This week, TES published an uncritical puff piece on ACE which complained about being misrepresented, and listed all the great reasons people should use ACE. The comments were disabled.
After introducing a motion at the TUC LGBT Conference this year, which was unanimously passed (you can see my speech at Leaving Fundamentalism), I felt this could not go unchallenged. I have therefore sent a letter to the editor of TES, which I reproduce in full below.
I note with concern your uncritical opinion piece (8 Dec 2014) by Lionel Boulton promoting the “virtues” of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE). In my personal experience as an ACE student, it is a system which damages young people, harming them psychologically and emotionally, unequipping them for social situations and for the world of work, and promoting a form of religious belief that is distasteful at best and actively harmful at worst.
For those unfamiliar with ACE, it is a fundamentalist Christian curriculum, which is predicated on a poor understanding of Skinnerian conditioning, with a focus on building “Christian character”. In the UK it is taught in somewhere between 30 and 60 private schools, normally attached to independent baptist churches, and to an unknown number of homeschooled children.
As Boulton describes, ACE has come under attack for teaching Creationism in its science curriculum. This is largely because Creationism is not science, and UK government policy is that it should not be taught as science. However, almost every other part of Bolton’s letter is either factually inaccurate or a misrepresentation of the experiences of ACE students.
Boulton states that, ‘the system is completely individualised’. This is false. The curriculum is the same for every person passing through it, varying only slightly with new editions of the workbooks (PACEs). Different students of the same age may be studying at different levels in different subjects (depending on their scores in diagnostic tests) but this does not individualise the learning to that individual. Individualisation would mean that the teaching adapts to each student, focussing on their areas of interest, and using their strengths to help build on weaknesses, instead of employing the single, ineffective mode of learning which is ACE’s signature, rote memorisation.
Boulton states ‘…it allows [students] to take responsibility for their work, encourages goal-setting, and allows students to maximise use of their time.’ This is again false: students are expected to work through PACEs in three weeks; this means they must maintain a fixed velocity to get through them. If the student fails to complete their daily “goals” they have to complete unfinished pages at home; an individualised learning system would allow students to spend more time on subjects they find challenging, and would increase teacher time to help the students.
Boulton writes, ‘A family atmosphere is established in the classrooms, called learning centres, where students, of varied ages, work in “offices” to achieve their goals.’ I am not sure what “family atmosphere” Boulton is describing, but I don’t know of any healthy families which operate in complete silence where every infraction of arbitrary rules, including making eye contact with fellow students, is punished.
“Offices” are in fact cubicles of one metre square in which students complete their work, with dividers between them and their fellow students. Students typically work in these intensive study farms for around four hours a day, with short breaks every hour, and subsequently miss out on key opportunities to be socialised. Boulton also fails to mention that the supervisors and monitors are frequently unqualified as teachers, instead having completed a week of training PACEs before being trusted with a room full of students.
Boulton says, ‘Students are tested regularly on their acquisition of knowledge and to ensure they are maintaining a standard of excellence in their output.’ Again, this is misleading. Students undergo testing to ensure they have memorised rote sentences, from the text, and to assess how well they have memorised the scripture verses embedded in the PACE. Touching on their teaching of creationism,it is not unusual to see ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ and multi-choice questions about Genesis interspersed with questions which pass moral judgement on evolutionary scientists.
The ‘various motivational methods’ that are ‘in place to see that progress is maintained and developed’ are principally punishment oriented, with demerits issued for every infraction, and three or more demerits in a day leading to after-school detention.
Boulton says, ‘one of the main advantages of this programme of education is that it trains character, prepares students to manage relationships and how to handle people. Yes, it is based on Christian principles…’ Each PACE has small cartoons built into it which promote key “Christian” characteristics, such as submission. These character traits, and their desirability, have been questioned, with some pointing out that the idea of parental inerrancy promotes a culture in which it is impossible to challenge abuse. After all, if parents are always right and children should always submit to parents, what do they do if they need to report physical, emotional or sexual abuse in the home?
