Drowning in Doctrine – 2 – Little Girl in a Lion’s Den

A/N: If you’ve kept up with this blog since its rocky inception, you may be recognize this chapter. What had happened was I had a draft of Drowning of Doctrine saved to a different USB drive (memory stick) and then lost the drive because I’m smart. But I did a scour under my bed and amidst the embarrassing amount of Coke Zero cans, I found it. So the prologue and first chapter are that original draft and this is continuing on from it in the drafts written when I thought I had lost my old files forever. Cleaning: Sometimes, it’s worth it.

2

Little Girl in a Lion’s Den

“I don’t withdraw a word of my initial statement. But I do now think it may have been incomplete. There is perhaps a fifth category, which may belong under ‘insane’ but which can be more sympathetically characterized by a word like tormented, bullied, or brainwashed. Sincere people who are not ignorant, not stupid, and not wicked can be cruelly torn, almost in two, between the massive evidence of science on the one hand, and their understanding of what their holy book tells them on the other. I think this is one of the truly bad things religion can do to a human mind. There is wickedness here, but it is the wickedness of the institution and what it does to a believing victim, not wickedness on the part of the victim himself.”

– Richard Dawkins, Ignorance Is No Crime, Free Inquiry 21, Summer 2001

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Me, age…10 or 11? Holding my terrified new kitten, Zippy.
Legend foretells that the Zippy is still terrified today.

I remember meeting with the principal of this new school. I could hardly forget…she was olive-skinned, wearing a sweater in late April, and her gigantic chest entered the room before she did (literally). It was weird that she was so stacked considering the rest of her was moderately slim and also that she was the principal of a Christian academy.

Stanleytown Baptist Academy, as it was known. Rather than being a school turned into a church, it was still a church that had the whole meeting hall renovated into a “Learning Center”. There were two Learning Centers, the largest being the “classroom” for grades 6-12 and the upstairs Learning Center classroom that was for grades 4th and 5th. There was a cramped stairway that led up to an equally cramped hallway with three classrooms on the entire floor with a door facing out onto the balcony and stairway leading down onto the “playground” (which was the parking lot).

I remember this orientation because my mom had made me wear a denim overall dress that I hated because it had pink flowers on the front. I was told off at the public school I went to only half-day that day by the coach for wearing a dress on a P.E. day. I told him that I had to wear a dress because I was being “interviewed” for a new school. So, like I said, I was picked up by my mother and we were led through the school and upstairs to the Learning Center that I would be in when I started in the fall. There I met my teacher, Mrs. Knowen*, who would be the supervisor. I briefly met the kids in the class and they all balked at the new kid.

The room was quite small, barely the size of a business office for a mailing clerk. The desks were all slabs of wood hung with chains on each wall separated into sections with blue-painted slabs known as dividers. Each student had their own private “office” with a corkboard frame in the very back covered in felt that held pinned charts such as one for how many P.A.C.E.s (Packets of Accelerated Christian Education, I’ll explain these down below) have been completed for the year, the goal chart of how many pages must be done every day and scored (by the student, not the supervisor), and a grouping of three pins in the upper right corner that represented a student’s demerits for that day.

 Mrs. Knowen briefly went through these P.A.C.E. workbooks which were the staple of the school’s chosen curriculum, Accelerated Christian Education. Founded by Dr. Donald R. Howard in 1970, this curriculum is based on fundamentalist Christian teachings from the King James Version of the Holy Bible. (I’ll go into detail of how it is ludicrous for Dr. Howard to state that ACE is an accurate and credible education system when it promotes the KJV Bible as the most valid translation of the Holy Bible in a later part.)

  At that point, my soon to be ten-year-old self was excited to be going to a new school. So, why did my mom think this was the way to go? I was in the fourth grade in the local public school of this small hicktown in Virginia. If I had to explain what I was like as a nine-year-old before I went to the A.C.E. school, I’d go with talkative, friendly, very social, loud, gullible, stubborn, and I hated doing homework like any kid. My worst class in this year was definitely Virginia History. Yep, Virginia was such an important state it was a mandated history course. Want to guess where the American slavery trade began? Jamestown, Virginia. Tobacco crops? Virginia. What’s our fuckin’ motto? “Virginia is for lovers.” Lovers of racism and throat cancer, maybe.

