One thing has become obvious since I started this blog: I got off lightly.
I began writing because I thought I had an important story to tell – and I do – but what happened to me is nothing compared to the abuse some of my commenters have encountered. Timothy Allman bravely shared this:
“My parents had their own ACE school that ended up being a home school just for us. There was no way out. My mother had me convinced that all public school children were evil drug addicts. It was more like a Polish orphanage than a nurturing home. Here is the kicker. After my fathers death, one of my sisters let me know that my father had molested her. From there it did not take much to figure out that all three of them had been molested. And it is clear from my mothers many actions like keeping us isolated and not wanting us (especially the girls) to see a doctor that she was compliant in this. Large numbers of people who say things like, we must abstain from all appearance of evil, might be protesting too much. These schools can safely harbor men and women who abuse children in ways that are just as bad as any catholic priest scandal in the news.”
The stories I have to tell from my youth are generally fairly amusing (to me at least), but most thoughts of my blog being entertaining are flying out the window. I’m going to have to find some Creationist hilarity for you next time to lighten the tone.
As I said in my last post on physical abuse, it wasn’t just spanking. Here’s an example I got emailed by an old schoolfriend, describing her brother’s experience:
“Another time he was getting told off for something by Mrs M and Mrs B, and they made him kneel on a hard floor for so long that his knees began to get really painful. then his legs just went numb and when he tried 2 stand up he just fell over again. So then they stood opposite eachother and made him walk back and forth from one to the other several times which made him feel like he had done something bad again. They had this amzing talent for making children feel as guilty and humiliated as possible about everything didnt they!”
My most vivid memory from Victory was a story from a choral verse lesson. Choral verse was pretty much unique to Victory, and it involved mass Bible recitation, combined with actions. One action was that all the children had to extend their arms out in front of them, palm up, and hands at eye level.
Try holding that position and see how long it is before your arm gets heavy. Of course, everyone’s arms began to droop. So the teachers, in an inspired moment, decided that everyone had to hold the position – for five minutes. This is borderline impossible for children as young as six. And every time anyone’s hand was seen to lower, the time started again. For everybody.
I was not there for this. But I know it happened because one of the teachers thought it was such a good idea that they went and got a camera, came back (they had plenty of time), and took a picture. In many subsequent choral verse lessons, the teacher reminded the school that this had taken place. She was so proud of this great example of discipline. Once, she asked an older student to recount his experience of it. Another time, she produced the photograph.
She spoke warmly of this experience, in a cloying, Professor Umbridge voice. “It was a matter of tears for some of you,” she smiled.
This was the kind of psychological abuse the students were subjected to – the worry that an exercise like that could take place at any time, and complaining would only make things worse. I was terrified, because I was certain I wouldn’t be able to cope.
And here’s the thing – this woman is the nicest person I have ever met. If you met her, you would be struck by what a warm, caring person she is. The real world is not split into heroes and villains like fiction. When Ofsted inspectors and journalists meet teachers like that, they are struck by a Christian woman who loves the children deeply. They have no suspicion that they are dealing with a woman whose theology and personal values demand rigid, unrelenting discipline. In my mind, she is equally the most evil person I’ve ever met. I recently wrote to her, requesting an audience to discuss the way she treated the children. In response, I received an email from her son, insisting that I stop writing because I was causing her “distress,” and that he would not allow her to be subjected to my “vitriol.”
When she heard murmurings, during the choral verse class, that we were struggling, she leapt on the idea. “You should THANK GOD you’re here!” she roared. “In The Hiding Place [Corrie ten Boom’s autobiographical account of imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp], they were made to parade outside on the icy concrete in bare feet! You should thank God that wasn’t you!”
She honestly told us that we should be grateful we weren’t in a concentration camp. And while it’s true I never saw anyone suffer on that scale in my school, some of Lester Roloff’s disciples have practised things not far away in barbarity. I no longer think my Jesus Jihad post even deserves to be controversial. If Christians are capable of this inhumanity against children, they’ve already committed atrocities worse than some terrorists’.
Now, I realise that when UK NARIC conducted their examination of Accelerated Christian Education schools, they were looking at curriculum and assessment, not discipline. But this type of discipline is intrinsic to the values of these schools, and the underpinning theology. NARIC has endorsed a qualification which is synonymous with abuse. I’m sure there are cases of children completing ACE while enjoying a healthy relationship with their parents, peers, and teachers, but they are the exception.
If students tell me they weren’t abused, I am not sure their testimony is reliable. At the end of 1984, Winston loves Big Brother. I think that being spanked, or worse, every time they got rebellious may have had an effect rather like aversion therapy for many of them. And I think the teachers would be rather disappointed if that weren’t the case.
- Why Fundamentalists Have No Social Skills comment thread (many essential posts, from kittybrat and lexie in particular)
- Beating Kids: Still Normal in Accelerated Christian Education?
- Physical Abuse in Fundamentalist Schools