Boulton claims, ‘We embrace all races, religions, majority and minority groups, and show them the love of God and extreme mercy.’ While PACEs feature characters from ethnic minorities, almost exclusively they are segregated and do not mix in the same churches and schools. It is stressed repeatedly and explicitly in the curriculum that only Christianity (and in particular, only their form of protestantism) is true, and that other beliefs are false. The only non-Christian characters in PACEs either die or appear to have antisocial personality disorder, and students are warned to stay separate from unbelievers. Gay men and women are told that their sexuality is sinful and that God ordered them to be stoned to death; the TUC LGBT Conference this year passed a motion condemning ACE’s homophobia. Women are told that they are secondary to their husbands; so bad is the sexism that Norway banned use of the ACE curriculum. In short, what Boulton describes as loving, others have described as seeking to indoctrinate racism, sectarianism, homophobia and misogyny.
In short, ACE presents itself as a progressive, inclusive and individualised education, but is an oppressive, exclusive and inflexible system which fails to deliver effective education, leaving young people unprepared for the modern world. It concerns me that TES would provide a vehicle for the promotion of this curriculum.
Former ACE student, Pilgrim Christian School, Dunstable, 1987-1993
I have totally heard pretty much every one of these…
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…”
Matthew 28:19 (English Standard Version)
If there is one thing that unites Evangelical Christianity, it’s The Great Commission: Jesus’ instruction to the disciples to going out into all the world and to bring them the gospel. So enthusiastic about this command are some strains of Christianity that a friend recently walked out of his bedroom stark naked, only to be surprised to find that his front door was open, and that two representatives of the local church were smiling at him and asking if he had time to talk about the Good News.
This urge to tell others about your perspective, with the aim of persuading them of it’s benefits as a world view, is common as a social behaviour. If we accept that humans are tribal animals, then its in our nature to both want people to share our value system, and to distrust people who do not. I’m sure that anyone who’s watched the news will be familiar with this, because it’s at the core of any dispute between any two groups you care to name. Participants will each try to besmirch the name of the opposing group whilst promoting the advantages of their own.
I feel the same pattern can be observed in much the same about some of the periodic science communication conversations that come round time and time again. You know the type, the stories which appear in specialist and public press, claiming that, for example, science literacy levels are embarrassingly low, or that governments are spending too little on science and technology or, today, that hard-to-reach groups are disengaged or unengaged in conversations about science. In short, the bread-and-butter of the interface between science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and publics. Today, I see that Australians are jumping on this band wagon, complaining that communicators need to work harder to engage the unengaged.
The unspoken predicate for all these rhetorical attempts is that STEM is so important that in order to validate your existence as a consumer of its outputs, you must have a deep and meaningful understanding of, and views on, a wide range of STEM topics. If this assumption were not lying at the bottom of the discussion, it would be impossible to make a statement like: “But worse than any of the above [recoiling in horror or laughing heartily]: you may not have reacted at all [to news about STEM strategies]” (Cormick, ibid).
Consider the implications of that sentence.
If you recoiled in horror to news that people don’t do well on exams for which they haven’t prepared, then you are in Our Club. Alternatively, if you laughed at such ignorant fools who care so little for the universe around them, then we also approve of you, for you value Science.
If you celebrated that a government chief scientist is promoting the strategic consideration of STEM issues within a governmental context (and, by the way, I might argue that’s what a government chief scientist is paid to do, whether in Australia or Britain) then you are fighting the good fight, sister. If you shook your head, mildly embarrassed that such a basic step had yet to be properly implemented, then you too are a committed to the fight against the legions of uneducated darkness who threaten civilisation.
