22 private church schools currently use Accelerated Christian Education in Michigan. Rick Snyder will push forward on school vouchers if he wins another term as Governor. We already know he wants to do this after the leaking of ‘Skunkworks’ in 2013. Dick and Betsy DeVos have spent far too much money on this election to allow school vouchers to slip through their death grip on public education in the state. Many states now have voucher programs that allow taxpayer money to pay for private school education and that includes Evangelical Protestant Christian schools and home schools using curriculum developed by ACE, Abeka or Bob Jones. Michiganians already decided that the taxpayers of Michigan should not be financially responsible for private school education, especially religious schools. Republicans in the state want to change that. Rick Snyder has yet to let something as trivial as the state constitution get in his way.
The curriculum teaches children to be completely obedient in all things and to everyone who has authority over them. Children attending ACE education programs must adhere to strict enforcement of all rules and procedures in the school. Students sit in their office and do not talk to other children. They are only allowed to speak to a supervisor after they put a flag on their cubicle wall to flag them down. Students are also required to score their own PACEs correctly. How correctly? Here is one account from a former ACE student from Australia:
There was something strange going on. I realized that when as a seven year old, when I was stuck at the score-key, looking at my PACE with concern. The question stalling me had been a two-blanker (quite advanced, I felt). The question was – for example – something like “ _____ and ______ happen during thunderstorms.”
I had written rain and thunder. The score-key said thunder and rain.
When I finally cracked and called for a monitor, seeking their judgment, I watched a grown man, his mustache twitching, consider very, very carefully the words before him. The answer was an obvious one, wasn’t it? The answers were effectively the same. I had internalized the concept. I understood what the question wanted to know, but I hadn’t answered it in precisely the way it had wanted. A teacher would, in this situation, probably let it go, or, at the least, provide me with a reason to change it.
Eventually, he shook his head, defeated by the challenge of it. “Mark it wrong,” he said. “Go back to your desk and fix it.”
That was this environment. There was no questioning authority over you; you obeyed it. Even when your own common sense indicated otherwise, you had to be able to tell that there was something strange going on.
The student’s work in the PACE booklet had to match exactly what was in the answer key, if it wasn’t right, they had to mark it wrong, take it back to their seat and correct, then flag down the supervisor again to re-correct the PACE. Not scoring a PACE correctly would lead to discipline for not being obedient.
Like the curriculum, discipline in ACE’s program is strictly regulated. A manual for the adults who work in the school instruct staff how to ensure students are obeying every rule and following all procedures. There is no room for improvising or spontaneity. Children who deviate from the program’s system in any way are disobedient, and it’s up to the staff to prayerfully correct the child to proper obedience.
How was this done? Through a system of infractions that would earn students demerits. Three demerits earn a detention, seven demerits means the child’s father will be contacted and the school staff and parents will apply the required physical punishment, which for ACE is a spanking.
“John” is a former ACE student from a suburb outside Akron, Ohio. His parents sent him to the church school until the eighth grade. His experience with ACE’s discipline policy still affects him emotionally today. He wants to share what happened to him, but wishes to remain anonymous because his family is still involved with this church.
In A.C.E. it falls to the students to check, or “score” their own work. Once a page in a workbook is completed the student is to raise their flag and wait for a supervisor to come grant them permission to take their work to the “scoring table.” At the scoring table is a copy of each workbook with all the answers filled in correctly, as well as red pens. A student then goes line by line with a red pen checking their own work, returns to their desk and corrects any errors found, then again raises their flag to get permission to “re-score” and check that any errors have now been corrected.
As it turns out, being the completely bored and utterly un-engaged student that I was, I was terrible at this. That became a massive problem when my supervisor (think teacher, except without actually teaching anything ever, having a teaching certificate, or having ever attended college for even a single day) gathered up all my PACE’s from the past month and checked every single one for any “scoring errors”, or mistakes I had made that I hadn’t marked with a red X at the scoring table. Each of these was viewed as a deliberate act of rebellion, and each carried the penalty of a demerit. It didn’t matter how trivial (literally undotted i’s or uncrossed t’s, i’s before e’s in the wrong order) they were all treated as heinous crimes.
I can still remember the first time I walked into the classroom, coming back from lunch. I was in a jovial mood and completely unaware of what was going on. But as soon as I saw that the supervisor had all of my PACE’s, I knew something was amiss. She skewered me with an enraged glare that terrified me. She refused to speak to me so for nearly 20 minutes I sat at my desk unable to work, completely confused by what was transpiring, fear slowly creeping over me.
Finally she came over to me. With a stern glare she told me that she had found 47 “scoring violations” and she was giving me a demerit for each and every one. Terror swept over me.
Demerits were a big deal. At 3 demerits you started accruing detention time. At 7 demerits you started accruing “Whacks”, or blows from a wooden paddle the Pastor kept in his office. Each demerit past 7 was a whack, so I suddenly owed 42 whacks, I couldn’t even comprehend that many. I was terrified. Whacks were a big deal – a big big deal – and I had never actually received one before.
My parents were called, and a long discussion took place but I was told no details, other than that I was going to get whacked tomorrow. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, a knot of terror in my stomach kept me awake. I couldn’t even eat I was so terrified. I was nine years old.
The day progressed slowly, agonizingly slowly, every hour the sense of dread and foreboding grew. I hadn’t been told how many whacks I was going to receive, or really any details. I was only told that it was going to happen at some point that day. I stared at the clock wishing desperately that it would be tomorrow already so that this could be over and done with. Sometime around 2 in the afternoon I vomited in the bathroom.
