On The Lack of Quality Control in Personal Callings

Randall Anthony Schanze
Randall Anthony Schanze's picture

I tend to think about people who feel callings to do something, and it turns out they're really bad or even dangerous at it, and had no business doing it.

Today, specifically, I'm thinking about the teachers I met at Accelerated Christian Education (Or "ACE" for short). If you're not familiar with it, it's an educational system that probably seemed pretty cutting edge when they thought it up in 1970. Everyone has their own little cubicle and works out of "Paces" (Workbooks) on a variety of topics. You work at your own rate, but you have to to a minimum amount of work in each subject per day, and then you're tested. If you pass, you move on to the next workbook in that series. There's a lot of shortcomings to this idea if you think about it, but when I was 9 years old and getting beat up every day at school, it seemed like heaven.

Plus, theoretically, it'd get you to heaven, so, hey, what could be better?

If you go to Leaving Fundamentalism​, or Survivors of Accelerated Christian Education​ you'll find a lot of horror stories about the system, how useless it is, stuff like that. They're good sites, though I don't really frequent them anymore. I never had those kinds of problems, but I've always been lucky. Their stories are no doubt true, but that's really not what I'm here to talk about today. I'm just using ACE as a backdrop for a problem.

Given the individualized nature of "Learning" (Note the quotes) at ACE, there's not a lot of teacher interaction. Each classroom has a lead teacher called a "Supervisor" and a random number of assistant teachers called "Monitors."  I had assumed, as a kid, that these people had whatever kind of teacher-qualifications the ones in real schools had, but fairly recently I learned otherwise. ACE's goal - intentional or not - is to remove the teacher from the equation as much as possible. Hence there's not a lot of requirements. You go to a weekend seminar, and if your check clears, you, my friend, are a certified ACE Supervisor.  If you want to be a Monitor, there's no requirements at all. If you want to be a principal, I think it's like a week class or something? 

I went to three of these schools between 4th and 8th grade, in the late '70s/early '80s. Two of them completely melted down. One of those disintegrated and ceased to exist. The meltdown school eventually abandoned ACE for a normal curriculum, as did the only stable one of the three schools. More recently, for convoluted reasons, I volunteered as a monitor at another ACE school for a year.

Again, all of this is just a setup for the "You really shouldn't be doing this thing" stuff.

In 8th grade, one of our teachers went nuts when a couple kids were giggling in his Bible lesson. He was an art teacher, and despite the short hair, had the air of hippie about him. He flew into an inexplicable rage, and hurled his Bible at a kid's head. Fortunately, like all hippies, he had terrible aim, but the book hit the back wall with a huge - SLAM - and there was much confusion. He was suspended without pay for one week, but then he was back and we were told never to talk of the "Flying Bible Incident." That was ACE school #3.

At ACE school #2 (But also in 8th grade) the principal had quit, over the summer, and his assistant had become the new principal. The guy was terrible. He was captain Queeg. He was utterly humorless in his interpretation of the letter of the law. Despite being a model student, I had an hour detention every other day for six weeks because I'm bad at math.

I've got dyscalcula, which is the math equivalent of dyslexia. I'm just inherently bad at math, it's not that I'm not trying, it's that my brain is just wired screwwy. I had this one math pace that I failed three times and had to re-do. Turn it in late, and you get an hour's detention. Fail the test, get an hours detention. I got caught in a vicious cycle where every other day I had to stay an hour after school because I have a fracked-up brain. Then my mom would have to come down and pick me up because I'd missed the bus, so three times a week I'd get 40 minutes of screaming in my ear from my abusive mother about it.

Anyone could tell you something was wrong, but no one seemed to know what to do about it. It wasn't covered in the book. It wasn't covered in the ice cream social they used to train people. The ACE philosophy appears to have been that learning disabilities don't exist. Just punish the kids and they'll do better.

Eventually my dad got sick of this nonsense and moved me to another school. The draconian crap affected the other families, too, and enrollment dropped about 20% in the first semester of this guy's regime. A couple weeks after I left (Early in the 2nd semester), there was a palace coup where the guy was removed from office, and the music teacher took over. By all accounts the school got much better.  I presume this is because music requires training and patience, and he was good with kids.

My first school went off the rails in similar fashion. I once was given detention for having a picture of Jesus up on my desk. "Jesus didn't have long hair. He looks like a hippie."

Ok, whatever.

Most recently I volunteered as a Monitor. I had to get a background check, as did the rest of the staff, so no felons or child molesters. That much is good. But the kids' preacher shouldn't have been preaching. He was a nice guy, and he may have been better at some point in the past, but every sermon every wednesday degenerated into him talking about playing basketball. He was grossly incompetent, and morbidly obese an also the basketball coach (Obviously). I don't want to make fun of the guy because clearly he had problems (He'd been hit by a car at one point, which may have explained his inability to stay on topic). Bottom line though: The guy was incompetent.

One day I was killing time in the chapel, with some headphones on, playing with garage band. In came the kindergarten teacher with her brood. It was music class time. They're very young, they're easily distracted, they're about as coordinated as a pile of wet spaghetti at the best of times, and they're just not getting her whole lesson about rhythm. They're banging at random times, or not waiting for her to start. I'd say that she just snapped and started yelling at them, but actually she started off yelling and just went steadily uphill. there was no real incident. As I had Garageband up and running anyway, I surreptitiously taped her being mean to these little kids. I'll probably make a dance remix of it for my next CD. I dunno.

I don't think she thought she was being mean. I think she thought she was doing God's work. I do think that she was grossly incompetent and shouldn't have been allowed to teach.

Or the school play: It was "A Christmas Carol." As curtain time rolled nearer and nearer, the normal play issues reared their heads: some people aren't ready, some are having difficulty with their lines. The one brain damaged kid keeps breaking down and crying and running off stage. Last minute changes in the blocking, etc. It's normal. Now, these are all High School and Jr. High kids.

One staff person appointed themself co-director (without consulting the director) and took it upon themself to scold the kids any time anything went wrong. I took said doofus aside and explained that basically you'll do a better job if they WANT to be here, and they'll be more likely to put in the effort if you compliment them when they get something right rather than just punishing them every time they get something wrong. They'll give better performances if they aren't cringing every time you open their mouth.

"Well, we have to punish them" the person said.

"Why?"

"Because if they don't, they'll never get it right."

We went 'round and 'round on that one for a while, and finally I just gave up and went back to working on my cuecards. 

Basically, there are a whole lot of people who feel that God is calling them to a particular task, and they're simply wrong. Or they want to help out because it's a nice thing to do, and they're grossly incompetent and maybe even dangerous.

I thought I had somewhere deeper I was going with this, but I guess not. 

Sorry.

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