What an absolutely marvelous idea! Odd that it never occurred to me before. Ya' just never know where inspiration will strike! See what happens when you piss off a writer. They do nasty things. Write inconvenient truths.
And on my blog, I cannot be removed. I cannot be blocked. I cannot be deleted. Genius, sir! Pure genius!
Where do I begin? Of course, there are two sides to every story. I can only speak from my own experience at Fourth.
Which would you like first? The good news, yes? Scholastically, FBCS was excellent. They also maintained discipline and order, seared much Scripture into your memory and taught you right from wrong.
And now, for the bad news. Grab a cuppa, cause we're gonna be here awhile.
In all honesty, I hear it's a different FBCS than when I attended it. Over the course of time, staff has changed and times have changed. I sincerely hope this is true. And I empathize with how difficult it must be for the faculty to maintain order with several hundred immature, energetic and hormonal children running rampant.
The main feeling was one of inhumanity. It wasn't okay to be human. To have normal human tendencies. To enjoy a secular song or shimmy to a good beat. No! We were Christians first, human beings second.
No, I dunno how that works either.
But back in the Dark Ages of the 1980s and 1990s, FBCS could be pretty stark. Upon enrollment, parents had to sign a form authorizing the Superintendent to spank their children on his discretion should the occasion arise. That's right. Corporal punishment...and in a protestant school!
The dreaded paddle hung on the wall in The Office. I hear the Shop Teacher made it. Like all good paddles, it was engineered with holes to reduce wind drag and facilitate the speed of the swoosh. It was the height of ignominy to be "sent to The Office." Whenever it happened, rumors would fly. "Did he get spanked?" was on the tip of everyone's tongue.
It was in first grade that I noticed all was not well. One of my classmates was prone to rages, particularly if he got into trouble or received a bad grade. He was a sweet kid, wounded, from a broken home. His rages were directed only against himself. He would cry, scream and bite his hand. And for this he was punished, over and over again.
That's right. Kick a kid when he's down, then kick him again! Aren't teachers supposed to be experts in child psychology? Even I could tell he was just a wounded, hurting little boy. It came as no surprise when his hard-working mother sent him to public school.
I was in third grade when a whisper reached my ears about a certain missionary who was no longer with the church. Y'know, the guy my teacher gushed about because, "He does his best at everything." (She had no idea how those words would haunt me. I never do my "best" at anything. Just don't have the energy.) Of course, it was all hushed up. But one wonders how his wife coped with having to compete with his male lovers. As far as I know, it just got brushed under the rug. But I can't help but wonder about some of my single female teachers, short of hair and brusque of manner, who lived together.
Then there was the seminary student, a young Asian man, who earned extra funds by working as a janitor. He always seemed to be in the bathroom when we little girls had our bathroom breaks. Trying to chat us up. Asking why we didn't speak to him. (We were forbidden to speak, of course.) Creepy, very creepy!
Come to think on it, third grade wasn't exactly a red letter year. While my teacher gorged herself on chocolate to keep up her pregnancy weight, her class ran exhausted laps around the gym. A mile! That was the goal, and she whipped us 9-year-olds into shape with her condescending smile and piercing whistle.
In reading class, her ego demanded perfect posture. Each child sitting like a waxworks, arms extended, reading book open at the perfect angle. No! Faster readers were not allowed to read ahead. We were her dream classroom.
This was also the teacher who refused to believe I had the flu, until I threw up on the floor. She was also the darling who meted out Scripture writing as punishment, sure to endear students to the Word of God.
Unfortunately, not all of her students were meekly obedient. In fact, one little boy had a mind of his own. Sit down? Hell no! So she taped him to his chair.
Shut up? No way! So she taped his mouth shut.
When he continued to resist, she took matters into her own hands. Literally. Nevermind The Office and the Swiss-cheese paddle. Looking up at her class, she said, "Watch carefully 'cause you won't see this again." Then she spanked him with her bare hand. Yes, she's still a teacher. Her suspension didn't last very long.
