In 2015, my friend Ian wrote a series of posts detailing his experiences in an Accelerated Christian Education (A.C.E.) school. You can read the series here.
Tonight, I received several emails from a Fundamentalist Christian man named Jonathan “Jon” Slagill objecting to my use of the phrase “A.C.E. school.”
Jonathan: Hello, There are no “ACE” schools but one. It’s in Hendersonville, TN. There are thousands of home schools, church schools and such that use the curriculum. But the school you went to was NOT an “ACE school.”
Bruce: In Christian Fundamentalism, the phrase A.C.E. school almost always refers to an educational institution owned and operated by a church. I know of dozens of such schools.
You are straining at the gnat and swallowing the camel.
P.S. The A.C.E. School series was not written by me .
Jonathan: No, I’m stating a fact. They do not recommend spanking at all. They used to, but that has changed as also has the public schools. I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but it’s not what you think it is. Please stop living in the past. It’s not healthy. Your friend, JON
Bruce: I know what I know. Believe what you will. And keep your fucking psychoanalysis to yourself. You know nothing about me. You didn’t even bother to read the series. I checked the server logs. You did a Google search, found the series, and emailed me one minute later.
Jonathan: Yep. I know you are a very bitter person. You hate God. You hate the school you attended and blame ACE. I don’t read poison. That’s what it is.
Bruce: Evidently, you can’t read. I DIDN’T write the A.C.E. series. I attended a public high school in the 70s.
This man did a Google search, read the post title, and emailed me one minute later. He refuses to read the series because it is “poison.” Without reading anything I personally wrote, he determined I had a bad experience at an A.C.E. school and I hate this school, even though I never attended the school. I also am a very bitter person who hates God. Jonathan must be clairvoyant.
Fundamentalists never cease to amaze me.
Slagill, by the way, is the lead designer for, drum roll please, you guessed it, A.C.E. Slagill attended Pensacola Christian College for two years and graduated from Friends University — a Quaker institution. Recently, Slagill commented on a YouTube video titled, How I Became a Quaker. His comment will tell you everything you need to know about his brand of Christianity:
Fallowing [sic] the teachings of Jesus and having a born again experience is the only way to the Father. I graduated from Friends University but never got the Gospel. Fox was wrong. Fallow [sic] the teachings of JESUS. Only he has the power to save. Universalism is what this sounds like and it’s will lead to hell. WE are not gods.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.
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.”
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
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.
Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.
Manna Baptist Academy was a ministry of Manna Baptist Church, one of the IFB churches we associated with. The Pastor and Principal was Mr. Watson, whom I had originally met at Wildwood Christian Academy. Pastor and Mrs. Watson had three children who attended the school during the time I was there. The oldest one, during my first year, was in her senior year and she acted as a Monitor They also used their other two children as monitors during my second year. There was a lot of favoritism shown to their children. Any time their children had problems with other children, their parents jumped right in and took care of the problem. There was no teasing them or pulling pranks, unless you wanted to be talked to by the Principal. This would be followed by a call to your parents. Not a good system.
My first day there, I instantly knew things would be different and better for me. The Supervisors and Monitors were more relaxed. The whole atmosphere was more relaxed. Most of the kids who attended the school went to church either at Manna or the one I attended. It felt a lot more like a large family than a school. The Watsons would give longer breaks and allowed a little more freedom than in the other schools I attended. For example, sometimes they would make an announcement that everyone would be free to score their work as needed until the next break. In my second year, myself and two other boys were allowed to take the dividers out of our offices. Supposedly it was to help the boy who transferred in during the middle of the year. We helped the new kid and had a good time whispering and goofing off, we just never got too loud. This never happened in my other ACE schools
Since I had matured a bit, I took my schooling more serious and actually tried to succeed. I didn’t have homework very often; and, when I did, it was usually just a page or two. In my second year, I kept E level privileges most of the time. I actually found that I enjoyed school and used the system to my advantage. Because I was doing so well, the Supervisors left me alone. I was also the second oldest person in the school, so I was an older kid, which gave me a little bit of status, too.
It was here that I saw one of the huge shortfalls in the ACE system. One of the kids who was my age was taking college prep studies in 9th grade. He was doing Algebra 1 and 2, as well as taking French. No one at the school was able to help him with the Algebra PACEs. What they did was give him the score keys and let him figure out he answers, almost like reverse engineering. Fortunately, he was an honest kid who really wants to study for college, so he stuck with it and learned Algebra. For French, he listened to cassette tapes and copied phrases into his PACE. There was no way of truly checking to see if he was actually learning the language or just memorizing phrases. This is a bad way to learn a language.
