I am officially heartbroken

This is a guest post by Kevin Long.

Image creative commons from Pixabay

Image via Pixabay (creative commons)

I am officially heartbroken. I was walking around the neighborhood with my special needs kid. Trying to come up with a way to spend more quality time together, I said, “Let’s do a song on Garage Band or something.” The kid went tense.

Me: “What’s wrong?”

Kid: [Sullen] “I don’t know.”

Me: “Rephrasing: you went tense when I said ‘lets do a song.’ What made you tense about that?”

Kid: “I’m afraid to be creative, ok?”

Me: “Why? You’re so smart and inventive and fascile.”

Kid: [Tense and sullen] “I don’t know.”

Me: “We’ll try it again: At what point did you STOP liking being creative?”

Kid: “It was ACE.”


Me: [Flustered] “Why? How? How is that possible?”

Kid: “It’s true.”

Me: “Of course it is. We’re talking about feelings. If you feel something, it’s real to you. I believe you. You just loved to create, and now…I’m just shocked.”

Kid: “There were a lot of rules, and if you deviate from them you’re going to hell.”

Me: “Did they actually tell you that?”

Kid: “No. It just seemed like that from the PACEs.”

Me: “And that made you feel frightened of your own creativity?”

Kid: “Yeah.”

Me: [Long pause]

Kid: “Are you ok, dad?”

Me: “Dammit. Sorry to curse, but dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit.”

Kid: “I’m sorry.”

Me: “It’s not your fault. I knew the school was for suck educationally. Well, that’s not true. I didn’t know HOW sub par it was, but I figured it was below average. I just wanted you to get some socialization, be around kids your own age, have some damn friends other than just your mom and grandmom and me, and, you know, get used to being around other people. I just wanted you to have…”

Kid: “I know.”

Me: “I never in a million years figured they could take that away from a person.”

Kid: “I feel it’ll get better. It will come back. Distance.”

Me: “Still….dammit to hell.”

Kid: “You didn’t know. It’s ok.”

Me: [Long pause] “Ok, so let’s start slow. Let’s just go back to the house and start playing with some little musical bits and stick things together and see if they sound good. Doesn’t have to be a song. Doesn’t have to evolve into a song. Just playing.”

Kid: [Says nothing]

Me: “Or we could just sing along with the radio? No pressure, work our way up from there?”

Kid: [Nods]

So: I am officially heartbroken. 


Accelerated Christian Education” or “ACE” is a private school curriculum I was in between about 1977 and 1981, and the kid was in it for about 18 months. I didn’t feel it was harmful as a kid, though being a kid I was perhaps a little unaware of the effects it had on me. As a literalist, fundamentalist Christian, ACE’s unyielding stance on pretty much everything did materially contribute to my eventual nervous breakdown and eventual atheism. I have no doubts of that. They made it clear that the only options were Literalist Christianity or Atheism. They controlled the nodes of the debate and gave me no option.

Fortunately, they were wrong. Atheism wasn’t a good match for me, and after many, many, many years and many different faiths, I found my way back to Christianity. I’m definitely not a literalist. Am I a Fundamentalist? I don’t know. I recently spoke to my childhood preacher, and he said that he believed in the fundamentals of Christianity, which made him a Fundamentalist 30 years ago, but now? He’s not so sure. Now it’s a movement that seems governed by something other than love and caring and evangelizing and hope and being a positive example. He said he was pretty sure most modern Fundamentalists would reject him, though he hasn’t changed. He implied he wasn’t too thrilled with them, either. I paraphrase. I interpolate. I digress.

Point is: at this moment I want to burn the A.C.E. sons of bitches down. To be perfectly legally clear, that’s hyperbole. I don’t actually want to hurt anyone, nor burn anything. Nor, for that matter, do I think that the leaders of ACE as a corporate entity or as schools are the children of prostitutes. Maybe some, I don’t know. But at this moment, I really want to find some way to legally dismantle their organization, or starve it to death of students and teachers. I recognize this is over-reaction, and emotional, but I’m angry. I’m really angry.

They made my kid afraid to create.

My kid has issues, and my own generation-old experiences at ACE aren’t that bad, no worse than public school of the same era. (I never got beat up at ACE, for instance. I got beat up in public school a lot) ACE does have some value as a ‘lifeboat’ for damaged kids who (Like me, like my kid) would get eaten alive in the drunken dogfight of normal school, so there is that. I recognize that they do some good. I recognize that I’m being irrational.

