I don’t even want to give their page the extra traffic, so I’m linking to an archived version of their website (from August 2014).
From their website (Warning: you are about to read racist propaganda):
The biggest increase in intermarriage has occurred in recent years, due to the social interaction of children of different races in the school room and subsequently the board room and then bedroom. In the year 2000 – 9 percent of married men and women below age 30 were intermarried, compared with 7 percent of those ages 30 to 44, 5 percent for those ages 45 to 59, and about 3 percent among those age 60 and older. Obviously school busing, the promotion of interracial marriages by “Christian” preachers, visible images in all types of media, and 12 (plus) years of social conditioning in the schools for each and every child has had a devastating effect on the racial integrity of white America.
Gotta love the use of square quotes around “Christian” in the above paragraph, because obviously true Christians are racist Christians.
Yup, this is a Christian organisation. No doubt you are wondering which curriculums they suggest parents can use without polluting the minds of their pure Aryan offspring.
Now, I am not saying that Accelerated Christian Education is a white supremacist organisation. I’m sure ACE would prefer to distance itself from such racism (Side note: Dear ACE, if you publicly condemn this organisation, I will write one blog post in which I say nothing but nice things about you). But it is telling that the bigots at White Christian Homeschool find ACE’s materials entirely compatible with their aims.
The fact that ACE’s cartoons depict segregated classrooms means that Mrs White Supremacist Homeschool Mom can rest assured that the materials will reinforce what she is already telling her children: White kids should be separated from the other kids. After all, these white supremacists don’t hate black people. They even link to the National Black Home Educators Resource Association, explaining: “As we encourage a Christian lifestyle for all races and do not believe in integrated classrooms – we are providing this link.” See, they’re thoughtful really.
Bob Jones University’s presence in this company is even less of a surprise, given that organisation’s history of white supremacism. It’s not entirely clear when BJU would have abandoned its discriminatory entrance policy if the political climate had not forced it to do so by 1975.
If all this is shocking you, clearly you need to bone up on your history.
Biblical literalism lends itself quite comfortably to racism. “Slaves obey your masters” is a clear-cut instruction. Although my Christian teachers loved to remind me that the British Abolitionist William Wilberforce was a Christian, they tended to gloss over the fact that most of those opposing him were Christians too.
As Mark Noll noted of the US Civil War, and Carolyn Renee Dupont argued about American segregation, racists have always found ammunition in the pages of the Bible. And this is partly because of the way they read it.
Today fundamentalists condemn racism (and they find Bible verses to support that, too). But the way they encourage children to read the Bible has not changed. As a non-believer, of course, I don’t hold the Bible sacred at all, but it seems clear to me that if you’re going to study it, you need to pay attention to the context in which things were written. The Bible is a compilation of books by different authors who made different points, so you cannot conclude “what the Bible says about X” from any single passage.
It’s funny, isn’t it, that Christians suddenly started noticing that the Bible was opposed to racism shortly after it became culturally unacceptable to be racist.
I don’t care whether you can find more verses in the Bible to support racism or to condemn it. All that matters is that it’s possible to support both positions quite well from the text. And this proves that the way ACE (and its ilk) teach children to read the Bible in fact does nothing to prepare them for the real world.
Economics is the major reason that apartheid exists. Some people want to abolish apartheid immediately. That action would certainly alter the situation in South Africa, but would not improve it.
It was 1996; I was 11. Nelson Mandela had been president of South Africa for two years, and apartheid had been officially abolished in South Africa for five. I was not exactly well informed about the situation. I knew it was complicated, and that the country was not exactly without problems. But I also knew that apartheid had been an evil thing that had treated black people as less than human. I suspected my book was written by a racist. I didn’t say anything about it to my parents though. That wasn’t how ACE worked. You just got on with it in silence.
ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) was at one time the leading curriculum for Christian day schools and home schools. It’s still big; ACE doesn’t publish numbers of home schoolers using it, but a claimed 6,000 schools worldwide are on the ACE program. I wasn’t the first person to notice that the curriculum had some ugly things to say about apartheid. In 1993, David J. Dent (writing for the New York Times news service) quoted an ACE book that said:
Although apartheid appears to allow the unfair treatment of blacks, the system has worked well in South Africa … Although white businessmen and developers are guilty of some unfair treatment of blacks, they turned South Africa into a modern industrialized nation, which the poor, uneducated blacks couldn’t have accomplished in several more decades. If more blacks were suddenly given control of the nation, its economy and business, as Mandela wished, they could have destroyed what they have waited and worked so hard for.
