This is a guest post by Kevin Long.
I am officially heartbroken. I was walking around the neighborhood with my special needs kid. Trying to come up with a way to spend more quality time together, I said, “Let’s do a song on Garage Band or something.” The kid went tense.
Me: “What’s wrong?”
Kid: [Sullen] “I don’t know.”
Me: “Rephrasing: you went tense when I said ‘lets do a song.’ What made you tense about that?”
Kid: “I’m afraid to be creative, ok?”
Me: “Why? You’re so smart and inventive and fascile.”
Kid: [Tense and sullen] “I don’t know.”
Me: “We’ll try it again: At what point did you STOP liking being creative?”
Kid: “It was ACE.”
Me: [Flustered] “Why? How? How is that possible?”
Kid: “It’s true.”
Me: “Of course it is. We’re talking about feelings. If you feel something, it’s real to you. I believe you. You just loved to create, and now…I’m just shocked.”
Kid: “There were a lot of rules, and if you deviate from them you’re going to hell.”
Me: “Did they actually tell you that?”
Kid: “No. It just seemed like that from the PACEs.”
Me: “And that made you feel frightened of your own creativity?”
Me: [Long pause]
Kid: “Are you ok, dad?”
Me: “Dammit. Sorry to curse, but dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit.”
Kid: “I’m sorry.”
Me: “It’s not your fault. I knew the school was for suck educationally. Well, that’s not true. I didn’t know HOW sub par it was, but I figured it was below average. I just wanted you to get some socialization, be around kids your own age, have some damn friends other than just your mom and grandmom and me, and, you know, get used to being around other people. I just wanted you to have…”
Kid: “I know.”
Me: “I never in a million years figured they could take that away from a person.”
Kid: “I feel it’ll get better. It will come back. Distance.”
Me: “Still….dammit to hell.”
Kid: “You didn’t know. It’s ok.”
Me: [Long pause] “Ok, so let’s start slow. Let’s just go back to the house and start playing with some little musical bits and stick things together and see if they sound good. Doesn’t have to be a song. Doesn’t have to evolve into a song. Just playing.”
Kid: [Says nothing]
Me: “Or we could just sing along with the radio? No pressure, work our way up from there?”
“Accelerated Christian Education” or “ACE” is a private school curriculum I was in between about 1977 and 1981, and the kid was in it for about 18 months. I didn’t feel it was harmful as a kid, though being a kid I was perhaps a little unaware of the effects it had on me. As a literalist, fundamentalist Christian, ACE’s unyielding stance on pretty much everything did materially contribute to my eventual nervous breakdown and eventual atheism. I have no doubts of that. They made it clear that the only options were Literalist Christianity or Atheism. They controlled the nodes of the debate and gave me no option.
Fortunately, they were wrong. Atheism wasn’t a good match for me, and after many, many, many years and many different faiths, I found my way back to Christianity. I’m definitely not a literalist. Am I a Fundamentalist? I don’t know. I recently spoke to my childhood preacher, and he said that he believed in the fundamentals of Christianity, which made him a Fundamentalist 30 years ago, but now? He’s not so sure. Now it’s a movement that seems governed by something other than love and caring and evangelizing and hope and being a positive example. He said he was pretty sure most modern Fundamentalists would reject him, though he hasn’t changed. He implied he wasn’t too thrilled with them, either. I paraphrase. I interpolate. I digress.
Point is: at this moment I want to burn the A.C.E. sons of bitches down. To be perfectly legally clear, that’s hyperbole. I don’t actually want to hurt anyone, nor burn anything. Nor, for that matter, do I think that the leaders of ACE as a corporate entity or as schools are the children of prostitutes. Maybe some, I don’t know. But at this moment, I really want to find some way to legally dismantle their organization, or starve it to death of students and teachers. I recognize this is over-reaction, and emotional, but I’m angry. I’m really angry.
They made my kid afraid to create.
My kid has issues, and my own generation-old experiences at ACE aren’t that bad, no worse than public school of the same era. (I never got beat up at ACE, for instance. I got beat up in public school a lot) ACE does have some value as a ‘lifeboat’ for damaged kids who (Like me, like my kid) would get eaten alive in the drunken dogfight of normal school, so there is that. I recognize that they do some good. I recognize that I’m being irrational.
I also recognize that learning was fun for my kid up until 2 years ago, and now: afraid to create.
That’s got to be wrong, right?
So what do I do?
I will probably be blogging more about this in the future. I’m still sorting my thoughts out here.
Jonny: Actually, this story has a happy ending. A couple of weeks after Kevin sent me this, he joyfully emailed to say his son expressed an interest in writing, and has begun producing short stories, vignettes, and introductions. Children are resilient, and they bounce back. And it’s not like ACE is the only kind of schooling that can be damaging to creativity. But ACE’s assault on creativity seems to be coming from a different place. It’s not that creativity is overlooked because of an emphasis on STEM subjects and rationality; it’s that ideas are dangerous, because ideas can be wrong. For ACE, education is about submission: submission first to adults, who are placed over you by God, and ultimately to God himself. You don’t need your own ideas. You need God’s ideas. Then, they believe, God will give you original ideas.
I’m so glad Kevin’s son is writing again. ACE stole my love of reading. I had been an avid reader before I went to Victory, and it took me ten years and a relationship with a passionate booklover to rediscover it. Still, I got it back, or mostly back, in the end. It would’ve been better if I’d been to a school with a decent selection of books and some encouragement to read them, though, just like it would’ve been better is Kevin’s son hadn’t become scared of his own creativity in the first place.