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 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.