I love it when other ex-ACE pupils write to me saying they agree with my views on ACE. It doesn’t happen that often. I think, in part, this is because ACE is overall an effective tool for indoctrination. A lot of students leave without the ability or the desire to question the beliefs ACE drilled into them.
Occasionally, someone slips through the net, and I’m always grateful when they add their voices to the others. The more people stand up and say that this isn’t right, the more others are going to take notice.
So this is Greg’s story. It’s a good un.
I attended an ACE school from the time that I was thirteen until I was seventeen. That was 1972-1978. Berean Christian School was its name. The school was in East Saint Louis, Illinois and has moved to Fairview Heights, Illinois since then. I found your website while I was looking to see if ACE schools still exist. I was hoping that they went down a long time ago. Unfortunately, they have not.
All of the experiences that I have read about on this site were the same experiences that I had at Berean. No one is exaggerating.
Although other students were paddled, some pretty often, I never was. I was pretty quiet but rebellious in my own way. I remember once being shown a film from Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist university. The film dealt with the American Civil War and starred the founder of the university, Bob Jones himself. He played a Confederate General. His son also starred in the film and played Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. I remember seeing only three Blacks in the film and only two had speaking parts. A Black woman playing a slave simply helped a white character with her jacket. Two Black men were used for comic relief when one of them put too many beans in a pot and it boiled over. It was typical racial stereotyping, just like Amos and Andy. The white Confederates were portrayed as the most Christian and kindess people one could ever meet. I was sixteen when I saw this film and I remember thinking that if the people who made it had their way, the South would have won the Civil War.
I recently read an article about Christian school textbooks printed by Bob Jones University in which American slave owners in the South are looked on favorably and the Ku Kluz Klan are described favorably. It does not surprise me, after remembering the Civil War “Epic” that I was forced to sit through.
When I was fourteen a boy in my Phys. Ed. Class took the shoe of another boy and hid it in another nearby room. It was at the end of the day and we all started looking for this poor kids shoe. It was eventually found. The teacher demanded to know who hid the shoe. No one confessed or snitched. The teacher said that if we had to we would wait all night until someone confessed or told on the person. When he said, “all night” I assumed that he was using a figure of speech. Well, I was wrong.
After putting all of the high school boys in a room by ourselves, which by the way is something that a good teacher would never do, we were supposed to search our souls and come up with the offender.
Instead of doing that, we started singing and clapping our hands. We were then told that since we were so disrespctful that we would be staying there until 7:00 PM as punishment. This was at 3:00 PM and we had not eaten since 12:00 PM. It reminded me of the film, Cain Mutiny with Humphrey Bogart were he plays the crazy naval officer who demands to know who stole his strawberries from the galley. So there we were. Sitting at our cells with nothing to eat for four hours after having sat at them for most of the day. The boy whos shoe had been hidden and then found, was allowed to go home at 3:00 PM. It did not endear him to the rest of us.
When I was seventeen I was sitting at my carol or cell one day and the male principal came up to me and putting his hands of both of the dividing walls of the carol he leaned in next to my face and whispered into my ear, “Greg, you really need to get new pants. ( I was wearing the normal navy blue uniform school pants) I have noticed that for the last few days ( at this point he started to chuckle) you look like you have been poured into your pants.” I honestly did not know what he was talking about. They were the same school uniform pants that I always wore and I was not trying to rebel by wearing tight pants. I remember thinking two things when he was whispering into my ear. 1: I am so embarassed by him talking about this and 2: This is creepy. He never said any more to me about it. Which in some strange way made it even creepier.
One day around 1976 I found a new book in the bookcase. Apparently, it had just been placed there by someone who did not read it. In it was a letter from the head of the ACE company explaining that he had recently travelled to Chile and had meet with President Pinochet. He said that President Pinochet was very impressed with ACE and had given enough copies of this book for every ACE school in America. I was appalled when I looked at the book. It was in Spanish and English and on every left page it showed pictures of how terrible Chile was before General Pinochet took over and on the right it showed current pictures of how wonderful things in Chile had become after President Pinochet had taken over. It was pure dictator propaganda. I took it up to a teacher and showed it to him expecting him to be as outraged by the propaganda as I was. Not quite. He said that he had never seen it before and how nice it was. “I am going to use this to teach my Spanish Language class!”
When I was fourteen, on our first day of high school, we were given a paper to read and sign which had come from ACE headquarters. In it we were asked to promise that we would never wear at home or anywhere else, “bell bottoms pants or other hippie style clothes.” The girls were asked to promise to not wear mini skirts at any time. This was 1973. We were also asked to promise to never listen to rock music nor dance. We also were asked to promise to never use drugs or smoke or drink alcohol. No one could believe what we were reading especially about the clothes and music. We could not understand why they would want to control what we did at home.
Eventually, we were told that either you sign or leave. I wish that we had walked out en mass. But, we did not. We learned one of our first life lessons in lying big. We signed the form promising to not do those things all the while knowing that we had no intention to keep those promises. I was once asked to take the role of an angel in a school Christmas Play. I really did not like the role and did not want it. I refused to take it. The principal told me that he believed that I was a boy who, “Needs more disicipline.” This was the same guy who commented on the tightness of my pants that he had been looking at for a few days. He said that he and another teacher were planning on coming to my home and forcing me to come and perform in this play. He was another ACE control freak who was reflecting the ACE company’s strong desire for control over the student’s entire life. When he said this to me I was thinking, ” Good luck with that. My parents are horders. We cannot even get to the front door much less let you in. My parents will not let anyone into our house.”