  My fourth grade science and history teacher was, without a doubt, a massive bitch. It was like she’d drawn the short straw in grades to pick from. It didn’t help that this class was full the loudest kids in the whole grade. She would come in the room and scream at us for thirty minutes and then force us to copy notes. We also switched to another teacher for math and English and she wasn’t any better. I had trouble paying attention and she would just mock me openly and make me the class clown. In this class, the kid in the front row would extort me for coins when I was rushing to finish last night’s homework at that period. He grew up to be a hunky football player. Life isn’t fair.

   My mom thought I was being bullied by this teacher, but I really didn’t see it as such. She was rude to everyone, but one teacher was enough to make her enroll me in an entirely different type of learning system. So what happens when you put a talkative social butterfly and force her to work in isolation for 6-8 hours a day?

  I’m getting ahead of myself. I haven’t talked about the Community Center.

  Long story short, my mom didn’t trust my dad to take care of me during the summer while she worked (she was a registered nurse and worked 40-50 hour weeks). She enrolled me into the daycare at the community center that was affiliated with the academy. The woman that owned it was a stern woman that had two children, a teenage daughter that was in the higher grade classroom and a son that was in my grade. He was a bully, plain and simple. He had favor with his mother who offered her community center as the academy’s gym for P.E., basketball and volleyball practice, and sponsored sport game events. He had been enrolled in the school since pre-school and he was definitely reflecting a lot of the “character” from the PACEs like arrogance, sexism, and general uppity rudeness. I’ll call him…Jerold. Yeah, like the Subway sponsor pedophile. Deal with it.

I went to the daycare and from the first day, I know I didn’t want to be there. I had to line up for count by the “activities” director which was a less-than-friendly, pimpled, barely-adult scumbag that wore cowboy shirts and matching boots with an actual Stetson cowboy hat. Our town wasn’t really known as a farming district, so this made his outfits even more out of place. You could tell he didn’t choose this job and he definitely hated kids. He scared me instantly. He had a Mountain Dew addiction and used the empty bottles to collect the spit-out shells from the sunflower seeds he ate constantly. I never bothered to learn his name because he was just the creepy guy with the sunflower seeds to me.

I met a few of the students from the school while here. The community center took in students from the public schools as well, but you could tell who the church school kids were. They had the most pretentious parents, they got in the most trouble for being rude, and during school months, they wore “church clothes” or clothing according to the church school’s dress code. Now, to my knowledge, this community center wasn’t exactly known as Christian in any context, but our story times were Bible stories. So the indoctrination began in the cramped classroom of the community center literally offset the girl’s changing room.

Yes. The girl’s changing room leading out to the center’s swimming pool was the hallway to this classroom. I remember once after we were changing out of our swimsuits one day, they started leading little kids through the hall. Granted, at ages 9-12, most girls didn’t really have secondary sex characteristics yet, but at 10, I was heavy for my age and already developing breasts and pubic hair. So, while I was stark naked, covering up my parts with my towel and damp swimsuit I had taken off, this stupid activity director (female, thankfully) lead a kid’s class through the changing room…a co-ed kids class of little 3-5 year olds. Usually, they waited in the class until we had changed and left, but this activity director must have left her brain back at home. A lot of us were just like “What the heck? We’re naked!” Don’t ask me how they thought this was a good idea. I’m guessing this old classroom used to be like a nautilus gym or locker room.

I met another bully in this school. Now that I think about it, I can understand what her problem was me. Since I was being told what was “right and wrong” according to scripture and anecdotes of how sinners failed in their life after leaving church and listening to “evil” rock and rap music, I told on this girl about her having an Eminem CD on the campus. I mean, back in the early 2000s, there were news stories about Eminem’s CDs being bulldozed in protest rallies nationwide, so I took that to mean that Eminem was “evil”. And because I told on this girl, she would let others know in the school that I wasn’t to be trusted and that I was a tattletale. Regarding things like that, I’d have to agree – I was a petty little shit. But that wouldn’t be the end of drama by a long shot.

I mentioned Jerold earlier, he brought his Nintendo 64 from home to play in the inside rec room. Groups of kids (usually the boys) would crowd in front of the two televisions to play Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, and Yoshi’s Story. At that age, boys and girls were rude to each other anyway (at least in this paradigm) so it wasn’t “girly” to play video games. And Jerold had already marked me down for a loser from Day 1 so he wouldn’t want me even touching his controllers. So I settled for watching them play like I used to watch my brother play his original Nintendo (only he was nice to me).

I tried to make friends and I did make a couple…that both went to public school. Sensing a pattern? I was already the odd one out because I had been on the other side of the fence where these pampered church school kids were told to never go. Most of them had gone to the school since kindergarten and they already expected me to fail and be back in public school in year.

