Book Excerpt: 'My Fundamentalist Education'

Before I had even mastered reading, I committed to memory my first Bible verse, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." I learned songs about the Bible -- "The B-i-b-l-e. Yes that's the book for me! I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-i-b-l-e!" --and continued to memorize the order of the books of the Old and New Testaments, practicing with Manuel, who was a far better memorizer than I was, on the playground every day.

We memorized everything that year -- Bible verses, a Protestant version of the catechism, the names of the presidents, and lots and lots of poetry. Poems and Prayers for the Very Young, which included selections from Emerson, Robert Browning, Victor Hugo, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Blake, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was, after the Bible, our most frequently used textbook. The stern stanzas of Kipling's "If," the more didactic strains of Frost's "The Road Not Taken," even the discombobulated rhythms of "The Jabberwocky"-- "'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome raths outgrabe"-- soon were as familiar to me when I was six as John 3:16.

The other verses we memorized were the touchstones of Scripture that lay behind Keswick's nine separate credos that made up the "Statement of Faith," the document that outlined the central tenets of the school's mission, a kind of Moody Magna Carta. The "Statement of Faith" was signed by every teacher and endorsed by every parent who enrolled a child at the school. It was not displayed, like the cardboard Ten Commandments that adorned the walls of most classrooms. But it was everywhere present. The "Statement of Faith" emphasized the importance of the Bible ("We believe the Bible to be verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit in the original manuscripts, and to be the infallible and authoritative Word of God"); the Holy Trinity, the Virgin birth, deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the presence of Satan ("We believe in the personality of Satan, called the Devil, and his present control over unregenerate mankind"). It outlined our duty to share the Gospel with unbelievers, and described the gift of salvation. It was the foundation of the school's approach to education.

"The Christian home and the Christian school share responsibility for the progress of the child," the report card I took home that first quarter stated in boldface lettering, and the emphasis was decidedly on the spiritual. "Dear Parents," it read, "It should be kept in mind that in Christian Education the spiritual development is equally important but because of its nature cannot be reduced to a grade." Bible was the first academic subject listed on our report cards, and a separate section on "Social and Moral Development" included categories such as "Shows reverence for God and His Word," "Respects authority," and demonstrates "Respect for property." Grades were not given glibly: "Not every student can achieve excellence (A) in his academics," the report card stated. "As a parent you must be cognizant that an average grade (C) is perfectly acceptable and is the grade most often given to a student. . . . May God use you and us to fulfill His best for your child as we look to Him, the author of eternal wisdom."

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