When I was seventeen a group of friends from school had a party at one of our friends. It was a Saturday night and the boys parents and other family members were upstairs. It was 1977 and we listened and danced to disco music. It was the most fun that I had in high school. we drank colas and ate Sloppy Joes. When I look back on it now I am struck by how innocent we all were. No illegal drugs, no alcohol, no wild sex orgies. Just music and dancing. It was great. However, on Monday morning the principal did not seem to feel as good about it as we did. ” I have been told that some of you have forgotten that you signed this paper.” He held up the paper that we had signed as freshman. He then read through it. He reminded us that we had best to remember this. Apparently, his brat daughter who did not get invited to the party found out about what she had missed and ran straight to her father to snitch. Most of us never seemed to feel the least bit guilty. We loved the party and thumbing our noses at the school.
One of the things that bothered me the most about this school was the lack of classic literature. The literature that I should have been reading was replaced with fundamentalist hack books. I read on my own at home books and stories like Romeo and Juliet, Catcher in the Rye and The Diary of Anne Frank.
I am Gay and was becoming ever more aware of it when I was in high school. Being Gay at Berean Christian School was a miserable experience. That is really saying something considering what a miserable experience the school was for even straight kids. We were supposed to decorate the front wall of our cell with things that we liked. Most of the time I left mine as undecorated and dreary as I always felt. However, there was this one time when I found a drawing of the two main characters from, The Great Gatsby, Jay and Daisy. It was done in ink and was very Art Deco. I covered the back wall with the shiny side of aluminum foil and decorated the corners with more Art Deco lines with the picture in the center. It looked great. I now realize how very Gay this was, but at the time I at least consciously did not have a clue. I just knew that I liked it. As homophobic as the principal, teachers and moniters were they could not figure it out. To be honest, I do not think that any of them could define Art Deco if their life depended on it.
When it came time to graduate I was informed that since I had not finished the Algebra or Business Math courses I would not be graduating. I was in good company though. About half of the senior class were in the same situation. I had never been retained in any grade, First through Seventh, before coming to Berean. Just one more year and I could graduate. Well low and behold at the end of my second senior year I still did not have enough Paces finished in Alegebra to graduate. And once again, I was in very good company. Half of this class was not allowed to gradute for the same reason. I did notice that the year before a girl who was in the same situation that I was in as far as Algebra and Business Math were concerned, miraculously was able to suddenly whiz her way through both of the courses just in time for graduation. This girl’s family was very close to the principal. The next year another girl struggling with the Algebra and Bussiness Math Paces experienced the same miracle and passed the last test on her last day of school! Her mother had been a moniter at the school for years. I also noticed that the kids who were not allowed to graduate were the children of parents who were not involved at school in any way as far as volunteering or attending meetings.
I finally gave up. I studied for, took the test and received a G.E.D. It is the state equivilency of a high school diploma. I eventually learned that it was better than a diploma from Berean because the G.E.D. is accredited by the state. The diploma from Berean is unaccredited.
When I left Berean Christian School I had no self confidence or self esteem. Throughout high school and for many years after I often had suicidal thoughts. My poor parents had actually paid money to have me tortured pschologically, emotionally and spiritually.When I finally did start to take very cautious steps toward a college degree I struggled with writing papers. It was not until I was in my junior year in college that I started to believe that I was intelligent and really was capable of learning. I went on to earn a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education and a Master of Arts Degree in Education. I have been a teacher in a public school system for twenty years and I love it. I have a wonderful son and two wonderful Godsons who are thriving in our local public school systems. I have a female cousin who attended Berean Christian School after I did. Her father is a very good carpenter. She would work with her dad and build furniture which she would enter into the National Ace School Woodwork Competition. She was the only girl who would compete. She won the First Place Award for the two years that she competed. After her second win, it was announced that from then on, the Woodwork Competition would be open to boys only.
My spiritual journey has twisted and turned since I left Berean Christian School. I understand why some of the survivors of ACE are atheists. I never believed that the Jesus presented to us at Berean was the way Jesus really was. One day in a Bible Study Class at Berean some of us asked why would God tell Joshua to kill everyone in the cities that the Israelites had conquered, even the babies and the elderly. The teacher told us that the sin of those people was so great that it had infected even the infants and that they would have sinned just like their parents if they had been allowed to grow up. I later learned on my own that the Nazis used this same arguement to justify killing Jewish babies. I rejected the fudamentalist beliefs of ACE and my family. I am a member of The Episcopal Church U.S.A. (Anglican Communion, Chuch of England) I do not have to check my brain at the door when I enter an Episcopal Church. We ordain women as bishops, priests and deacons. Our church recently approved a liturgy for the marriages of LGBT people. I have a strong faith in Jesus Christ. I hope that most people know that when fundamentalist Christians use the term Christian, they are only talking about themselves. They do not believe that Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Eastern Orthodox, or really anyone else are Christians.
When I was at Berean Christian School I remember thinking how horrible it would be if these Christian Fundamentalists were ever in charge of the Federal and State Governments of the United States. Little did I know that thirty five years later we would be fighting to keep that from happening.
Any success in life that I have had since I left the ACE system has been in spite of my experience with ACE not because of it.
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