Pretty soon, the summer ended and the school season was starting. I don’t really remember my first day other than being confused as to why my mother was letting me wear a skirt. No, I wrote that right. In the public school, I had to beg my mother to let me wear denim skirts like the other girls, but I’m talking about the slightly above the knee that meant you had to sit a certain way to avoid flashing your underwear. However, this skirt was cotton because this school didn’t allow denim anything. Not even purses. She had also bought most of my school clothing for that year from the local Goodwill thrift store. There’s nothing wrong with that at all…but some of the more snotty kids turned their nose up at me mentioning it.

My first friend at this school was a girl named Brisha. I use her real name because I feel like giving her a fake name is an insult to her memory. You can guess what exactly I mean by that, but that’s a story for much later. She taught me who people were and we became close friends. That also triggers a memory of one of my first ever demerits at this school. When students came back into the room from break or lunch, they had to stand in front of their pushed-in chair before being told that they could sit down by the supervisor. We also had to stand for morning pledges (yes, plural) and devotion every morning. After we were told we could sit, we weren’t to talk at all because that was the start of classwork time. We had to work in complete silence and raise flags if we needed help from a supervisor. Sometimes, they would play a cassette (remember those?) of classical music and there is only so many times you can hear “The Turkish March” without wanting to vomit.

The Accelerated Christian Education P.A.C.E.s, as so rigorously advertised on their website, aimed for a “Biblically based program infused with Godly character” with an “individualized approach”. Does that mean that the courses were chosen specifically by the child or fine-tuned to their own placement level? Depends on your definition of individualized.

What A.C.E. calls individualization is actually isolationism wearing a smiley-face mask. By removing the aspect of any class participation and limiting the possibility of students being able to free-think among their peers, what A.C.E. is advertising as a self-paced, self-instructional learning environment is really a means of purposeful indoctrination. The subjects you would think, looking at them in a broad perspective, would be giving questions specifically asking for a student to think critically, especially in secondary levels of education. But such activities are absent and is purposeful that critical thinking is taught against. The student is taught that the Bible is the irrefutable word of God. What does a child normally begin to do when they reach the age of logical, abstract thought? They question the things that this supposedly all-knowing, beneficent god had done for the world.

The process of working through one P.A.C.E. is an arduous venture. I’ve been hospitalized for suicidal depression (much, much later chapter) and even those nurses didn’t have to check off what I was doing every ten minutes like I was in the Christian academy.

Once a student received a new P.A.C.E., before you could start working, you had to read out the little course outline on the very first page to the supervisor that responded to your…I can’t remember if you had to raise the Christian flag or nationality flag. I think I’ve gotten in trouble for putting up the Christian flag for this reason, though. In all honestly, that could have been out of pure spite because the principal hated me for daring to be depressed.

In these stupid little course aims, it had a Godly characteristic to learn, a Bible passage to memorize, and “Social Studies” (I give snarky quotation marks because A.C.E. calling their history and science subjects as actually proven facts of history and science is to assume a Joel Olsteen literary masturbation is not a bait hook for the faith-blind and gullible) would have passages of a famous speech. In the 5th grade, I only had to read it, but in the Learning Center downstairs with grades 6-12, you had to recite it.

After you’ve been green circled (because the supervisors used green ink and students could only use pencil on P.A.C.E.s, and blue or black pen ink on goal charts; red was used for scoring), you could begin work. You learned what kind of shit you were in for once you got the pattern of most P.A.C.E.s. I hated started new Word Building/Etymology because it was usually four to five pages of looking up the words in the dictionary and putting it in a sentence. That was really the only creativity you were allowed, but it had to be within the school conduct code. Nope, there was definitely a parent teacher conference if you put the word tremendous in a sentence like, “Principal Ides’ cat sweater is so stretched out by her tremendous bust, that it makes the crochet kitty cat look like a walrus on bath salts.”

I was actually pretty good at math, but you try filling out five pages of problems with five to eight addends without wanting to strangle yourself with your Bible bookmark ribbon. I was good at math until it got to P.A.C.E. 1080.

“What was so bad about P.A.C.E. 1080? It’s just the metric system.”

I’m American. Having learned weights and measures using the useless imperial system, that was less like math that needed logic and math that needed a calculator, an old priest, and a young priest. I want to know how Algebra is taught if the curriculum is deliberately brainwashing children against thinking critically. In the 9th grade, I was honestly confused as to why there were letters in it. I took as a literal combination of the alphabet and numbers. Because if you’re taught to think concretely and only concretely, there can be no room to understand what a variable is.

