It is amazing how a children’s book can change lives in unexpected ways.
A Children’s Book Changed My Life
We don’t realize how reading can significantly impact our lives. It all starts when we are young, it’s when we set the foundation for our thinking. If you read things that expand your thinking, you set the groundwork to become 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. We spent little time at church. We went perhaps 3 or 4 times a year, dividing our time between two churches. One was a protestant church about three blocks away. We also went to a Lutheran Church about eight blocks away.
I didn’t understand why we spent little 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.
But I realize now that I was lucky. I did not undergo any religious indoctrination. I could 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 spent a lot of time in Sunday School. The protestant church recruited my brother and me 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. I learned to read at my grandparent’s house. One of my first books was a Little Golden Book entitled Dinosaurs. Dinosaurs fascinated me. I played with plastic dinosaurs almost every day. 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 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. There were about twenty of us. It was a sunny room that overlooked a garden area. But the mood was anything but cheerful. The nuns began asking questions and giving praise to those who answered their questions. However, I was not that familiar with the subject. They asked about people I had only heard of in passing from my brief visits to church.
Then, they finally asked a question I thought I could answer. A nun asked who was the first on the Earth. I raised my hand. I guess 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. The nun told me not to bring any of my books to school. So, this book changed my life, and it set me apart from the other students.
After that, if I want to answer questions, I was to talk to one of the nuns first. I could not speak in front of the class unless they knew what I would say. So, I only spoke in front of the class about math problems or when asked to read. Most of the curriculum was skill-based around reading, writing, and arithmetic.
The exception to our skill-based courses was our religious studies. We spent about an hour a day on this curriculum. These lessons were from books by the church leader, Alama White, which were poems and short stories with an underlying moral message.
One of my teacher’s favorites was the self-boy, who wants to pick a beautiful rose. When he tried, bees stung him. 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. It was in the early 1960s, and people were afraid of an atomic bomb attack.
We had six different grades in our room—Kindergarten through 5th grade. My seat was up at the front of the classroom. There were three 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. The nuns also monitored playtime. They separated us when they saw us in conversation, telling us to “go play.”
Foremost, my time at this school taught me to question anything 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.
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