This quotation came to light when a black student, Priscila Dickerson, complained about it. Her school’s principal claimed that ACE’s racism was part of the reason the school used it. Dent quotes him as saying, “Racism still exists, and that’s one advantage of using a curriculum like this because we can show students that.”
Not long after I finished the lesson on apartheid, I struck up an email friendship with a disgruntled employee of ACE in Texas. I told him I’d noticed one or two things in my books which seemed kinda racist, and asked him what things were like where he worked. “Put it this way,” the ACE employee replied. “The only black guys working here are the janitors.”
In 1998, the book I’d used was finally updated. Now it said, “God’s Word teaches that no people should ever be wrongfully treated because of their race, since all people are created in God’s image.” That’s a lot better. But it also says this:
Apartheid was excused for several decades because of the advanced industrialization of the nation. However, due to the carnal nature of man, apartheid was also used to exploit the nonvoting black majority.
ACE, Social Studies 1086 (1998 revision)
I’ll let you judge whether I’m being biased about this, but I’m still not happy with that wording. The second sentence says apartheid was “used to exploit” black people because of “the carnal nature of man”. To me this sounds like they’re saying apartheid is not intrinsically exploitative; it was just used that way because men are sinful. In a perfect, non-sinful world, it seems to imply, you could have a system of apartheid were people were kept officially separated but not exploited, and this would be fine. That’s no world I want to live in.
Actually, ACE had worked hard to avoid allegations of racism. In his 1980 book Under Tutors and Governors, ACE’s VP Ronald Johnson devoted an entire chapter to denying that the schools were for whites only. According to Paul F. Parsons’ book Inside America’s Christian Schools, by 1987 ACE had a policy of refusing to sell its curriculum to schools with discriminatory admissions policies. There are one or two explicitly anti-racist statements in the curriculum, too. They hailed Martin Luther King as a Christian hero, and praised the Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation in American schools (although these blips are not enough to stop ACE from being endorsed by white supremacists).
There had always been a suspicion that private Christian schools in America were associated with racism, fuelled by the fact that their explosion in popularity happened shortly after segregation was outlawed in public schools. In ACE’s case, the suspicion was intensified by the fact that ACE’s founder, Donald Howard, had attended Bob Jones University, at that time a notoriously white supremacist institution. BJU’s chancellor had long preached about how God intended for the races to be separate, and BJU did not accept black students until 1971—as Wikipedia notes, this was eight years after the University of South Carolina and Clemson University were integrated by court order—and even then only if those black students were married. In 1970, institutions with racially discriminatory admissions policies were barred from receiving tax exemptions. BJU filed suit to stop the IRS from removing its tax exemption. Ultimately BJU changed its policy and allowed all black students to enroll, just moments before the Supreme Court decision that made it illegal for colleges to discriminate based on race. Still, BJU didn’t allow students of different ethnicities to date until the year 2000.
I can find no record of Donald Howard or anyone else from ACE ever speaking out against BJU’s racism. Instead, Howard wrote (in his 1979 book, Rebirth of Our Nation):
Regardless of the reactions of the media, the Christian school movement is not racist. Schools are opening in white and black communities alike. Schools are segregated, integrated, multiracial, and as cross-sectioned as any program that’s all-American.
So the schools are integrated and segregated, huh? He seems to be saying that the schools can choose whether to be segregated or not. I wonder if he also thought slavery was a states’ rights issue.
It wasn’t until years after I escaped my ACE ordeal that someone pointed out what had been staring me in the face: ACE’s books depict segregated schools. Most ACE books have cartoons set in a fictional city called Highland. There are two Christian schools (and adjoining churches) in Highland: Highland Christian School, and Harmony Christian School. The students and the staff at Highland are all white. The students and staff at Harmony are all black. According to one of ACE’s books, Social Studies 1029 (page 7), “Harmony is a part of the larger community of Highland.” So it’s a ghetto, then.
In the last five years, ACE has been revising its curriculum entirely, and the new editions feature new cartoons. You’d think that in this new era, when even BJU has publicly apologised for its racist past, ACE would redraw the cartoons with integrated communities.
That is not what they’ve done.
Instead, they’ve added a new, third church-school, called Heartsville. The ethnicity of those in Heartsville is best described as “other”: Some appear to be Asian, and some Latino. Rather than abolishing segregation, ACE has reinforced ethnic divides by splitting its fictional universe into “white”, “black”, and “somewhere in between”.
