parents who seemed to be struggling with the same feelings … because the school administration constantly admonished about “gossip.” Maybe our observations and the anecdotes other parents had shared with us really were just isolated incidents. Maybe we were overly sensitive. Nonetheless, the weight of numerous incidents and observations finally forced us to concede that the school was spiritually unhealthy for our children and after six years, we took them out.
All the anecdotes and observations listed here were my own observations or anecdotes related directly to me from another parent. If I added in the third-party anecdotes (which I can’t verify), this post would be ten times as long.
I would characterize the climate at the Wilson-model school as authoritarian, legalistic, controlling, and misogynist.
Women were to be kept firmly in their place. For example:
- Women teachers were paid less than men teachers, because men, of course were “the head of their household” and needed to earn more.
- It was frequently and loudly proclaimed that at the high school level, the eventual goal was to have mostly or all male teachers because “boys need strong role models.” (Because women can’t be strong role models?) This goal hadn’t been achieved by the time we left. With 20/20 hindsight, I now wonder, could this really be have been code for “women can’t teach men”?
- Women were not permitted to serve on the school board.
- Most alarming of all was what I saw happen to a key group of moms over the course of the 6 years we were there. These were the women who were married to board members or one of the founding families of the school. When we started, these women were normal, happy, friendly moms who wore blue jeans and laughed and just enjoyed life. They were friendly, warm, and authentic. Then things started getting creepy … By the time we left, you would hardly know they were the same women. They rarely smiled, you could read their chronic tension in their body language, and most of them wouldn’t be caught dead in blue jeans anymore – it was skirts only for them. They really wouldn’t talk with anyone anymore about in depth issues; they usually parroted and quoted their husbands, or deferred to them. For example, one woman started a home catering business – but anyone who wanted to engage her services had to first approach her husband for permission to hire her! And they started having babies again. Most of these women, when we started school there, were in their mid-30’s and had pretty much finished having their families. By our last year there, there was a baby boomlet among this group. Women now in their late 30’s and early 40’s were suddenly having babies again after a 10-year gap. 20/20 hindsight: Was Wilson’s teaching of “covenant seed” influencing these decisions?
- Both parents had to attend an interview before they could even apply to the school. One family was denied because when the husband arrived late to the interview, the wife “did not display the characteristics of a submissive wife by standing and greeting her husband with a kiss.” (I have never forgotten those exact words related to me by that women, an acquaintance, who is now thankful their children were not admitted to the school.)
The board and founding families were very much concerned with maintaining control. For instance, they set up the school board to ensure that they would keep it.
• The school board consisted of 3 permanent (male) members, founders of the school, and two “at large” seats (to be held by men only), elected by the parents … but the permanent members could veto an at-large candidate even running.
• If you had an issue you wanted put on the school board agenda for discussion, you had to find a board member willing to do so. They could decline to address any concern.
More ways they tried to keep control included:
- If a parent had any concern about anything at all, they were to address it directly to the teacher and then on up the chain. It was never to be discussed outside this chain of authority. Parents were reprimanded for making remarks to other parents like, “I was not happy that the kids were given so much homework tonight when they have to be at school for the music program this evening for two hours” or “Johnny is really struggling with the memorization of the long bible passages. The last one was over 80 words long and they had only two evenings to memorize it.” (Yep, I personally got scolded for the latter example for “gossiping.”)
- The permanent school board members and founding families formed their own “reformed” church, and pressured faculty to join it. The pastor and elders of the church were the same as the permanent school board members. On at least two occasions that I witnessed, parents had serious disagreements with a board member. The board member told them they could bring it before his pastor to resolve … and you know how that ended.
- Three of my children’s teachers who attended Doug Wilson’s classical Christian schooling conference one year were verbally attacked by one of the “heavyweight” speakers there. The speaker told them they were in sin for attending churches that weren’t truly reformed. He was so virulent that it brought one woman to tears. (These teachers shared this with me a few weeks after the incident at a Pampered Chef party I hosted.)
- The school founders and administrators pounded the point repeatedly that parents were responsible for the upbringing of their own children, and that nobody else had the right to decide what was best for your children. Unless you were a teacher there, of course … because if you taught there, you were contractually obligated to send your own children to that school as a condition of your employment. And pay full price tuition with no employee discount. If you had a child who might be better suited to another type of school, tough.
School founders clearly set out to create a school culture that set them apart. One of their chief methods was to put down public schools as often as possible. Only they weren’t called public schools, they were called “government schools,” and always spoken of in a contemptuous tone. The intellectual pride was astonishing. The children who faithfully attended their school, they said, would achieve far more in life than other kids. (Now that the kids who attended school with my oldest child are in their early 20’s, clearly that’s not the case. Just as many college dropouts, unemployed, cohabitation, etc., as the general population.)
Vocabulary was very important to creating this culture. You heard the words “godly” and “biblical” an awful lot. You also heard the words “gossip” and “bitterness” flung around quite a bit too, when discussion needed to be shut down. The vocabulary was even reflected in the curriculum – don’t you dare call it the Civil War. It was the War Between the States.
The school doesn’t have a prom like most high schools. They have a “cotillion.” The students don’t bring dates or go alone like most people who attend a prom. Instead, each young lady is assigned a male classmate as her escort. After 11th grade, they go on a “grand tour” to Europe. There have been several grand tours, I’ve been told by parents, that pretty much turn into pub crawls with underage kids getting drunk repeatedly.
Finally, we could ignore the weight of the evidence no longer. We chose not to re-enroll our children after 6 years there, and found another private Christian school that, although also classical, had a much healthier spiritual and emotional climate. Was it as academically rigorous? No. But it was good enough. And after 8th grade, we put our kids in – horrors – government schools for high school! And they’re doing about as well as the average kid – my ADD child has started and stopped college three times, and is now working two part time jobs and living with a group of friends. My second child has a 4.0 in college, a full academic scholarship, will graduate one year ahead of time, and has saved so much money that she’ll be able to buy a house next year. The other two are still in high school, having fun exploring their interests and making plans for what they’ll be when they grow up.
So a few months ago, we ran into an old classmate (I’ll call him T) of my son’s. The boys had been good buddies in school from 1st through 6th grade. T had graduated from the classical school and gone on to New St. Andrews, Doug Wilson’s college located in Moscow, Idaho. This sweet little boy was now fully grown. He was smoking a cigar and sporting a fedora … Just like Doug Wilson.
Lydia's Corner: Exodus 17:8-19:15 Matthew 22:34-23:12 Psalm 27:7-14 Proverbs 6:27-35