When I was in 9th grade, I showed a lot of initiative, so I was given some responsibility every now and again. I was allowed to be a monitor several times and I got to help the kids in the Lower Learning Center. Because I kept the E level privileges, I was free to do what I wanted most of the time. There were a couple of other kids who did the same, so we would do our school work together or play basketball when it was nice outside.
My parents didn’t want me to graduate early, so I was only allow allowed to complete one year’s worth of work each school year. This kept me from getting E level a couple of times. In the two years there, I got a total of three detentions. No scoring violations or incomplete goals this time, though. I was older and smarter. I knew how to do things and not get caught. I didn’t do too much cheating, though. Mostly it was in Math. Any ACE student can relate to the dread of completing pages and pages of division and multiplication. Some days you would want to cry. Five pages of it can seem like an eternity. (As an adult, I discovered I have dyslexia, which didn’t help with my math. We had one of our children diagnosed, and I had almost all the same symptoms. Large groups of numbers are my kryptonite, just like my child.)
Two of the detentions were for talking at the scoring station and goofing around. The last detention I got was because I didn’t get a homework slip at the end of the day. I completed my last page of work just as school ended, but I didn’t score the work. The next day, when goals were checked, Mrs. Watson gave me a detention for incomplete goals. She said it was because I should have gotten a homework slip, even though all that needed to be done was to score. What a crock of crap. I was scared to death to bring that detention slip home; I had visions of the spankings I got while I was at Grace Baptist Academy. Fortunately, my parents realized what a B.S. move that was, so I wasn’t in any trouble.
Sometime during the second year, my parents started butting heads with the Watsons. I’m not quite sure what started it, but the friction was very obvious. The above mentioned detention was one manifestation of the feud. Mr. Watson began to, not so subtly, try to undermine my parents beliefs. Part of the problem was that my dad had begun to truly follow Jesus. This meant forsaking the world and all of its trappings. No TV, no secular magazines, no sports, no frivolities, and things like that. Maybe my parents brought up things that angered the Watsons, I don’t know. All I know is that I started to be picked at, ever so slightly. They even began using their son to spy on me.
As a boy, I had an interest in regular boy things. One thing I liked was secular music. Some of the other kid’s parents had no problem with the kinds of music they listened to, so I would talk about popular music with them. One day, we were in the weight room and we talked about music for over an hour, all of us older boys, including the Watson’s son. Just three days later, my mom and I got called into the office for a meeting. The subject was how I spent an hour talking about rock and roll music. This was a big no-no, both at school and at home. They told us that Mrs. Watson overheard us talking from the other side of the wall, I know that their boy told on me. He pretty much admitted it. Interestingly enough, none of the other boys’ parents were brought in for this. This was only one example of the stuff that began to go on.
For some reason, their daughter (who was the same age as me) had access to the test scores. She helped score the final tests of even her peers. Many times she would come to us the next day and talk about how easy the tests were and how she would have gotten a better grade. One time, she told me that her parents couldn’t believe what a dummy I was for flunking a certain test. Nepotism was alive and well in that school.
It was here that I remember learning about the great defenders of the Christian faith. Men like Dr. Lee Robertson, Dr. John R. Rice and Lester Roloff. We were taught about the great things these men had done and how Lester Roloff was being persecuted for Jesus. There were actually sections in the PACEs about these, and other, great men of the faith.
It was also during my time here that I realized that the IFB movement and ACE were linked together. Since I was a little older, I started paying attention to the things being said. I also saw that many of the authors we were required to read for literature were the leaders of the IFB movement, and/or their children. It is almost like an inbred family. No new ideas or thoughts could come in because all that we needed to know had already been written by The IFB leadership. Even the dictionaries we used were purchased from ACE, so they were heavily expurgated and edited.
In my first year, we had two girls that had attended the Rebekah Home for Girls, the “school” Lester Roloff started. They were sent back to their parents when the school was closed down. I became good friends with both and was labeled a rebel because of it. When one of these girls ran away from home towards the end of the year, I was grilled about it three different times. I told them I didn’t know anything, but they didn’t believe me.
