Five ‘ACE’ years: my story of a fundamentalist education – part one

“Even the smallest of our actions had the potential for grave consequences and the day to day living of life felt like a heavy responsibility, even for a small child. With this power to intimidate and threaten, it was easy to bully, manipulate and coerce.”

I spent five years between the ages of 12 and 17, memorising bible passages, reading Christian fundamentalist literature and preparing to be a godly woman – meaning a subservient wife, home-maker and mother.

After leaving primary school, I never entered into a secondary school.  This is a perfectly legal option in the UK, to take your child out of the school system in order to be ‘educated otherwise’. These two words, ‘educated otherwise’ were repeated over and over by my mother who proudly explained her legal right to all who asked why her five children weren’t in school. I would be brought forward to give my speech; coached to say how much I enjoyed being home schooled, how I was enabled to set my own goals, work at my own pace and learn through experience rather than through books. I was told that I was lucky I didn’t have to go to school, I was lucky I had parents that cared enough to take charge of my education. Even now, as I write this, I feel guilt and a sense of anxiety opening up about what being home schooled was really like. I wasn’t ‘educated otherwise’, I was denied an education, I was denied intellectual stimulation, I was denied relationships, friendships, exposure to the world outside of the fundamentalist Christian community. I was denied a childhood.

I will talk about my time being home-schooled soon, in the second part of this blog post (which will be published here shortly). Prior to this, however, my sister and I (the 2 of the eventual 5 children old enough to be at school at this point) were initially placed in a faith school. It was newly founded by a pastor and his wife who had decided to establish a school in the attic of their church building, and asides from myself and my sister there were three other girls ranging in age from 5 to 15. The Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum was used and the classroom set up adhered to ACE’s rules. We had desks with barriers either side, so that we couldn’t see our neighbours. We had two small flags on our desk, the American flag and a flag with a cross on it. One would be raised to ask to go to the toilet and another raised for issues with our studies. We would silently study from PACEs (Packets of Accelerated Christian Education), paper booklets we had to work through independently, reading then regurgitating educational texts written from a Christian fundamentalist view point.

“I do remember feeling constantly fearful, surveyed and judged. The surveillance extended even to our menstrual cycles which were recorded by the pastor’s wife.”

Each day began with an assembly which was more like a short church service. We sang Christian worship songs, read the bible out loud, were tested on the passages we were meant to have memorised and listened to a sermon. The messages of these sermons were often quite pointed (targeted at one of us kids) and while I do not remember many details from this time, I do remember feeling constantly fearful, surveyed and judged.

The surveillance extended even to our menstrual cycles which were recorded by the pastor’s wife. I remember being called aside for a meeting with this woman who showed me my educational progress over the last month. She told me how any inconsistencies in my ability to successfully meet my goals, learn my biblical lessons and perform in my tests over the last month was evidence I was allowing my bad hormones to win over my mind and soul. Any deviation from perfection would be noted and blamed on a presumed monthly weakness. I remember trying to explain that my periods had not yet started. This didn’t matter. Any sign of weakness was failure and failure was evidence of the devil winning. I remember whenever one girl, who actually had started her periods, was suffering from cramping pain, she was continually reprimanded. Feeling pain in itself was a sin. When Jesus was crucified he broke all curses that were put upon Adam and Eve and periods (or rather the pain they bring) was one such curse. Feeling pain meant you lacked faith and lacking faith meant shame, failure, weakness and letting God down.

Another memory that stands out from this school is a particular assembly that felt more like a funeral service where we mourned the departure of one of the students (whose mother decided the school wasn’t right for her 5 year old daughter) as if she had died – no, worse that that (in evangelical terms), as if she had irredeemably lost every chance of ever going to heaven.  She had left the school and so she was a traitor. She had shown herself not to be a true Christian. During the assembly/funeral service/fire and brimstone sermon, we read Psalm 91. It made such an impact on me, I remember it with great clarity.

   ” … he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
 He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
 You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
 A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
 You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.”

