My Life in an ACE School Part One

ace

A guest post series by Ian.

Introduction

I am writing a several part series on my ACE school experience. I attended three different ACE schools and was associated with a fourth, so I feel I have had a pretty varied experience with them.

This is my story as I remember it. I had good and bad times, as did anyone attending any type of school. Am I a better or worse person for having an ACE education? I don’t know. I truly believe I did as well as I did because my parents were heavily involved in my schooling, both public and private.

As I tell my story, I will write about the bad things I did. This is not to brag, it is to be as honest as possible.

This has been quite he journey down memory lane, going back over 30 years.  For people who have shared my experience, this will bring back memories. For those who have never attended an ACE school, it may be quite an eye opener.

I hope you enjoy what I have written.

Understanding An ACE School

ACE stands for Accelerated Christian Education. Donald Howard, a pastor in Texas, started ACE in 1970. It was developed as a way to evangelize children. ACE relies heavily on rote recall and short-term memorization to teach children. (See Jonny Scaramanga’s post on Donald Howard, A Very Fundamentalist Sex Scandal)

Let me explain how an ACE school operates. Students start the day out in an assembly, where we prayed, read scripture, recited pledges of allegiance to the American flag, Christian flag and the Bible. Afterwards, we heard school announcements. Then, children who passed tests the day before were called to the front and given blue “Congratulation Slips”; we would applaud them before they sat back down. After a final prayer, we would go to a Learning Center.

In the Learning Center were rows of desks, divided into “offices” by wooden dividers. In each office, students kept their school work and items needed to complete their daily work. We also had two flags, American and Christian, which we used to signal the Supervisors (American flag) and monitors (Christian flag) we need help. Supervisors were people who had taken a 5 day training course and were conversant in all things ACE. Monitors were usually parents who were volunteering as assistants. Monitors were only allowed to do things like give permission to use the bathroom, score your work, or give spelling tests. Supervisors answered harder questions and could authorize you to do special things. Students in higher grades were sometimes utilized as monitors, something I did quite a bit of in 9th grade.

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ACE Modesty Cartoon

Students had a star chart, on which were placed stars showing the work we completed. The work we did was contained in a PACE-Packet of Accelerated Christian Education. Each PACE was roughly 32 pages long and 12 in each subject were completed each year. Typically, we would do Math, English, Social Studies, Science, and Word Building (spelling/vocabulary). As you got into higher grades, there were PACEs in literature, and home economics. For high school aged children, there were elective subjects in Old Testament Survey (studies, I don’t know why they called it survey), New Testament Survey, New Testament Church History, World History, American History, Soul Winning, Life of Christ, Accounting, etc. All of the courses had an overt fundamental Christian message, from the first math PACE, to your final typing test. Even as a Christian, I did not think that was a good thing.

Each PACE was divided into several sections. After a block of instruction and practice problems, there was a quiz called a “Check-up”. At the end of the PACE was a “Self Test”, which was to show you had mastered the information in the PACE. After completing the PACE, it was turned in to a Supervisor and a test was taken the next day.

Scoring the work was accomplished by going to a score station and using a red pen to mark your wrong answers. You then had to return to your office and correct the answer and re-score the work. You did this as many times as was necessary to get it right. I’ll bring up pen colors here. Blue or black was allowed for the students to use during the day. Red ink was only for scoring. Green ink was only for Supervisors and monitors. Even today, at over 40 years old, red and green ink pens still hold almost a mystical quality for me.

One of the most important things in our office was our goal card. Every day, we had to place the number of pages we planned to do in a square that was underneath the subject. We were required to do at least 5 pages in each subject each day, unless a supervisor allowed otherwise. After the goal in each subject was completed, we crossed it off. This was all done in pen, so there could be no cheating. Except for erasable ink, which was fairly new in the early 80’s. If your goals were not finished by the end of the day, you had to ask the teacher for a green “Homework Slip”. On this slip was written what needed to be done to complete the day’s goals, or if you needed to study for a test, memorize scripture verses, etc. Parents signed the slip and it was turned in the next day. The Supervisors performed a “goal check” each morning to ensure everyone was actually doing all of their work.

