On “you’re just bitter” and other challenges

Over at ace-education.co.uk, there’s a post entitled “10 Questions for Jonny Scaramana“. Here are my answers.

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Jonny Scaramanga is infamous for his anti ACE blogs. If you Google his name then you will find his Leaving Fundamentalism site and lots more info. I am responding to some of the false information given to the media ATM.

Before we get going then, a question of my own: Please could you detail this false information? It would be useful for all sides, I think, to correct any misinformation that’s floating around. Until now, I’ve seen accusations of falsehoods flying around, but a shortage of specifics.


 

I invite Jonny to answer the following questions. I will post his response if any.

Q. It is stated on many blog sites and within the press that you went to an ACE school until you were 14. This would imply that you spent many years in the system. Is it true then that you only actually spent two school years at Victory School Bath?

I’ve always been consistent in reporting how long I attended Victory. In my open letter to CEE two years ago, I said I was there from 1996 to 1999. In his recent letter, Arthur Roderick interpreted this as “less than three years” which seems to have been reinterpreted here as “two school years”. In fact, I arrived at Victory in the spring term of 1996, in my last term of Year 6 (final year of primary school). I was then there for three full school years: 96-97, 97-98, and 98-99. I started the 99-00 school year, but my parents removed me halfway through the Autumn term of 1999. So I was there from April or May 1996 until October 1999—three years and at least five months.

I also attended Victory preschool in 1988/1989. So that makes a total of 4 ½ years.

No one has yet explained to me what it is that I would understand about ACE had I attended for 12 or 13 years that I was unable to glean in four. I suspect the real answer is that I would have been inculcated with more Christian character, so now I wouldn’t be asking these difficult questions.

Q. Why do you feel qualified to run this hate campaign?

Well isn’t this the loaded question! Coming next: “When did you stop beating your wife?”

Here are some relevant things about me:

  • I have completed ACE monitor (staff) training (Autumn term 1998), scoring 100% on all eight tests.
  • When I left my ACE school, I had completed all the credits required for NCSC Level 1 (now called ICCE General Certificate) in every subject except maths, where I was still about six PACEs away from completion. This was claimed to be the equivalent of GCSEs at the time. I then went to a mainstream school and did GCSEs. I think I might be the only person to have done this, so the only person that can make a direct comparison from a student’s point of view.
  • I have a PG Cert Ed teaching qualification.
  • I have taught teaching placements to KS4 and KS5 students, and been a permanent tutor to students on Level 3 and Level 4 courses.
  • I’m currently doing a PhD looking at student experiences of Accelerated Christian Education.
  • As part of this PhD, I’ve done a comprehensive literature review. If it’s been written about ACE and it still exists, I’ve almost certainly read it.

What qualifications would you expect someone to have that I don’t?

Q. Why do you personalise your campaign rather than just critique the system?

I don’t. I guess you are referring to my critiques of Brenda Lewis and Pieter Van Rooyen. This is not making it personal. If an individual has a public role (say, acting as a representative of a school or curriculum), it is not personal to criticise their actions in their professional capacity. It would be making it personal if I were to attack them for their personal appearance, or to criticise members of their families, or publish private information about them. I haven’t done any of those things.

Here’s a relevant comparison: When engaging in a political debate, it is normal to critique the words and actions of specific candidates, rather than just their party. For example, over at the Channel 4 blog Fact Check (and dozens of others like it on the net), the researchers frequently refer to specific claims made by individual politicians and conclude that their statements have been false or misleading, much as I did with Brenda Lewis. That’s not making it personal. Whereas you only have to search Twitter for comments mentioning David Cameron or Ed Miliband to find instances of people who have made it personal.

Q. Do you actually care about the students that you think you are campaigning for? Do you not believe in freedom of choice?

I don’t see how the second question is related to the first, but OK. Of course I care about the students I’m campaigning for. What other motivation could I have for doing this? I’ve earned a small amount from this campaign by writing for places like the Guardian, New Statesman, New Humanist, but this pales in comparison to what it’s cost me in lost earnings (because I stopped working to do my PhD) and expenses (because PhDs involve buying many books).

If you think the second question relates to the first, presumably your suggestion is that these students want to go to these schools, and so by campaigning against them I am restricting these children’s freedom of choice. I dispute this. To make an informed choice, you have to have good information, and ACE schools deprive children of the knowledge they need to make an well-reasoned decision. It’s a system of indoctrination, and indoctrinated individuals are not equipped to choose.

I am defending the students’ choice. I am arguing that they ought not to be subjected to indoctrination, so that they are able to reach their own conclusions later on. I’m also arguing that they shouldn’t be sent to schools which don’t offer formally recognised qualifications, or schools that use methods of instruction that are based on outdated behaviourist ideas. Children deserve the best education possible, and ACE is not it.

ACE, on the other hand, is defending the parents’ choice. And I don’t think it’s moral for parents to deliberately shield their children from current scientific knowledge, or to decide on their children’s behalf what religion they will follow. Religion is a matter of personal faith and conscience, and making children recite pledges to Jesus and the Bible every day robs them of that choice.

