If you’ve been following my series on Christian reform homes, you’ll have noticed the name Lester Roloff popping up. It is, as Abigail McWilliam puts it, the common thread uniting reports of abuse from ‘troubled teen’ homes across America. Everything comes back to Roloff. Almost all of the homes we’ve discussed were founded by him or one of his former employees and associates, and all of them run on the model of Roloff’s original Rebekah Home.
If you haven’t been following, the reform homes have a pattern: They are single-sex boarding schools on compounds surrounded by chain-link fences topped with barbed wire. Punishments are extreme: extended periods of solitary confinement; kneeling on hard surfaces for hours, sometimes with pencils under your knees; and whippings and beatings of the cruelest kind.
And they all use Accelerated Christian Education. In return, ACE produces educational materials specifically praising the convicted felon and his reform homes.
From the beginning, Lester Roloff was one of ACE’s best-known supporters. Christian School Confidential calls him “a big advocate for ACE. Probably their best salesman.” You can see him and one of his staff discussing ACE in this video (ACE segment starts at 8:33). Like all ACE promotion, it contains a fair amount of anti-public school propaganda.
The connection between Roloff and ACE does not end there. Roloff’s lawyer was one David Gibbs Jr, also counsel for ACE. Gibbs later became ACE’s president after its founder Donald Howard was unceremoniously ejected from the company. He also appears in many ACE promotional videos. Acting for both Roloff and ACE must have kept Gibbs very busy. As well as Roloff’s eight-year legal battle with the state of Texas, Gibbs would have overseen most of the one hundred and fifty lawsuits in which ACE was engaged between 1970 and 1993 (source: Roger Hunter, “Christian Fundamentalist Education: A Twentieth Anniversary”). Almost all of these were battles over accreditation. Roloff, Gibbs, and ACE all believed that Christian schools should not have any kind of state accreditation, licence, or recognition whatsoever, because they had a command from God to do what they did.
So, was Roloff really a child-abusing monster?
Interestingly, since I began my investigation of Christian reform homes, a few ex-students have contacted me to defend Roloff. It’s only Roloff himself – no one has written in defence of his protégés like Mack Ford or Wiley Cameron, who also stand accused of child abuse. One or two have even threatened to sue me if I say anything against Roloff.
Many protest that Roloff was a kind and loving man of God. That argument doesn’t wash with me, because if you met my old ACE supervisor, you would undoubtedly describe her as kind and loving too. Yet there is no doubt in my mind that she was a child abuser (not sexually, I should clarify, but in almost every other way). Remember, too, that Roloff described his students as “parent-hating, Satan-worshiping, dope-taking immoral boys and girls.”
Most interesting, though, is that almost no one who defends Roloff disputes the facts of the situation. Normally in arguments over child abuse, person A says “This person beat kids!” and the accused says “I never touched them!” This argument is not like that. No one that has written to me denies that Roloff’s home had The Lockup, an unfurnished room where children were held in solitary confinement. No one denies that kneeling on the floor for extended periods was used as a punishment. And no one, least of all Roloff, contests the allegations of spanking, whipping, and paddling (although there is some dispute as to the extent of the injuries caused by this).
In other words, the debate is not about what happened. The debate is about the definition of abuse. The question is “Does locking children in solitary confinement and beating them constitute abuse?” When you put it like that, I think the answer is hideously obvious.
It is not obvious to Accelerated Christian Education, however. They knew what was happening. David Gibbs was one of ACE founder Donald Howard’s closest associates. Gibbs served on the ACE board before he became president. Yet ACE still produces a PACE specifically devoted to painting Lester Roloff as a hero. It’s English 1084, introduced in 1983 and most recently updated in 2009. This is from the current edition:
This is an excellent demonstration of how English PACEs work as the most insidious aspect of Accelerated Christian Education. The exercises children have to complete are technical (and pointless) grammar, but the sentences they work on are all fundamentalist propaganda. Since the content of these sentences is not directly part of the lesson, it’s an almost subliminal form of indoctrination.
On page 5, for instance, children have to identify the sentence pattern in each of these:
It’s like a form of educational meta-trolling. How many abused girls in the Rebekah Home have had to sit and identify the subject and object in the sentence “The Rebekah Home for girls is providing thousands of troubled girls a home of love”? How did that make them feel?
Even if Roloff never abused a child in his life, he still has blood on his hands. By standing with ACE against all forms of regulation, he paved the way for the institutional abuse in later ‘troubled teen’ reform homes. ACE claim to be the only true guardians of morality on Earth. In fact, they are the facilitators and defenders of child abusers.
And ACE, the immoral scumbags that they are, train children to support this injustice. On page 10, students must identify whether these sentences are simple, compound, or complex:
ACE clearly feels very strongly about this, because the sentence “Therefore, the government must not license any church ministry” appears three times in this PACE. It’s a system designed to politicise children into supporting their own oppressors. And it is completely odious.
For more on Roloff, Pamela Colloff’s ‘Remember the Christian Alamo‘ is essential reading.