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New Bethany Home for Girls: The Dogma that Followed Me Home

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I first published this post by my dear friend Cat Givens years ago. Edited for spelling, grammar, and readability.

When I was growing up in northeast Ohio, my family attended a Baptist church. It was one of those places where you’d meet every Sunday morning and then again Sunday evening. Bible study on Wednesday night. Soul-winning every Tuesday evening. Thursdays were youth group nights, and on Friday or Saturday we may have some other activity and then back again on Sunday.

We learned about heaven and hell. They preached a lot about hell.

I can remember being taught as a young child to tell everybody I came in contact with about Jesus and how to be saved. If I neglected to tell someone, then on Judgment Day this would happen: the person I did not tell would be led before the Lord God. I would be sitting behind God with the rest of the saved people. God would turn the person I neglected away, saying he did not know them. As they were led away, they would see me behind God and scream, “WHY? Oh, WHY didn’t you tell me?” And as they were led away to be cast into eternal fire, damned for all eternity, their blood would be dripping from my hands. Pretty heavy stuff for a kid, huh?

I was a bit of a rebel in my teens, and I’d run away when I got the chance rather than face the consequences at home for my actions. Finally, when I was almost fifteen, my parents were at their wit’s end. I was in the Detention Home for running away yet again, and they sought out help from the “experts”. A nice lady at the United Way told my parents that doctors were having success with rebellious children by hospitalizing them and giving them intense psychotherapy.

My parents met with the doctors, then the doctors met with me. “Yes, they could help me,” they assured my folks. They told Mom and Dad I could be transformed into a willing obedient child and would change my “criminalistic way of thinking”.

I was sent to a local hospital’s psych ward, housed with mostly adults (this was 1974, and there were no children’s wards at that time here). I was locked up with a bunch of strangers. I was shot full of “behavior modifying” drugs which made my physical movement robotic. I also received electroshock therapy treatments. Thanks a lot, Dr. Vallaba! Some of the men abused me while I was in there. I thought I fell in love with a man who said he and Bob Dylan shared a soul.

After the doctors had used up all my parents’ insurance money, they wanted to send me to another hospital in Connecticut. However, Mom and Dad had been talking to the preachers. They had another idea. Off to a girl’s home in Louisiana for me: New Bethany Home for Wayward Girls. I would remain there for a year.

Surely, this would save my soul and make me a compliant teenager, my parents and preachers thought. Unfortunately, at New Bethany, the same type of hellfire and brimstone attitude prevailed. I was not allowed to wear pants, as that was considered a sin. I couldn’t listen to any music besides Southern Gospel, as that was also a sin. I couldn’t talk about my past, as I had no past. I had to be called by my first and middle name because I was to become a new person.

There was an Evangelical preacher who ran the place, Rev. Mack Ford — an acolyte of Lester Roloff. He and his wife, Thelma, founded the home, taking in rebellious teens from all over the country. They also took in the unwanted girls whose parents abandoned them there. We were required to comply with every rule. Not doing so resulted in us getting whipped with a belt. That was the easy punishment. If a girl acted out, often she would be forced, after lights out, to stand in the hallway on her tiptoes with eggs or tomatoes under her heels. If she slipped and squished one, she’d get a whipping with a belt or hit with the switch. Runaways from the home were usually caught, and then, after a sound whipping with a belt from Bro. Mack would be handcuffed to their beds, and a ‘trusted girl” would be given the key. Their meals were served at their beds. These rebellious girls were only uncuffed for bathroom and shower breaks. Once Bro. Mack determined they had sufficiently repented, the cuffs were removed.

Everything we did was strictly controlled. We were told not to trust our conscience, as the Devil could be in there, so only trust the Bible. And trust Bro Mack.

Every day after chores, we would have chapel. There we would learn about hell, how the love of God brought us to this place, and how we must repent of our evil ways and change. Then we had breakfast. After more chores, off to school — a trailer down the street with one teacher and learning packets. It was an ACE school . . . Accelerated Christian Education. (Please see My Life in an ACE School.) After school, it was time for chapel again, and then lunch. Then chores and free time, and then chapel and supper. Even our bathroom breaks were timed, and we actually had to count the toilet paper sheets, begging for more through the bathroom door if we needed it. We were often awakened in the middle of the night. Sleep deprivation — what Brother Mack called “breaking down the will” — was the norm. I could go on and on, but I think the picture is clear. This was a brainwashing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) cult, and we were the subjects.