English was taught concretely as well. I went to a public school after five years of this crap and I was baffled as to why were reading a book instead of doing sentence diagrams and underlining. It would be my absolutely sinful background reading of the Harry Potter series that would teach me ultimately what abstract thought was. Surprisingly, as many times as I read the Order of the Phoenix, I never quite picked up on the similarities of this school curriculum to the type of teaching that was being forced upon Hogwarts students.

Sugary sweet, pink wearing, kitten loving on the outside Dolores Umbridge, when she was actually racist, controlling, and after her “version of right and wrong”. Her sadistic detention practices of making students write lines with their own blood is like the aspect of corporal punishment in ACE schools hidden away under Bible verses. Also, it speaks of my personal OCD behavior of scratching myself. I will explain about that a bit later down the line.

Each and every PACE was about 30-50 pages thick and interspersed with “Checkups” which were mini-quizzes about the skills and information just explained in the text. Before a checkup could be started, a supervisor had to check on the pages before to make sure they were done. In order to get a supervisor to sign something, a student will have to put their folded PACE on top of the little ledge where the flaghole pegs were. However, depending on where the supervisors were, if they were bothering to even fucking care or just stand there looking important, drinking coffee, or being hogged by a goody-two shoes student that only gets all 100s because the pushover supervisor gives them all the answers. (I mean, now that I think of it, that’s pretty damn clever. You don’t even have to get up to score, just summon the most easily-fooled Christbrained teacher.)

Christbrained: adj. “being so scarily nice and actually demonstrating attitudes of Christ in the Bible, that in an average, secular environment, they would be seen as the most pathetically ignorant that it’s better just to leave them be to their delusions. These people are normally harmless and just very generous and hospitable, but when triggered on matters of Christianity, they become terrifyingly pious.”

The students scored their own work as they went along. It was not a matter of marking wrong, giving a grade, and moving on — it is about being right. You put up your nationality flag, asked to score, and then went to the designated “scoring station” where it was usually four to a station with a cup of red pens. Each wrong problem is marked with a X and three boxes at the bottom of a page with a comic indicating the action needed to be performed (Score, Re-do, Re-score). Each box needs to be X’d out before the student can officially continue. I say officially, because if you are a rebel like me, you fucking X’d those boxes regardless of whatever the fuck was wrong, because you are fucking tired of this fucking bullshit and you want to sit down and draw pictures of bleeding eyeballs.

Uh. But that was just me.

I will explain more about the PACEs in general, but the fifth grade is where I left off in the story. What, this had a plot? Yes, it did. Do forgive me for going off tangent, but that’s how my brain works because it’s broken. Instead of a well-oiled machine, it’s an octopus operating twenty different ship wheels on an island made of gummy worms.

Anyway, Brisha and I had just been dismissed to continue working and we were giving silent hand gestures (finger-guns and thumbs-ups) to one another before turning into our desk. Mrs. Knowen saw this and docked us a demerit each.

Yeah. That kind of drill sergeant discipline. I’d wonder if I’d be made to clean the desks with a toothbrush.

I barely remember what I “learned” from the PACEs that year. The math PACEs were pretty self-explanatory. Do a heap of problems, get bored, nearly fall asleep, pretend your eraser is a race car, and then put up your American flag so you can score your problems. After a while, semantics were ignored and just saying “Score?” when the supervisor came around was just the norm. In the cramped little Learning Center, there was one scoring table where a file container of score-keys were labeled in corresponding PACE number. There was a pencil cup of red pens and you had to score your own work, marking what you did wrong so that you can go back and correct them.

Yep. No wrong answers. Got to be perfect.

Except when you cut corners and just circled the page number to indicate it was all correct because I was ten fucking years old and couldn’t feel guilty for doing something a teacher was supposed to do.

But it was my fault for “mis-scoring”. You know in public school where if you get some problems wrong, you were graded and rewarded for what you got right rather than being tied nose-down in your own failure until you get it right?

Guess who still has the anxious mind-set of everything that’s not absolutely 100% perfect is cause for utter and complete chaos?

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One Response to Drowning in Doctrine – 2 – Little Girl in a Lion’s Den

  1. Pingback: Drowning in Doctrine – 3 – Fashions of the Oppressed and Jaded | Burning My Church Clothes

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