By the end of my second year, my parents decided that they were going to homeschool my brother and I. My brother has dyslexia and did best with one on one teaching. Additionally, my parents were trying to keep even more separate from the world, as they began to develop different beliefs, especially when my dad began to have Calvinistic beliefs. The IFB churches with their outer holiness and inner worldliness, their pastor worship, and other shenanigans finally began to burn my dad out. He started trying to find a better place.
So, this was my third ACE school experience. It was my best experience. A lot of it had to do with my attitude. I also believe much of it had to do with the way the school was run. The atmosphere was more pleasant and not as rigid. In fact, the regional ACE inspector came with his son one day to observe the school. Myself and another boy were done with our goals for the day, so we went outside to play basketball, at 11:30. We invited the inspector’s son to play, but his dad wouldn’t let him. I heard that he wasn’t too impressed with how the children were allowed to work at their own speed and do what they wanted. I think the Watsons had the right idea about teaching and had some non traditional ideas towards learning, they could only do so much in that system.
Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.
I attended Grace Baptist Academy from 1980-1983, 3rd through most of 5th grade. This was a school that was about 40 minutes away, but my aunt was going there, so I was able to ride with her. Grace Baptist Academy was a ministry of Grace Baptist Church. My first year was their third year of school. It had started out with only six or seven children and had upwards of 60 by the time I started. The church was pastored by Pastor Colas and the principal was Mr. Wainscott. Mr. Wainscott was a tall, thin man who drank coffee all day long. I still remember the smell of his breath when he would come to my office and answer questions.
Being a veteran of one ACE school, I remember thinking I was going to have an easy time at this school. After orientation the first day, imagine my horror when I found out several fundamental things were different. First, the letters for achieving extra privileges were GBA rather than ACE. Ok, I was able to deal with that. Next, I found out the order for PACEs was different- Math, Social Studies, English, Science, Word Building. Believe it or not, I struggled with that the entire time I attended that school. It seemed wrong because of the way I was originally taught.
This was the year that erasable ink pens became popular. Before the school caught on to them being used on goal cards, the older students were using them and changing their goals to suit their needs. I did this myself a few times.
I began doing something that all ACE student do. Due to the way the PACEs are set up in the lower grades, answering questions was just a matter of reading the question, finding the exact same sentence in the text and copying the answer verbatim. This is one of the worst habits a student can acquire. We never studied and learned, we just used short-term memory to fill in a blank. Even in the final tests, the questions were the same ones as in the PACE. In the higher grades, you actually had to look for answers, but the bad habit had been learned and enforced by then. The only subject in which this wasn’t possible was Math.
My first year there, I started a bad habit of just daydreaming and not getting any work done until the end of the day. Then it was a race to get as much finished before needing to ask for a Homework Slip. After a while, I was getting homework every day. My parents told me I needed to get my work done at school, so I began just crossing my goals off and not asking for a Homework Slip. Since the school was so large, the Supervisors couldn’t check everyone’s goals every day. I often got away with not doing my work, since the next day I would rush and get both day’s work done. A few days later, I would be back to daydreaming and not get anything done, again. When I did get caught, it was an automatic detention. After bringing home Detention Slips for the same thing a few times, and the spankings that went along with it, I starting forging my parent’s signature.
At Grace, one of the things they did was to allow you to serve detention at lunch time. This allowed working parents to keep their same schedule, yet take away free time from the bad kids. By forging my parent’s signature and serving detention at lunch, I missed quite a few spankings.
After a while, my behavior was bad enough that I began to get swats at school. We were given 5 swats if we got more than 6 demerits, which I seemed to do regularly. The swats would cancel out the demerits and you started over with a clean slate. Since school swats were nowhere near as bad as a spanking from either of my parents, I preferred to have swats at school. Even though they hurt, the worst part of them was the embarrassment. Mr. Martin was the one who gave out the swats, so everyone knew that when he took you to the back room, you were gonna cry. I can honestly say I was being a shithead at this time. I remember Mr. Martin being a nice guy and I honestly think he hated to give me swats.
I remember a time when he told me a story about a boy who was always getting into trouble and then getting a spanking. After a while, the teacher said he didn’t know what to do any more. So, when it was time to spank the boy again, he gave the boy the paddle and told the boy to spank him. That way the boy would know how much he despised giving spankings. The boy started crying and couldn’t do it. The teacher didn’t spank the boy and the boy didn’t have any more problems. Hearing this story, I thought maybe I was going to avoid swats. Alas, Mr. Martin dashed my hopes. He told me that he would have done that if he thought it would do any good. I got my swats after all.
