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Guest Post: #ExposeChristianSchools Part 1


#ExposeChristianSchools, created by ex-evangelical Chris Stroop, has been trending on social media since Second Lady Karen Pence accepted a position at Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia. Readily available on the school’s website is the agreement which parents of admitted students must sign. Included in the agreement is the paragraph as follows:

I understand the biblical role of Immanuel Christian School is to partner with families to encourage students to be imitators of Christ. This necessarily involves the school’s understanding and belief regarding biblical morality and standards of conduct. I understand that the school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission to an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a student if the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home, the activities of a parent or guardian, or the activities of the student are counter to, or are in opposition to, the biblical lifestyle the school teaches. This includes, but is not limited to, contumacious behavior, divisive conduct, and participating in, supporting, or condoning sexual immorality, homosexual activity, or bi-sexual activity, promoting such practices, or being unable to support the moral principles of the school. (Lev. 20:13 and Romans 1:27). I acknowledge the importance of a family culture based on biblical principles and embrace biblical family values such as a healthy marriage between one man and one woman. My role as spiritual mentor to my children will be taken seriously.

As a parent of a student, one must sign an agreement that one does not even condone homosexual or bisexual activity upon threat of expulsion. Additionally, the school teaches creation mythology instead of evolution, and of course, the school teaches typical Evangelical doctrines regarding sin and salvation through grace, along with “the rapture” eschatology.

I attended a fundamentalist Christian school much like this in grades 5-12 (1981-1988). My mom and grandparents heard a rumor that students living in my district would be bused to a mostly-minority community, so they acted fast to enroll me in the private (almost completely white) Christian school. Entering the school, all students were subject to a gender-based dress code and a comprehensive code of conduct. Girls were to “appear as God made them — feminine” (yes, I distinctly remember that description from the student handbook). There were strict guidelines for skirt length and sleeve length, and when we entered 6th grade the female teachers taught us how to go through physical contortions in front of a mirror to determine whether our clothing would properly cover us if we bent over or reached over our heads. Girls’ dress code also allowed for pants/slacks/culottes to be worn to extracurricular activities such as ballgames (but we were never to wear jeans – somehow denim is fine in the form of skirt, dress, jumper, or jacket, but it transforms into pure evil if it is cut into the form of women’s pants). Boys’ dress code included strict guidelines for hair length including a diagram in the handbook and the requirement for a belt to be worn and shirt tucked in at all times. No one was allowed to wear anything with obscenities, racial slurs, or the American flag.

We had a strict code of conduct that allowed the school to suspend or expel students for activities outside the school. Students could be suspended or expelled for having sex, for smoking, for drinking alcohol, for profane language, and for playing rock music on school grounds. There was a year when anyone caught going to the roller-skating rink would be suspended. During my tenure at the school, three boys were expelled for attending a party that served alcohol. A girl overheard the boys talking about it and turned them in. Naturally, we were in a culture that encouraged us to report behavior of other students to the administrators. Additionally, two girls were expelled for getting pregnant. One would think that pro-lifers would commend the girls for giving birth to their babies, but for some reason the administration thought that the correct course of action was to expel the girls. I suppose they wanted to remove the quite-visible reminder that the girls had participated in sexual activity.

To be fair, I was never told that I could not excel academically or take a class because I was female. It was clear that females were not allowed to preach, but we had a female high school principal. However, there were other things that we learned about being female. First, of course, was the emphasis on the dress code as described previously. Girls were sent home from school if their skirts were too short, too tight, or if their shirt was “too revealing” in some way. When I was in 6th grade, our health and physical education teacher taught us that the “perfect female form” had the dimensions of equal measurements of bust and hips with waist measuring ten inches less. Homework required that we take our measurements, and the next day she asked girls to raise their hands who had the “perfect female form” measurements. Three girls raised their hands — we all knew they were liars, but I remember feeling like a loser because at age twelve I had nowhere near the “perfect female form.” My entire life, I never had those measurements, though I have always been fit and active except while pregnant and postpartum. Those measurement parameters and their association with the “perfect female form” have stuck in my mind my entire life though.