I also recognize that learning was fun for my kid up until 2 years ago, and now: afraid to create.

That’s got to be wrong, right?

So what do I do?

I will probably be blogging more about this in the future. I’m still sorting my thoughts out here.

Jonny: Actually, this story has a happy ending. A couple of weeks after Kevin sent me this, he joyfully emailed to say his son expressed an interest in writing, and has begun producing short stories, vignettes, and introductions. Children are resilient, and they bounce back. And it’s not like ACE is the only kind of schooling that can be damaging to creativity. But ACE’s assault on creativity seems to be coming from a different place. It’s not that creativity is overlooked because of an emphasis on STEM subjects and rationality; it’s that ideas are dangerous, because ideas can be wrong. For ACE, education is about submission: submission first to adults, who are placed over you by God, and ultimately to God himself. You don’t need your own ideas. You need God’s ideas. Then, they believe, God will give you original ideas.

I’m so glad Kevin’s son is writing again. ACE stole my love of reading. I had been an avid reader before I went to Victory, and it took me ten years and a relationship with a passionate booklover to rediscover it. Still, I got it back, or mostly back, in the end. It would’ve been better if I’d been to a school with a decent selection of books and some encouragement to read them, though, just like it would’ve been better is Kevin’s son hadn’t become scared of his own creativity in the first place.

This was reposted from Kevin’s blog. Kevin is an author who has published four books; check them out here.

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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 August 20, 2014, in Accelerated Christian Education, Christianity, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. ‘English’ (IV) 1143 (2001 Revision) – p.22 – ‘…a host of new “isms” that flooded the writing field…. other artistic expressions included versilibrism, vorticism, cubism, imagism, and surrealism. These are examples of how any culture degenerates when God is left out.’

    It is, of course, unfair to point out the recent history of equating the word ‘degenerate’ with ‘art’. It isn’t unfair to smack your forehead in disbelief and allow your jaw to hit the floor.

    Mr Clare.

  2. Wow. This is one of those stories that just hits you right in the gut.
    I am so glad your son started to be creative again. A couple of days ago I had an immense depressive episode and then I thought to myself that the day I stop being creative is the day I have nothing left to live for.
    “But at this moment, I really want to find some way to legally dismantle their organization, or starve it to death of students and teachers. I recognize this is over-reaction, and emotional, but I’m angry. I’m really angry.”
    I want to see ACE starve due to lack of support by people. I want to see the schools empty and the lies uncovered. By sharing our stories we can be drops in the ocean that will, hopefully, eventually, wash ACE away.

    • I can only hope.

      I remember around 4th grade (the year that PACEs were introduced for some subjects) I went from loving school, to really, really hating it. I was gifted, and accelerated. A Beka (which has its own problems, mostly along the same lines as ACE) wasn’t nearly as bad about “don’t be creative,” but had taught that submission to authority was right and just. But even to a kid with severe ADHD, there’s a pretty obvious difference between “regular classroom, where you can raise your hand to go to the bathroom and be sure you’ll be seen right away, and maybe sometimes you can sneak a book in to read when you finish work early” and the ACE cubicles in the “Learning Center.”

      I thought the reason I didn’t want to go to school was because I was a bad kid. This belief–that the reason I didn’t measure up to dad’s insanely high standards AND also enjoy school & Mass was because I was horribly bad, broken person–continued until I got therapy a couple years ago in my mid-20’s. I was suicidally depressed as a teenager because I believed God would never really love someone as evil and broken as I believed myself to be. The reasons I never went through with it are depressing in and of themselves:
      1. I didn’t want to leave a mess for my parents to clean up, because that would make them mad.
      2. I had a low tolerance for pain, and I knew instinctively that most, if not all, of the methods I could think of would really hurt–and would hurt worse if I failed.
      3. I figured I couldn’t do anything right, so why should I expect to actually succeed at killing myself?
      4. Suicides went to Hell. I couldn’t imagine anyplace worse than depression, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out the hard way. (Bear in mind, I was pretty sure I was hellbound already–or at least doomed to spend a million years or so in Purgatory.)

