The Church of Christ and Education

Not long ago I read Tara Westover's memoir "Educated," in which she recounts her childhood in a Mormon separatist group that did not believe in formal education. She didn't go to a school until she was 17, when she went to college. Her family disowned her for doing so because they believed that getting a secular education was a sin (her story is more complex that that, but this is the nutshell version). Even though my upbringing was not nearly as extreme as hers and I was sent to secular schools from preschool onward, I also encountered similar antieducation sentiments growing up in the church of Christ.

The mainline churches of Christ are actually affiliated with some prestigious schools, including Abilene Christian University and Pepperdine University, and kids who grow up in that branch of the church are encouraged to attend those schools. Unfortunately, I grew up the noninstitutional branch of the church, which is much more conservative and, to my knowledge, is not directly affiliated with any schools except Florida Christian College (at least that was the only school I ever heard about when I was growing up).

I heard a lot of antieducation sentiments growing up, both from the pulpit and from the people in the congregation. One preacher said during a sermon that it was fine for boys to go to college, but girls don't need an education beyond high school because their destiny is to marry and have kids and stay at home. A high school education is fine because they need to be able to help their kids with their homework, but anything beyond that is wasteful and could encourage them to work outside the home and not fulfill their god-given roles as wives and mothers. I also remember hearing one woman express the fear that people would "educate themselves out of their faith," as she recounted a story of a young man who had gotten a PhD and had ended up believing in the theory of evolution, rather than the account of the creation in the bible.

A LOT of this antieducation stuff focused on evolution, and how those arrogant, godless, liberal scientists were leading people away from the truth of the bible with their lies and errors about evolution. I heard many preachers try to explain how carbon dating proving that dinosaur fossils are millions of years old is incorrect. Another one told us that god put dinosaur bones in the earth to test our faith. If you believe that evolution is real, then you are a hell-bound sinner who failed the test. I think this notion is blasphemous and ridiculous and turns god into nothing more than a cosmic trickster. In any case, this all stems from their insistence on interpreting the bible literally and their black-and-white thinking. If the 7-day account of creation in Genesis is not literally and scientifically true, then the entire bible is false. You can see why they get so worked up about it.

I always got excellent grades and knew I was going to not only finish high school but go on to college, no matter what the preachers said. During my senior year of high school, the preacher and his wife made some comment to me about going to Florida Christian College, and they were aghast when I said I was going to a state school. I told them that FCC was too far away and too expensive and that I would never consent to live in the heat and humidity of Florida (I like visiting in the winter, but I would die of heat stroke the rest of the year).

They couldn't believe my parents would let me go to a secular school. They talked to my dad about it, and even though he rarely stood up for me against the people at church, he just shrugged and told them that it was my choice because I was paying for it, not them. Then they made the mistake of confronting my mother by telling her that if I didn't go to FCC, there was no way I would ever find a "godly" husband. My mom replied imperiously, "My daughter is not going to college to get a husband, she's going to get an education so that she can get a good job and take care of herself. THEN if she wants to get married, she can do it on her own terms." The preacher and his wife were absolutely shocked and appalled. I mean, how dare a woman try to decide her own destiny?

I am so grateful that I had parents who supported me in my quest to get an education and never tried to tell me I couldn't do it. It was worth all the effort. I have supported myself for decades and have managed to put $20,000 into a college fund for my nephew, which makes me so proud. I never could have done any of that if I had listened to those preachers and their denigration of the merits of an education for women.


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