Any infractions of a rule resulted in a demerit being issued. These were kept logged in a binder. At the end of the day, a student with 3 demerits was given a yellow “Detention Slip”. This slip had to be signed by your parents and returned the next morning and detention was served that day. Three demerits was a 20 minute detention, four was 25, five was 30. Six demerits was automatic swats (spanking). Parents had already signed a slip that allowed the school to administer swats. Swats ranged from 3 to 5, depending in the severity of the infraction or number of demerits. In my own experience, Detention Slips ensured a spanking at home, as did swats. My parents didn’t follow the idea of double jeopardy; they felt if I was bad at school, I deserved the punishment at home. My parents backed the school 100% and did everything they could to make sure I obeyed and learned. As a consequence, I had a VERY good reason to behave at school.

Breaks consisted of a 5 minute break in the morning and afternoon and a 20 minute break for lunch. You had a chance to earn longer breaks by applying for one of three “Levels”. These levels were labeled differently in different schools but always corresponded to “A-C-E Levels”. “A” level would give you two 15 minute breaks and a 25 minute lunch. “C” level would give you two 20 minute breaks, a 25 minute lunch and the ability to score your work without asking for permission. “E” level allowed you freedom to do pretty much as you pleased as long as you completed all of your work. Applying for these levels consisted of completing at least 1.5 PACEs a week for A level, completing 2 PACEs a week along with scripture memorization and a monthly book report for C level, or completing 2 PACEs a week, scripture memorization, a book report every month, and a weekly Christian service for E level. These were something we all coveted, since it give us a bit of freedom.

All students wore a uniform to school. These were known as God and Country uniforms. For boys, it consisted of Navy blue slacks, a red dress shirt and a hideous God and Country necktie. For girls, it was a Navy blue jumper or skirt with a red shirt and a little God and Country neck scarf. Girls had to wear tights or flesh colored stockings, boys had to wear black or blue socks. Everyone wore polishable black shoes. The dress code changed over the years; first we could wear white or red shirts, then red, white or blue shirts. Grey slacks/jumpers were finally allowed. The schools also gave us a little leeway. I remember wearing a red turtleneck shirt for a while and another school let us wear blue or grey Docker or Dickie pants.

lester roloff

Cartoon from an Accelerated Christian Education PACE. Most of the violence and abuse in Independent Baptist group homes can be traced back to Lester Roloff

Part of the indoctrination we received was that shorts were evil on either sex and pants on a woman was the greatest abomination you could imagine. Girls had to wear skirts, dresses or jumpers during the school day. These had to be loose fitting and extend below the knee. For outdoor events or gym times, girls wore a glorified pair of pants called coulattes. All of this was done to help boys avoid temptation and help girls not to become sluts and keep them from tempting us poor, helpless boys.

Another feature of ACE, and fundamentalism in general, is the application of the 6 Inch Rule. This is a rule that states, “All boys and girls must maintain a 6 inch distance from each other”. This rule is a variation of Jack Hyles’ Bible distance rule. He said for a boy and girl to keep a Bible between them, that way by the time they made it past Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they would be too ashamed to do anything. I know, a stupid rule, but it was what we had to do.

The King James Version of the Bible was the only Bible we were allowed to use. There was no question or debate in this area, and there was no explanation as to why, either.

ace virtueson

Ace Virtueson

I have saved the best part of ACE for last- the cartoons featuring the cast of ACE. Front and center is Ace Virtueson (pronounced Ay-see), the perfect child who is as wise as any adult. Then there is Pudge Meekway, the fat kid. Hapford Humblen, the buck-toothed kid who had a learning disability. Racer, who was almost as good as Ace. Kristi Lovejoy, the female counterpart of Ace. The red headed McMercy sisters. Reginald Upright, another good kid. Then there were the two bad kids, Ronnie Vain and Susie; they were the two non-Christian kids who were always doing bad things. These kids all lived in Highland City and attended an ACE school. The principal was Mr. Friendson.

We can’t forget the subtle racism in ACE. There was another city, called Harmony, where the black kids lived and went to their ACE school. There weren’t too many comics with these kids. Two of these kids were J. Michael Kindhart and Booker. There were a couple of girls, too, but I forget their names. I don’t remember any other races being represented, but I could be wrong.

The kids in these cartoons had all kinds of problems that were solved with the help of wiser, older people or prayer. Some of the stories were blatant rip-offs of Bible stories, some were retellings of Sunday school morality stories. All of these cartoons were designed to fit in with the theme of the PACE you were working on, themes such as honesty, diligence, faithfulness, etc.

