Revelations from a former ACE insider

This is a guest post. The author has chosen to remain nameless. The title (mine) does the post no justice; this is one of the most powerful ACE survivor stories we’ve had and I want everyone to read it.

I was a student at Maranatha Christian School in the UK from 2003 – 2005. I worked at an ACE school in Moscow, Russia in 2007 and at Christian Education Europe from 2007-2009. I also attended for many years a church overseen by then-director of Christian Education Europe, Arthur Roderick.

I started ACE “late” at age thirteen after spending the first parts of my schooling as an atheist in mainstream schools. I have little idea what drew my parents to Maranatha, but I suspect the low teacher-pupil ratio was one of the main reasons.

Having always been a “teacher’s pet” Maranatha was a whole new experience for me. Because I was not yet a Christian at that point and had little spiritual knowledge I was branded a “troublemaker.” In my first year at Maranatha I was given detentions and parents’ meetings for blaspheming, dying my hair, refusing to sing hymns during “opening exercise,” my lack of the “submissive nature” we were taught was expected of women, and even once for wearing trousers instead of a skirt to an earned “non-uniform” day.

I was harassed by teachers and students daily – eventually attempting suicide shortly before my fourteenth birthday. This further branded me as an ungodly troublemaker, particularly as I was referred to a child psychologist. Although the head teacher was not pleased and offered both prayer and a referral to a “Christian psychologist” as alternatives, my mother thankfully refused. I was, however, forbidden from returning to the (or any) doctor after his practical suggestions included removing me from Maranatha completely.

Although I had quite a few more run-ins with the school (such as being subjected to a personal and family meeting with the head teacher for attending a sleepover party that included both boys and girls) I eventually learnt how to “behave” (I never wore trousers near school again!) and the rest of my time at Maranatha went somewhat more peacefully.

Others were not so lucky, I remember one boy being ridiculed by the teachers for having “girl hair” and other members of my class were reduced to tears after being publicly screamed at by the head teacher’s wife for offenses as minor as not completing their lunchtime chores (which included vacuuming the classrooms and cleaning the staffroom) to a satisfactory degree. One of my chores included removing the spiders from the girl’s cloakroom… since I was terrified of spiders I refused in tears and was shut in the cupboard until the job was complete – afterwards I was told to pray for God to make me less of a coward. The school’s policy appeared to be ridiculing and humiliating children into submission.

Picture of a a chicken

In case you needed reminding, here’s what ACE’s sex education looks like.

Some of my more bizarre memories include “sex education” lessons. Sex ed in the ACE booklets is notoriously bad, so at the very least Maranatha tried to supplement these. All students over eleven were separated into boys and girls to, very awkwardly, talk about our bodies. I can’t speak for the boys but on our side this included the youngest girl being teased by the teacher for being too young to “understand menstruation” and being told no husband would ever want us if we were “used.” This is what happens when you have a group of mostly untrained (as someone studying for 3+ years to become an educator, I do not count the five day ACE “Professional Training Course”) adults in charge of the education and well-being of children.

I regret many of the things I did and said during my last years at Maranatha – things I taught myself to firmly believe and fight for. These include submitting a presentation to the annual ACE student convention “debunking the myth” of evolution (which won me a medal) and my outspoken hatred of homosexuality. Campaigning for these “issues” made me feel like less of an outcast and helped me to fit in with the other students at school, at least to an extent… as a now openly pansexual person, my own actions during this time absolutely disgust me.

After eventually being asked to leave Maranatha as the school “wasn’t a good fit” I was home-schooled for a year on the ACE program. In reality, from the age of fifteen I gave up on an education that was teaching me nothing but how to memorise abstract facts (fun fact – few ACE students actually read the content of PACEs. As you’re rewarded for the quantity of work and not quality, children quickly learn to just skim pages for the answers they need). My parents both worked full-time and had no interest in making sure I was actually studying.

When 16-17 I was then sent, alone, to Russia to work in a school there on “mission.” Placed in a one bedroom flat with four other people who rarely spoke English at home, I was given no training but expected to teach small classes English as an additional language. For this I was paid USD$100 a month – at the time around £50. I feigned illness multiple times to avoid work because I had never been so much as told how to plan or deliver lessons. Eventually the school sent me home after I attempted suicide a second time. Soon after my parents insisted I take a job at Christian Education Europe (ACE’s European distributor), so I could be “ministered” to.

