Education and fundamentalism

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Education and fundamentalism

Jonny Scaramanga writes about his fundamentalist education. His school told him many things are certain, and this stopped him asking questions.


Accelerated Christian Education schoolbook teaches girls to feel shame about their body when they are young.

When I was 15, I knew I was right. The world was 6,000 years old, I had a personal relationship with God, and I knew what God thinks about many things like sexuality, economics and literature. If people argued against me, I usually ignored them. I did not need to explain. I knew the Word of God, so they must be wrong.

The teachers from my Christian school would say I was a success. If you are a fundamentalist, you are certain. Sometimes I and my fundamentalist friends had doubts. But we thought that doubt was temptation from Satan to separate us from God. And the best thing to do was to pray.

Three things about fundamentalism make it unlike most education. The first is that it is certain. The second is that it is exclusive. To people who believe it, fundamentalism is not just one way to live a good life – it is the only way. Maybe people who are not fundamentalists say they enjoy their lives, but their lives are useless and they will be destroyed forever. This belief in hell is the third point about fundamentalism that is against education. It means that thinking is risky. If we know what God wants, we should not question it. If we think about it, we can simply find out what we already know, or start to doubt – which means we go to hell.

The Independent School Standards for England says that schools need to give students balanced political opinions from both sides. It is possible to have many different political opinions that other people accept. A good education must help children to understand and think about all the different arguments for different opinions and help them to develop opinions that they can explain. But fundamentalists do not like this. They agree that people can like different things in some areas, but they say that God has shown what we must do in God’s Word. For example, if you think about arguments for abortion, same-sex marriage or legalization of cannabis legalization, this is sin. Accelerated Christian Education, the US fundamentalist school I went to, says that thinking about different beliefs is ‘the philosophy of exposure’. This is what it says about that:

‘The public education system follows the humanistic ‘philosophy of exposure’, and it has left many children unable to read or write. Also, many more children are addicted to drugs and millions do not have good Christian values. These would make it possible for them to have a life full of goodness, peace and joy.’

These values are different. And this is a problem for liberal democratic societies. Parents have the right to choose for their children an education that they agree with; but education must also develop respect and tolerance for people who have different beliefs and values. So what happens when there is a conflict between these two?

Many people with fundamentalist beliefs think that religion is a base that makes it possible to live a great life. But for me, it was impossible to live well inside fundamentalism. My education took away my right to look for happiness. When I was a teenager, I often wanted to end my life. My school said this showed that I was unstable, so no-one should listen to my criticism of their schools.

After some years, my parents became so worried about me that they moved me to a mainstream school. It was so different. They had taught me to think that people who are not Christians are immoral. So that was what I thought. It took four years before my mind became open enough to think that maybe I was wrong. People still now think fundamentalist schooling is a form of education. It would be better to think of it as intellectual vandalism.

Jonny Scaramanga is a PhD student at the UCL Institute of Education. He is researching the experiences of students in fundamentalist schools.

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