Hey hey. A new year treat for you, readers. Aram McLean, a reader from Canada, has sent me excerpts from his forthcoming memoir for your general edification. He’s sent a lot of stuff, so I’m breaking it into parts.
It’s difficult to convey to someone who wasn’t there the soul-destroying banality of day-to-day life in an ACE school. It isn’t the dogma that gets you down; it’s the rules – an avalanche of unnecessary legalism. And if you don’t follow them, it’s not just the punishments, it’s the endless lectures, the time lost while someone explains how filling in your goal card according to ACE procedures is crucial to the condition of your immortal soul. It isn’t, of course, but it is crucial to making you an obedient servant of God, who can be moulded into the person ACE wants you to be.
I think Aram’s done a great job of capturing that.
The other thing I’m struck by is how consistent the reports I get from ACE schools are. Aram’s Mr. Jordan could have taught at my school. Given that training for ACE schools is incredibly brief and not centralised, I’m amazed at how effectively almost all the schools seem to have the same atmosphere.
Part 1, in which Aram attends a most Holy school
Life during the ACE school days, back when the years passed like decades, wasn’t just about intolerance towards the damned, of course. As well there was always a year-end Awards Banquet, when the student with the consistently neatest office or the nicest penmanship or the perfect attendance or the most Bible verses memorized in total, and so on, would hear her or his name called out in front of their peers and elders, and be able to step proudly, though not too proudly, up to the front to accept their medal, knowing that yes, when it came to things like tidiness and/or anal retention, by God they were gliding right beside Him, in that moment.
Our workbooks were called PACE’s and, using a specially-made goal card, the first order of business every morning, after the aesthetic inspection and singing and sermonizing was done, was to write down our total page number goals for each subject for the day. There were Math PACE’s and English PACE’s, American History PACE’s and Bible History PACE’s, Word Building/Etymology PACE’s and Science PACE’s, et cetera. Everything they thought you needed to know. There were no labs or group assignments, no discussion or brainstorming sessions in general, and praying was encouraged as a legitimate teaching aid.
Every subject managed to relate to the Bible somehow; like cross-pollinating flowers and what does Leviticus say about it; or taking three-thirds as a fraction, and seeing how the Holy Trinity resides in such a way; or how Abraham Lincoln was certainly a pretty good fellow, but his willing engagement in the cult of dance from time to time was purely wrong, wicked, and downright inappropriate.
The outlandish theories of the big bang and evolution were not included in our Science PACEs, even as a viable discussion topic. Apes, we were told with a smug laugh, can you believe that public schools and Hollywood are indoctrinating children with such ridiculousness? Creationism was the only explanation, with Earth’s birthday being October 22nd, 4004 BC, at around six in the afternoon, because if you added up the ages of all the main characters in the Bible, that’s where you ended up. It was the talking snake or nothing. God created the stars’ light to have already reached earth, we were told, Fossils are there simply to test our faith, and Noah’s flood is the reason for all the mountains and valleys, as well as our reserves of oil and gas, and yes indeed, humans and dinosaurs were totally hanging out at the same time, what of it? Noah had merely packed the dinosaurs on board his ship in egg form. He was clever like that.
Buddhists, Judaists, Muslims etc, and worst of all, our all-but-dead cousins, the Catholics, were completely evil and lost. Our History PACE’s methodically highlighted various atrocities these groups had done over the centuries, as all the while we poor meek Protestants simply took it in the rear, time and time again. Even the apartheid in South Africa was presented as having a positive side. They would never have known the one truth, and gotten so advanced without our Christian help.
Sex education, it goes without saying, was left right out, but for one bizarre diagram featuring a chicken and some eggs. All that was really stated was that you’d better be into the opposite sex if you were at all interested in avoiding hell fire. Pray as hard as you can otherwise. Pray the gay away. And you’d better have a ring on your finger before even thinking about your lips getting closer than six inches to the opposite sex, if you were at all interested in not being poked in the buttocks by the devil’s pitchfork. The way they carried on about it, you’d think your eternal soul lived solely in your private parts.
My ambition surprisingly began to lag, as the years dragged on and on.
Part 2, in which Aram defies God’s appointed teacher
I was most of my way through age eleven when my first major act of scholarly defiance finally emerged.
“What’s this?” Mr Jordan exclaimed on this particular morning, sitting in my chair as I stood behind his shoulder. “You’re homework slip hasn’t been signed. Why is that?” He looked back up at me, waiting. His strong coffee breath charged across the space between us.
“I did my homework,” I explained wearily. “What difference does it make?”
This was, it turned out, the wrong answer.
“You need to work on your attitude,” Mr Jordan stated. “And I have just the thing.” I expected him to go running for his paddle, but instead, surprisingly, he managed to come up with something else. Grabbing one of my pens and a blank piece of paper, he proceeded to write down a sentence I will likely be able to recite on my deathbed, still angry: ‘I will be careful to ensure my homework slip is signed by my parents and presented at goal check each day’
“One hundred times,” Mr Jordan directed. “I want this written out, during your lunch break, today.”
That sounded lousy to me. “Couldn’t I just get my Mom to sign it now? She’s right over there.” I pointed across the sanctuary to the junior kids’ Learning Centre.
“No. You have defied the rules, you have disrespected…can’t you see…” Mr Jordan took a deep breath, the many helpless souls of the young obviously weighing down extra heavily on his shoulders today. Or maybe he just needed another cup of coffee?
He got up from my seat tiredly. Stepping around the newly-built extra-large office dividers, he took over the next student’s chair and began his inspiring routine again.
I sat down uncomfortably in the warm spot he’d left behind.
Part 3, in which Aram’s sister learns the hard way
One year, when I was in some sort of equivalent of grade eight, our school, in an attempt to appreciate the plight of Third World countries hunger, as if we weren’t hungry enough, turned Tuesdays into ‘Rice Day’. Absolutely no other food was allowed.
My little sister, Nieve, however, was given a sneaky cookie by one of her friends at school one Tuesday, a very special treat for all of us. Without thinking it through or even really realizing what day it was, Nieve bit into the cookie just as Mr Jordan happened to round the corner. Everyone froze.
“Stop!” he bellowed anyways, with great urgency, bounding across the space between he and her. “Take that out of your mouth,” he demanded of Nieve still stuck between a bite and a chew. “Now!” Slowly, she complied, the beginnings of delicious flavour receding. She looked up at Mr Jordan glaring at her. Her face smiled its crooked little smile; her big brown eyes daring to plead it might not be so. “Today is Rice Day!” he said instead, angrily. “No food is allowed! Throw it in the garbage!”
Standing across the room the whole time, witnessing this epic event, I watched my sister’s eyes go wide. She stared at the cookie in shock; blown away that such a request in regards to food was actually being made. “Throw it in the garbage!” Mr Jordan stated again. “Now!” He liked the word ‘now’.
With an expression like a brand new My Little Pony was being burned in front of her, Nieve stepped meekly over to the nearest bin and held the cookie over it, hesitating. Mr Jordan waited, watching impassively. The treat dropped into the muck. Mr Jordan nodded his head at the waste, satisfied he’d just taught her a valuable lesson.
My sister began to cry as Mr Jordan walked away. I went over to give her a hug but had to stop when another monitor warmed me away. The six-inch-rule was not to be broken.
If you’re interested in reading Aram’s memoir, Aram’s Progress: A Boy in the Hands of an Angry World, send him an email. More from Aram next week.