Shooter’s lessons strict, rule-driven

The ultra-religious home-school curriculum that Matthew Murray ranted about in Web postings before he opened fire at two Christian centers forbids dating, rock music and “wrong clothes.” It advises young men and women to live at home until their parents release them and counsels parents to choose marriage partners for their offspring.

That kind of strict, rule-driven home-schooling is not the norm and, if used without considering students’ individual needs, is not recommended by many educators, according to Kevin Swanson, executive director of the 15,000-family-strong Christian Home Educators of Colorado.

“I know just a few folks who use this curriculum,” Swanson said. “It is more rule heavy.”

Murray, in messages he posted under the user name nghtmrchld26, said he and another poster “were raised on home school and we both went through some insane stuff growing up in The Nightmare that outsiders just do not understand.”

The curriculum Murray decried in his postings was developed by evangelist Bill Gothard as part of The Institute in Basic Life Principles. The Bible-based curriculum is contained in “Wisdom Booklets” — 3,000 pages of instruction that “views academic subjects through the grid of Scripture,” according to the institute’s website.

Murray mentions Gothard by name in a later post. “Me, I remember the beatings and the fighting and yelling and insane rules and all the Bill Gothard (expletive) and then trancing out . (expletive) . I’m still tranced out.”

Murray, 24, and his younger brother Christopher Murray were both home-schooled. Christopher graduated in a 2005 ceremony at the Grace Chapel with other home- schooled members of the Christian Home Educators organization. Matthew Murray did not participate in a graduation ceremony. Swanson said he doesn’t know why. The Murray family did attend a seminar put on by the organization six years ago.

Christopher is attending Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla. Matthew Murray, who was living at home with his parents at the time of the shootings, briefly attended Arapahoe Community College and enrolled in Colorado Christian University last year but quickly dropped out.

“Computer school”

A search-warrant affidavit for the Murrays’ home said he had been using a computer “to attend a home-based computer school” for three to five hours daily for the past two years.

Many of the 6,215 home-schooled students counted by the Colorado Department of Education last year use school-based or individual-interest-based curricula that might include religious teaching but also involve field trips and numerous socialization opportunities.

Home-schoolers attend music, dance and sports training and join other home-schoolers to go on field trips. They volunteer at humane societies and library reading programs.

“That is what home schooling is about,” said Jessica Coulson, a member of Boulder Independent Educators.

State law requires they receive instruction in such subjects as reading, writing, math, science, literature and the U.S. Constitution at least four hours a day for 172 days or more a year. Parents must keep records of attendance and progress.

“Sometimes there are some of those home-schoolers that are way out there, but they are not the norm,” said Tinia Miller with the Parker Area Home school Coalition, a group of 40 home-schoolers.

Several people reached at the Illinois-based Institute in Basic Life Principals would not say whether Murray was enrolled in any of Gothard’s postsecondary programs.

“The people who would know that are probably out for the holidays,” said a woman at the institute after checking with several departments.

Teachings criticized

Gothard’s teachings have been criticized by other conservative Christians who allege he has deviated from true Bible teaching and that his stand against rock music — even Christian rock — suspicion of modern medicine, belief in spiritual roots of disease, and opposition to women working outside the home and “evil” toys are wrong. Gothard warned followers in a 1986 letter that Cabbage Patch dolls can cause “strange, destructive behavior.”

Swanson does not blame Gothard’s teachings for Murray’s actions and pointed out that Murray seemed in his writings to be following the example of Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who were educated in public schools. But he said there are home-schooling lessons that can be taken from the Murray shootings.

“If we see some anger issues that can’t be dealt with though parental intervention,” he said, “we must learn to seek help.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday December 12, 2007.
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