Finally around 4 hours after school had ended, a supervisor brought me to the principals office. My parents were there, as well as several of the elders. They lectured me on my “willful disobedience” for about 20 minutes and warned me about the dangers of my “spirit of rebellion”. They told me they were going to show me “grace” by only giving me one whack this time. I took it all in, shaking the entire time. Then we prayed.
The Pastor implored the Lord to use this whack to teach me the ways of righteousness, and to guide me to a spirit of thanksgiving for having adults in my life whom cared enough about me to discipline me this way.
After we prayed the pastor looked me in the eyes and said “Son, were going to instill fear of the Lord in you.” (Every time this happened, and there would be many more times, he would say this exact thing right before he struck me.) Then I was bent over a heater, the pastor hefted a thick oaken paddle. There were different paddles for different age groups. The one for kindergarten was a switch, the one for teen agers had holes drilled in it to reduce wind resistance. The one for me was a thick oaken one about the size of a bread board. Like lining up a golf swing, the pastor traced a path in the air with the paddle from my butt to almost the ceiling.
The blow struck me so hard my whole body went numb, my head was pushed into the wall. Then the pain hit, the most pain I had ever experienced in my life, I started to wriggle and writhe, unable to cope. I couldn’t breathe, I was choking on tears completely overwhelmed. The pastor grabbed me in a big bear hug while I squirmed, terrified of him. He made us pray together and made me thank him for this Godly discipline.
And that was the first time.
Thereafter, every so often with no warning and for no reason I could discern, the supervisor would sweep up all my paces and inspect them with a fine tooth comb. I would always be out of the room when she did this. I would come back to see my PACE’s gone, and the whole process would repeat. I learned to live in terror of unexpected attention from authority figures, and over time I started to always be on guard, to never let myself get too relaxed. It always seemed like she would do this whenever I was happiest, whenever I was achieving and actually doing well.
Each time it happened, more whacks and longer detentions were added. And each time I would promise myself that it would be the last, that I would try harder this time and make sure that I never missed a single mistake when I was scoring. But my supervisor always found plenty of scoring violations whenever she decided to look. She would spend over an hour sometimes inspecting my PACE’s, sometimes going back and getting PACE’s I had done months before and inspecting those as well.
I tried so hard but it never seemed to make a difference, I always wound up shamed and beaten.
They demanded what felt like the impossible from me. My whole existence became one of terror, dreading the moment an authority figure decided to check over my work. Mistakes that had escaped my notice from weeks before could suddenly rear up, each and every page of each and every PACE searched for every overlooked error. The mountain of evidence thrown at me out of the blue, no warning, no way of seeing it coming. The punishment was physical assaults on my person. No matter how hard I tried I could never be good enough to escape these seemingly random assaults on myself. I had always overlooked something, always made a bunch of mistakes. I was always wrong. I was bad, I was broken. The evidence was staring me in the face. My only hope was the pain these good people inflicted on me, the knots of terror that kept me awake at night was my righteous punishment from God for the spirit of rebellion I carried against him. I wanted desperately to be good, to be found worthy, to be able to be accepted like the other kids, to have this stain washed away from me.
I wanted to find a way to fear the Lord enough that I would stop being bad.
My desperate pleadings to the Lord went unanswered, and it sank in that I was broken; perhaps hopelessly so. I withdrew into myself hating myself. I deserved this pain, this fear, why couldn’t I just do what I was told? I stopped all my hobbies and focused only on schoolwork. I didn’t deserve to play video games or go outside like the other kids. I was bad. Once I stopped getting whacks, once I stopped sinning, once I got this spirit of rebellion out of me, once the beatings stopped, then I could be like the other kids. Then I could allow myself to be happy. But not until then.
Months later, after my first round of whacks for scoring errors I was celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. We were at the house of one of my cousins, One of my aunts noticed how quiet I was, how I wasn’t out playing with my other cousins. She asked my Father about it.
“Well,” my Father began with a half smirk, “He had some troubles at school, wasn’t trying hard enough. So we decided to give him a couple whacks on the tush. Ever since then he’s been real quiet and obedient, his teachers have all complimented how he never speaks up or gets in trouble anymore, he just puts his head down and does his school work. I know some idiot liberals think you shouldn’t hit your kids but its the best thing we ever did.”
The Republicans want the taxpayers in Michigan to pay for schools that practice this form of discipline. Snyder’s Skunkworks plan would have given parents complete control over where their school money was spent, and that includes religious schools using this program.
In Michigan, corporal punishment in public schools is illegal and has been since 1989. This does not extend to private schools however. ACE doesn’t disclose their discipline policy to the public, but some still list spanking as a method of discipline at their school and can be viewed on ACE school websites. Some require the parents to sign a release giving the school permission to use corporal punishment. Records of students getting spanked are not included with the student’s records if they transfer to another school.
Vouchers are part of the Republican agenda to dismantle public education and eradicate teachers unions. School choice has nothing to do with improving schools or better educating children, it’s about making a profit from taxpayer dollars and putting another nail in the coffin of organized labor. Sending a child to a private school is the choice of the parents. Forcing Michiganians to pay for it, especially a program that beats children for not scoring their school work correctly is unacceptable, and thankfully, unconstitutional in Michigan. We need to keep it that way and stop the flow of public money into for-profit schemes meant to destroy good education, not improve it. On November 4, we can make the choice to protect and restore public education by electing those candidates who support public education: Mark Schauer, Gary Peters, and other progressive Democrats who need your vote. Please get out and vote.