Fundamentalist education & custody battles

One good thing you can say for fundamentalist education (now there’s a phrase I don’t use often) is that, in general, parents are very supportive of the schools. Statistically, this correlates well with academic success, and might go some way to explaining why some students from fundamentalist schools go on to excel academically, despite their deficient early education. It’s also good for kids to be part of a community that’s mutually supportive.

There you go, my first ever pro-fundamentalist education paragraph. Please don’t stop following my blog.

Occasionally, I hear from parents who are going through a divorce or a custody battle, and one parent is fighting the other for the right to put children through ACE. That’s a heartbreaking situation. Here is Cait McKnelly, who has bravely shared her experiences with us.

Cait first introduced herself via a comment:

My children, now 21 and 23, both attended an ACE school, sent there by their father after we divorced. He actually obtained a court order to force me to permit it when I protested.
My daughter dutifully attended until she graduated. Afterward, however, she attempted to go to a public college instead of a “lighthouse” university and washed out after her second semester due to the horrendous gaps in her education.
My son, aware of what a piece of crap education he was receiving, at age 16 deliberately and with malice aforethought got himself expelled so he could go to a public school. Even so, the people that ran the school, with full intention, did it in such a way that he had to sit out nearly an entire year of school before he could go back. This was their TRUE punishment of him for DARING to do such a thing. He tried to go to public school but thanks to what the ACE church school did to him, he was so far behind he couldn’t keep up. He dropped out when he turned 18 and still hadn’t graduated and, instead, studied for and passed the GED test solo. He’s doing a little better than his sister and is on his second year of college.

I asked her to tell us more, and she sent me this:

Cait McKnelly

Cait McKnelly

My marriage broke up in 1997 and, although my ex-husband and I had joint custody of the kids, he had primary residential custody and they went to school from his home. I got them every other weekend and most of the summer. This actually started out as a good arrangement as I am a (now retired) registered nurse. I worked night shift for almost my entire career and, in terms of childcare, our custody arrangement was a good thing. That is until he went “crazy Christian” on me and married a woman who was just as batshit insane.

When he first approached me about sending the kids to his “church school”, I didn’t have a problem. Up to then, my only experience with religious schools were Catholic ones and, although there is a fair amount of religious instruction, overall, most Catholic schools offer a decent, quality education.

My first rumblings of the problems to come was when my children, on a routine weekend visit, handed me a form and told me I needed to sign it. It was a legal form, granting my permission for the school to use corporal punishment on my children. I went ballistic and sent the form back with a note to the school’s director stating that, not only would I NOT give them permission to spank or hit my children, that if I got wind that they struck them in any way I would be contacting child protective services and consulting with my attorney. I didn’t and never have physically punished my children by hitting them and I sure as HELL wasn’t going to let total strangers do it. Because of my refusal to sign the permission form, there was actually some question as to whether they were going to admit the kids but then they decided to do it. (Despite this, there was at least one incident where the director of the school picked my son up by the lapels of his jacket and slammed him against a wall.)

Corporal Correction Release Form

This is a specimen of the form Cait would have been asked to sign, from ACE’s procedures manual.

Because of this, I contacted my attorney who took the matter before a mediator. The mediator passed it to a judge who, unfamiliar with this kind of school, only saw that I was objecting to my kids being sent to a religious affiliated school and decided he wouldn’t block it.

I had remarried, myself, and my husband was, himself, an academic. Although the kids were not supposed to remove any ACE materials or PACEs from the school, with his encouragement, the kids began sneaking papers out to us of some of the lessons they were receiving. Some of them were innocuous and just outright stupid, much like your own examples. Others were very near scary. I particularly remember one that, didn’t just teach Manifest Destiny, but SUPPORTED it. In her senior year at the school, prior to graduating, my daughter was REQUIRED to take a PACE for graduation on “How to be a Christian woman in a modern world”. Given that I am a progressive feminist, you can pretty well guess how THAT went over.

Over the years they spent at that school, my husband and I provided some degree of balance to the kids, at least in view point. Despite that, they still didn’t escape unscathed. My daughter, in particular, is having a rough time. Within the past year, she began having bad dreams, flashbacks and anxiety attacks related to both the church and the school. Six months ago she went into therapy with a trauma specialist and was diagnosed with PTSD related to it.

