How I (Barely) Survived Home Schooling: Jonny Scaramanga’s Story

How I (Barely) Survived Home Schooling: Jonny Scaramanga’s Story

Jonny Scaramanga blogs on Accelerated Christian Education and leaving fundamentalism at his blog, Leaving Fundamentalism. He is building a resource on ACE here, and collects survivor stories from students with experience of ACE.

"I was a shining light for Jesus. Then, suddenly and brutally, I became suicidal."

“I was a shining light for Jesus. Then, suddenly and brutally, I became suicidal.”

I must admit something: I wasn’t really home schooled. I attended an Accelerated Christian Education school, which is probably the closest thing to home schooling you can get outside of a home, but, officially, I was in a school.

At first, I loved it. When I started at the school, so many of the other children were perfect. The boys held the doors open; they smiled and nodded attentively when the supervisors spoke, and they behaved like good Christians. I was not like them. I spoke back to my mother sometimes, and I swore occasionally. If I held a door at all, it was a casual shove to make sure it didn’t hit the person behind me in the face. I never did the proper stand-beside-the-door-and-salute-everyone door-holding. And I only said please and thank you occasionally, unlike my new schoolmates, who could not ask for anything without saying both. 

They were good Christian boys and girls, and I was determined to be the best. Whenever a supervisor spoke to me, I nodded vigorously and said “Yes, Mrs. Staggs” at regular intervals. At the end of school functions, I often found that my face was hurting from smiling so much.

I became the best Christian boy. My first year ended in triumph at the school awards ceremony as I picked up the certificates for the most work completed and the highest average test score, among other achievements. I was a shining light for Jesus.

Then, suddenly and brutally, I became suicidal. At the time I thought no one knew, because no one offered any help. In hindsight, I think everyone was at least vaguely aware, and absolutely clueless what to do. My report card from my second year actually says, “We wish you could find a way to enjoy this, Jonnie.” 

What had seemed like God’s perfect place for me became a prison. And so I hatched a plan.

As many of you will know, ACE allows you to work at your own speed. If you complete the work fast enough, you can graduate early. I knew I had to get out, because I hated that school so much. So I decided I would complete 100 PACEs (ACE workbooks) in a year (compared with the average 60) and graduate young.

This meant that, in effect, I had to be home schooled through the summer. To make 100 PACEs per year possible, I needed to work through the holidays. 

What followed was probably the worst type of home education imaginable. ACE is “teacherless”, at least in theory. The student just completes the workbooks individually. So my parents left me to get on with my work and went out. I couldn’t face it. The second they went out, I was on the internet. This was in the days before high-speed connections, and even before unlimited internet access. I ran up an bill of £500 ($750) in one month, desperately looking for anything to do except PACEs. My Dad made me pay the bill, but it didn’t change the fact that I would do anything to avoid those PACEs.

Having avoided work all day, I couldn’t socialise in the evenings. I spent a summer in solitary confinement, avoiding PACEs during the day and completing PACEs in the evening. Then when I should have been asleep, I wrote diary entries about how I wished I was dead but didn’t know how to kill myself.

One day, walking through my village with my mum, I passed a boy I used to know. Before my ACE school, we had been friends. He had even come to my house to play. 

“Jonnie!” he cried, obviously pleased to see me.

“Hi,” I replied. Well, I tried to reply. My voice came out as a squeak barely audible even to me. I had lost the ability to talk to anyone I didn’t see regularly. 

“Aren’t you going to say hi?” asked Mum. I hadn’t even managed to make a noise loud enough for her to hear.

When we moved churches, we spent an evening at our new pastor’s house, and I barely managed to utter a word to anyone. Eventually the pastor’s daughter spoke to me one-on-one, and I could just about manage that because she went to an ACE school too (I use the word “school” loosely; there were three children, including her). 

Somehow, I managed my hundred PACEs, but it became obvious that I would need to do the same again next year before I was even close to graduating. I felt so resentful that I was missing out on a good education, even though I had no idea what a good education might be. I just had this vague sense that somewhere out there were real schools, with science labs and libraries and literature, and I wasn’t getting any of that. 

Finally, I had a meltdown at school. Someone said something that triggered me. My vision blurred, and for a few seconds I couldn’t see. Then I started shouting at everyone.

