In 1997 we moved from Maryland to North Carolina. It was a tumultuous time and very difficult on my wife and four daughters. I’ll write more about this later. Today I want to share the story of choosing a 9th grade school for our oldest daughter who was 14 at the time.
Jessie had been in a very good school in Maryland. She’s a very smart girl and was taking classes a grade higher than most of her class. When we moved to NC the public school system in Davie County was having a hard time figuring out where to put her. After many constructive and a few un-constructive conversations with the counselors at Davie High School we decided to try some other options.
We looked at a few of the private schools nearby, but being a single (low) income family, we decided that they were outside of our budget.
I got the bright idea that we should try Gospel Light Christian School in Walkertown NC. It was about 20 miles away, but the commute could be tolerated. My wife and daughter were not excited about the idea. They tried to convince me this was not an option because we were not Independent Southern Baptist and would never be Independent Southern Baptist. They were sure that this was a mistake, but agreed to go with me just the same.
I called the school and arranged for us to come by bright and early on a Monday morning. We arrived at about the same time all of the students were arriving. All of the boys had on khaki pants and long sleeve white shirts, many had ties on. All of the girls wore ankle length skirts and long sleeve high collared blouses. Very few had on bright clothes. This created angst with my wife and daughter, who was dressed in jeans and some type of designed t-shirt. My wife was wearing pants and a bright shirt. They immediately commented that we stood out like sore thumb.
We walked into the school and were greeted by a very nice lady, again in an ankle length skirt and totally covering blouse. Her hair was up in a bun, just like you would expect some older teachers to wear theirs. She escorted us to a room where the “Head Master” waited for us.
He greeted us at the door with, “Hello Mr & Mrs. Burriss, welcome to our school. Come in.” He didn’t even acknowledge our daughter.
He walked around his big desk and sat down as we seated ourselves in three chairs in front of his desk. He was expecting us.
He immediately went into the history of the school and the beliefs of the church. He rambled on about the graduation rates and successes of some of their students. He spent an inordinate amount of time sharing with us the beliefs of the church.
Now, it’s important to know that my wife is the boss when it comes to our children’s education, what she says goes and she wants to make sure all of our children get the best education. Therefore, she had lots of questions for the headmaster.
Each time she asked a question the headmaster would look at me and answer to me as if I asked the question. Each interaction he had with us was directed towards me. I’m not the smartest tool in the shed, but I quickly noticed this and as quickly I noticed the unhappiness building up in my wife. Not only did I feel this was rude, but it was also very disrespectful to my wife.
At one point I asked Jessie if she had any questions for the headmaster. I can’t recall if she did, but it would not have made much difference. The headmaster had totally ignored her and likely would have treated her with the same disrespect as he gave my wife.
I would have thought that he would have wanted to engage her in some conversation, maybe ask her some questions about her previous school or tell her about some of the great things going on at Gospel Light Christian School. Maybe, just maybe, try to get her eager to want to go to their school. But no, he totally ignored her and focused all of his conversation directly at me.
Now, I don’t recall what the big tipping point was, but between my wife and I we figured out in short order that, yeah, my wife was right. This was not going to work.
The headmaster did not want to communicate with my wife or daughter at all. It was obvious to me that he, and likely the religious beliefs of this school/church, were that men were in charge and women held no authority at all. Yep, this was not going to work for our family.
In some ways I felt that the headmaster had judged us as Yankees and really did not want our daughter in his school.
I do recall that once this clicked for me, I told the headmaster that we decided that this school would not work for us.
Here was the final confirmation for us, he said, “Yes, I can see that this will not be a fit for any of us.”
Wow – If I were not a Christian I would likely have responded in an ugly way. I decided to just leave with a polite good bye, turned my back to his extended hand shake request and walked out of the room with my wife and daughter in front of me.
As we walked out to the car I got to hear what I hear over and over again, “I told you so,” as my wife sneered at me with that look of unhappiness. I apologized with, “I know, that was a big mistake.”
I agreed and never brought up the idea of a church school again.
To this day I try not to bring this story up with my wife and daughters. They just shake their heads and look at me with that sneer.