Letter to TES about Accelerated Christian Education
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