Bottom line, these schools don’t just produce poorly educated people, they can and do produce damaged adults.

Thank Cait! Cait has also left a string of excellent comments on the blog. I especially agree with this one:

What ACE not only doesn’t do but actively works AGAINST, is teaching students critical thinking skills. Without those skills, people are not able to make logical judgments They teach their anti-science, anti-gay, anti-woman, right wing propaganda by placing children in an echo chamber and NEVER allowing them to hear anything else. This article is a perfect illustration of that refusal to teach something that is, in reality, essential for a true adult.There is a word for this; brainwashing. In some countries this would be labeled torture.

More ACE survivor stories:

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About Jonny Scaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on February 3, 2014, in Accelerated Christian Education, Atheism, Christianity, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. That is a difficult story.

    I went to catholic schools and the community is very, very strong, yet religion plays such a minor role in keeping that community bound. In fact, it really plays no role. The school itself is the focal point, and there is no religious instruction.

  2. The “anti critical thinking skills” philosophy isn’t just in ACE. It’s a large part of right wing philosophy toward education. The Texas Republican party went so far as to put a plank in their party platform specifically against it.
    This is a good article on that with a link to the actual platform.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/texas-gop-rejects-critical-thinking-skills-really/2012/07/08/gJQAHNpFXW_blog.html

  3. I find it so painful to think that young people who want to learn are being held back in the name of faith. I agree it is like a form of abuse in it’s own right. I really hope these young people continue to educate themselves and remember that although many see official qualifications as important you can always learn more yourself and for yourself. I have no degree but feel I am better educated than people realise do simply because I have interests which I try to learn about with my own reading and studies. I was fortunate enough to learn how to learn (does this make sense?!) from my rather better secular schooling so I guess this helps. Please keep encouraging them Caitlin, you are obviously an intelligent person and maybe you could help to teach them some of the skills of learning yourself from your own experience in Academia?

  4. Patricia, I’ve had a little more success with my son in that regard. Not a month after he turned 18 he came to live with his step father and me (when he was of legal age and his father couldn’t do anything about it. I am the secular devil incarnate to his father.). He got a GED and is now in his second year of college. One of the (extremely few) positive things I can say about ACE is that it taught him to work independently. What *I* had to teach him was how to write. He had never been confronted with a research paper before. Actually putting his own ideas on paper? Oh HELL no. His math skills were atrocious as well and he’s taken TWO remedial math courses. He’s blossoming, making great grades and learning.
    However, he too is in counseling. He’s been left with his own anxiety issues and is still trying to form social skills.that most people have learned by the time they are 12 years old.
    From a close up yet, I guess “analytical” would be the best word to use, perspective, I think one of the very hardest things for people that have been raised in ACE to face and do as young adults is dealing with the fact that they no longer have someone controlling them and they are all on their own. That’s scary stuff.

    • It is, isn’t it! I only suffered ACE for a few subjects, but it drove me batty. I was actually given word-search puzzles to do when I finished my PACEs, so I wouldn’t get too far ahead of everybody else, too quickly. (Waitaminute–isn’t this the exact opposite of what ACE claims their curriculum is for?)

      With A Beka, I was bored (and not encouraged to develop critical-thinking skills). With ACE, I had further trouble on top of that. Now, I had to say 3 pledges of allegiance: the traditional US one, the pledge to the “Christian flag” (so very domnionist!!) and the pledge to the Bible. (The Pledge to the Bible also got something seriously wrong: Jesus is supposed to be the Word of God, not the book about him. John 1 explicitly says so.) Now, instead of raising my hand to ask to use the restroom, and being answered within 30 seconds of having my hand up by a teacher who was always facing everybody, I had to put up a damn flag and wait however long it took for a “supervisor” to notice and tell me that I could go. (I was very insecure about my bladder function due to an authoritarian approach to toilet training by my father, so I considered it far better to go every hour “just to make sure” than to risk even the remote possibility of wetting myself.)

      Plus, there were the merit sales, in which there were seldom very many desirable prizes, and since I had ADHD, I got too many demerits to earn them. The only thing I remember winning was a rather ugly travel toiletry bag (navy floral–the exact OPPOSITE of my tastes). I think it took me a couple months to earn, too–for a maybe $5-10 bag.

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