After nearly a year, I got to come home. And yes, I was changed. I was a good little obedient Baptist teenager who addressed her parents and all adults as “sir” and “ma’am.”

At my new Christian high school, I was more conservative than most of the staff! We would only have chapel once a week at this school, unless it was “spiritual emphasis week.” During “emphasis” week, we would have chapel every day. Chapel was where we were told about how the devil tries to get every teen to be worldly and do evil. We were ripe for the danger of hellfire! We must be saved. We must repent if we do anything displeasing to god. I recall Mr. Russell, the gym teacher, leading us in prayer, asking God to kill us rather than let us live to set a bad example!

Throughout high school, I loosened up quite a bit. I still believed the dogma, but wasn’t quite so hung up on the rules. I began to read the Bible for myself. It didn’t read the same on my own as it did with a preacher interpreting it for me.

After graduation, I began to think more for myself.  I sought out a therapist who helped me overcome the guilt and confusion.  Gradually, I was losing the dogma and forming my own spirituality. I found god in nature and other human beings. I read about other religions and philosophies, realizing there are many paths to enlightenment. I enjoyed comparing the teachings of my youth to the myths and stories from other cultures and religions. I saw beauty and truth in many forms and rejected the hellfire and brimstone from my upbringing. Or so I thought.

I recently found a movie that was shown to us “wayward girls” at New Bethany. It was about the communist takeover of the United States. I really wanted to see this film again as an adult without expecting a great revelation and insight. The movie, along with another about hell, arrived the other day and I watched them. The acting was way over the top, and the subject matter was absurd. There on the screen, a little boy had a bamboo stick driven through his ears so he could no longer hear the gospel. Communists on horseback terrorized citizens, and the blood and guts spilled! Demons tormented people in hell, and worms ate at the burning flesh of the damned.

What happened next is what shocked me the most. As the choir sang “Just As I Am” and the preacher pleaded with the congregation to come to the altar and get right with God, I felt uneasy and a little sick. Fear and dread took hold, and then the panic! What if it was true? Would my children go to hell and be tormented for all eternity because I chose to raise them as free thinkers?

Mind you, this is NOT how I believe, yet here it was, all this dread and fear and worry. I felt horrible and confused. It was as if a great wave had pummeled me, and I was breathless! I contacted a woman raised similarly and found that she, too, suffered from this occasionally. First, we discussed brainwashing and conditioned response, and then I began to examine more carefully what had happened to me (and others).

It was twenty-plus years of dogmatic teachings that took my emotions and spilled them out in front of me like many dice. I realized that this memory’s emotional effect needed to be changed. I found discussing these reactions with my therapist to be helpful, as were his words of encouragement.  I reminded myself that it was out of love for my children I chose to NOT subject them to this stifling negative dogma. And I’m glad of it, as I would never want them to feel the way I did right then!

What good is spirituality if it does not lift one up? I examined what I actually do believe, and did some reading from some positive authors. I watched the movies again with my husband, and we laughed and shook our heads. The effect was more benign but not gone away completely, so I shall work on these memories some more, bringing in more humor and love. Still, I am amazed this dogma has followed me for so many years.

Has anything like this ever happened to you?

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Life in a Homeschool — Part Two

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Guest post by Ian

Part One

It‘s been several years since I wrote my original Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) series. I had wanted to finish out my experience memoirs, but the homeschooling portion of my ACE experience still hit a lot of nerves in my life. There were a lot of flux and upheaval going on throughout my homeschool years. Dad started believing in Calvinism (or Sovereign Grace), we changed churches, we were put out of a church, my parents split up for a while and other generally disrupting things happened in my life.

Some of these things are still raw, even 30 years later. I have thought about writing this off and on for a while, but could never do it. Then Bruce had a post where someone looked at, but didn’t read, my ACE experiences. (Please see Fundamentalist Man Strains at the Gnats and Swallows a Camel.) I re-read what I had written and decided I needed to finish the story.

As you read this, remember that it is my story and my experience. People may have had similar experiences, but no two people process things the same.

This is the last installment in my ACE schooling series. The first four installments were about being in actual schools that used ACE curriculum, the last two are about my homeschooling experiences along with the use of ACE. 

In tenth grade, my parents decided to homeschool my brother and me. This was due to two issues: separation from the world (and worldliness of the churches we had attended) and my brother’s dyslexia. The one-on-one instruction helped my brother; the separation issue was another matter. 

