Accelerated Christian Education survivors respond to PhD research

My PhD thesis has been online for a week now, and former ACE students have begun sending me their feedback.

In academia, peer review is our quality assurance process, and it meant a lot to me to have my thesis validated by two professors whose work I respect and admire. I regard feedback from other ACE-escapees as another kind of peer review (they are, after all, also my peers). My main research aim was to give readers a sense of what it is like to have attended an ACE school. If the academic community had given me a thumbs up, but ex-students were saying “This is not what it was like at all”, something would be badly wrong.

black and white photo of a child's smiling face from the bottom of her nose to the bottom of her chin.

Smile. Pixabay, public domain.

So here, with their permission, is what ex-ACE students have been saying about my work. These people were not participants in the thesis, except where noted.

By the way, I would not share these comments without permission, so if you’d like to tell me what you think of my thesis without telling the rest of the Internet, do feel free to drop me a line and just say that you want to keep it private (I would never post an email without asking, anyway).


I’ll preserve the text, just in case of a future in which embedded Tweets no longer work:

Jon Jones‏:
Reading Dr. @JonnyScaramanga’s Ph.D. paper on the religious school whose curriculum I followed. It’s a masterwork.

I relate so deeply. I was homeschooled my whole life and my only formal education was through this particular program, ACE.

I’ve never had the context or education to be able to clearly describe the cognitively biased horrors my Christian education forced upon me.

It’s part fascination and relief; fascination that someone else understands what I’ve experienced, and relief that I’m not the only one.

The worst thing in the world is to believe in your heart that you’re the only person a bad thing has happened to and no one will understand.

Jon Jones is author of the memoir How I Escaped Evangelical Hell.

Meanwhile, a young British woman contacted me privately to tell me her response:

Thank you so much for writing this – I am reading it on the bus (the section on gender roles and sexuality) and dear god it resonates. I’ve recently started therapy and this was one of the things I wanted to talk about and it’s so helpful to read it.

In a follow-up message she added:

I literally read out a few paragraphs from the bit about ongoing issues after indoctrination to my therapist last night and it was helpful for me to articulate some of the things that happened to me and also for her as she’d not come across it before. Super important. I’ve also sent it to all my siblings who attended the same school. Thank you!

For some readers, looking at my thesis gives them such flashbacks that they can’t read it. One interviewee messaged me to say he couldn’t get through the introduction. Someone who went to an ACE school in the US sent me this message:

Hey Jonny! I just wanted to shoot you a message.
Im still reading through your thesis, and plan to finish it "</pbut i got to page 20 something and had a full blown panic attack recalling all the things i had experienced. My stomach was churning, my heart was racing and i felt like throwing up.
I hadnt planned on telling you this, as it is really embarassing and not your fault, but my mom feels that you should know these things because it validates your research??

Although it’s desperately sad that some ex-ACE students find themselves with PTSD symptoms, I hope that having their experiences validated, and realising that they are not alone, will make reading my thesis a net positive for those who choose to do so. All the other messages in this post were sent spontaneously, but this one, from a friend in the US, is one I asked for (hence the difference in tone):

Dr. Scaramanga does an eloquent job of weaving together ACE alumni’s stories with a thorough critique of the culture and curriculum found in ACE schools. As someone who was educated in many religious systems, including ACE, I often find myself with gaps in my cultural and academic education which continue to ripple throughout my young adulthood and now into my 30s. This document is a refreshing salve to old wounds. Thanks to ACE, I was unable to pursue my dream of becoming a scientist. This thesis is the evidence I needed to understand why I feel so out of touch with my generation and why despite high academic performance in the ACE program I was unable to thrive in University. Thank you, Dr. Scaramanga.

Finally, here’s the response of someone who was interviewed. When interviewing people with traumatic experiences, it’s always an ethical concern that the research process doesn’t harm them further. So it was great to receive this:

Hey Jonny, thanks for sending me over your thesis. It was pretty emotional to read. There’s so much in there that I can directly relate to that I didn’t even have a chance to talk to you about during our interview. Particularly about social anxiety which I can’t remember if we even talked about during our interview but has probably been one of the biggest hangovers from ACE for me.

It really is so valuable to hear other peoples stories of their experience and validating to know how similar they are to my own. Having read the thesis I do feel a strange connection to your other participants, the way I’ve shared my personal stories and read theirs. I feel a sense of sympathy for them and our shared experiences even though we’ve never met. It’s been a really positive experience to read that and see how you’ve joined up the dots of our collective stories.

The thing I found most shocking was thing I had the least personal experience of which is the awful experience of your female participants you talk about particularly in your chapter on gender. It’s really renewed my passion to do what i can to try and stop what is happening in these awful schools. Do let me know if you know of anything I can get involved with that would be helpful in achieving this. Anyway, I thought it was a fantastic piece of academic writing and also personally moving for me to read and I’m very happy that I got to play a small part in it.

The thesis is available to download from University College London. I’d love to know what you think of it.

Oh, and if anyone wants to leave a negative review below, I promise not to delete my entire comments section.

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About Jonny Scaramanga