Another traumatizing moment at school was in preparation for our senior class trip to Florida. Girls were allowed to bring one-piece swimwear on the trip, but we were only allowed to bring pieces approved by female faculty. I will never forget having to put on my two one-piece swimsuits while my female teachers examined them to determine if they were modest enough. They approved both suits, wrote down their descriptions which would be available to the female chaperones, and they told me I looked good. There are few incidents in my life that were as mortifying as this. I do not know what the requirements were for boys’ swimwear.

Our school had a culture of pointing out misbehavior/sin. Among students, people would comment upon other students’ failings “in a spirit of love” but really, we all knew it was just an opportunity for people to judge others and to highlight things they didn’t like to other students. As teachers were the authorities and in charge of correcting misbehavior, they were allowed to point out misbehavior at any time. There was a lot of watching, observing, and judging going on. Faculty sometimes even tried to prevent dating situations from occurring. One of my friends was a PK — preacher’s kid — whose father was friends with the headmaster of the school. The headmaster did not approve of my friend’s boyfriend (also a student at the school), so he approached my friend’s father who broke up the relationship.

Yet there was, of course, rampant hypocrisy. Teachers as part of their employment contract were not allowed to attend movie theaters. It was explained that observing students would not know whether a teacher was entering or exiting a rated-R movie, so in order to protect the testimony of the teacher, the teacher could not attend the movie theater. However, all the young teachers had memberships to the local video store, and they openly discussed movies with students. I never understood how it was acceptable for the teacher to rent movies from the video store, as by the same reasoning that students would not know whether a teacher was attending a rated-R movie, how could we know whether the teacher was renting a pornographic film? Additionally, I always found it odd that two female students married teachers from the school and wondered if any dating was going on while the girls were students.

Students were told that we received the best academic education available, but I learned when I went to a top ranked secular university that this was not necessarily the case. (One could argue that my education was good enough to gain admission to a top ranked secular school.) Of course, as a fundamentalist Christian school whose statement of beliefs included inerrant, inspired, and literalist view of the Bible, evolution was not taught in science courses. Our science textbooks were from Bob Jones University Press, and they included some odd rebuttals of evolution. One of the main rebuttals was that radiocarbon dating was contaminated and inaccurate on the magnitude of millions of degrees of error. The curriculum taught that the earth was only 6,000-10,000 years old and that God had created the earth with the appearance of age. Fossils existed due to upheavals that occurred during (the story of) Noah’s Worldwide Flood. I remember the explanation that spontaneous generation of life does not occur because rotten meat that produced maggots and flies meant that flies laid eggs in the meat, not that the rotting meat generated flies; therefore, evolution is false. It’s a fair analysis that flies lay eggs in rotting meat, but it has nothing to do with spontaneous generation of life – it just means that ignorant people who thought that rotting meat gave rise to maggots and flies had no understanding of the reproduction and gestation of flies. As for mathematics, our course path was a year behind the honors track at public or private secular schools, so those of us who were “advanced” students were a year behind other top students. History courses were taught from a Christian inclination, and I do not remember much mention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or of the civil rights movement. Our foreign language curriculum was not very rigorous, and I was required to repeat basic French in college in order to fulfill the foreign language requirement. What the school considered Advanced Placement courses were not the true Advanced Placement courses one finds in other schools in which an AP exam is administered for which one can earn college credit. On the positive side, our writing skills were impeccable as the school focused on constructing proper paragraphs and essays. My college literature professor pulled me aside after our first composition and asked me if I was sandbagging his course because my writing skills were beyond the level of other students in the class. I told him I was not offered another option and explained I had attended a private Christian school. I think he felt sorry for me as he allowed me to take a leadership role in the class.

Many of my teachers were kind, compassionate people who were dedicated to educating students. However, most newer, younger teachers did not last long at the school due to the low pay and the heavy course load — each middle school and high school teacher was required to teach a minimum of four individual classes, each with a separate course prep. The shortest tenure I recall is 5 weeks; a couple of teachers lasted through the first half of the year; the majority quit after the first year. The teachers who made it past the first two years generally stayed for a long time. Male teachers were required to prepare and preach sermons on chapel days (Tuesdays and Thursdays) in addition to teaching courses. A few teachers coached sports or drove school buses in order to make a little extra money, and all had summer jobs. The teachers chose life in a Christian school whereas most of the students did not — our parents and guardians chose for us.