I feel lucky that I noticed ACE’s stance on apartheid was ugly. Because I recognised it was racist, I could choose to reject it, although I worried about other students who might not. I’m much more bothered about the page-and-a-half of casual racism that introduces ACE’s study of Asia, because I only noticed it when I re-read it last year. I never noticed at the time, which means I thought this was OK (or I just didn’t bother reading it, which is completely possible given that you can complete ACE work just by skimming the text to find the missing word to write on the blank):
Michael tried to fight his panic as he raced from place to place, searching vainly for something familiar.
In desperation, Michael watched the people passing him on the street, but their physical appearance provided him no comfort. Their skin was light brown, their hair was dark and straight, and the inner fold of their eyelids made their eyes seem to slant.
If you were suddenly transported to a village like the one in which Michael found himself, how would you react? Far Eastern cultures, languages, and religions seem alien to most Europeans and Americans. Oriental people appear mysterious and inscrutable, and their religions seem strange. Do these people have anything in common with European or American Judeo-Christian heritage and beliefs?
ACE, Social Studies 1106 (Geography), 2002 revision.
People I trusted gave me this as a schoolbook, and none of them ever commented on it to me. Either they too thought it was OK, or they didn’t read it. And whichever one it is, it’s inexcusable coming from people whose job was to teach me.
I don’t think ACE would accept that their books are racist, and I don’t think they intend to be. The newest books have pictures of a more ethnically diverse group of people than the old ones, and I even found two cartoons (TWO!) where black children are pictured in the same classroom as white ones. I don’t think ACE’s authors are hateful; they’re just ignorant. But when education is your business, ignorance is no excuse.
Every year, ACE holds regional and international student conventions. Students from ACE schools and home schools around the world come together to compete in various events, from athletics to preaching. As you’d expect from a fundamentalist organisation, the dress code is very strict.
And it has different acceptable hairstyles for black boys and white boys.
If you’re a white boy, you can have hair any length as long as it is off your collar and above your ears. If you’re black, though, your hair can’t be longer than one inch.
Oh, it doesn’t say this is a racially discriminatory policy. The exact wording is “Extra curly or afro hair is not to exceed one inch in length”. But the fact that this is also going to affect a small minority of white students doesn’t change the fact that this policy discriminates against black boys. While most white boys’ hair is neat and appropriate at three inches, a black boy’s natural hair at the same length is somehow offensive and indecent. And if you turn up with hair that doesn’t fit the dress code, you’ll be turned away: “Those who require a haircut will not be permitted to register until they have located a barber and complied with the Student Convention standards.”
ACE’s ugly history of racism seems to still be alive and well.
Unlike many people coming out of homeschooling, I technically was not isolated – I got to go to a school with other people, I wasn’t stuck at home, and we referred to it in all ways as if it were a real school (spoiler: it kind of wasn’t). But “not technically being isolated” does not equal “had the opportunity for healthy relationships with my peers”.
For one thing, the school was K-12 with 60 students. We were almost literally a one-room schoolhouse. Now, the reasoning is student will learn to interact with people better if they have to interact with all ages. That can be true. It’s also true that it gives bullies a wider range of targets. And Christians are often not good at identifying and mitigating bullying, especially since the idea of God put forth by ACE is the biggest bully of all.
I was bullied pretty much from the time I started at RMCS in 1998 until the time I left in 2004.
It wasn’t the same person the whole time; sometimes it was older students, sometimes it was the teachers. In at least one occasion, to my eternal shame, I was the bully. It wasn’t any one thing – bullies are adaptable like that. But often it was because of my success academically, as far as the other students were concerned.
People lash out when they feel threatened. Because I hadn’t been in the program since elementary school, I was seen as an outsider. Since I worked so well in a self-paced program, I was an outsider that was threatening the status quo – I was better than them at “their” thing.
The teachers did not help, however. In fact, the teachers were a big part of the problem. Once, I reached the end of my patience, and went to the principal to report one particular person who had been terrorizing me particularly badly one week. Her response was to give me a chapter from the Bible to read and take care of it myself***.
Unfortunately, as is all too common, the abused becomes the abuser. Steeped in a culture which portrayed God as a merciless bully and being bullied every day myself, I projected. I became a bully myself. Not all the time, but once is enough. I shamed someone because of their height. The thing people have perhaps the least control over. I found out later she went home sobbing every day. I don’t know if she ever forgave me; I probably never will. But even if she did, I still did that harm. That won’t ever go away.
The curriculum, combined with the culture of abuse and bullying, created an awful high school experience for me.