Eleventh grade started out more relaxed than tenth grade. Although we were being held to school standards, we didn’t have to wear ties or recite the pledges of allegiance to the USA and Christian flags and the Bible. Morning devotions went by the wayside, too. A lot of learning how to operate in a homeschool environment had been done, so things were just much more relaxed.

That year, we did have a major change in the school schedule. The church school we were affiliated with and my parents both decided to use a trimester school year. This consisted of the school year being in three major sections, rather than two; each trimester was 12 weeks long, with one week off in between. The pastor and my dad used the argument that long summers off were only needed for people working on farms, due to tending cattle, weeding, etc. All I knew is that this was just one more thing that made me and my brother “unique.” No TV, no Christmas, no movies, no secular music, being homeschooled, trimester school year, yep, we were unique. But we were told that we were a peculiar people, called to show God’s light. I just wanted to be normal. 

Trying to explain all of these things to neighborhood kids was like trying to explain why you had 3 legs. They knew me when I went to the Christian school. That was no big deal, there were a lot of private schools in town. Homeschooling was weird for them, but they got used to us always being home. The trimester thing was almost too much for them, though. Our breaks didn’t coincide with their breaks, so I didn’t get out with them much. 

Schooling, itself, was better. I had a better attitude, which meant that I wasn’t in as much trouble. Math was easier, since I was taking a business math course. Social Studies was still a chore, though. The rote memorization was horrible. Speeches, quotes from documents, dates, wars, peace treaties, it seemed that there was no end to what I had to memorize. I spent many hours learning these things, only to promptly forget them, once they were no longer needed. 

English was something that I enjoyed. The literature portion used the books Adventures in Appreciation and Adventures in English literature. These books were a great relief for me. The stories weren’t all religion-based, and, because the books were ACE approved, I was able to read all of the stories in them, with no parental interference. I also became good at diagramming sentences and putting words together. Those skills have helped me greatly in my various jobs — report writing has been easy for me. I attribute this to all of the practice I had in chopping up sentences and then putting them back together. 

It was during this school year that our family was put out of our church. My dad’s constant need for separation and closely following the scriptures were causing issues. That is a whole different story, but things finally came to a head that year. The fact of our being put out of the church was literally just ahead of my dad saying we were leaving. Kind of like the boss firing you before you could quit. 

We finished the year out with no other great issues. Just a couple of kids on with a weird school year who suddenly weren’t going to church anymore. Yep, the neighbor kids noticed that, too. 

Twelfth grade brought some big changes. I was no longer required to wear dress clothes to school and scripture memorization was a thing of the past. We went back to a semester school year, too. My step-mom got a job that year, so my brother and I were left to do schooling by ourselves. Now the conflicts came from me trying to make him do his work. I was responsible for making sure things got done, and I took it seriously. Probably a bit too seriously, but that is what older siblings are for. 

During the school year, I started working for my grandparents after school, as well as working part-time at the construction/environmental company my dad worked at. I would rush to get my school work done and head off to work. Fortunately, my senior year was a pretty easy year. I was able to get things done quickly, usually before lunch. My poor brother would be stuck doing his stuff, though. He had a hard time that year. I helped when I could, but I was doing my own stuff. 

In the middle of that year, my dad and step-mom split up. The weeks leading up to this caused a lot of friction at home. My brother and I stayed with Dad, while Mom moved out. It was about this time that Dad’s work started taking him out of town on a regular basis. So, my brother and I spent a lot of time staying with other people while Dad was out of town. 

By the spring of my senior year, I was working every day, part-time. School in the morning, work in the afternoon. Brother left behind. Not good. Looking back, I am amazed at how well he did on his own. I’d come home from work and help him with whatever he needed. We got him through the year, but he did a lot of it himself. 

On my final day of school, I took my last test, scored it, put it up for my dad to review, and headed out to work. I remember that I stopped by a hardware store on my way to work and bought a carbide scribe pen for a project I was doing. I’ve still got that scribe, and use it quite often. My graduation was just another day in my life. 

A week later, some friends had us over for dinner and a graduation cake. The wife gave me a couple of pencils with my name on them and a scripture-based graduation card. 

This finishes my personal experience with ACE, through regular and home school. I’ve tried to show the good, the bad, and the ugly. I learned a lot using ACE, but I also know that I missed out on so much. Literally 2 years ago, I was in a museum looking at Chinese exhibits. The dates given coincided with the time of the Exodus. It hit me, like a ton of bricks, that I had never given any thought to what else was happening in the world while reading my Bible stories. All I knew was what I had been taught by a narrow, prejudiced system. 