I noticed that on Leaving Fundamentalism a “whistle-blower” from CEE briefly mentions thatone person was sacked for a supposedly gay relationship…” I can confirm that after some time working at CEE I became romantically involved with a girl I had known for some time. When this became known to Arthur Roderick, I was taken from my work, during office hours, to an empty room where I was asked to confirm the “disturbing rumours” he had heard about me. It was then decided that my “lifestyle” did not match the “family-centred” goals of the company and I was asked not to return to work as I could “potentially influence vulnerable minds” …the irony is not lost on me!

At the time I was determined to speak out about what had happened but was warned that, as a member of a church closely affiliated with CEE, I would no longer be welcome there or in my own home if I did so. During the next few months I was “discouraged” from leaving the house and forced to endure the odd beating (I was nineteen at this point). I was also subjected to almost daily visits from Arthur Roderick and other CEE staff members, mainly so they could pray for the “demons” in me to be released but also in intense, hours-long attempts to change my mind and “put me on the right path.” Other church and staff members, as well as ACE students I had considered my friends, outright shunned me.

It took years for me to get over my apprehension about telling anyone I had been an ACE student, never mind had worked for and advocated the program. It took even longer for me to be comfortable enough to announce my sexuality to boyfriends and other Christian friends as I had been convinced all Christians were taught the hatred I had been at school. I have since been re-diagnosed with PTSD regarding this period of my life. It has only been in the past year or two that I have realised the things I was taught under Accelerated “Christian” Education are not the norm and many Christians (including myself) really can be loving and accepting. I am still too terrified to walk into a new church by myself, though.

After attending college to obtain an Access Diploma (having left ACE with no useful qualifications) I am now at university studying to be a primary teacher. This has brought ACE into a whole new light for me. Every day I am provided with proof that rote and Skinnerian learning is little more than teaching circus tricks of memory recall. I have been provided with so much evidence that most of the world is moving forward towards a constructivist model of education that states that children learn better by doing and experiencing, than by being forced to arbitrarily absorb facts. This is how almost every primary school in the UK is run… but ACE is still ploughing along with a model that was becoming out of date when the curriculum was first written in the 70s.

I once thought that my experiences were unique, but I’m writing this because I have since learnt that there are many stories out there like mine. As a future teacher, I cannot allow these stories to keep being produced from future generations of ACE students. Even now I still feel like a “traitor” for revealing my experiences and have to quell the impulse to add “but ACE isn’t so bad because…” onto the end of any criticism I make of the program.

Related posts:

Upcoming talk

I (Jonny Scaramanga, not the author of this guest post) will be giving my talk “Inside Britain’s Creationist Schools” in Maidenhead on Wednesday September 3. Details here.

Do you feel strongly about shining a spotlight on ACE? Join the Facebook group Accelerated Christian Education Exposed.

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 September 1, 2014, in Accelerated Christian Education, Christianity, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. Wow, that’s harrowing. Poor kid. I don’t mean that condescendingly, I mean that in regards to the poor abused kid she was, not to diminish how awful parts of her grown-up life must be now. Honestly, you’ve got to be impressed – PTSD and all – with how much of herself she’s managed to retain: he determination to be a teacher, salvaging a faith of some sort, some kind of apparently stable romantic life, and the urge to move ahead. Good job, whoever you are! The poor kid you used to be gave rise to a tough adult. It’s trite, but be proud, and thank you for sharing!

  2. A quick side note regarding “Christian Counseling” – it sucks. I don’t think it’s ever been what you’d call a “discipline” per se, and quality was generally uneven and non standardized, but it didn’t always suck. For instance, around age 13, when I started going to a psychologist, it was billed as a “Christian Psychologist.” He was an actual licensed clinical psychologist who just happened to be a Christian. That was what it meant 33 years ago.

    Nowadays psychology, psychiatry, and anything with “psy-” in the title is looked down on with a paranoia that wold make elrons most ardent followers blush. Recent phenomenon, and I don’t understand it “nouthetic counseling” is the thing now, and it’s just quackery. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

    If you a Christian, there’s nothing wrong with therapy or psychiatry, and I’m sure theres still reputable christian ones out there, but make sure you check the credentials of your their credentials, and if the word “nouthetic” comes up, run for the door and stop payment on the check.

  3. I laughed.

    Yes, I’m sure this was serious for you (the author). But it was also hilarious.

    As a child, I read “The Fourth Form at St Michaels”. Your story is better and more realistic. A good screen writer could probably turn it into comedy gold.

    I laughed because this is so absurd. No school should be acting this way.

    • I don’t know how the author will respond to this news, but I think absurd things should be laughed at.

      I worry, though, that too many people only laugh at ACE schools and their ilk, and forget that this really happens to real children.