There was a code of conduct that had to be followed. Each student had to agree to attend church, have devotions, not go to movies, not listen to rock music, keep their hair appropriately cut (or long, if you were a girl), etc. This was to control our behavior in and out of school. These codes were never a problem for me, since my parents were always more conservative than any school I attended.

Once a year, all the ACE schools held a State Convention in which we would compete for medals and a chance to attend the National Convention. Basketball, track events, singing, art exhibits, preaching, public speaking, spelling bees, choir events, solo singing events, etc. These were all designed to get us ready to preach or enter the mission field. During the times I attended ACE schools, boys had to wear sweat pants and the girls had to wear culottes–for modesty’s sake–for sporting events.

So, this is a brief overview of an ACE school. I hope it will make my next installments a little easier to understand.

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10 Comments

  1. Angiep

    Great post, Ian! I’m curious to learn how you broke free of this childhood indoctrination – it sounds terrible. I can’t wait to read more installments.

    Reply
  2. Ami

    I can’t even imagine growing up like this. I had friends who were Baptist, and had to follow many of the same rules regarding clothing and companionship with the opposite sex, but we all went to school together.

    I’m interested in reading more, too. Especially how you grew up and escaped that mindset.

    Reply
  3. Karen the rock whisperer

    Sounds really horrible. Not necessarily the uniforms part — I went to Catholic schools from 1st through 12th grades — though culottes are ghastly. But what a crappy educational environment! And so control-focused. Hair length, church attendance, devotions, heel, sit, stay, roll over…

    Looking forward to reading more.

    Reply
  4. Melody

    Looking forward to reading more! Very recognizable too

    At my highschool, there were definitely similar clothing rules. The girls had to wear skirts that fell over the knee. The nasty thing was that a bit of leeway was generally allowed but if a girl got into trouble, she’d get an extra sneer about her short skirt if she wore one. The boys were not allowed to wear shorts, not so much because of the sexyness of shorts (are they even all that sexy?) but so they would have some sort of restriction as well, to even things out a bit. One guy’s hair grew too long, so he was made to cut it: I still remember it clearly as a classmate had a crush on him and his hair looked way better before the required hair cut. It just felt really unfair but then so did us having to be cold in the winter in our skirts whereas the guys wore nice warm pants…

    Apparently they had lost some students when they’d allowed for gympants for the girls. They had had gymskirts before, but as they had to be short and loose for the sake of being able to move, they were far sexier than the long pants were. Anyway these students went to a stricter school even further away because pants were evil. They also would not wear pajama pants but long nighties instead…

    Because I was of a different church and got quite some flak for that already, I always wore really long skirts. I was also a bit bigger so I wasn’t sure if short skirts would look good on me. Even if they were prettier…. So I never got in trouble for that; some people who didn’t know me even though my father was a really strict minister as I never wore short skirts! I did get comments for wearing occasional nail pollish though: they were amazed that my parents allowed that… Nail polish as a sin… Crazyness.

    Reply
  5. Brian

    Great intro…. What amazes me about conservative schooling is how invasive it is and how proud these believers are to harm children on a daily, ritual basis. (The kids’ names are priceless and gave me a good chuckle this morning…. I can imagine the utterly stupid stories they were forced to play out for you children!)
    Oh, and I am sorry about your parents. If they were always more C than any school, you must have faced some real challenges as a child. When decent boundaries are transgressed in children, they always blame themselves…. It is a true inner beating.

    Reply
  6. Ian

    @Brian- Having very conservative parents truly sucked. My dad honestly tried to follow the Bible as best he could, though he did have a few relapses along the way. My hair was always short, even for IFB churches. No TV, secular music, very limited reading of secular books, that sort of stuff. (When I would visit my biological mother, I would feed “the flesh” as much as possible, so I had limited exposure to popular culture and secular things.) My parents have since deconverted. We have talked about my childhood. They apologize for my missed years and the torture they put me through. I understand their need for apology, but I feel it is unnecessary. They did the best they could with the limited information they were given. They were honest and true believers, so they weren’t hypocrites. I hated the spankings, hated being different, hated being held to a higher standard. I’m not bitter though. Maybe having some access to worldly things tempered me, I don’t know. I can look back and remember things I hated. I also look back and have plenty of very good memories. As I type this, I can clearly see those good times.