Math and English were okay for me, but that system won’t work for everyone. 

Spelling was easy for me. 

Social Studies was a joke. I learned so many things that were either twisted to fit a narrative or outright lies. Very little that I learned has been applicable in any way. It was only after studying history for myself that I began to have an understanding of how and why things are the way they are. 

Science made no sense because it didn’t have a grounding in real world application, for me, anyway. It wasn’t until I started working in a job that required using chemicals that I really began to understand those principles. 

The scripture-based studies, Old and New Testament Survey, Life of Christ, etc., are pretty much useless in the real world unless you are going to have a job at a church or Bible college. 

Those of you who have gone through ACE will be able to relate to my experiences. Those of you who haven’t will just shake your heads. Thank you for following along, though. 

Thank you, Bruce, for allowing me to share. 

Life in a Homeschool — Part One

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Guest post by Ian

It‘s been several years since I wrote my original Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) series. I had wanted to finish out my experience memoirs, but the homeschooling portion of my ACE experience still hit a lot of nerves in my life. There were a lot of flux and upheaval going on throughout my homeschool years. Dad started believing in Calvinism (or Sovereign Grace), we changed churches, we were put out of a church, my parents split up for a while and other generally disrupting things happened in my life.

Some of these things are still raw, even 30 years later. I have thought about writing this off and on for a while, but could never do it. Then Bruce had a post where someone looked at, but didn‘t read, my ACE experiences. Please see Fundamentalist Man Strains at the Gnats and Swallows a Camel.) I re-read what I had written and decided I needed to finish the story.

As you read this, remember that it is my story and my experience. People may have had similar experiences, but no two people process things the same.

It may be helpful to go back and read about my ACE school experiences before starting into this. I‘ll break this up into two parts, to make it easier to read. I want to say thanks to everyone who has read my story, and to Bruce for making this platform available.

In my 10th grade year, 1987-88, Mom and Dad began to homeschool my brother and me. My brother has severe dyslexia and my parents felt that homeschooling, using ACE, would be best for him. Also, my dad had started becoming more and more separated from the world and he didn‘t want the worldly influences in the Christian schools affecting us.

Between my 9th and 10th grade years, we began attending a different church. Due to Dad‘s belief in separation, there were a lot of tensions in the church we had been attending. We visited an IFB/Missionary Baptist church, and found a new church home. This church had a school, so
my parents ordered our school supplies through them and began schooling us at home.

The first year, my parents tried to make it like a traditional school. We had to get up, dress in ACE uniforms, say the Pledges of Allegiance, do devotions, say prayers, we used flags to ask for help, and referred to our mom as Mrs. XXXXX. If we didn‘t finish our work in time, we had homework slips. We got demerits and detentions. It was truly like school, except for we were there 24/7. We lived in a small apartment, so there was no escape from school.

That first year was tough. I hated it. | resented it. Already, my whole life was different. My dad was to the right of anyone we knew. Everything was wicked and evil. Now, we were homeschooling, which was something even more unusual. I got into a lot of trouble that first year. Scoring violations were my biggest issue. I just didn‘t care, I hated being home with my
parents all day long, I was upset that we had to act like this was a real school, and l was always in trouble because of my attitude.

Even simple things were an issue. I took a typing course. I wanted to do it on a computer since that was the wave of the future. No way. I had to use an old portable typewriter that weighed a ton and was a pain in the ass to use. l was taking typing and, by God, l was going to learn on a typewriter. I learned how to type, but hated every minute of it.

Because we did devotions every morning, l was constantly getting dumped on. My dad would go through a book of the Bible in devotions and pick out things that my brother and I had done wrong. Calvinism is nothing if not oppressive. We would read a Bible story, and it seemed like it always translated into how I could do things better. We were constantly being told that we weren‘t good enough and that we needed to live up to the Christian ideals. We should be proud to be peculiar. We should be happy to suffer for being different.

Here‘s one example of what was going on at the time. I had a decent GI Joe collection. Something happened, and my mom told me that I should get rid of them, in order to further my Christian growth. In one of the few times I talked back to her, told her that the GI Joes were all I had, meaning something for fun. She countered with something to the effect of, “All you have? Well, Jesus gave up all he had to save you. You can‘t give up some toys for him?” I can still feel the raw emotion of that all of these years later.

What does that have to do with homeschool, you ask? It is to show you how homeschool, church, and life were wrapped tightly together. Homeschool was a nightmare.