I begged to go to a public school, or even home-school. I got to be home-schooled for one year, which was spectacular. I still had the curriculum issues (which I wasn’t aware of at the time), but the bullying had stopped. I didn’t have to worry who was going to terrorize me when I got to school in the morning.
I could just get up, have breakfast, and learn on my own, which was all I really wanted to do anyway.
End of series.
*** The passage in question was Matthew 18. Here’s the relevant bit:
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’[b] And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
Those are instructions for adults. Who mostly have the same power level as each other. This particular student had at least two years, 100 lbs, and 12 inches on me. When you tell children to deal with their “problems” that way, you are setting them up to be bullied even more. It was almost criminally irresponsible for the principal of the freaking school to give those instructions to a child being bullied. And that’s even without the implied shaming for “tattling” on another student, or the implied shaming of failing to “turn the other cheek”.
Aaron K Collett is currently a Communication major, with an emphasis in Digital Film making. Aaron blogs at Bringing Thought to Life.
Part One: I Was Once Considered A Success Story In The ACE World
My homeschooling story is a bit different than a lot of people’s.
I wasn’t beaten, I wasn’t isolated (technically), in fact, I was only technically home-schooled for one school year. But oh, how I wished I were homeschooled while I was actually in school.
From the fifth grade through high school, excepting my freshman year in home-school, I attended Rocky Mountain Christian School. RMCS was a “private Christian school” – in all respects, though, it was really just a church-school. We used a fairly well-known home-school curriculum (Accelerated Christian Education), so it really was like being homeschooled at a different building.
Before I came out as an godless apostate heathen atheist, I was considered a success story in the ACE world.
ACE is a self-paced program, which means students sit at a desk and do their work independently, only getting help when and if they need it. While I don’t have a problem with that idea necessarily, it has the same problem lecture-style teaching does: it pigeonholes students into one way of learning. It worked fantastically for me; I “graduated” a year early. Other students were not able to self-learn like I can, and suffered under the non-guided learning style. But the self-paced style was not the largest problem with the curriculum.
I “graduated” in 2004. “Graduated” because while I have a diploma, I learned very little actual things from ACE. As I’ve said before, I was fantastically lucky. My mother had a background in education, and she really was my teacher. She taught me how to write, she taught me how to read, and she taught me how to math and science. And when I got to college, I could do those things fairly well.
Unfortunately, other subjects were…less well-taught.
ACE history books start with Genesis. So do their science books. We learned that evil scientists who hated God were hiding the evidence for a six-day creation 7000 years ago. Ken Ham and Kent Hovind were our heroes. They were standing up to the evil scientist conspiracy.
History was a joke. We were spoon-fed the stories of Genesis as if they were fact. As if Mid-Eastern origin myths were at the same level as modern professional historians and archaeologists. We learned….well, nothing, actually. Pretty much all of my history and all of my science education has happened in college. I can fake it – I’ve taken it upon myself to learn on my own – but I didn’t get the opportunity until I was in my 20s.
But the lackluster schooling was not the worst part of Rocky Mountain Christian School.
With Bill Gothard’s ceaseless emphasis on authority, obedience, and chain-of-command, it should be no surprise that he is compulsively attracted to men (and more rarely, women) whom he perceives to be in a position of power. He believes without question that his organization has answers that can solve the problems faced by any public official, if they can only work together to promote Gothard’s vision.
This characteristic has resulted in an extensive mycelial network whereby Gothard silently influences public policy across the country.
Its reach is difficult to measure, however. While Gothard loves to privately advertise his latest affiliations, he always exaggerates their scope or significance. And he frequently drops an old project when something shinier comes along.
Below I list some of Gothard’s better-known political alliances*. Since I left the organization in 1999, there are undoubtedly more fibers of connection now than I am able to trace here. As time passes, however, we can also see more clearly whether his “new approach” has yielded “lasting solutions” for those who have advocated them.
*There is no doubt that Gothard favors conservative political causes. I once heard him describe Rush Limbaugh as “our man on the radio”.
During his two terms as mayor of Indianapolis, Stephen Goldsmith partnered with Gothard to create the Indianapolis Training Center, selling a city-owned building to IBLP for a token $1 around 1993. During Goldsmith’s unsuccessful bid for Governor, ITC staff (many of them minors, most from other states, some salaried by the non-profit IBLP and others paying for the educational opportunity of working there) assisted the mayor’s campaign, running a mailing center from the top floor of the hotel and handing out campaign literature at polling places on Election Day. Some even registered to vote in Marion County to support him.