    I can say the strictness kept me out of trouble. I feared my dad. Punishments weren’t a good thing, so I did whatever I could to avoid them. We now have a great relationship. I was taught self control and discipline at a young age. This has shaped who I am today. Dad only did what he knew to do. He wasn’t nearly as hard on me as his dad was on him. I’m glad I missed drinking and carousing. I know it is normal, but I don’t feel I missed a whole lot by not doing it and I even saved money in the process. 🙂 People who share my experience may understand what I am saying. I have read some people who feel they were ripped off and are bitter about their childhood. I understand how they could feel that way. But, the past is gone. I choose to look at it as the past, learn what lessons I can and move forward.

    For those who wonder how I broke free, that is a story unto itself. It is fairly long and the comments section isn’t probably the best place to share it. I may write about it and send it on to Bruce to post. Let me say, it was a painful process at the beginning, then I enjoyed the freedom it gave me.

    I hope my stories of the ACE experience help people understand what Bruce, and others, talk about when they reference Christian schools.

    Reply
    1. Brian

      Hi Ian, thanks for added insight. You know, one can take an attitude of gratefulness to just about anything, even being beaten as a child for being bad. I feel quite strongly that all beating is wrong and that children are not ‘bad’. My son is now 17 years old and I have never hit him. I have spoken sharply to him and have had occasion to apologize as your parents have to you. I am glad they see that an apology is necessary. You were harmed because they fell into a way of life that encouraged harming children. It is still quite important for many Christians to whack, slap, spank, beat kids even today, even after we have begun to publish scientific research showing that the brain is seriously injured in abuse and that it can be spoken of as similar to a foundation being irrevocably cracked as a building is growing above it. That crack endures in the child and may be evidenced in chronic illness or undue fear or agitation in life. But all of that is not important to Christian parents under the spell of preachers who like to preach hitting kids for Jesus. Some time ago I participated in a protest online to stop (Pearl, I think…) from selling an online paddle device for beating children. (You just can’t make this stuff up!)
      My mom (now 90) often speaks as you do, about letting all the past go and moving on. I tell her I continue to move on but will never forget the hatred I endured in Christian upbringing. That they were unable to see at the time is too bad, too bad for me and for them. But I feel it is important to say it out loud as you have, I think, with your parents. I will not agree that you ever deserved it, no matter how ‘bad’ you believe you were… no child deserves to be struck by an adult, especially an adult who claims to love that child. It is a sickness that goes on through generations. It is not about a lack of information but about emotional damage. It is painfully obvious that an adult should not raise a hand to a child but they do because they need to emotionally. They say they are caring for their children, that this harm will teach them. Well, in that they are correct. It teaches them that they are disrespected. It shames them. I makes them believe they are bad. Until the adult deals with their own pain, their own harsh realities, they will visit them on children. You think that being hit and controlled kept you out of trouble….That sure didn’t work for me! I wonder how you learned discipline and respect from being disrespected? I look forward to more of your story, Ian. Thanks.

      Reply
  7. joshua

    i worked as a monitor in thi sprogram it is kind of crazy.

    Reply
  8. Natzan

    Wow Ian! Thanks for writing this. Great explanation of the system. I grew up in A.C.E. myself in the basement of a church in Red Lake, Ontario. 90% of what you explained is exactly what was done at our school though there are a few notable differences that made my experience a little less harsh. Talk about being indoctrinated. I am 36 now and still suffering the effects of attending that school. This despite having left Christianity behind 8 years ago. I still don’t really know how to be myself. I came out of that school and went into a public high school and was the most arrogant, self righteous little ass you could have met because i looked at everyone around me as sinners who were going to hell, whereas I was one of God’s chosen children. Not saying I didn’t absorb some wrong parts of the message but that is hard to avoid in that kind of setting. Thanks so much for a walk down memory lane.

    Reply
  9. Alan Seals

    Ian, I am sorry you were so unhappy at home and in school. I went to an ACE school for 7th – 12th grade. Your descriptions brought back memories and I remember it much the same. But my memories are better. My parents were more “moderate “ with religion. At my school we did not wear ties, and “racism “ was not as prevalent. Some may say I was indoctrinated, but even though I am now an atheist, I have fond memories of the school and my teachers. Have you sought counseling?

    Reply

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