      Notice that “I wanted to live” is nowhere on that list. It wasn’t until I was 20 or so that I really wanted to live, as opposed to just not-dying-yet. I don’t consider it a coincidence that it was about that time I started visiting sites like TalkOrigins and FSTDT and actually questioning what I believed.

      Again, I don’t think any of that is a coincidence. Fuck ACE and the emotional abuse they heap on children.

  3. As of this morning, the kid has written SEVEN untitled science fiction vignettes, generally on average about one every day and a half. They’re short, but there has yet to be a bad one. He basically dictates, and I edit, so it’s a collaborative process, but less and less so. I took a bit mo initiative on the earliest ones just to help him with things line tone, or pointing out word choices that were unclear, but the stories are all his, and I’ve had less and less to do with them as we continue. Today’s story (“Untitled Vignette 7” – he’s bad with titles) is far and away the best of the bunch, and is just a positively giddy read. He’s also written one song, and recorded it via GarageBand, but at this moment he feels better telling stories. And he’s HAPPY.

    He is literally getting better at it by the day, too, so I am really, really happy. I know it sounds hokey on a site like this, but I prayed for God to help us find some way to undo the damage that school did to my kid in His name, and it appears to have worked.

    • It’s wonderful that your prayers have been answered so quickly! I only wish that I’d been pulled out at an earlier age myself.

      Best wishes for you and your son–I’m sure he’s got quite the creative career ahead of him!

  4. Mr. Clare – I read quotes like that and find myself wondering if the authors even understand what the “-isms” are. I mean, cubism is merely an attempt to portray 3-d space from as many angles as possible at the same time. How is that degenerate? I can only imagine someone saw a painting and said, “why that doesn’t even look like the thing it is” and wrote it off.

    I VAGUELY remember a pace going on about Existentialism being an evil, like a secular religion, or something, and lumping it in with secular humanism and atheism and so on. no explanation of it, it’s just bad, and that’s that. I had a very negative opinion of it, until I was in college and learned that it started off as a CHRISTIAN movement before it divided itself off into religious and secular wings (I often describe myself as a Christian Existentialist). So they clearly weren’t even aware of the roots there.

    Nor, ironically, are they aware of just how existential the Bible itself is in books like Job and Ecclesiastes. Dopes.

    • “I can only imagine someone saw a painting and said, “why that doesn’t even look like the thing it is” and wrote it off.”

      That sounds like my dad. We went to the modern-art gallery in DC once, and he had nothing good to say about anything in it. Stuff like “A child could do that!” Pissed me off.

      Right after that, I suggested the Smithsonian portrait gallery to calm him back down (Dad gets mean when he’s in a lousy mood). It was weird. Dad was praising the realism and the scenery in them, and all I could think was, “These are just boring paintings of rich people’s faces. They don’t make me feel anything!”

      Authoritarians are weird.

      • I never wanted to die. Well, once, briefly, but it passed quickly. I never believed suicides went to hell. That was stupid catholic pagan crap, and somewhere along the line – dunno where, wasn’t my church, family, nor even probably ACE – I’d learned to reject anything Catholic out of hand. I just didn’t want to die because I believed good things were coming: trips to mars, and cities beneath the sea, and possibly a career as a private detective, and stuff like that. Had I realized how mundane life would end up being, I might have given it more thought, but back then the world seemed about to explode with magic. I didn’t want to miss it.

        To be fair, modern art has a learning curve to it. You see a portrait, you GET the portrait. Easy. You see a cubistic representation of a chair, and you’re seeing a walk around the chair, which is harder to process. It requires more of the viewer, which is why so many people react badly to it. I did too, until I had it explained to me. Then I got it. My dad never did, and just ignored it. My mom didn’t get it either, but she thought it was pretty and didn’t feel the need to understand everything the way my dad and I did. I had art classes in secular and Christian schools, but no art appreciation or theory classes, oddly.

        In my final ACE school it turned out I was a pretty good sculptor. I did a guy reclined, reading a book in 8th grade. I CLEARLY carved “Star Wars” in the book cover. All the staff assumed he must be reading the Bible. No one ever bothered to look at the cover.

  5. Theogoth, thank you. Yeah, I agree. I’m far from the most talented or creative guy in the world, but having the ability to tell a story or make a sculpture or write a song has frequently been the only thing that has kept me going. I think it’s a basic human defense mechanism, an attempt to make sense of our lives, or maybe just to reset the brain (music has the well-noted ability to do this) for a little bit and let us keep going. To rob people of such a basic survival trait – let alone one that brings joy – is just sick and wrong.