George W. Bush later made Goldsmith his chief domestic policy adviser.
Goldsmith “helped formulate the president’s ‘faith-based initiatives’, which give tax dollars to churches.” In 2010, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg chose Goldsmith to be his deputy mayor of operations, a position which included oversight of law enforcement agencies.
Goldsmith’s domestic policy came into question when he was arrested for assaulting his wife, Margaret in their home. Though Margaret later recanted her story, Goldsmith was pressured to resign. According to Mr. Bloomberg, “I think that domestic violence is a phenomenally serious scourge on our society. We work very hard to attack the problem of domestic violence and the implication — the accusation — unfortunately made it untenable for him to continue to work for the city.” Stephen Goldsmith filed for divorce earlier this year.
Back in Indianapolis, Margaret Goldsmith had worked for juvenile court judgeJames Payne, who used his court to send delinquent Marion County youth to the Indianapolis Training Center as an alternative juvenile detention facility. Despite investigations into allegations of child abuse at the ITC, Judge Payne was made Director of Indiana Department of Child Services, a post from which he resigned last year after charges of interference with a DCS neglect case involving his grandchildren.
With support from followers Rep. Steven Wise (R-Jacksonville) and now-CongressmanDan Webster (R-Orlando), Gothard considered opening a similar youth training center in Jacksonville, Florida in 1997. Though that never materialized, Jacksonville children were sent by the court system to the correctional residential program at ITC.
Delinquent youths were designated “Leaders-In-Training” and spent their days studying the Bible, watching Bill Gothard lecture videos, doing the chores necessary to run a hotel, filling in homeschooling workbooks from Accelerated Christian Education, memorizing character qualities, and dressing up for dinner. Denim, television, and rock music were strictly forbidden. Discipline reportedly included solitary confinement in “prayer rooms” and spanking without parental notification.
According to The Cult Education Institute, former Florida governor Jeb Bush “implemented Gothard’s controversial character education program, Character First!, at his charter school in Liberty City.
The governor also publicly encouraged the Palm Beach County School Board to approve Character First!, which is also listed as a model program in state law.” (Watch for more on the Character Training Institute in a future post.)
For years, Gothard cultivated close ties to Huckabee, an alumnus of Gothard’s “Basic Seminar”, and to Jim Dailey, mayor of Little Rock. With encouragement from Mayor Dailey, Gothard opened his Little Rock Training Center in an empty VA hospital purchased by Hobby Lobby and donated to Gothard’s Institute.
Despite Gothard’s grandiose vision, the enormous structure was in poor repair and was never utilized as fully as the Indianapolis facility. Still, it served as a base for the Institute’s prison ministry. Gothard quotes Governor Huckabee’s support for conducting his seminars for Arkansas inmates: “I am confident that these are some of the best programs available for instilling character into the lives of people.”
Having gotten his foot in the door in Arkansas, Gothard combined forces with CCA, the nation’s largest operator of privatized correctional institutions, to promote his intense lecture-based seminars inside more prisons.
Gothard was enthusiastic about character education being made mandatory in Arkansas schools and visualized schools restructured into age-integrated “learning teams” instead of age-segregated classrooms. The Institute also operated a secretive character-building Eagle Springs program for youth in rural Altheimer, Arkansas. (The Eagle Springs program was later moved to Skiatook, Oklahoma. Many allegations of corruption and abuse have been made by girls who participated in the program involuntarily.)
Another Gothard devotee is Jim Bob Duggar, a Springdale Republican who served two terms in the State House, now best known for the reality show “Nineteen Kids & Counting“. Not only are the Duggars enrolled in Gothard’s homeschooling program, the Advanced Training Institute, their family website links to at least twenty Institute programs and calls Gothard’s organization their “#1 Recommended Resource“. Jim Bob and wife Michelle are featured speakers at ATI national conferences.
Though Duggar lost his last two election bids, he hasn’t abandoned politics. During the 2012 presidential primary, Jim Bob and his well-known family campaigned for candidate Rick Santorum. Duggar’s oldest daughter has worked closely with the current IBLP indoctrination program for girls, while his oldest son now directs political lobbying for the conservative Family Research Council.
The Family Research Council was founded by Jerry Regier* in 1983. He was succeeded as president by Gary Bauer and eventually became a versatile member of Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating’s administration. Regier was Keating’s Cabinet Secretary of Health and Human Services as well as Acting Director of the State Department of Health, tasked with reinventing “the scandal-ridden” agency. Like Mayor Goldsmith in Indianapolis, he is a proponent of partnerships between government departments and the faith community. Under his leadership, Oklahoma became inundated with materials from the Institute’s character training program, which was largely created at Gothard’s training center campus in the heart of Oklahoma City.
