My Pastor Told Me an Education Would Just Bring Student Debt into My Marriage

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Alexis Record

Feminist, humanist, friendly advocate.

It happened while I was sitting at the little dining table in the corner of my pastor’s home. I had my back to the bucolic scenes through the sliding glass door behind me, and a pile of homework was stacked on the table in front of me. I wore an uncomfortable plaid skirt as part of my school uniform which was not only a sartorial nightmare but also managed to make the back of my knees itch desperately, especially when I sat in these chairs at this familiar table. It was very early in my teen years and yet I had no control over what I wore; my outfit, much like my future, was in other hands. At some point the words “college” and “Lexi” floated my way from the next room, and instantly my attention jumped over the back of the couch and around the corner like a cat at the sound of a can opener. My mother and pastor were in the living room having a discussion about me. I held my breath and willed my hearing to magnify.

This pastor was more like a grandfather to me, and I often believed that I was his favorite person. I gave my life to Jesus at the age of four at his request. His advice was not only coming from a place of religious authority, but also from a loving tenderness for me none could deny. That combination served to make his words all the more devastating. I tried to control my face as I listened in because I was scared my expression would evince a desperate interest in the subject of their discussion–namely my future.

“College would only bring student debt into her marriage,” he argued. My heart sank. Money was tight, and he wielded the perfect argument. I didn’t have to look up to know his cheeks were that familiar red and his smile was that familiar smug; he looked a bit like Santa Clause if Ol’ Saint Nick had been part Italian. His tone of voice in this conversation with my 30-something year old mother was patient and condescending. Mom argued that my life was my own. He countered that my life actually belonged to God. She parried by wondering who speaks for God? And how would we know for sure God didn’t want her daughter educated?

My pastor did not understand my mom’s regrets. She had a husband and family and was in charge of a lot of the operations of the church in which she volunteered almost all her free time. Her life was an example to other women. But my mom had missed out on college, and some of high school, as she had been married at the tender age of 16. Which was the same age as the Little Mermaid when Disney married her to Prince Eric. And the same age as Aurora when on the first day of her 16th year Disney shuttled her off in despair to marry the neighboring kingdom’s prince. So marrying young and skipping college was modeled for me not only at church, but it was the common denominator of every Disney princess at the time.

My religion held that education was not only impractical for girls, but it was also dangerous for us. My pastor had warned that he saw many kids go off to get an education and then leave the church. Stories about someone in our very strict faith who got an education and then never came back to us was common parlance. We were told these people grieved God terribly. I cried one night thinking of all the bad girls hurting poor God’s feelings just because they thought they knew better. It wasn’t as if we had studied the direct inverse correlation between education and our religion, it was more we experienced it time and time again and knew it through experience. Our conclusion was not that our religion did not hold up under the scrutiny of study, but rather that education was run by Satan who turned good girls into feminists to do his bidding. It was to be feared.

That’s the reason I had been pulled out of public school after my church said it did not please God. Coincidentally my church had just started a school and I was one of the very first students. (Funny how that worked.) And ever since 2nd grade I had attended a school that held the word “Christian” in its title and took preschoolers through high schoolers, often all taught in the same room. I was actually given the preschool curriculum, and was forced to work my way back up to grade level in order to ensure I did not miss a year of “God-honoring” education. Now a decade had passed and I was 13 or 14 and at grade level, and my pastor was painting a picture of my possible future which included going off to college, getting tattoos, sleeping around, drinking all hours, and becoming an atheist to excuse it all. I was horrified. Good thing I wasn’t in charge of my future, because what a mess hypothetical me was making of it!

But more frightening still was the idea of me finding my passion, studying hard, and bypassing what a good Christian woman was supposed to do. What if a career fulfilled me and therefore stepped on my husband’s toes and displeased God? How would I explain to God on Judgment Day that I had made my own family second to my career? Which is the worst sin to commit as a woman in my church. And my pastor’s rosy cheeks flamed during a good sermon on hell.

Now at this point you may be asking if I had a teacher at school who might have encouraged me to follow my aspirations of higher education. That’s a fair question as I’m claiming my educational role models were few to none. Well it may shock you to learn that Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) schools do not employ teachers; they employ “supervisors” who supervise a room of students silently isolated from each other in cubicles facing the wall teaching themselves the curriculum. Many former students describe this as prison. I still have horrible memories of trying to teach myself division in third grade.

If we needed a supervisor, we had to put either an American flag or a Christian flag at the top of our desks which indicated that we needed to go to the scoring table to score our own work or if we had a question respectively. This had to be done in complete silence. Noise got us a demerit, three demerits got us a detention, three detentions got us a beating.  Often when I needed help with my work it would frustrate the ill-equipped supervisor which meant the supervisor was slower to respond the next time I needed help or the bathroom. None of our teachers were credentialed. One had not graduated high school. None had gone to college.