We were made to memorize huge portions of the Bible. Dad had my brother and me stand up in front of the church and recite the entirety of John 14, 15 and 16. l was expected to do this perfectly. It made my dad proud, but did nothing for me. I can still quote Romans13:1-7, but haven‘t looked at it for years.

I‘m dyslexic, but nothing like my brother. I never even knew it until probably 10 years ago. The math lessons I had to do were greatly hindered by my dyslexia. Anyone who has done high school math using ACE will know what a nightmare it is. l was doing Algebra but had no clue of what I was doing. My mom didn‘t know it either. So, she would argue with me about how problems should be solved. We would look at the score keys and try to figure it out from there. This was 1988, so there was no Google. Interspersed with the Algebra were pages of long division and multiplication, to hone our basic skills. I struggled through 11 Algebra PACEs, only to be given a huge, horrible surprise. The last PACE was a review of everything I had done. I didn‘t remember more than half. I was yelled at because I should have remembered everything; Mom didn‘t remember any of it, though; funny. I had nights where I wanted to cry.

Added to the horrible math was learning “Christianized” history. Very small subjects were covered. We were required to memorize speeches and writings. We were given no context as to why the Magna Carta was important, except for some Christian rubbish. The French Revolution
was basically just rebellious people who didn‘t realize that God put rulers in place for a reason.

Non-Christian explorers were minimized, but we knew all about the godly interests of Christopher Columbus and the fact that he wanted to bring Christianity to the heathens.

Science was no better. No context for anything. This made learning a miserable experience.

My brother and l were sometimes able to tag along with the church‘s school on field trips. Not too often, though — wouldn‘t want to catch any worldliness.

Mom did help out in the church school for a couple of weeks and it was a great break from the horrible routine. It was nice to get up and actually go to school. We had fun at break times. It was like a vacation. But that came to an end and we had to go back to reality.

That first year of ACE homeschool was brutal. Homeschool can be a good thing, but it has to be done properly. By trying too hard to make a schooling environment, my parents just created a negative learning environment.

My parents and l have talked about this, and have made peace with everything. I didn‘t want to leave the impression that I‘m carrying around anger and hatred towards them.

My brother did well, though. The extra attention he was given helped him in reading and comprehension, and he finally started reading at his grade level.

I‘ll stop here for now. That year stands on its own. My last two years were better.

Are Children Naturally Rebellious Against God?

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A guest post by Jonny Scaramanga, who blogs at Leaving Fundamentalism.

In an earlier blog post, The Dogma That Followed Me Home, Cat Givens described the horrifying abuse she suffered at New Bethany Home for Wayward Girls. This school used the Accelerated Christian Education/ School of Tomorrow curriculum. I too attended an ACE school, and abuse was rife there too. While New Bethany was a particularly extreme example, physical abuse is endemic to Accelerated Christian Education. It is at the heart of the theology that inspires the curriculum. Their beliefs about the nature of the child inform the whole way the schools are built.

Accelerated Christian Education believes that children are inherently wicked, full of original sin, and that this must be driven out of them by breaking their spirits. This results in ruthless discipline. Among the Scriptures that inspire this belief are:

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”

Proverbs 22:15

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

Jeremiah 17:9

Several years ago, I had dinner with a supervisor from my old ACE school. She told me, as though it were completely natural, “sometimes when you look into the eyes of a child that’s being naughty, you can just see this spirit – it’s demonic.”

It’s this theology that leads to ACE’s system of separating children into carrels, with high partitions on each side to stop them from communicating with their neighbors, shown in this ACE promotional video. The message is simple: With your inherently sinful nature, child, you cannot be trusted.

This need to break the child’s will is a staple of Christian Right thinking, says Arizona State University’s Professor David Berliner. In “Educational Psychology Meets the Christian Right,” (website link no longer active) he quotes extensively from fundamentalist literature on child raising. This is John Robinson, leader of the Puritans and hero to modern fundamentalist educators:

“Surely there is in all children … a stubbornness, and stoutness of mind arising from natural pride, which must, in the first place, be broken and beaten down; that so the foundation of their education being laid in humility and tractableness, other virtues may, in their time, be built thereon.”

Who is more a fundamentalist icon than John Wesley? This is his mother’s view on child-rearing:

“A child must be conquered. . . . And when the will of a child is totally subdued, and it is brought to revere and stand in awe of the parents, then a great many childish follies … may be passed by. . . . I insist on the conquering of the will of children betimes, because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education … [and] when this is thoroughly done, then a child is capable of being governed by the reason and piety of its parents.”