According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, “Regier brought Character First! management training to the Department of Juvenile Justice [in Oklahoma]. In this program, employees are recognized on their anniversaries and birthdays for certain character traits they exhibit. He encouraged the use of several of Gothard’s programs with juvenile offenders before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 1996, including a “log cabin ministry” that places juvenile offenders in cabins in the wilderness with peers who are trained by Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute.”
Like the Indianapolis Training Center, the Oklahoma building was formerly a hotel. It was purchased by Kimray, Inc. and leased to IBLP for $1 a year. Kimray is run by Tom Hill, who served on Gothard’s Board of Directors for over a decade and piloted the secular adaptation of Gothard’s “character qualities” in his company.
Gothard gathered support from numerous state and local officials prior to establishing operations in Oklahoma. A 1994 news article lists several:
Several local officials wrote letters to Mayor Ron Norick supporting Gothard’s program, including state Rep. Carolyn Coleman, R-Moore, and Sen.Howard Hendrick, R-Bethany. Both joined other local officials in a visit to Gothard’s juvenile education center in a renovated Indianapolis hotel last spring.
With them were Richard DeLaughter, assistant Oklahoma City police chief, and John Foley, director of Oklahoma County’s juvenile division.
DeLaughter said… the facility emphasizes the Bible “so it obviously is not for every kid and every family. ” “I don’t think anybody thought it was the end all and be all answer for every one of our juvenile problems,” he said. “As an option, it was pretty good. “
Rep. Joan Greenwood (R-Moore) was a homeschooling mom who used Gothard’s curriculum. Howard Hendrick later served as Director of Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services. At Hendrick’s retirement, he was replaced by former Oklahoma City prosecutor Wes Lane, who has been a speaker at Gothard’s “Character Cities” conferences. On the DHS Commission, Lane was responsible for investigations into cases of child abuse and neglect.
Congresswoman Mary Fallin (now Governor of Oklahoma) joined Tom Hill and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett in welcoming attendees at a Character First! conference. That 2009 conference was held at the refurbished hotel where I served as an ATI student volunteer in 1999. I remember the character posters on the walls in the lobby, and reciting Bible passages to one of the “adults” (I was in my twenties) before dinner–the only meal offered on Sundays–was served in the dining room.* (Governor Keating later recommended Jerry Regier for a post in Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s administration. When Bush made Regier his Secretary of Children and Families, Regier quickly implemented the CharacterFirst! program within the department. Regier now works in the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.)
How I (Barely) Survived Home Schooling: Jonny Scaramanga’s Story
Jonny Scaramanga blogs on Accelerated Christian Education and leaving fundamentalism at his blog, Leaving Fundamentalism. He is building a resource on ACE here, and collects survivor stories from students with experience of ACE.
I must admit something: I wasn’t really home schooled. I attended an Accelerated Christian Education school, which is probably the closest thing to home schooling you can get outside of a home, but, officially, I was in a school.
At first, I loved it. When I started at the school, so many of the other children were perfect. The boys held the doors open; they smiled and nodded attentively when the supervisors spoke, and they behaved like good Christians. I was not like them. I spoke back to my mother sometimes, and I swore occasionally. If I held a door at all, it was a casual shove to make sure it didn’t hit the person behind me in the face. I never did the proper stand-beside-the-door-and-salute-everyone door-holding. And I only said please and thank you occasionally, unlike my new schoolmates, who could not ask for anything without saying both.
They were good Christian boys and girls, and I was determined to be the best. Whenever a supervisor spoke to me, I nodded vigorously and said “Yes, Mrs. Staggs” at regular intervals. At the end of school functions, I often found that my face was hurting from smiling so much.
I became the best Christian boy. My first year ended in triumph at the school awards ceremony as I picked up the certificates for the most work completed and the highest average test score, among other achievements. I was a shining light for Jesus.
Then, suddenly and brutally, I became suicidal. At the time I thought no one knew, because no one offered any help. In hindsight, I think everyone was at least vaguely aware, and absolutely clueless what to do. My report card from my second year actually says, “We wish you could find a way to enjoy this, Jonnie.”
What had seemed like God’s perfect place for me became a prison. And so I hatched a plan.
