ACE: aiding and abetting child abusers

If you’ve been following my series on Christian reform homes, you’ll have noticed the name Lester Roloff popping up. It is, as Abigail McWilliam puts it, the common thread uniting reports of abuse from ‘troubled teen’ homes across America. Everything comes back to Roloff. Almost all of the homes we’ve discussed were founded by him or one of his former employees and associates, and all of them run on the model of Roloff’s original Rebekah Home.

If you haven’t been following, the reform homes have a pattern: They are single-sex boarding schools on compounds surrounded by chain-link fences topped with barbed wire. Punishments are extreme: extended periods of solitary confinement; kneeling on hard surfaces for hours, sometimes with pencils under your knees; and whippings and beatings of the cruelest kind.

And they all use Accelerated Christian Education. In return, ACE produces educational materials specifically praising the convicted felon and his reform homes.

From the beginning, Lester Roloff was one of ACE’s best-known supporters. Christian School Confidential calls him “a big advocate for ACE. Probably their best salesman.” You can see him and one of his staff discussing ACE in this video (ACE segment starts at 8:33). Like all ACE promotion, it contains a fair amount of anti-public school propaganda.

The connection between Roloff and ACE does not end there. Roloff’s lawyer was one David Gibbs Jr, also counsel for ACE. Gibbs later became ACE’s president after its founder Donald Howard was unceremoniously ejected from the company. He also appears in many ACE promotional videos. Acting for both Roloff and ACE must have kept Gibbs very busy. As well as Roloff’s eight-year legal battle with the state of Texas, Gibbs would have overseen most of the one hundred and fifty lawsuits in which ACE was engaged between 1970 and 1993 (source: Roger Hunter, “Christian Fundamentalist Education: A Twentieth Anniversary”). Almost all of these were battles over accreditation. Roloff, Gibbs, and ACE all believed that Christian schools should not have any kind of state accreditation, licence, or recognition whatsoever, because they had a command from God to do what they did.

So, was Roloff really a child-abusing monster?

Interestingly, since I began my investigation of Christian reform homes, a few ex-students have contacted me to defend Roloff. It’s only Roloff himself – no one has written in defence of his protégés like Mack Ford or Wiley Cameron, who also stand accused of child abuse. One or two have even threatened to sue me if I say anything against Roloff.

Many protest that Roloff was a kind and loving man of God. That argument doesn’t wash with me, because if you met my old ACE supervisor, you would undoubtedly describe her as kind and loving too. Yet there is no doubt in my mind that she was a child abuser (not sexually, I should clarify, but in almost every other way). Remember, too, that Roloff described his students as “parent-hating, Satan-worshiping, dope-taking immoral boys and girls.”

Most interesting, though, is that almost no one who defends Roloff disputes the facts of the situation. Normally in arguments over child abuse, person A says “This person beat kids!” and the accused says “I never touched them!” This argument is not like that. No one that has written to me denies that Roloff’s home had The Lockup, an unfurnished room where children were held in solitary confinement. No one denies that kneeling on the floor for extended periods was used as a punishment. And no one, least of all Roloff, contests the allegations of spanking, whipping, and paddling (although there is some dispute as to the extent of the injuries caused by this).

In other words, the debate is not about what happened. The debate is about the definition of abuse. The question is “Does locking children in solitary confinement and beating them constitute abuse?” When you put it like that, I think the answer is hideously obvious.

It is not obvious to Accelerated Christian Education, however. They knew what was happening. David Gibbs was one of ACE founder Donald Howard’s closest associates. Gibbs served on the ACE board before he became president. Yet ACE still produces a PACE specifically devoted to painting Lester Roloff as a hero. It’s English 1084, introduced in 1983 and most recently updated in 2009. This is from the current edition:

English 1084

They do need to be committed.

This is an excellent demonstration of how English PACEs work as the most insidious aspect of Accelerated Christian Education. The exercises children have to complete are technical (and pointless) grammar, but the sentences they work on are all fundamentalist propaganda. Since the content of these sentences is not directly part of the lesson, it’s an almost subliminal form of indoctrination.

On page 5, for instance, children have to identify the sentence pattern in each of these:

Rebekah Home

It’s like a form of educational meta-trolling. How many abused girls in the Rebekah Home have had to sit and identify the subject and object in the sentence “The Rebekah Home for girls is providing thousands of troubled girls a home of love”? How did that make them feel?

Even if Roloff never abused a child in his life, he still has blood on his hands. By standing with ACE against all forms of regulation, he paved the way for the institutional abuse in later ‘troubled teen’ reform homes. ACE claim to be the only true guardians of morality on Earth. In fact, they are the facilitators and defenders of child abusers.

And ACE, the immoral scumbags that they are, train children to support this injustice. On page 10, students must identify whether these sentences are simple, compound, or complex:

state licences

ACE clearly feels very strongly about this, because the sentence “Therefore, the government must not license any church ministry” appears three times in this PACE. It’s a system designed to politicise children into supporting their own oppressors. And it is completely odious.

