One of the best ways to control people is to control how and what they think. Warren Jeffs, like many cult leaders before him, knows this well. Seems he may have learned it from his father, who forbade higher education after he became prophet. This allowed him to keep dangerous things like reading and critical thinking in check.
Now, as Angie Jackson often points out, you can be highly educated and still fall for cult nonsense. But it’s far easier to maintain a hold on people if they’re not exposed to outside information.
Warren’s about to take that much further.
Content Note: Educational neglect, child abuse, spiritual abuse
Forbidding any higher education within the community means there’s soon a shortage of teachers for the elementary and high schools. They’ll need to start recruiting from outside the FLDS community, but the salaries are too low to attract anyone. Even with some families homeschooling, the existing teachers are flooded with far too many students. Something has to give – and Carolyn thinks she has the solution when Arizona starts funding charter schools. After some research, Carolyn figures that with the state funding they would get per student, they could easily afford to hire good teachers. So she and some of her fellow teachers begin working on a proposal. Surprisingly, she gets support from Merril, who tells her she’s got a good idea and that he’ll talk to the prophet about it.
Meanwhile, to relieve the pressure on the existing teachers, Carolyn suggests using computers for students to do reading and math drills. She could even do the necessary software development. The school superintendent thinks this is awesome and jumps aboard the charter school train.
Their proposal makes it past the first hurdles, and so Carolyn and her fellow teachers end up in Phoenix to present it. They’re up against a hundred other potential charter schools, most developed by high-ranking educational professionals. Competition is fierce, and almost all of the presenters before them get turned down. But they sail through to approval: the board is extremely impressed by their assessment plan and innovative ideas. All they have to do is build the school building in time, and the FLDS folks are old hands at putting buildings up fast. Carolyn and her team are elated. Even Merril’s impressed. He goes to tell Uncle Rulon about their victory.
But then Warren gets wind of it. And he doesn’t like it.
- It will be a school run by professionals, with professional teachers, unlike his school, where only two teachers have actual degrees and some don’t even have a high school diploma.
- Kids won’t have “learning” beaten into them with yardsticks, the way he does it.
- The charter school will make liberal use of computers. Warren has banned computers.
- The children will be well-educated, which means they can read things he doesn’t want them to read, and think things he doesn’t want them to think.
Needless to say, he’s not a fan. And because by now he’s pretty much in control of his father, Uncle Rulon is also not a fan. As far as Carolyn knows, Merril doesn’t even attempt to change Rulon’s mind. He just accepts the verdict and forbids Carolyn from having anything more to do with it.
I was furious. My anger touched a core in me that burst into flame. For the first time, I began to see how religion could suppress something positive and life-giving. Failure to educate our children was unconscionable.
Carolyn is so distraught that she can’t continue her teaching career – she quits at the end of the school year. She can’t be a teacher while Warren is prophet in all but name. Still.
I didn’t think about what might happen after his father died. No one really expected Warren to become the next prophet. I certainly didn’t. He was too much of a nobody.
When you’re dealing with a “nobody” who’s as cunning and power-hungry as Warren Jeffs, though, you can’t take their failure for granted. That’s a lesson we should all endeavor to remember.