      • I agree. A degree of horror is called for. I’m not sure if the “failsafe” style or the “dr strange love” style is best to handle this. Anyway, unknown authoress, I’m not laughing at you, nor your experiences.

    • Author here – In all fairness, in hindsight I can see some sort of hilarity in the things that happened in that school… it didn’t feel like that at the time, but laughter is very therapeutic!

  4. But Jonny, just one point. These are unsubstantiated, anonymous claims.

    Regards,

    Mr Clare.

    • In other contexts, what’s been said here is known as ‘testimony’.

    • Mr Clare, are you dismissing this because of anonymity? Or are you saying that others will? You’re kind of terse so it’s hard to understand your point.

    • Anonymous to you, yes, but not to me. I know exactly who the author is.

      But I take your point. And that is part of the reason I run these accounts in full: to give the reader a chance to decide what they think of all of it.

      Personally, I find a lot of it plausible because I know some of the staff alluded to here, and these descriptions fit with my own experiences and other accounts I’ve received.

      Readers don’t necessarily have that advantage, so I’d pose these questions:

      1) Do you think the writer believes her own account? Regardless of what actually took place, do you think this represents the authors own feelings?

      I see no reason to doubt this. So at the very least we can say that this individual perceives her experience as an abusive one. And while CEE would want to marginalise that, I think this is important on its own.

      2) How much of this fits with ACE and/or Maranatha’s own espoused views?

      With regard to the sex education, ACE is big on purity culture. While the words “No one will want you if you are used” do not appear, that sentiment is quite close to what is explicitly taught in the Wisdom inserts of English PACEs 1113-1114, Health PACE 4, and Chemistry 1121, among others.

      I also had relationships education from some of the same ‘teachers’, and similar ideas were conveyed. Also, it is indisputable that some conservative Christian leaders have taught precisely that “no one will want you if you’ve been used”, so it is not implausible that it might be taught in a conservative Christian school.

      Similarly, with regard to the spiders episode, I have my doubts whether the student would have been told not to be “a coward”. Knowing the theology espoused by the school, however, I find it eminently plausible that an arachnophobic student might have been told to pray for courage and then instructed to clean a spider-infested cupboard.

      3) How much of this connects to testimony from people in similar circumstances?

      This account should not be considered in isolation. There is a huge volume of commentary from ex-ACE students online. There was a massive Reddit thread which received more than 2000 comments; I’ve personally catalogued most of them in a Word document (there have probably been more comments since I did that), and I haven’t decided what to do with it yet. There were all kinds of people demonstrating a familiarity with the ACE system that could only have come from genuine former students, most of them expressing similar views to those in this post. There are the testimonies on this blog (many of them still nestled in comment threads, which I need to archive properly), and those in other forums.

      So at the very least we can say there is a substantial body of former students claiming abuse in schools like this. We can’t say how representative they are of the total of course, but I think even if they are a small minority they should not be dismissed.

      Final question: How likely is it that there could be such a body of testimony from different people, overlapping in so many important ways, without it having some basis in reality?

      If, like me, you* think this unlikely, I then invite readers to consider the following hypothesis:

      There is something inherent in ACE, or in teachings common in the culture(s) of ACE schools, which makes such abuse possible or probable.

      *Here I am referring to all my readers, not just Mr Clare.

    • Author here, again – Mr Clare, I’m glad you don’t believe reports just because someone has stated them. I know this story is true, but I’d rather people read this and other accounts, and made up their own minds. I’m sure plenty of people had the exact opposite to my experiences, but as Jonny said, there does seem to be a lot of similar reports.

      Jonny, you’re also right, I wasn’t outright called a coward (though that’s how I took it at the time), I believe I was told to pray for courage or something along those lines.

  5. I know the author too, very well. It is a tad exaggerated in places, but feel sorry she was put through a school she didn’t want to be in. Parents want the best for their kids and do not always know what their offspring are experiencing which I am sure happened to you Jonny.

    • Thanks mum, I’m glad of this improvement to “exaggeration” – It’s a few steps up from when you used to tell people it never happened at all.

  6. Did we really need more evidence that there is nothing too evil, illegal, obnoxious, absurd, or stupid that the religious reich will not use it?

    Id any teacher had treated one of my kids even 1/10th as badly as what you describe, I would have them charged with child abuse.

    Yes, “What’s the harm in religion?” Nothing if you hate children, minorities, gays, r anyone that doesn’t share your exact beliefs.

    • I don’t think you can generalise from this lot to the ‘religious reich’, as you call it, as a whole. Quite a few of the people fighting against ACE are Christians, and quite a few religious people are defenders of rights for children, gay people, and minorities.