If, on the other hand, it passed you by, perhaps because you were distracted by the slightly-over-reported news of the birth of Royal Baby Prince Diana (it’s what she’d have wanted), or by news that supposedly-democratic states misuse surveillance technology, or by the introduction of fascist homophobic policies into Russian law, then you are a sinner! You will burn in hell for not caring the degree to which the government funds STEM development in universities. Your soul is forever damned for putting your immediate priorities (feeding the family, going to work, playing Candy Crush Saga) above the Gospel of STEM. AS Cormick puts it:
That’s three in every ten people lined up at the check-out at your average local shops who probably haven’t once thought of Brian Cox nor dinosaurs nor space, yet alone basic chemistry, in the last year!
I know! Thirty percent have not been saved! 3 in 10 of the population are trapped, forever doomed to not appreciate STEM. Worse, they don’t even understand what they are missing. So sinful are they that they cannot see the light, they deny the truth of the beauty of science, they say things like (brace yourselves, for this is horrifying to the True Believer):
Why do you think it so important that we know about your science?
(quoted in Cormick, ibid)
Such infidels hold deeply heretical perspectives, for example, worrying more about whether something is safe and works than how it works, or take sacrosanct rituals such as The Science Lesson and fail to see the inherent beauty in it. They might even take their teachings from people who aren’t Qualified Experts, and thus form an understanding that doesn’t appreciate the true, rational basis of the Truth being conveyed unto them.
Now, obviously, I am slightly paraphrasing and I am reframing the arguments, but if one were so inclined, one might find it difficult to differentiate between the rhetoric of the Science Zealot from that of the enthusiastic preacher from a pulpit of a Sunday morning.
There is a serious issue here: the less socioeconomic advantages a person has in life, the less engaged with STEM issues they tend to be. This to me is entirely understandable: the valency of a carbon atom tends not to be incredibly valuable information when you are working three minimum wage jobs, nor do you tend to have time to watch the latest Epistle from St Brian of Cox. When your education was punctuated with bullying because of your sexuality, when your ethnicity acted as a boundary in the classroom, or when your parents weren’t home and you had nothing to eat, I frankly find it unsurprising that STEM doesn’t seem like a priority.
This serious discussion, in which the failure to engage with STEM is placed at the door of the unengaged sinner, doesn’t address the underlying problem of social inequality and instead goes for the traditional Evangelical approaches to conversion: send more preachers out into the places where the poor wretched delinquents congregate, and
TESTIFY the Word of the Lord, sorry, promote the benefits of STEM unto the blasphemer unengaged until he (or she!) sees the light.
Such a conclusion about outreach (also what churches call it) can only be supported if you accept that without Science people cannot truly be citizens in society. It’s a fundamentally scientistic position in which we take a small step from the Creed of Scientism “everything that is worth knowing is science” to “unless you know science, you have no worth”.
I, for one, cannot accept that conclusion. I love science, I love the way in which science has transformed the ways in which I perceive the world, and I love the ways in which the world is transformed by science, but science is far from the only way to perceive the world, and it’s a privileged perspective at that.
Because if we accept Evangelical Scientism, we are but a step away from instituting a Science Literacy Inquisition. We are but a step away from using our privilege to oppress people whose perspectives differ from ours. And we are a mere step away from knocking on people’s doors at nine o’clock in the morning to ask them if they’ve heard the Good News about evolution.
This is actually how the law is made, right?
Originally posted on Love and Garbage - some commonplace musings:
A government spokesman today confirmed plans to press ahead with the Something Must be Done Bill. She said,
“During the year we saw things happen which were very serious – and while each of these serious things was dealt with by the police under existing laws, we have decided that if we appear to do nothing about these things that will be worse for us than doing something (or appearing to do something while actually doing nothing) because people will expect us to do something after we appeared on the television saying that something had to be done. Therefore after careful consideration we have identified a thing to do. And because this thing to do is something we have therefore concluded that this something must be done, even though it is – in effect – little more than what can be done at the moment. However. in order to disguise the fact that…
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