This is a guest post. The author has chosen to remain nameless. The title (mine) does the post no justice; this is one of the most powerful ACE survivor stories we’ve had and I want everyone to read it.
I was a student at Maranatha Christian School in the UK from 2003 – 2005. I worked at an ACE school in Moscow, Russia in 2007 and at Christian Education Europe from 2007-2009. I also attended for many years a church overseen by then-director of Christian Education Europe, Arthur Roderick.
I started ACE “late” at age thirteen after spending the first parts of my schooling as an atheist in mainstream schools. I have little idea what drew my parents to Maranatha, but I suspect the low teacher-pupil ratio was one of the main reasons.
Having always been a “teacher’s pet” Maranatha was a whole new experience for me. Because I was not yet a Christian at that point and had little spiritual knowledge I was branded a “troublemaker.” In my first year at Maranatha I was given detentions and parents’ meetings for blaspheming, dying my hair, refusing to sing hymns during “opening exercise,” my lack of the “submissive nature” we were taught was expected of women, and even once for wearing trousers instead of a skirt to an earned “non-uniform” day.
I was harassed by teachers and students daily – eventually attempting suicide shortly before my fourteenth birthday. This further branded me as an ungodly troublemaker, particularly as I was referred to a child psychologist. Although the head teacher was not pleased and offered both prayer and a referral to a “Christian psychologist” as alternatives, my mother thankfully refused. I was, however, forbidden from returning to the (or any) doctor after his practical suggestions included removing me from Maranatha completely.
Although I had quite a few more run-ins with the school (such as being subjected to a personal and family meeting with the head teacher for attending a sleepover party that included both boys and girls) I eventually learnt how to “behave” (I never wore trousers near school again!) and the rest of my time at Maranatha went somewhat more peacefully.
Others were not so lucky, I remember one boy being ridiculed by the teachers for having “girl hair” and other members of my class were reduced to tears after being publicly screamed at by the head teacher’s wife for offenses as minor as not completing their lunchtime chores (which included vacuuming the classrooms and cleaning the staffroom) to a satisfactory degree. One of my chores included removing the spiders from the girl’s cloakroom… since I was terrified of spiders I refused in tears and was shut in the cupboard until the job was complete – afterwards I was told to pray for God to make me less of a coward. The school’s policy appeared to be ridiculing and humiliating children into submission.
Some of my more bizarre memories include “sex education” lessons. Sex ed in the ACE booklets is notoriously bad, so at the very least Maranatha tried to supplement these. All students over eleven were separated into boys and girls to, very awkwardly, talk about our bodies. I can’t speak for the boys but on our side this included the youngest girl being teased by the teacher for being too young to “understand menstruation” and being told no husband would ever want us if we were “used.” This is what happens when you have a group of mostly untrained (as someone studying for 3+ years to become an educator, I do not count the five day ACE “Professional Training Course”) adults in charge of the education and well-being of children.
I regret many of the things I did and said during my last years at Maranatha – things I taught myself to firmly believe and fight for. These include submitting a presentation to the annual ACE student convention “debunking the myth” of evolution (which won me a medal) and my outspoken hatred of homosexuality. Campaigning for these “issues” made me feel like less of an outcast and helped me to fit in with the other students at school, at least to an extent… as a now openly pansexual person, my own actions during this time absolutely disgust me.
After eventually being asked to leave Maranatha as the school “wasn’t a good fit” I was home-schooled for a year on the ACE program. In reality, from the age of fifteen I gave up on an education that was teaching me nothing but how to memorise abstract facts (fun fact – few ACE students actually read the content of PACEs. As you’re rewarded for the quantity of work and not quality, children quickly learn to just skim pages for the answers they need). My parents both worked full-time and had no interest in making sure I was actually studying.
When 16-17 I was then sent, alone, to Russia to work in a school there on “mission.” Placed in a one bedroom flat with four other people who rarely spoke English at home, I was given no training but expected to teach small classes English as an additional language. For this I was paid USD$100 a month – at the time around £50. I feigned illness multiple times to avoid work because I had never been so much as told how to plan or deliver lessons. Eventually the school sent me home after I attempted suicide a second time. Soon after my parents insisted I take a job at Christian Education Europe (ACE’s European distributor), so I could be “ministered” to.
I noticed that on Leaving Fundamentalism a “whistle-blower” from CEE briefly mentions that “one person was sacked for a supposedly gay relationship…” I can confirm that after some time working at CEE I became romantically involved with a girl I had known for some time. When this became known to Arthur Roderick, I was taken from my work, during office hours, to an empty room where I was asked to confirm the “disturbing rumours” he had heard about me. It was then decided that my “lifestyle” did not match the “family-centred” goals of the company and I was asked not to return to work as I could “potentially influence vulnerable minds” …the irony is not lost on me!
At the time I was determined to speak out about what had happened but was warned that, as a member of a church closely affiliated with CEE, I would no longer be welcome there or in my own home if I did so. During the next few months I was “discouraged” from leaving the house and forced to endure the odd beating (I was nineteen at this point). I was also subjected to almost daily visits from Arthur Roderick and other CEE staff members, mainly so they could pray for the “demons” in me to be released but also in intense, hours-long attempts to change my mind and “put me on the right path.” Other church and staff members, as well as ACE students I had considered my friends, outright shunned me.
It took years for me to get over my apprehension about telling anyone I had been an ACE student, never mind had worked for and advocated the program. It took even longer for me to be comfortable enough to announce my sexuality to boyfriends and other Christian friends as I had been convinced all Christians were taught the hatred I had been at school. I have since been re-diagnosed with PTSD regarding this period of my life. It has only been in the past year or two that I have realised the things I was taught under Accelerated “Christian” Education are not the norm and many Christians (including myself) really can be loving and accepting. I am still too terrified to walk into a new church by myself, though.
After attending college to obtain an Access Diploma (having left ACE with no useful qualifications) I am now at university studying to be a primary teacher. This has brought ACE into a whole new light for me. Every day I am provided with proof that rote and Skinnerian learning is little more than teaching circus tricks of memory recall. I have been provided with so much evidence that most of the world is moving forward towards a constructivist model of education that states that children learn better by doing and experiencing, than by being forced to arbitrarily absorb facts. This is how almost every primary school in the UK is run… but ACE is still ploughing along with a model that was becoming out of date when the curriculum was first written in the 70s.
I once thought that my experiences were unique, but I’m writing this because I have since learnt that there are many stories out there like mine. As a future teacher, I cannot allow these stories to keep being produced from future generations of ACE students. Even now I still feel like a “traitor” for revealing my experiences and have to quell the impulse to add “but ACE isn’t so bad because…” onto the end of any criticism I make of the program.
- A readymade toolkit for institutional oppression
- Pinochet good; gay bad
- Being made to feel like you don’t exist
I (Jonny Scaramanga, not the author of this guest post) will be giving my talk “Inside Britain’s Creationist Schools” in Maidenhead on Wednesday September 3. Details here.
Do you feel strongly about shining a spotlight on ACE? Join the Facebook group Accelerated Christian Education Exposed.