That story has an interesting footnote. I had the misfortune to run into her in the Ladies Room at Fourth Baptist Church a few years ago. She was at the head of the line of ladies waiting for a free stall. Then I noticed the handicapped stall was unoccupied and pointed it out to her. "No!" she snapped, "That's only for handicapped women." So, we all waited and clenched. There wasn't a disabled lady in sight, btw. To this day I regret not giving her a piece of my mind. Heaven knows, she had it coming.
"You're a bitch and always were!" Ah, now I feel better.
Noise levels were also a consideration at Fourth. "Keep it down!" we were always told. But hey! We were kids! So we spent many a lunchtime sitting in enforced silence. And if that didn't work, five or ten minutes would be knocked off our recess. We even had silent recesses. Oh yeah. It was a blast!
Mrs. Loretta Simons was a ray of sunshine in my decade at Fourth. I cherish every memory her Fourth Grade class. Oddly enough, I don't remember learning much, but I'm sure I did. What I do remember is how she laughed until she cried when reading How to Eat Fried Worms to her class. She spent hours reading to us. We spent hours making paper mâché globes over balloon molds with newspaper and oatmeal paste. Oh! Fourth Grade was heaven!
Sixth Grade was also a joy in Mrs. Jill Kelly's class. We learned Japanese haiku. Awesome!
Fast forward to tenth grade and the glories of reading Shakespeare...aloud. Well, I enjoyed it. Frankly, the rest of the class was less than enthused, so they started jazzing it up. Reading aloud the immortal words of Julius Caesar with swing and swagger.
Maybe she had PMS. Maybe her girdle was too tight. Suddenly, our little blonde teacher erupted in fury, read us the riot act and stormed out.
Chastened, we settled down to read the bard solemnly. Soberly. After all, everyone knows that Shakespeare had no sense of humor. (Not!)
And then it happened. Act 1, Scene 2, Page 4, Line 75. The male character, Cassius, says, "That I do fawn on men and hug them hard." Andy was reading. His voice started to shake. He paused. Swallowed hard and composed himself. "I'm sorry" he said solemnly and kept reading.
We wanted to laugh. We should have laughed. Goodness knows we needed some damn endorphins. But no! That laugh is lost to the ages, never to come again. An entire generation who never realized the joys of Shakespeare because of one blonde bitch.
Around this time, another rumor swirled through the grapevine. Something about the Senior Pastor's son. He served as the pastor to the young folks. An order came down that we were not to talk about "it," whatever "it" was.
Seems somebody had been making whoopee with one of the teens under his charge. Oh, did I mention he was married at the time? No, the rug isn't too lumpy yet. I guess I can brush a little more under it.
Of course, each teacher has their own personality, their own quirks and habits.
There was the Junior High science teacher who always made excellent eye contact...with his female students' bosoms. And the other science teacher sporting an enormous paunch and a know-it-all condescending manner, loudly "Amening!" after every sentence the chapel preacher spoke, as if to prove his righteousness.
There was that math teacher with her air of silent hatred and mousy husband who mortified the student body by almost bursting into tears while preaching at us during Chapel.
Ah, Chapel. You could trust your Tuesday evening to be ruined by mountains of homework, because Chapel was substituted for Study Hall. Sometimes the Chapels were fascinating. But too often they consisted of a visiting pastor screaming at us in his best Southern Baptist style.
Sometimes the faculty addressed us. I remember the Superintendent gazing condescendingly at us from the pulpit. What a disappointment we were to him in general. Specifically, our language left much to be desired.
Oddly enough, I don't recall swear words being spoken at Fourth, apart from the ocassional "Gosh" or "Gee" which we were assured were just as evil as actually taking the Lord's name in vain. But by the time the Superintendent's series on naughty language was over, even "nuts" was off-limits, even though he confessed to using the vile term himself in moments of frustration.