As many of you will know, ACE allows you to work at your own speed. If you complete the work fast enough, you can graduate early. I knew I had to get out, because I hated that school so much. So I decided I would complete 100 PACEs (ACE workbooks) in a year (compared with the average 60) and graduate young.
This meant that, in effect, I had to be home schooled through the summer. To make 100 PACEs per year possible, I needed to work through the holidays.
What followed was probably the worst type of home education imaginable. ACE is “teacherless”, at least in theory. The student just completes the workbooks individually. So my parents left me to get on with my work and went out. I couldn’t face it. The second they went out, I was on the internet. This was in the days before high-speed connections, and even before unlimited internet access. I ran up an bill of £500 ($750) in one month, desperately looking for anything to do except PACEs. My Dad made me pay the bill, but it didn’t change the fact that I would do anything to avoid those PACEs.
Having avoided work all day, I couldn’t socialise in the evenings. I spent a summer in solitary confinement, avoiding PACEs during the day and completing PACEs in the evening. Then when I should have been asleep, I wrote diary entries about how I wished I was dead but didn’t know how to kill myself.
One day, walking through my village with my mum, I passed a boy I used to know. Before my ACE school, we had been friends. He had even come to my house to play.
“Jonnie!” he cried, obviously pleased to see me.
“Hi,” I replied. Well, I tried to reply. My voice came out as a squeak barely audible even to me. I had lost the ability to talk to anyone I didn’t see regularly.
“Aren’t you going to say hi?” asked Mum. I hadn’t even managed to make a noise loud enough for her to hear.
When we moved churches, we spent an evening at our new pastor’s house, and I barely managed to utter a word to anyone. Eventually the pastor’s daughter spoke to me one-on-one, and I could just about manage that because she went to an ACE school too (I use the word “school” loosely; there were three children, including her).
Somehow, I managed my hundred PACEs, but it became obvious that I would need to do the same again next year before I was even close to graduating. I felt so resentful that I was missing out on a good education, even though I had no idea what a good education might be. I just had this vague sense that somewhere out there were real schools, with science labs and libraries and literature, and I wasn’t getting any of that.
Finally, I had a meltdown at school. Someone said something that triggered me. My vision blurred, and for a few seconds I couldn’t see. Then I started shouting at everyone.
Following this explosion, my parents finally removed me and sent me to a regular school. And, of course, fitting in was murder because I didn’t know how to talk to anyone who wasn’t a super-conservative Christian. But I had escaped. And I changed the way I spelled my name, from “Jonnie” to “Jonny”. It was a tiny thing, but it was my way of saying that I wasn’t the same person I used to be.
Now I think fundamentalist Christian home school curricula are part of the problem. Educating children is difficult. Very few parents are equipped to do it well. An off-the-shelf curriculum gives parents a false confidence that they can provide an education with little effort. In fact, a pre-packaged curriculum for every student is not going to fit any student. Systems like ACE just provide a simplistic answer to a difficult problem. Rather like fundamentalism, in fact.
The author of this piece writes under the pseudonym Sheldon at his blog, Ramblings of Sheldon. This piece was originally published on Reason Being on December 20, 2012. It is reprinted with Sheldon’s permission.He describes himself as “a former Christian fundamentalist” who “is now a semi-closeted agnostic” that writes about “his fundamentalist past, his beliefs now, and the cult known as the Independent Fundamental Baptist denomination, which his sister was a part of (and he also had some personal experience with).”
Recently, I have begun to start thinking about homeschooling, how I feel about it now, and how it has affected me in my life.
Two things have really gotten me started thinking about this. First, my sister decided to homeschool her children. And second, I read recently an article on the Patheos blog, Love Joy Feminism.
Thankfully, she left that group about 3 or 4 years ago. But she just traded a fundamentalist cult for fundamentalism lite (the Southern Baptist denomination). It’s a vast improvement from where she was, and both she and her kids are happy in this church. But I feel she’s dealing with what Lewis of Commandments of Men, the brilliant anti-cult/anti-fundamentalism blogger, calls the Halfway Houses effect.
Some people, like her, don’t want to give up fundamentalism entirely. They have come from such an extreme cult life background that even other fundamentalist lite groups like the Southern Baptist denomination, etc, feel refreshing. (Which is pretty damn sad when you think about it).
One of the ways she is going through the Halfway Houses effect is the decision to home school. I was just at her house in the Northwest Indiana suburbs of Chicago this past week, and she was showing me the curriculum she was using.