Another thing I started doing was cheating heavily on my scoring. In addition to memorizing answers, I developed a code to write down answers, using the scoring pen. I began tapping dots onto all of my pages, as though I was bored. In reality, I used those dots to copy answers, then complete the answer when I got back to my seat.
The study and scoring method that was used encouraged children to cheat. We were expected to work mostly on our own, with very limited help from the Supervisors and Monitors when we didn’t understand something, usually math. Then, we were expected to score the work we didn’t understand and figure out how to do the problem correctly. If this isn’t a recipe for failure, I don’t know what one is. As an adult, I have been taught several methods for teaching people. Our Supervisors and monitors had no idea how to teach us, so they were unable to help us in the way we needed. I’m sure they wanted to help, they just didn’t know how.
I became a good sneak, due to the punishments I was receiving. I did everything I could to get away with doing as little school as possible. I learned that if you wrote with erasable ink lightly, when you erased it, there was no indent to show you had changed anything. I learned how to distract adults to take their attention away from what I was doing, so I wouldn’t get caught. I also practiced memorizing large amounts of answers for short term retention. This way, I could mark all of my answers correct and fix them when I returned to my desk.
After being frustrated for by this system for a couple of years, I just started not scoring my work correctly. I would just mark the page as all correct, without checking the answers. This would only work for a while, though. When a PACE was turned in, the Supervisors would check over the work to make sure we scored correctly. I started getting multiple demerits for scoring violations. These would lead to Detention Slips, which would lead to a spanking at home.
The punishment I received at school and home for my scoring violations and incomplete work was way above any pleasure I derived from cheating. I honestly don’t know why I did what I did. Several Supervisors took the time to try and counsel me. I was suspended three times. There were several parent/teacher meetings. Finally, I was expelled from Grace in the middle of my 5th grade year. They had put up with me for over two years and they had finally had enough. I finished out that year in a public school and didn’t go to a private school again until 8th grade.
I remember Mr. Wainscott taking me aside one day and talking to me about the problems I was having. He kept asking why I was behaving the way I was. I gave all kinds of answers, but he wasn’t buying any of it. Finally, I blurted out that I was cheating and disobeying because my parents smoked. (This was in a pretty conservative time and in a conservative group. Smoking and drinking were not acceptable behaviors.) I remember thinking that he would suddenly understand and all would be forgiven. I shouldn’t have wasted my breath. Smoking parents didn’t change anything in the least.
One time, during a parent/principal conference, I was sent out of the room after the meeting was over. After discussing my future for a few minutes, Mr. Wainscott pulled out a hash pipe made from a soda can. He had no idea what it was. He had found it behind some wood used for a construction project. The good, Godly kids attending the school were getting high during breaks.
Not all of my time was bad, though. Twice a week, we went to the YMCA for P.E. We younger kids got to swim for an hour and a half each session, or we could go to the gym and shoot basketballs with the older kids. Our school had a pretty decent basketball team, so they made good use of the court there.
The school also had father/son and mother/daughter nights. One of my best memories, ever, is the night my dad took me to a father/son night. I remember that we watched a Harlem Globetrotter’s film and ate finger foods. My dad was a construction worker, so him being able to come to something like that was special.
Since the school was bringing extra money in, the second year I was attended, the church bought pews. These were nice, with dark wood and good cushions. I was just tall enough that my belt buckle was touching the top of the pew. The wood was something soft and I ended up scraping the top of the pew. I saw that and was sure I would get in trouble, but no one said anything. After a week or so, I sat in the same place and scratched it some more. I think I did this a total of 4 times until it was brought up in morning assembly. Oops.
The school also had a decent music program. Ms. Greenwalt was our music teacher and I think she had professional training from somewhere. It was here that I really began to enjoy music. The two years she was at the school, we put on large musicals. The younger kids (below 7th grade) performed “Down By the Creek Bank” one year. It was a blast practicing and I still remember some of the songs. The older kids performed “I Love America”, which I think was a Bob Jones University musical. Ms. Greenwalt also taught the younger kids how to play a recorder. Most of us just produced horrible screeching sounds.
This was definitely my worst experience in ACE. Fortunately, the third school I attended was a much better place. As I look back on my time there, I can’t help but wonder if the PACE order change is what caused all of my problems.
Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.