For more on Roloff, Pamela Colloff’s ‘Remember the Christian Alamo‘ is essential reading.

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About jonnyscaramanga

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 December 2, 2013, in Accelerated Christian Education, Atheism, Christianity, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. I’ve read so many articles on this ugly matter, and yet it never get’s any less scary.

  2. Sue you?

    What a crock. Survivors of New Bethany have been threatened with that for years. If someone sues you for slander, they have just as much the burden of proof as you do.

    Giving your opinion online, as long as it’s expressed that way, and anything stated as “fact” that you can back up, they can’t touch you on. Seriously….as long as these threats have been floating around, how many times have you seen a lawsuit filed as a result?

  3. Wow, this is mind boggling. As I read through the post I was reminded of how Hitler indoctrinated children using similar propaganda methodologies, including children’s books, comic strips and comic books which effectively made children loyal to Hitler, and turned children against the Jews.

    Replace Jews with Government and i don’t see any difference. Hitler was abused as a child by his father, and as an adult, insisted on corporal punishment as a method of braking a child’s will.

  4. I wasn’t in the sector of Fundamentalism that heard much about Roloff (I think maybe they tried to ignore it), but this just sickens me.

    Since escaping Fundyland I just find out more and more – it’s like a never-ending pit of evil.

  5. Here’s an example using similar propaganda methodologies used in children’s school books/tests during Hitler’s reign::

    “The Jews are aliens in Germany–in 1933 there were 66,060,000 inhabitants in the German Reich, of whom 499,682 were Jews. What is the per cent of aliens?”

  6. My name is Tyler, and I am 17 years old. I am currently an atheist growing up in a Christian home. It’s frustrating sometimes.

    Since kindergarten, I have been in an A.C.E. school. I am now a senior in high school. A couple of years ago, I started realizing that some of the things that I was being taught were complete shit. I still remember the day that I realized that evolution did, in fact, make sense. Good, logical sense.

    I realized that the economics I was –and am still being– taught is a load of right-wing dogma to which I have no need to adhere. I learned that there morals are extremely fucked, and would not be accepted anywhere but a Christian fundamentalist community.

    Since then I’ve gone on the renounce a lot of I used to believe. And I’m happier for it. I don’t have the weight of (as Christopher Hitchens so eloquently put it) a celestial North Korea hanging on my shoulders every day.

    Thank you, Jonny. Through this blog, you’ve helped me understand what the problems were with A.C.E. I appreciate it. This is a great blog.

    • Tyler, we support and stand with you. KNOW THAT! I understand what you are going through, Tyler, and completely empathise with you. It can be very hard with the conflict of worldviews, can’t it?

      • Support doesn’t necessarily mean agreement with everything you say (I have my own opinions on the origins of the earth, for instance, among many things) but we can agree on essential things, I think, like Hitler, slavery, and eugenics are wrong, although we may disagree as to what caused them.

        I do hope you get out and explore the world for yourself, Tyler. It’s a real big place and don’t you keep believing ACE!


  7. Thanks for your courage. Perhaps these commentaries may be helpful.
    Born or Raised in High-Demand Groups: Developmental Considerations

    Leona Furnari, L.C.S.W.

    An increasing number of individuals are entering mainstream society who were born and/or raised in cults or closed, high-demand groups. In my work as a mental health professional specializing in trauma and recovery from spiritual abuse, I regularly encounter these individuals.


    As a former member of a “closed high-demand group” (CHDG), I often struggle with terminology and prefer not to use the term “cult,” though it sometimes is unavoidable.
    I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult

    I was a member of a religious cult, the Trinity Foundation, for seven years and worked for the Trinity Foundation publication, The Wittenberg Door, the “world’s only religious satire magazine,” from 1998-2000.

    As a Christian who was raised in the mainstream Southern Baptist denomination, who has earned an undergraduate degree in Sociology and a master’s degree in Religious Education from one of the world’s foremost Protestant seminaries—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary—and who has worked in the mental health field for twenty years, I should have been the last person to join a cult!

  8. republibotthreepointoh

    I am not in any way justifying child abuse that happened as a result of ACE. I’m not making excuses for it, or defending a basically screwed up system. I offer this merely to put things in perspective:
    Bottom line: the governor of Arizona shut down the state agency overseeing child protection because more than SIX THOUSAND CASES OF CHILD ABUSE were simply never investigated.

    People often ask me, “Kevin, why the hell is your kid in that system?” and I point out that sadly, it’s safer than the secular alternative. Number of times I got beat up in public school, grades 1-4: like 8. Times I got beat up in ACE, grades 4-8: Zero.

    Again, I am not saying “It’s ok,” because it’s not. I’m saying that as a society we are very, very, very fucked up, and frequently the only alternative to whacky anti-science fundamentalists is even worse. That’s the situation I’m in. That’s the situation many other parents find their kids in.

  9. I was at roloffs, my dad was Larry Loftis he was roloffs right hand man and ran the homes on south padre island , there was a lot of abuse and it was def a cult , everyone I know from there grew up with severe problems

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