by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America
The reactions to our decision to home school our kids were fairly quick and followed certain patterns. A couple of folks decided that, as long as we were going to do this, they could help us out by giving us lists of books we should get and make sure our kids read. I recall two such lists, if I remember correctly. I did look over the lists to see what they had.
Interestingly enough, one of the books near the top of both lists was Catcher in the Rye. When I had worked at a college back in the East, many of the kids I knew there had that one as required reading, so I had a chance back then to browse through it on several occasions. Now maybe it’s just that I am old fashioned, but my first reaction to seeing that on both lists was “I don’t want our kids reading that!” Maybe some of you all have read that one and don’t think it was as questionable as I did. There were several other offerings on both lists that I frowned at. There wasn’t an awful lot on either list that I wanted our kids messing with. Now our kids were both readers and we bought them books when we could afford to and they read and reread many of them until the covers literally fell off them. We bought them C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series and they read those until they were literally falling apart. I realize some folks disagree with some of Lewis’ materials, but it was a lot better than some of what was out there. Anyway, the book lists were a flop.
Later on, after that, (and I didn’t find this out until our kids were grown and our son told it to me), some of the ladies from the church pulled him aside one day and asked him if he wouldn’t really rather go to a public school than to have to learn at home. I assume they were trying to get him to persuade us to put the kids in the local government schools. That didn’t work either. My son told them that if he had to end up in a public school, he would just quit. At that point he was 16 and, therefore, old enough to do that.
In retrospect, that bothered me a little. My wife and I had made certain decisions that we felt were best for our children and they were trying to “rearrange” those decisions to what they thought was best.
So, with those two agendas not working, the next project was to send the pastor out to talk to us and talk us into doing what many, if not most, in the church figured we should do. You see. some of these folks had a problem with the fact that neither my wife nor I had a college degree, and in their minds you couldn’t do anything without a college degree, preferably several, with a whole batch of letters strung out after your name. I don’t think they felt we were stupid–it was just that we were ignorant and didn’t know what we didn’t know. I had tried to tell some of them who didn’t know what the government schools in West Virginia and other places were doing and they didn’t want to know that. So I guess that made us even!
Understand, when I say all this, these were not bad people. I think some of them had a genuine concern, but their worldview was not our worldview and they never could quite grasp where we were coming from. All they knew was that much of it turned them off and part of their solution to our situation was to try to make our kids as much like theirs as possible.
Anyway, the pastor came out one evening (his kids were in government schools which he thought were just great). And he was going to talk us into “doing the right thing” for our kids. So he gave us all his reasons why he thought the government schools were the only way to go with our kids and they would probably grow up culturally deprived if they couldn’t attend them.
After he had completed his recitation, I said to him, “You’ve told us all the reasons you think we should put our kids in public school and now I’m going to tell you all the reasons we are not going to do that.” And I had a list of reasons, not on paper, but in my head and so I started telling him what we knew about government education and our problems with it. When I got through, he said to me “You’ve thought this through pretty well haven’t you?” I assured him we had, which was no lie, and then he said to me (and I have never forgotten this) “In light of what you have just told me, what I am suggesting to you must sound like blasphemy.” To which I replied “You’re getting pretty close.” I guess I had made our point, either that or they all thought we were totally hopeless, I don’t know which, because no one at church ever mentioned the education question to us again. From the pastor on down, they just dropped it.
And although this incident I am about to mention doesn’t have specifically to do with our kids’ education, I mention it anyway, because it is an educational issue. I had been asked to teach a Sunday School class, and there was a lot of “safe” material out there that I could have used that would have threatened or challenged no one. However, I chose to try to teach a class about secular humanism. They all professed to be “agin it” but most of them knew little about it or how it had infiltrated the churches.
This came up because I had previously taught a one session class about this and quoted extensively from The Humanist Manifesto 2, which they were obviously unfamiliar with. At the end of that class, one lady asked me if what I had used was John Birch material. I told her “I didn’t use any John Birch material. What I gave you today was right from the Humanist Manifesto 2. What I gave you was right from the horse’s mouth.” They were astonished, they didn’t have a clue.
Anyway, I don’t know for sure, but I think that may have had something to do with my getting the invitation to do the Sunday School class. In order to have something for them to go by, I bought a book from the local Bible book store about secular humanism and showed it to the pastor. He took it, showed it to some others, whether it was the elders or not I don’t know, but then he came back and told me some folks had problems with some of what was in the book. So he hemmed and hawed about it and so I just asked him up front, seeing that there were problems with parts of the book “Would you rather I just didn’t do this?” I figured if the book was too rich for them, that gave them an out, but I wasn’t planning on teaching something that made folks feel good. There isn’t much education or challenge in “feeling good.” They could get someone else for that.
The pastor came back in a week or so and said to go ahead and use the book. So I did, and I prepared a lesson for the first week and typed up a batch of material, both from the book and other sources, on secular humanism I had or borrowed. Every week that I did the class, which I think lasted for 3 months or so, I had a batch of reference material to hand out to everyone in the class so they had something on paper to take home with them and look over (I hoped).
But even though they finally agreed to let me do the class, there were still obvious reservations–to the point where they printed a disclaimer in the church bulletin each Sunday letting the congregation know the church probably didn’t endorse everything in the book, so anyone who took the class did so at their own risk.
Interestingly enough, the class was packed–all kinds of people from the elders and deacons on down. I have never been sure if all those folks sat in because of what they could learn or if they were there to make sure I didn’t go too far off what they considered was the deep end.
To be continued.