The tone has barely changed in the intervening centuries. Berliner cites Jack Hyles, from 1972:

“The spanking should be administered firmly. It should be painful and it should last until the child’s will is broken. It should last until the child is crying, not tears of anger but tears of a broken will. As long as he is stiff, grits his teeth, holds on to his own will, the spanking should continue.”

Berliner notes that this way of thinking is utterly opposed to the healthy development of the mind. “Various subject matter fields now require of a learner curiosity, agency, and thoughtfulness – characteristics that cannot develop well when obedience is the primary goal of child rearing.”

This view of the child as needing to be broken, like a horse, led to hideous abuses at my school. It was not only spanking. In drama classes, if a movement was painful, the teacher made students repeat it endlessly. A classmate recently emailed me to describe a time her sibling was made to snap his fingers until they were covered in blisters. In a choral verse class, children had to hold contorted positions on stage for 10 minutes or more at a time, and the teachers screamed at them if they were seen to move at all.

The same student also described the experience of being paddled at an ACE school:

“I was at [the ACE school] aged 3 – 7, and i cant remember what happened exactly when, but i got paddled a lot and remember having big red marks on my thighs from it and it hurt and was really terrifying! And straight after being paddled [the teacher] asked ‘do u believe that i love u?’ and i said ‘no’, cz obviously i knew that she hated me, and she said ‘YES I DO LOVE YOU!’ and it was just weird and confusing for a small child! and the things i remember getting paddled for were dragging my gym bag along the floor cz it was too heavy, and for drawing a cat on my pace, and for saying i havent had a biscuit when actually i had had a biscuit, which was a malicious lie!

“And [the teacher] would make you say a prayer after being paddled to apologize and I said ‘I wont do it again’ in my prayer and she interupted and said ‘YES YOU WILL DO IT AGAIN’! again, weird and confusing for a child!!”

Earlier editions of the School of Tomorrow Procedures Manual have clear instructions for supervisors on how and when to use the paddle to administer spankings (cited, for example, in Roger Hunter’s “The Shock of the Old: The Militant Church and Education”). The Catholic Herald (website link no longer active) described the paddle in one British ACE school as “a cricket bat-shaped US import.” The latest edition of the manual is sanitized, and only says that students who receive more than six demerits should be referred to the school administrator for appropriate punishment. It then quotes three of the Scripture verses most commonly used to justify corporal punishment, including Proverbs 22:15.

The probable reason for this sanitization is that school spankings are now illegal in a majority of territories where ACE is sold. That doesn’t mean spanking is entirely a thing of the past. My school ran a discipline policy that required parents to come in and paddle their own children if the teachers deemed it necessary. If parents declined, their children could not attend the school. The Branch Christian School is one school running a similar policy today.

In places where paddling is still legal, including 19 US states, of course, it happens openly. You can read online the policy at Victory Christian Academy, Florida, (link no longer active) for example. It’s almost word-for-word the same at each school that uses it, because it’s lifted from the School of Tomorrow Procedures Manual. The same discipline policy appears in ACE schools across the world.

What can students get paddled for? That’s for the school to decide, although past ACE manuals have included suggestions. One of the schools that has posted a non-exhaustive list is Cornerstone Academy, Amarillo (link no longer active). The punishment can be awarded for such obscenities as (this is just a selection):

  • Disobedience to school authorities and school policy
  • Being disrespectful to proper authorities
  • Cheating in any manner
  • Lying in any manner (word or deed)
  • Stealing or borrowing without owner’s permission
  • Griping and complaining or chronic bad attitude after being cautioned
  • Being disruptive in class after being cautioned
  • Touching any student in an inappropriate manner
  • Vulgar or offensive slang expressions
  • Consistent failure to have required items for school activities

If there is any question over whether religion can make good people do evil things, fundamentalist child abuse is the answer. My ACE supervisor used to tell the class all the time how much it hurt her to have to paddle us, how awful and painful it was, but she had no choice because God commanded it. No evidence that it might be harmful was considered. No alternative interpretation of the the Bible was countenanced.

It is this doctrine of the child as naturally rebellious against God that must be challenged. It is the idea that the child must be made unquestioningly subject to the teacher’s authority that is the problem. That, and the interpretation of Scripture that makes corporal punishment a non-negotiable imperative, are the great danger. Any attempt to improve fundamentalist curriculum content is a treatment of the symptoms, not the disease.

Bruce Gerencser