I attended my first ACE school in the second grade, way back in 1979-1980. The pastor of our church had sent his children to this school the year before, so my dad thought it was a good idea to send me there. As he later said, “I thought you would come home every day singing psalms and speaking Bible verses”.
Wildwood Christian Academy was a part/ministry of The Church in the Wildwood. The principal was Mr. Barker. Mrs. Barker was the teacher in the Lower Learning Center, which I was in. The Upper Learning Center had mostly male Supervisors with only a few monitors. The Barkers were a very conservative couple. They were death on any music with a beat; there were even hymns that they considered too up beat. I came from a Baptist church that was pretty stiff, so I had no experience with up beat Christian music. They were also very strict on the dress code. One time, they made my mom get back into her car because she wore pants to pick me up.
It was here that I had my first remembered experience of religion mixed with politics. I remember hearing a recording of a person talking about the circumstances surrounding the writing of The Star Spangled Banner. The narrator made this a religious struggle; Americans had the might of right since the country was founded in the Word of God. Patriotism was very high in this school, we learned how to properly fold flags and how to properly stand at attention while reciting.
While here, I made a lifelong friend, Tyson. I also made some acquaintances that I have bumped into or heard about over the years.
I remember getting my first detention. When I was handed the Detention Slip, I was scared and hid it in my boot at home. After a few days, the school called my parents and got it straightened out. This was one of the few times I got detention that I didn’t get a spanking.
I also began to memorize large passages of scripture during this time. Every month, all of us had to learn a portion of scripture, in addition to the scripture verse in each PACE. This was quite a step up from learning a verse a week in Sunday school. The Lower Learning Center was usually given fewer verses to learn, usually 8 or 9 verses, while the Upper Learning Center had to learn around 15 verses. If you didn’t memorize the verses by the end of the month, you were given detention and not allowed to participate in any extra activities. One month, I remember the horror of having to learn all 21 verses of Romans 12. Both Learning Centers had to learn it, with a genuine imitation leather-covered King James Bible going to the first person in each Learning Center to learn it. No, it wasn’t me; I believe I memorized it just before the end of the month. I still remember one of the teachers, Mr. Watson, saying (with a Southern drawl), “…Thou shalt heap coals of fahr upon his head.”
During this year, I learned another ACE peculiarity. When setting goals for the day, we always set Math, English, Social Studies, Science, Word Building, in that order. This way, the Supervisors could easily see what goals we had completed for the day. Every subject was color coded, too: Math-yellow, English-red, Social Studies-green, Science-blue, word Building-purple. These are very strong order and color associations that I have to this day. I’ll write more about this in my next post.
This was also where I learned to cheat when scoring my work. We took our PACEs to a scoring station and scored the work ourselves. Just imagine, getting the same problem wrong several times and the answer is right in front of you. I did what almost any kid would do, I memorized the answer and wrote it down when I got back to my seat. People would put pieces of pencil lead under their fingernails or hide short pencils in their pockets to write down answers at the scoring station. There were all kinds of ingenious ways to copy the answers, one of which I’ll share in the next post. My cheating here was pretty low-level, since the work was easy.
Chapel was held each Wednesday afternoon. After lunch, we would go upstairs into the auditorium and participate in a mini church service. This was always a bad day for me, since I was losing 45 minutes of school time. I worried more about getting my goals completed than hearing about Jesus again; I was going to church that night, anyway. Occasionally a missionary would come and tell cool stories or there would be a Christian film during chapel, those were good days. The day before, the Supervisors would tell us to set less goals in our PACEs, so we would have plenty of time for the missionary or film.
I also remember a few random funny things. One day, someone told us that fluorescent colors were also called day glow. Two or three of us spent hours trying to get a fluorescent colored hard hat to glow. We held it up to a light bulb, turned the light off and were sure it glowed for a second. Another time, we had a fire drill. I had never participated in one before, so the alarm bell scared the crap out of me. Just a day or two earlier, we had been told what to do in case of a fire. We had been told to bust a window and get out that way if the door was blocked. For some reason, the door to our room was locked, so I was sure we were blocked in. I picked up my chair and was swinging it at a window when an adult stopped me. A second later, and I would have crawled out of the window. One boy sang a line to “Victory In Jesus” funny. Instead of saying, “…He plunged me to victory…”, he would say, “…He punched me to victory…”.
Overall, I remember having a pretty good time in this school. Of course, this was over 30 years ago, so some memories fade.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.