Accelerated Christian Education Responds to Criticism

In March 1987, the Phi Delta Kappan journal ran “The World As Seen by Students in Accelerated Christian Education,” an article by two university professors who had reviewed the School of Tomorrow PACEs. It’s notable for two things. First, the professors completely destroy ACE as a curriculum. Second, and more interestingly, the article ran alongside a thorough response from ACE vice-president Ronald E. Johnson. Since I have so far never succeeded in getting any advocate of the system to engage deeply with my criticisms, this is a priceless insight into how they think.

First, the criticisms. Professors Fleming and Hunt do not mince their words. Their quotations from the PACEs reveal the level of paranoid indoctrination the students receive in history and politics (“There are Communists, dedicated to spreading this murderous dictatorship in the United States, still working in places like the government today. We as Christians should be aware that this anti-God conspiracy exists.”). Once again, there are questionable attitudes to race, in a segment on how “little Rhodesia stood against the world”:

“Rhodesia was accused repeatedly of being an all-white racist regime, which was totally false. The franchise in Rhodesia was mainly non-racial. All sixty-five seats in the Rhodesian parliament were open to anyone of any race.”

The section ends:

Robert Mugabe, a dedicated Black Marxist, was duly elected prime minister, and the once-stable Rhodesia degenerated further into socialism and intertribal warfare.”

Fleming and Hunt summarise their review in excoriating form:

“Unfortunately, the information provided is so skeletal that real understanding of the cause and effect of events seems impossible in most cases. Where a few more details are provided, as in the description of the Rhodesian struggle for independence, the bias of the author takes over, and the facts are distorted or inaccurate.

“In a number of places, the materials appear to distort the truth to fit a particular political/religious belief… If parents want their children to obtain a very limited and sometimes inaccurate view of the world – one that ignores thinking above the level of rote recall – then the ACE materials do the job very well. The world of the ACE materials is quite a different one from that of scholarship and critical thinking.”

ACE Responds!

Ronald Johnson’s response provides a fascinating insight. At times, his worldview is so distant from the professors’ that it appears he hasn’t even understood their criticisms. He spends the entire article defending the viewpoints presented in the PACEs, as though these are the main problem. Responding to the accusation that the PACEs provide “skeletal” information, Johnson writes:

“Actually, ‘skeletal’ is matter of degree, since our curriculum provides what we believe to be adequate opinion-forming rhetoric.”

Yes, Mr. Johnson, “opinion-forming rhetoric” is exactly what the PACEs contain, and buckets of it. No one in their right mind would argue that they don’t mould the worldview of the students. They might, however, recognise that what you are doing is immoral.

Forgive me. I am going to have to shout now.

EDUCATION HAS NO BUSINESS TEACHING CHILDREN WHAT TO THINK.

At secondary level, on matters of conscience and debate ­– on politics, on the interpretation of history, on theology – there is no single right answer. And in that situation, YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO FORCE ANYONE TO SHARE YOUR BELIEFS. You especially don’t have the right to make children reach those beliefs by distorting the facts.

OK, I’ll calm down a bit now.

Even if their beliefs could somehow be shown to be objectively correct, the ACE method of education would still be worthless. In saying that the world of ACE lacks scholarship and critical thinking, the professors mean, clearly, that students are not given the opportunity to think critically. Johnson interprets it to mean that the PACE writers lack these skills, and takes offence at the notion. He completely misses the point. Any belief is meaningless if it has never been challenged. Students must consider alternative points of view, and they must learn how to evaluate them. You cannot just insert knowledge into a child’s brain. They have to acquire it themselves, and the teacher has to give them the tools to do that.

Johnson cannot see this. To ACE, if it’s not from a conservative Christian perspective, it’s not even worth considering:

“ACE does not subscribe to academic works simply because they are considered to be scholarly or critical. Sources for a distinctively Christian community must at least be pro-family, pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-church in order to be considered “solid” references.”

He goes on to add, “Generally, conservative scholars have held the same ideals as we do regarding free enterprise and loyalty to America.” Brilliant logic. We looked only at the people who agree with us, and we found that most of them share our views.

A Call to Action

I am (as you might be able to tell) getting frustrated with the need to talk about this. Any reasonable person, including Christians, can see that this is indoctrination and an inadequate education. There need to be minimum standards of education for private schools and home schools so that this can’t happen.

I know people are (rightly) concerned about civil liberties and religious freedoms, but there has to be a line. Let’s indulge in a little thought experiment. Which of the following would you allow, if you ruled the world?

  • A maths curriculum in which 2+2=5
  • A science curriculum which teaches the sky is green
  • A politics curriculum which tells us the earth is ruled by a cabal of alien lizards
  • A history curriculum which denies the holocaust

I’m guessing your answer to those was “none of the above.” If it isn’t, please explain in the comments. You are either an ingenious philosopher of education whose views I need to consider, or a total moron.

So we agree, I presume, that there is a case for state regulation, even of private education, at some level. I argue that a curriculum which teaches young earth creationism, paranoid communist conspiracy theories, and a single, specific interpretation of the Bible, all as fact, is beneath the minimum level for acceptable education. It has to be stopped.

“We hear sometimes of an action for damages against the unqualified medical practitioner, who has deformed a broken limb in pretending to heal it. But, what of the hundreds of thousands of minds that have been deformed for ever by the incapable pettifoggers who have pretended to form them!”

– Charles Dickens, Author’s Preface, Nicholas Nickleby

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