      I’m an atheist and I’m no fan of religion, but it’s sloppy to use ACE as evidence against other faiths or even other Christians.

      • I think you do not understand. “Religious Reich” is those like the ACE. If I had meant all christians, that’s what I would have said.

        I personally know christians who are decent, caring people. Instead of whining abut “putting christ back into christmas” they are working to put christ back into christians. At least the idealized version of christ, not this one:

        Matthew 10:34  Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

      • I see. Thanks for clearing that up. The term “religious reich” hasn’t been used on this blog before, as far as I can remember.

      • I’d like to say that I invented the term but I admit had seen it somewhere and it seemed so appropriate to distinguish the Pat Robertsons and Ken Hams of the world from more rational people.

  7. Hello all. Firstly, apologies to the author if I came across as terse. My comment was mainly directed to Jonny, in the context of thinking about whether this would legally stand up in court for what is, in many ways, a right cause. I’m not a blog commenting expert and I’ve realised I should have at least acknowledged the writer. Best wishes, Mr Clare.

  8. This blog’s getting big, isn’t it? You’re a valuable hub and resource for people who have suffered under these systems. Good job on getting the word out.

  9. Ofsted think that Maranatha is a good school, strange how they managed to deceive the inspectors so well http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/filedownloading/?id=2288337&type=1

    • Maranatha is, in so many ways, a beautiful school. This is my experience of 2012 – 2014. They didn’t ‘deceive’ the inspectors. Because of current educational laws, they didn’t look at the curriculum. And the curriculum is very ugly indeed. Mr Clare.

      • And this is not to disbelieve the original poster. There are a few names I know who have theologically bought into the ‘program them like robots’ bullshit. I don’t think they work there any more. But the curriculum still has to go. Mr Clare.

  10. To both Jonny and the author fo this blog: my utmost admiration. I believe the courage displayed by the author in speaking out against the ACE program far exceeds the courage needed to endure a spider infested cupboard – especially as she has also had to act against her parents wishes. Stand Tall.

  11. I’m not sure what took me so long to discover this website, but I’m certainly glad that I did. Thank you for the work that you are doing. I shouldn’t be surprised that there are others from this so called education system that we as tormented as I, but for some reason, I was surprised. I am also grateful that others are speaking about their traumatic experience.

    I was in several ACE schools growing up in the US in Colorado, and several other hard core religious schools. By and far, the ACE schools had the most detrimental effects on me. I was simply unsuited for this environment. I was harassed constantly by teachers, parents, and students. Ultimately, I was pulled from school, after a bout of criticism led to me throwing bibles at my teacher. During a conference with my parents, they said that I was possessed by a demon, and that I needed an exorcism. I’ll be forever grateful that my parents finally saw this for what it was, and pulled me out of there. I look back at it, and can’t shake the feeling that I was actually involved in a cult of some kind.

    Unfortunately, though, my difficulty didn’t end there. Because of my lack of quality socialization skills (due in part to the seemingly endless hours I spent in a cubicle working on paces, and due in another part to the vastly different socialization required in the ACE environment), public school gave me a whole new set of problems. I didn’t know how to fit in. It’s no surprise in retrospect that I felt most comfortable with other misfits, and was soon using drugs and alcohol to cover the wounds caused by my early education and enculturation, the vast amount of guilt and fear which they had forced into my young mind I can still hear the sound of the word SINNER!). It has taken years of therapy, and enormous work to reach my current state of being. I am now clean and sober, and have learned the basic socialization skills, and am now able to fake fitting in with the larger population around me, though I’ll never really fit.

    After serving in the military, I went back to school, where I studied science, with a focus on Chemistry. I now hold a PhD in the field, and have no doubt in my mind that the scientific method is the only way to approach the universe. It is the best way yet developed to remove human bias from our research. The ACE system is doing a great disservice and potentially great harm to the young minds under their “care”.

    It’s unimaginable to me that people continue sending their children there, but clearly they are. I will say, though, that while ACE was extremely detrimental to me, there is one positive aspect of my scientific research that I believe was due in part to ACE. It made me giggle when I read it in the article above, when she discussed how ACE students skim the material to find the answer. I laughed because that was exactly how I did it. I never read any of it. The answers we often italicized or bolded, and usually in order as they appear in the questions. I learned to quickly find the answers, fill out the booklet, and then spend the rest of my day dreaming. I am now able to sort through large amounts of information quickly to find the information I need. I also posses a great imagination and can really get into serious daydreaming. I’ll credit them with that….and no more.

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