  6. I’m always impressed every time I come to this site and do a little reading. I think Jonny that you do very important work. Edmund Cohen at the end of his “The Mind of the Bible-Believer” (1986) in the postscript to the paper back edition makes an observation with which I concur fully:

    “One mental-health matter that does seem ripe for further comment now is the rather long period of readjustment often needed by those who ‘come out’. . . . The former believers I know best have reported that they sought new intellectual stimulation to counteract the biblical pseudophilosphy in which their minds had been immersed, that it took a lot of quiet time for the devotional bad habits ingrained in them to be extinguished, and that intellectual and emotional self-reliance was the next major life issue they needed to address. It may be that only people with the potential to become strongly independent and self-reliant do come out at present.”

    28 year after the writing of Cohen’s book referenced above, I’m asking myself how much more we know about the workings of the Bible-Believer’s Mind? How about the Koran-Believer’s mind? in fairness any other xxxx-Believer’s Mind as in the Mind of the Athiest-Believer [of course I acknowledge that non-existent can not be construed to be existent.] So for the fun of the analogy . . . the Athiest-Believer, the Zen-Believer, the Science-Believer, the USA-Believer, the Republican,Democrat, Liberal, Conservative-Believers, etc Regardless of the xxxx-Believer, it’s healthy to ask the hard questions.

    Along another more simplistic analogy, we need to look under the hood of the ‘car’ and see what makes the thing run! If we had a beautiful luxury car on the sale block with no engine under the hood, and a dilapidated skeleton of a stripped down 12 cylinder racing car sitting beside the beautiful car . . . . well let me beat out some observations . . .

    I’m not a mechanic, but I can educate myself with sufficient knowledge to understand the differences between a car that has no engine at all and won’t run, and a car that has a 12 cylinder racing engine that makes the car actually fly. I might even easily know the difference between a fossil-fuel combustion engine, and an electric engine. I could learn the difference between a car that cranks only and a car that actually cranks, fires, and runs, all the way down to a car that has a running engine to one that has all the necessary components to actually move the car but who’s transmission only has one functional gear.

    Coughing and sputtering, temporary mobility and then permanent dysfunction could be easily learned for one’s own self if not before making a purchase decision but at least after the fact and getting some real live experience between the beautiful car still sitting on the sale block, or the speeding ticket on the way home in the race car.

    I can know this for myself without the fancy brochure or fast talking salesman that points out the excellent design and beauty of the interior of the car that has no engine, how beautiful the outside of the car is, what intrinsic values I may derive from owning such a fancy car, how it would look in my drive or parked on the street, the list could go on endlessly until I would walk over and observe the fact that there was “no engine” in the engine compartment. Fundamentally I cannot be duped into making a purchase if I simply test drove the car with the engine vs. pretending to go to the supermarket with all my friends in the back seat of a car that does not even have an elementary component for actually moving the car.

    Regardless of how benign or sacred the out-ward physical, emotional, spiritual appeal may be, we owe it to ourselves to ask WHY. Explore. Look for those things that exist and don’t exist. What does not exist in ACE actually concerns me more than than the surface observations made by a cursory review of the whole course of study K-12. It’s what missing that is so damaging. And why are not educational ministers and state educational inspectors not picking up on the missing components?

    As I step in and out of the conversation here, the fundamental issues I’m observing is that we are dealing with our own journeys to healing the damage of the past indoctrination implicit or explicit, overtly or covertly of a belief system that ACE fully encompasses and imparts to it’s students regardless of doctrinal or denominational differences between the church schools or the parents of the home-schooled children using the curricula.

    Let me point out something I noticed yesterday. My son’s first day of school is today. Last night we took over school supplies met the teacher and other classmates.