Following this explosion, my parents finally removed me and sent me to a regular school. And, of course, fitting in was murder because I didn’t know how to talk to anyone who wasn’t a super-conservative Christian. But I had escaped. And I changed the way I spelled my name, from “Jonnie” to “Jonny”. It was a tiny thing, but it was my way of saying that I wasn’t the same person I used to be.

Now I think fundamentalist Christian home school curricula are part of the problem. Educating children is difficult. Very few parents are equipped to do it well. An off-the-shelf curriculum gives parents a false confidence that they can provide an education with little effort. In fact, a pre-packaged curriculum for every student is not going to fit any student. Systems like ACE just provide a simplistic answer to a difficult problem. Rather like fundamentalism, in fact. 

14 responses to “How I (Barely) Survived Home Schooling: Jonny Scaramanga’s Story

  1. ‘The world is so much madder (and so much better)’ – as Elton from Doctor Who said. Fundamentalism has a narrow, 1 size fits all approach and it doesn’t fit the immense, complicated, beautiful, messy reality.

  2. Pingback: How I (barely) survived home schooling | Leaving Fundamentalism·

  3. ACE and similar Christian self-study workbooks are less than worthless, in my opinion. I ordered a similar set called Life Pacs for my daughter one year. It wasn’t science, though it was supposedly biology. It was dumbed-down Christian indoctrination that didn’t even respect the intellectual abilities of small children, much less the teens I assume this high school curriculum was meant to reach. It was all about the classification of birds, which somehow was biology because birds are living things? So glad you got a better education eventually, and found your voice again.

  4. I’m a teenager who uses Apologia science, used to use Abeka in elementary school, but also has used Seton, which is specifically Catholic, and take some online classes at Mother of Divine Grace School. I don’t know of any blogs about conservative Catholic homeschooling and Seton and MODG are Catholic. I was wondering if anyone around here knew anything about any of these curriculums? I’ve been looking around the internet and couldn’t find much, but who knows. :)

    • I was just thinking about the lack coverage we have of Catholic homeschooling. What type of information are you looking for? Are you looking for older alumni who have graduated from things like MoDG? From what I can tell, they are not a very old organization. There are lots of posts on here about Apologia/creationism and Abeka. You can access some of those stories using the tabs feature. This category is generally about educational neglect (or miseducation) and you may find a lot in common with those stories. Are you looking generally for some blogs like this one but related to Catholic homeschooling? Let me know, or feel free to email me [nicholas.ducote at gmail] and I might be able to help you locate what you seek.

      • Thank you! Any info would be awesome, but I know that this generation of MODG grads are very close to its founders and are still drinking the kool-aid, as well as, well, mixing it up for the next generation ( a lot of them are teaching classes now or acting as consultants/assistants). I have seen some posts on Abeka and Apologia, and there was a great series of posts about Michael Behe’s books, which were part of my Bio curriculum this year, on Patheos. I would love pretty much any info on Catholic homeschooling that anyone has, and I was also wondering if anyone had ever heard of Holy Love Shrine and all the crazy surrounding it. I can’t access my email, but you can drop me a line over at infiniteandsmall hosted by dreamwidth.

  5. Yep, ACE IS the worst. Cheesy, dumbed-down, moralizing, terrible artwork, lends itself to laziness and/or cheating, and learning to the test. Did it for 4th and 5th, and 9th grades. Blech. I homeschooled my own children for 12 years during which time I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and even at our worst, rock bottom times, I knew that if I ever caved in to using PACEs, it would be the day we stopped homeschooling. And eventually we did.

  6. Pingback: How I (Barely) Survived Home Schooling·

  7. I agree. I think the ACE program sucks. My parents sent me to a school that used these my first 4 years of school. However your homeschooling experience sucked because your parents didn’t put effort into it not because homeschooling in general sucks.

    We homeschool my daughter because we are military and we move a lot. She is way ahead of kids her age because we work with her and I incorporate all kinds of different things to teach her what she needs to learn. While I like having a curriculum it’s only the starting point for effectively teaching…

    She also is involved in dance, church, sports and we make sure to do playdates etc as well. I think one can effectively homeschool their child/children as long as they realize it’s a big commitment and requires a lot of research, time and effort.

  8. Pingback: Accelerated Christian Education’s Ugly History of Racism | Homeschoolers Anonymous·

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