Stay tuned for more about #ExposeChristianSchools.

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    Christianity utterly collapses when I look at it through my own eyes and not the eyes, say, of a pastor telling a story about a good Samaritan or a guy who wanted to die for me. Read the Bible yourself and you won’t get through Genesis without wondering what the fuck happened to people to allow them to believe this stuff. Same goes for businesses claiming to be Christian and Christian schools (scruels) are a perfect example of tax-free abuse hubs spread out all over the nation. Sensitive souls repel in horror when they are exposed to shit being thrown their way and Christian schools are so full of shit (as the blogger above aptly shares) that students sent there surely often wonder why their caregivers hated them so much that they were given over to structured torture. Well, kiddie, your loving parents did it for Jesus and even though they may have had reservations, off you went to be trained-up. Is it Jesus’ fault that this harm continues in such a vile way among us? Yep. I sure hate Jesus; don’t you?
    -preacher’s boy

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    The description you paint of your school is very much a microcosm of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, especially the way in which people were encouraged to ‘report’ anything seen as being anti-German. The propaganda was such that normally ordinary, decent people would betray their neighbours for the most trivial of reasons, though perhaps, in hindsight, later denying that they appreciated the full import of their actions.

    All the rules are to do with control. In many ways, the authorities weren’t actually bothered how you acted, so long as it was in accordance with the strict rules laid down, with completely unreasonable punishments meted out for disobedience. Again, control. You had to sign up to a creed that entitled you to continue to be a member of the group (be it school or Nazi party), said creed being significantly at odds with that of the perceived enemy. Hence the teaching of stupid science, such as creationism and dating methods. They didn’t really want you to be educated in a meaningful way as they then lose you to the fold, so you were clearly a failure in their eyes!

    And the breaking of the rules by teachers, and the like? All part of the game. They know the rules whereby they control you are ridiculous and, by breaking them themselves, they are saying, come on, play the game, finish school, stay within the rules then, when the time comes and you are finished, you can do what the fuck you like as well! Just like the Nazi hierarchy.

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    Brian, years after I had graduated from that school, I took my mom with me to dinner with 4 former classmates. One was the girl whose father had broken up her relationship at the behest of the school headmaster. Eventually stories from our high school experiences came pouring out. My mom listened in horror, and she said she was sorry and asked why I didn’t say anything. I had complained about the unfairness of the dress code on multiple occasions but my mom said these are the school’s rules, just deal. I told her I didn’t know I could say anything and have a change occur.

    My point is, kids in that setting are taught that their outrage is anti-christian, spawned by Satan, that their natures are fallen and not to be trusted, that God ordained authorities through whom to convey his messages and discipline. Kids in this environment are just powerless, and they know it.

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    GeoffT, it was completely a game, one that I learned to play. I knew if I gave the correct answers and excelled academically I could get away with a lot. I sat in the back of each class and chatted with friends, teaching them the material later and excelling on every quiz and exam. I graduated as valedictorian- and I knew that success in school would be my one way ticket OUT of that system.

    So much was controlled in that school, but somehow they didn’t control my desire to escape. My friends always said I could have burned that school down and gotten away with it – but I was careful about the timing and type of rebellion I employed. Somehow i knew that my academic success was my protection.

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    Radiocarbon dating is often used as a stand in for any kind of radiometric dating. A fundie school would be technically correct, radiocarbon dating doesn’t work for million of years, in fact it is pretty much limited to human history with a limit at about 50,000 years. There are of course other materials that have longer half life than carbon-14 with a mere 5,730 years that can be used instead.

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    Back in the early-to-mid 1960’s, it wasn’t just the religious schools that tried to control the girl’s sexuality. In the secular high school I attended, the girl’s skirts had to be below their knees. The test was, they had to kneel in front of the principal and if the skirt didn’t touch the ground, they were sent home.

    I didn’t think much about until the school’s proto-hippie (who can introduced me to Dylan) pointed out the sexual connotations of a grown man in a position of authority making teenage girls go down on their knees in front of him.

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    I feel both angry and sad when I read stuff like this. To this day, I am thankful to Jesus that I never had to endure bullshit like what you described—although my public schools did have a dress and haircut code back in the 1960s.

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Bruce Gerencser