He told us how his wife had said, "Oh Steve, can't you just go out there and tell them they're good kids?". Heck no!
I'll never forget his condescending expression. It was especially evident on the day of O.J. Simpson's verdict. After thoroughly shaming the student body for their fascination with the high-profile case, he shared the "Not guilty" verdict with us. Well, if it's so evil to be interested, why even tell us? I thought.
Fourth was renowned for its theme verse. Its emblazoned on my memory in letters of fire. "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." (Luke 2:52 KJV)
Put "stature" in bolding! Italics! All caps! According to Fourth, stature means sports. Or does it?
The word translated "stature" is ἡλικίᾳ. It means age, maturity or height. All naturally occurring phenomenon whether you dunk a ball or kick it into a net. Time does the trick.
But this school that shunned evil, worldly things such as rock-n-roll and blue jeans, warped Scripture to rationalize their obsession with the great American past-time: sports. Dribble a ball well and you got to cut class, have your locker decorated and swagger around in a letter-jacket. Those of us who merely excelled in scholastics, well, we got our name on a list. Woohoo.
Scholastically, they held you back. Each school year began with 3-6 months of repetition. New material was only taught in the last 3-4 months of each school year. Fast readers were scolded for reading ahead. And no one paid the slightest attention to SAT scores or high IQ scores. If advanced placement was available, no one told me. So I kept my brain occupied by doing thousands of busywork worksheets and aiming for a 4.0 GPA. It never occurred to me that I was actually bored. My killing homework load fooled me into thinking I was challenged, when I was really just busy.
Which reminds me...what adult could walk (not run) down two flights of stairs, successfully work a dinky combination lock, exchange their books, walk (not run) up two flights of stairs, walk (not run) to their next class...and do it all in just three minutes. One hundred and eight seconds. They wouldn't be caught dead. Cruel and unusual punishment, they'd cry. But they expected us to do it!
But I digress...frequently.
Selective Scripture reading didn't end there. Oblivious to Titus 2:5's injunction that women be "keepers at home," Fourth employed several married women...with children.
When it came to the cultural activities, such as auditioning for the school play, talent wasn't the only consideration. I learned that the hard way. If your Daddy or Mommy worked for the school, church or seminary, you had dibs on the juicy parts. It wasn't just about talent.
Of course, teens are renowned for their raging hormones. And Fourth never let you forget them for a second. They preached about sex, taught about sex, warned about sex...after assuring your parents that they did not teach sex ed.
If you got caught having sex, you got expelled. Thus, it became The Vice.
Pride. Vanity. Judging. None of it mattered. Sex determined whether you were going to Heaven or not. At least, that's how it seemed to my juvenile mind, perhaps exaggerated by the negative vibe about ἔρως at my home. Or maybe, it was just about the money. Expelled kids don't bring in tuition.
Drinking alcohol. Smoking. Dancing. All of it...evil! Then I guess the best theologian I know, C.S. Lewis, was doomed because he was way too human. He loved his pipe and a good glass of bitters...not to mention a jolly raunchy joke!
Yes, Fourth did a number on me. It inculcated shame. It showed me how to be a judgmental, superior prick. Introduced me to a distant, cold, judgmental God. Brainwashed, programmed, mind controlled me to the only correct point-of view...theirs. In some ways, it has the earmarks of a cult.
Endless worksheets prepared me to be a mindless, data-processing robot. A perfect slave, I mean, employee. The "why" behind our endless studies was never satisfactorily answered, even when I dared ask . Critical thinking? Independent thought? Didn't exist!
** REVISED ENDING **
I'm grateful for the excellent academics. I'm grateful for several of the warm-hearted teachers. And I'm grateful for all the poems and Scriptures eternally carved into my memory.
But there was another side to Fourth too. One that left wounds, exacerbated by my parents' abuses. And it's high time we all told the truth and unburdened our souls after decades of silence. The truth, as it always does, will set us free.
Got an FBCS horror story? Please share it in the comments!
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