Amazing how a children’s book could can the course of life in unexpected ways.
A Children’s Book Changed My Life
We don’t realize how reading can have a huge impact on our lives. It all starts when we are young. This is when we set the foundation for our thinking. If you read things that expand your thinking then you set the groundwork for becoming a freethinker.
I grew up in Denver, Colorado. My parents were not religious. My father came from a strict Catholic home. My mother’s family was Lutheran. But, we didn’t spend much time at church. We went to church 3 or 4 times a year. When we did attend, we split time between two churches. One was a protestant church about 3 blocks away. We also went to a Lutheran Church about 8 blocks away.
At the time, I didn’t understand why we didn’t spend much time at my father’s grandparent’s home. Later I found out they excommunicated my father from the family for marrying a Luthern. Go figure.
I was lucky. I did not undergo any religious indoctrination. I was able to seek my own answers. I am not sure if nurturing a freethinker mindset was intentional. Maybe they just never got around to it. Or, perhaps they saw the problems that religious ideology causes. I find it interesting that a simple children’s book changed my life in such a major way.
We did spend a lot of time in Sunday School. My brother and I were recruited by the protestant church to play on their softball team. So, our Sunday School was softball practice and softball games. We played against teams from other churches. We won most of the time. The only time we were beat was by the all-girl team sponsored by Loretta Heights.
We lived close to my mother’s parents. So, I spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s home. There wasn’t any talk about religion. This is where I learned to read. One of the first books was a Little Golden Book entitled Dinosaurs. I was fascinated by dinosaurs. I had a lot of plastic dinosaurs. This book changed my life in major ways. But I didn’t know this until I started school.
Pillar of Fire Parochial School
When I was eight years old, my parents sent me to a Methodist parochial school. The teachers were all dressed like Catholic nuns, with black habit and cowls. I am not sure why they chose this school. Perhaps because it was Christian but neither Catholic nor Luthern.
On my first day of school, the teachers gathered all the new students together. There were about twenty of us. It was a sunny room that overlooked a garden area. But, the mood was anything but sunny. The nuns began asking questions. They gave praise to those who answered the questions. I was not that familiar with the subject matter. They were asking about people that I had only heard of in passing from my short visits to church.
Then, they finally asked a question I knew something about. One of the nuns asked who was the first on the Earth. I raised my hand. I guess because I had not taken part before; they called on me. My answer was Dinosaurs! And I added that I knew the names of several.
My response was met with silence. Instead, the nun called on another student. Evidently, “dinosaurs” was not the right answer. The answer they liked was two other people, Adam and Eve.
After this meeting, one of the nuns took me aside. She questioned me more about my Sunday school attendance. She wanted to know how much time I spend in church, and what I learned. She was most interested in our Sunday School curriculum. I told her it was baseball practice. But, I offered to bring in the Little Golden Book on Dinosaurs. I was told not to bring any books to school. So, this book changed my life, it set me apart from the other students.
Thereafter, I was told to speak with one of the nuns before I answered any questions. I was only allowed to speak in front of the class was about math problems, or when asked to read. The curriculum was skill-based around reading, writing, and arithmetic.
We did spend about an hour a day on religious studies, but these sessions were from books authored by the leader of this church. It referenced the Bible but focused on the writing of Alma White. These were poems and short stories with an underlying moral message.
One of my teacher’s favorites was the self-boy, who want to pick a beautiful rose. When he tried he was stung by bees. Another favorite was about a little girl who learned that modern cities are like Sodom and Gemora. They are all just waiting for an atomic bomb to explode. This was the early 1960s and people were afraid of an atomic bomb attack.
We had 6 different grades in our room. Kindergarten through 5th grade. I was seated up at the front of the classroom and partnered with 3 other students. I could tell, we were the ones that didn’t fit in. We had different mindsets. And, the nuns kept a close watch on us.
The other students caught on to the fact that we were unwelcome, “persona non grata”. They followed the encouragement of the nuns. Our group was ostracized and isolated. We ate lunch at a table separate from the other students. Playtime was also monitored by the nuns. They separated us when they saw us in conversation, telling us to “go play”.
First and foremost, my time at this school taught me to question anything that comes from religion. This experience helped me to understand how religious indoctrination works. They use fear and isolation to control and social pressure to mandate compliance.
My first day at school was a religious litmus test. The questioning was a purposeful interrogation. They wanted to find out which students had undergone religious indoctrination. That way, they could isolate those that may be problematic.
Thankfully, I transferred to a public school the next year. That is how a Little Golden Book changed my life. It taught me about religious bias and prejudice.