It was the same atrocious Accelerated Christian Education (A.C.E) curriculum we were raised with. I spent my whole school life with it, first in a IFB affiliated private school, then in home school. She spent from about 5th grade to graduation with A.C.E curriculum in that same private school, which is what unfortunately got her introduced to the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, where she remained until recently.
(If you really want an eye opener, read some of the A.C.E survivor stories at the blog Leaving Fundamentalism, for just how bad A.C.E itself is, and how many of the schools who use it act towards their students).
I knew she had been using the curriculum for a while now, but to actually see those books sitting on her table, it was a mountain of flashbacks, and definitely not in a good way. I thought she would know better, after what she has been through, but I guess it all feels like home to her.
I could go on and on about the problems of fundamentalist home schooling and of the private school culture within those groups, but I think Libby Anne of Love Joy Feminism says it best. Libby Anne was raised up in a home in the Quiverfull movement. Her family’s beliefs were very similar to Independent Fundamental Baptist cult that my sister fell into head first. Like Quiverfull, the IFB also rejects birth control except for in extreme circumstances (such as a future pregnancy putting the wife’s life in danger).
Reading an article from her last week made me think about my current feelings on home schooling.
First of all, do I think home schooling in and of itself is harmful? No.
There are many families who do their best to educate their kids at home while exposing them to the world around them, and encouraging them to keep an open mind. There are even atheist families that home school.
There are many reasonable circumstances that would lead a family to home school their child, from having a child who has a serious physical illness, to having a job that causes a family to move often (such as one parent being a solider). Then there’s always the desire to have one’s children get one on one attention, to help them learn.
However, using homeschooling as a tool to isolate your children from the outside world is wrong. I’ll even go as far as to say it is emotional abuse. Fundamentalist groups deliberately use home schooling this way so that their children are rarely, if ever, exposed to people they don’t agree with politically or religiously, or to people who they feel are “evil” (such as people in the LGBT community).
When someone like this is isolated to such an extent, the basic social skills that most of us learn at a very early age are not developed. I will not say that this was the only cause for the problems that I have now in relating to people. It’s more than likely something I was born with, but this isolation only made far worse.
Not only are social skills impaired, knowing how to deal with normal classroom life is affected, as well as things like changes that come by moving out of home. Libby Anne talks about coming to tears more times than she can remember in her attempts to adjust to living away from home after being in such an isolated environment. At least she had a solid group of people who helped her to work through the stress. In my case, it led to a nervous breakdown.
Simple things that everyone around me knew, such as where the little pop up desk was on the side of the auditorium style seats in most class rooms in that college, (or the fact they even existed), was unfamiliar to me, in so many thousands of ways, and people kept expecting me to know it all, and I didn’t. Just like Libby Anne, I didn’t know how to write a foot note for an academic paper.
All of this, combined with a cultural disconnect from other people, led to a miserable time and downright debilitating depression. People who have never been through this don’t realize just how much everyday conversation and interactions are based on the culture around us. I love the way Libby Anne talks about this in a post on socialization:
I sometimes wonder if one reason so many home school parents cannot seem to understand the real meaning of the socialization question is that, having been socialized themselves, they cannot imagine what it would be like to not be.
They don’t understand what it feels like to be a foreigner in your own country. They don’t understand what it feels like to not be able to fit in. They don’t understand what it’s like to berobbed of the ability to be normal because they have the ability to be normal. Parents who home school may choose to be different, but their children have no such choice.
When I read this, I reflected on both my family, and all the families that I have encountered that home school, or send their kids to fundamentalist private schools, she’s right. All of them grew up in what could be considered normal families, attending public schools, usually with parents that were either non-Christian or were only casual followers of a religion. What’s even more ironic is that many of them were baby boomers who experienced the decadence of the 1970′s. They have no idea what this kind of isolation does to someone.
This isolation and this culture that is hostile to the outside world and everyone in it will cause two extremes in the people who were raised into it. Either people will be hesitant to leave, because it’s the only life and way of thinking that they know — a perpetual Stockholm syndrome, like my sister is experiencing. Or it will drive people to leave it, like I did.
Most people of younger generations who were raised in this system are fortunately going the same route I did. The hostility towards the outside world is one of the primary reasons why younger generations are leaving fundamentalism at a very fast pace. A 2011 study by Christian polling group Barna researched most of the top reasons listed for young people leaving the churches. They had something to do with their broader rejection of the outside world, and isolation from it (which is the major aim of the fundamentalist home schooling movement). Whether that is their rejection of science, hostility towards outsiders, or hatred of homosexuality, this isolationism is starting to disgust the people raised into it.