And whose job was it to oversee the school and it’s supervisors? The pastor’s. My pastor. You see, this pastor was uniquely positioned to control my education.

Obviously I was experiencing an inferior education. If you have never heard of the infamous ACE set up, it is an educational system has been banned in Norway for sexism after violating their Gender Equality Act, it has been criticized for child abuse in the form of school-mandated beatings for every infraction you can imagine (I suffered this personally), it has been shown to have racist materials, and has major problems with their outright false science workbooks that focus on claims of God more than facts of science, teaches a mistrust of scientists, denies scientific facts and discoveries, uses androcentric language to the exclusion of any women in the field, and bends over backwards to show homosexuality is a learned behavior. So ACE education (which is still around today by the way) has its faults (understatement of the year), but the one I want to highlight is the fear of liberals.

ACE teaches that liberals have “no values” because they are “godless.” To quote a summary of the material:

God is a right-winger. “Liberals” are the root of all political evil. God’s values are rightwing, and anything else is a rejection of His will. On a politics chart, “right” is associated with “absolute” and “God”, while “left” is connected to “no values” and “atheism.” The term “leftwing”, we learn, exists because “left” means “sinister”, “to twist something”, or “to corrupt.” Jesus, by contrast, taught that “we should use what we have to earn a profit.” If your political views lean left, you are neither a true Christian, nor a good citizen.

Many cartoons in the workbooks shoved this idea home.

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Scaring us away from liberals, and by extension the higher education which exposed us to liberal thinking, was successful in isolating us from the world around us (California) and maintaining our strict adherence to gender roles. Because liberals brought us feminism, but the Bible brought us stories like the one where Eve was deceived by a snake, not Adam, so women were seen as the “weaker vessel” and more apt to fall for evil liberal college tricks!

My experience with inferior education is not anomalous. Vyckie Garrison, who I have recently befriended on Facebook, was in a similar “Christian” educational system which leaves kids, mostly girls, behind. Only she was the parent in the situation like my mom was. Her eleven year old daughter could not read, but a spiritual leader told her, “If [your children] can do mathematics perfectly but they have no morals, you have failed them.” In other words, education is downplayed as unnecessary, especially for girls, whereas being obedient, submissive, and serving others (parents, then husbands) are of paramount importance. Gender equality is nothing more than nascent whispers in these communities.

What made me think of that fateful discussion in that living room nearly 20 years ago? Well, because I just read that the men who tried to kill young Malala Yousafzai were sentenced to life in prison. And it made me think: When Malala Yousafzai was shot through her face by a religious terrorist who disagreed with girls getting an education, that gunman represented the most extreme violent expression of my loving pastor’s beliefs.

Let me say that again.

Even though these two religious men were as different as you can imagine, one was a terrorist and the other a praised leader of his community, the fact is they shared a base fundamentalist belief that men deserve leadership, control, and education more than women–that men were better and more deserving of opportunities and futures, whereas women were not.

And that devastates me. It puts this dark sinister cloud over the memory of this man I adored. He loved me. He did. But he held me, abusively, to my gender-defined place. And that was unloving.

The fact that those hidebound by culture or tradition or religion slap the educational opportunities out of girls’ hands is devastating to everyone.

The Convention on the Rights of a Child affirms education as a basic human right.

An educated woman will earn more money and better provide for her family.  For example from Women Deliver’s website:

  • When 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases by an average of 3% (USAID)
  • Eliminating barriers to employment for girls and women could raise labor productivity by 25% in some countries (IMF)
  • Closing the gender gap in agriculture could lift 100-150 million people out of hunger (FAO)
  • Girls and women spend 90% of their earned income on their families, while men spend only 30-40% (UNAC)

Just one extra year of schooling for girls reduces fertility rates by 5-10 percent according to Unicef.

Children of educated mothers were also more likely to survive. “In India, for example, the infant mortality rate of babies whose mothers have received primary education is half that of children whose mothers are illiterate.”

Just watch this short video on the Girl Effect to see how educating girls pulls them out of poverty, out of child marriages, away from human trafficking, and gives them a chance at a good life!

Education is important to girls. And not even a representative of God can tell me otherwise.

One comment

  1. I attended an A.C.E. school too. For me, it was from 1979-1985 in Illinois, in the county of President Ronald Reagan’s birthplace. UGH! Your story was spot on. Thank you for shedding the light on A.C.E. It’s always difficult to try to explain to people on the outside the things we were taught, or not taught in this terrible system.

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