    Here is what I saw: A BIG poster on the class room wall with big bold print at the top “Critical Thinking Questions”

    Undoubtedly the poster hanging in my son’s 3rd grade public school class room that thrilled me “Critical Thinking Questions” would send shivers down the backs of all the ACE school principles I ever knew. Never once in my entire ACE career of K-12, I repeat, never, ever, once, in attending multiple ACE schools, visiting multiple ACE Schools, did I ever see the like of that simple poster. I never found anything like this in the PACES. (correct me if I’m forgetting an isolated instance where this might have occurred)

    I know beyond any shadow of any doubt that Critical Thinking Questions were not an integral part of my personal ACE learning process 1st, 2nd or 3rd editions included. Now in front of me last night is this very PAINFUL reminder! A poster in a USA 3rd grade public school class room that would have “slightly” altered the course of my own destiny had this most fundamental premise of all learning been of the slightest interest to Donald Howard (I don’t at all respect the title(s) often attached to his name; even Mister seems uncouth, what is so genteel of willful ignorance and decidedly willful caprice to a known “dis-education”…sorry, a little anger coming out).

    Now after much time as Cohen put it: “it took a lot of quiet time for the devotional bad habits ingrained in them to be extinguished” A very slow process spanning 9 years to the day! I’m liking more and more the Critical Thinking Process. I like the philosophies and psychologies that look at the “what’s missing” part. The fact that ACE altogether expunges critical thinking from a system that panders as a pseudo-education leaves a great big HOLE. We need to ask “WHY” does this not matter to ACE or to the Fundamental Bible-Believer, the ACE kind.

    Case in point: I did not full comprehend my own injustice, my own victimization at the hands of ACE and those who decided to use that curriculum, until just yesterday that a US citizen in 3rd grade was encouraged by the US public education system to think critically. As a father I safely assumed that at some point those skills would be taught, but I was thrilled to see the simple solid questions out-lined right out in the open for my very own flesh and blood to view, to ponder, and apply personally in 3rd grade!

    My memory is so short, and though the points made a lot of sense as I went over them, I cannot quote any of the Critical Thinking Questions from memory at the moment. Contrast to “in the beginning was the word” which I can pull out of memory at any given moment . . . The Gospel of John…Psalms…and many other portions of the writ. I committed to memory (well now a more isolated portion of my memory) large passages of mindless rhetoric! Maybe as neuron science teaches me, something I learned on my own, many years after the fact and publications of these findings, some of my Bible-Beleiver neurons in my brain that fired together wired so aptly together to make memorization and retention of passages of writ so accessible are loosing their preeminence to new firing patterns that are wiring up new thinking patterns in my brain. Does it matter? ACE, slogging through all this crap. I suppose that depends on the bias of the person making the observation.

    So those of you who think this “leavingfundamentalism/ACE is all made up, or it was just “his/her” experience. Think again, but this time critically! The criticism/detractions that sometimes appears on this site, Jonny, are the opinions of fellow-humans who have an engine compartment, in fact each all have grey matter in the compartment, but why do the “gears slip” so to speak, why are there such mindless, thoughtless things said here by those who want to point out the exterior qualities and beauties of an “pseudo-educational system”. They are the voices of those who think, they have the capacity to think, but may be missing a few thinking components, hopefully the missing components are being somehow activated by their expressions that detract from the underlining reality of pain and suffering that ACE has created for so many of us that gather on this site.

    Self-deception is a human propensity! It’s scary, really scary to break out of the individual status quo of the ACE system of thought. Cohen says we are special, and as broken and as screwed up as our thinking is, as cautious, scared, scarred, and self-debasing and what sometimes feels like the opposite of self-reliant, well we have got to make the honest admission: “WE LEFT” Cohen is right! We here are “becom(ing) strongly independent and self-reliant.

    My postscript . . . . . .

    PLEASE those of you in higher education circles, those of you who can think, are lucid; HELP US, those of us who are late-bloomers, those of us who want to learn, want to know how to critically think for ourselves. PLEASE get involved in these discussions here and other modern political think tanks of education systems and governments in the USA, Europe, and the world over.

    We are smarter than this craziness that you see us all dealing and slogging through here at leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com World cultures are making many minor and major corrections as we all evolve. I hope that I can be compassionate always. I don’t tolerate injustice, and at least here in the US the compulsory dictum of children having the right to a free public education is of the greatest concern to me personally.

    Many detractors jeer, leer, and prey upon us as we find our way to some semblance of sanity. Those of you who respect us for who we are, where we are at in our journeys . . . PLEASE HELP, and if you’ve tried once and we didn’t listen, please keep trying. Point us to those resources and information that will jump-start us on our journeys to mental health and human wholeness.

  7. Are you the Jonny Scaramanga who did those wonderful Dan Dare things on B3ta? They were great.

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