We, the school children were safe. The deserter was one of the thousand who would fall at our side, who would be trapped by the fowlers snare, who would see pestilence and plague. In reading this Psalm at this time, it felt as if we were pronouncing a judgement, a sentence upon them. The prospect of a future in either heaven or hell was very real to us. It was in no way a distant, vague possibility. Judgement day WAS coming and there would be no escape. For this reason, even the smallest of our actions had the potential for grave consequences and the day to day living of life felt like a heavy responsibility, even for a small child. With this power to intimidate and threaten, it was easy to bully, manipulate and coerce.

My sister and myself left soon after this. I think there was a falling out between the leader of the school and our parents, the details of which I am unaware. We left suddenly and without warning. No goodbyes were said. Unfortunately, this was not the end but rather the beginning of my alternative education. The faith school was disturbing, but there was some semblance to a regular school. I got up in the morning, I left the house, I saw other people and was supervised by an adult. There were scheduled activities and a routine. Home-schooling took away all of these things…

The second part of this blog post, detailing my experiences with ACE at home, will be published on this site shortly.

Anonymous

A Righteous Education? BBC Radio 4 looks into Britain’s fundamentalist Christian schools

A chilling and thorough insight into the experiences of pupils at Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) schools. Excellent journalism and a testament to the courage and determination of former ACE pupils in trying to prevent more children from having to go through what they did.

You can listen here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_zKmKBC3bNWcjNlY1dBNU9aQzQ/view?usp=sharing 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on ACE schools and the experiences of those who have attended them, read the blogs previously posted on this site.

FSA staff

 

Fundamentalist Christian private schools threaten legal challenge to Ofsted after damning inspection reports

“For those of us who survived an ACE education, the only question is why Ofsted has turned a blind eye to these schools’ failings for so long”

Christian schools using the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum claim that Ofsted is discriminating against them. On October 19, Ofsted visited ten ACE schools, finding that nine were inadequate or requiring improvement. Two have since closed. In an article titled ‘Watchdog is picking on us, say Christian schools’, the Sunday Times reports that the schools are seeking advice from the Christian Legal Centre about a judicial review.

The Sunday Times reporting on this issue does not include a single critical opinion about the schools apart from that of the Ofsted reports, which are mentioned but not quoted. Readers will not know, then, that in June this year, according to the Independent, a number of former ACE students blew the whistle on homophobia, sexism, and creationism in their schools. They will not know that in September, several more spoke out about exorcisms, being pressured into young marriages, and historical physical abuse.

Readers will also be unaware that in November, Vice released a recording of a staff member at an ACE school saying that students could be taken to weekend retreats where evil spirits would be cast out of them. She gave this information in response to a journalist posing as the parent of a gay child, who asked what the school could do to ‘help’.

ACE materials have defended apartheid in South Africa and claimed that the Loch Ness monster (a) exists and (b) disproves evolution. Ofsted has criticised some of the schools for failing to promote ‘British values’, and on the available evidence this criticism is well justified.

While the slightly jingoistic language of ‘British values’ is unfortunate, the values themselves are not controversial: democracy, individual liberty, rule of law, mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. It is the law that schools promote all these values, and ACE schools do not. Contrary to the schools’ protestations, this is the opposite of discrimination. It represents Ofsted applying the independent schools standards to conservative Christian schools as it has been to Muslim and Jewish schools for some time.

The Christian schools’ argument is not even coherent. On the one hand, they argue that Ofsted is discriminating against them. On the other, as one headmaster put it, ‘I think they have done it to show they will do it to everyone and not just the Muslims’. The substance of the schools’ complaint, then, appears to be that Ofsted is discriminating against them by treating them the same as other faith schools.

Andrea Williams of the Christian Legal Centre told the Sunday Times ‘These schools produce children who are kind, tolerant, interesting and go on to do good jobs. Most of all, they are happy’. This assertion without evidence is contradicted by writers for Faith Schoolers Anonymous, like myself, who have talked about the trauma and guilt they still live with as a result of ACE.

ACE schools have existed in the UK since 1979, and the curriculum and ethos have changed little in the intervening decades. For those of us who survived an ACE education, the only question is why Ofsted has turned a blind eye to these schools’ failings for so long.

Jonny Scaramanga blogs at Leaving Fundamentalism.