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the hunger games + evangelical christian education

March 23, 2012

I attended a private, Christian high school for my junior and senior years.  We had weekly chapel, wore a strict “collegiate” dress code, and athletics were the highest priority (which was too bad for me, who didn’t even participate in PE).  After moving around so much and being in about ten different schools since Kindergarten, I was glad to settle into this school for my final years.  I liked it there, and I met some great friends despite the fact I mostly flew under the radar.  I’m not here to bash a school that I know has teachers who sacrifice a lot to work there, nor do I enjoy being Negative Nancy.  But when I occasionally think back to those years, some things are shocking to me.  So allow me to shock you.

  • Hazing was a scheduled event.  It was on the academic calendar. There was an annual “Freshman Initiation” where you’d see 14 year old boys in makeup and dresses being led down the halls on leashes by seniors.   Freshmen were assigned to seniors.  People brought in props of torture.  Photos were taken for the yearbook.  It was mostly silly but I can’t imagine it wasn’t completely untraumatizing.  I spent my freshman year at a different school so I skipped being the victim.  When it was my turn to “initiate” a freshman, I requested a kid I knew from my sister’s class who got held back.  I put a ribbon in his hair to play along and then left him alone.
  • There was an annual slave auction.  To raise money for our senior trip, we were put up on an auction block and sold to the highest bidder.  It was school tradition and there is no excuse for the level of bad taste that made it seem okay.  When it came my turn, I knew no one would bid very high for me.  The athletes and homecoming court were more desirable slaves.  I gave my sister’s friend $20 and told him to bid on me.  Then I spent the rest of the day in peace while my fellow seniors took notes for underclassmen and carried their books and tied their shoes.  I wish I had been assertive enough to make some political statement against it, or challenge the faculty to try something else, but I was under-the-radar girl.
  • Our Senior Trip was to The Word of Life Institute in New York.  The following year, I was in Religious Studies 100 as a college freshman and we were reading Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America by Randall Balmer.  There was a chapter devoted to “Adirondak Fundamentalism” and covered Balmer’s time at Word of Life.  He was fairly critical and my classmates were astonished by what they considered cult-like elements of the institute.  Word of Life may be a totally legitimate institution, I do not know, but I wanted to hide under my chair hearing college students throw around words like “brainwashing” and “indoctrination” and “programming” in reference to a place I was sent on a school-sponsored vacation.  I felt like if I volunteered the information that I spent a snowy week there attending chapel services, the class would have asked me a million questions the way you would if someone just told you that they went to summer camp on the moon…  But with less fascination and more pity.
  • I’ve only been married once but I’ve planned two weddings. This is because our big senior project was to plan a wedding.  Senior girls were matched with senior boys and we had to choose every element of our future wedding, from our dress to the vows to the cake.  (As in real weddings, the girls did all the work)  We were given an imaginary budget for this hypothetical wedding.  Because there were more girls than boys, I got to work alone on my project.  And I proceeded to make a joke out of it.  I selected a hideous wedding gown that came with a matching white lace cowboy hat.  My colors were army green and magenta.  I incorporated the music of the Monkees.  I did it all to be a contrary pain in the ass.  We were told that the goal was to teach us how to work on something that had a large scope while paying attention to detail and to show us how to work within a budget, skills we would need in adulthood.  I think the truth is that a lot of Christian communities really encourage marriage at a very young age.  I do have classmates who had nine year old children by the time ten year reunion would have been.  (And of course I must say I am very happy for them and in no way am I in judgment – God’s timing is different for all of us).  I just believed then, and believe now, that it’s a dumb project to give to 17 year olds.  I wouldn’t want my kids planning a wedding at that age, even if it were pretend.

I don’t take for granted the money my parents spent on my education.  Most girls in my class went to college– and college was encouraged, so I’m not insinuating that we were oppressed or anything. This was not a LDS compound.  I never felt institutionalized or brainwashed.  Our teachers cared for us and worked for below-poverty range salaries. I am thankful for the experience I had at this to-remain-unnamed Christian Academy (Chomp ’em up, Gators, chomp ’em up!  Class of 98! etc etc).  Also, in the interest of fairness, I must say I looked at the school website and their academic calendar did not include Freshman Initiation or Senior Slave Day, so these traditions may no longer exist.  I did see “The Academy Awards” night and “Spiritual Emphasis Week,” so some things remain.

It just all reminds me a little of The Hunger Games –  sometimes there are traditions that go on so long that no one considers them crazy.   I was new to the school while others grew up in it from the time they were five or six (what they’d call “Careers” I suppose), so maybe I have a different perspective.  It just astonishes me that no one says, “I’m 16. Why am I being graded on wedding vows?” or “Seriously!? You’re auctioning teenage slaves for fun? In Virginia? Do you want to check my teeth?!”  Our school needed a Mockingjay, I guess.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2012 10:44 pm

    I graduated from a Christian college. Every year, the first week of school was called “rat week.” A college sophomore picked a freshman to do anything they asked for the entire week. It was awful. One day I had flour, corn meal, oil and vinegar poured all over me and had to leave it on all day. I took the longest shower of my life and it still took days to get rid of the odor. They have since stopped rat week.

    • April 9, 2012 10:43 pm

      Sounds so similar to our Slave Day. It’s kind of appalling it’s wide-spread.

  2. March 27, 2012 5:58 pm

    Kristin, I am always pleasantly surprised by you. Your quiet, gentle demeanor- it always catches me off guard when your sassiness shows through. I would never have had the guts or confidence to turn a school assignment into a joke. Brilliant! I might hate it, but I would have just gotten it done. I admire your confidence and cleverness!

    And it’s amazing how many blatantly unloving or simply unhealthy concepts somehow make it past approval and onto an annual calendar.

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