Q. Has being infamous gone to your head?

Ha! Infamous. Sorry, but outside of the readers of this blog, no one cares. If I was after notoriety, I would have stayed in the music business (I actually got recognised in public when I was a gigging musician, which hasn’t happened since I started this). Even at QEDcon, hardly anyone knew me.

I know I’ve been on Newsnight, but think about it. There are talking heads on the news every day. How many of those people can you name or even picture now? I’m guessing hardly any. If you want to calculate the percentage of the world’s population who know who I am and/or care about what I do, start with a zero. Then a decimal point. Then six zeroes. Then you’re getting close.

Q. Do you think your reports of ACE Schools in the UK are very dated compared with the modern ACE school?

No I don’t, but I’d welcome anyone who can supply updated information. If ACE schools think that I am relying on out-of-date criticisms of what they do, all they have to do is show me around their school, or write a guest post explaining how things have changed.

Since I started my research, I have acquired the latest versions of the ACE Procedures Manual and Administration Manual. I’ve purchased new copies of dozens of PACEs. What I’ve found is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the PACEs have not changed since I was at school. Where they have, usually the total number of words that have changed is smaller than 1%. The majority of the text in the 2010 Procedures Manual is the same as the 1994 edition, which was current when I completed ACE monitor training.

I haven’t had a chance to blog about the findings yet, but one of this blog’s readers recently sent me the entire set of supervisor’s training PACEs from the early 1980s. They do vary rather more from the more recent versions, but even there, the teaching methods and much of the content remain extremely similar. My conclusion is that ACE rarely changes, and when it does, the changes are minor. The people who run it clearly believe the system is excellent as it is.

On ace-education.co.uk, I have been criticised for suggesting that ACE schools still spank students. But I have never been misleading about this. My post about paddling made clear that the current Procedures Manual instructs teachers not to spank kids in school. I also linked to a number of ACE websites which had clear written spanking policies on their websites. All of the links were active at the time of writing. None of those schools were in the UK, but my focus on this blog is not restricted to the UK; I am interested in ACE worldwide.

Anyway, the case of paddling shows why a campaign against ACE is worthwhile. The only reason ACE schools stopped spanking in the UK is because it became illegal in 1999 for schools in England and Wales to use corporal punishment. If the law hadn’t changed, they would have carried on. As it was, CEE hosted a protest against the law in London (see also here)

Q. All the bad press seems to be instigated by you. Can you explain why then thousands of children educated by ACE are not joining your campaign?

Well, since my main contention is that ACE is a system of indoctrination, I can quite reasonably argue that at least some of them are indoctrinated and think I’m of the devil. Of course, that won’t be true for all of them. No system of indoctrination, even the ones in totalitarian regimes, is completely effective.

It should be noted that most of these ex-ACE students aren’t exactly leaping to ACE’s defence either. I can’t comment on what most students think, because I’m not in contact with them. It’s fair to say most of them probably don’t know about my campaign. I’m in touch with large numbers of ex-ACE students, quite a lot of whom support what I do but have no wish to join the campaign publicly. Some of them would be shunned by their families if they did. Some just want to get on with their lives and forget about ACE, and I don’t blame them. That’s what I plan to do after this PhD.

Anyway, popularity makes no difference to whether I’m right. Almost all major campaigns begin with just one or two voices. The campaign for women to have the vote was ridiculed at first. That doesn’t mean the suffragettes were wrong.

Q. Are you comfortable being an Atheist or is it another crutch to replace Christianity?

In response to the first part of your question, yes.

In response to the second part, no.

(This has nothing to do with anything.)

Q. Are you blaming ACE for your failure to cope with life’s circumstances?

Again with the leading questions! What evidence is there that I’m failing to cope with life’s circumstances?

My life is going fine, in spite of ACE’s best efforts, but guess what? I know a lot of people who do blame ACE for some of their problems, and this complaint is entirely legitimate.

Yes, some of us in Accelerated Christian Education Exposed are angry, some have battled with depression and mental health issues, and some are bitter. If anything, this makes us more credible. Given what we experienced in ACE schools, it would be surprising if nobody had any issues.

It is completely reasonable to be angry if your school taught you falsehoods as facts.

It is entirely understandable to suffer mental health issues if you attended an abusive school.

If you found yourself as an adult with no recognised qualifications and hence no employment prospects, like Anaïs or Christina, and this was because of your school, it is wholly legitimate to blame the school and the curriculum writers.

If you dropped out of university because your school failed to prepare you for the process, it’s fair to ask why they let you down.

If you are gay and your school made you feel like you don’t exist, you have every right to be angry.

If you are a woman and you were raised to believe that you had to obey and submit to your husband, your human rights were violated and, yeah, you should be mad about it.

“Failing to cope with life’s circumstances” is a predictable result of a bad education and abusive teaching practices.

So if anyone plays the “you’re just bitter” card (or anything like it) again, I’m going to ask what their point is. If someone’s been wronged, they may have good reasons to be bitter. Dismissing someone’s complaint because they are bitter shows a disturbing lack of empathy and—frankly—a shockingly un-Christlike attitude.

Even if I and the others who write on this blog are wrong about ACE, as Christian educators, CEE’s first concern should be with the wellbeing of young people. If it were, their corporate image would take care of itself.

Q. How would you feel if CEE reps or ACE parents came to your skeptical tour dates?

OH YES PLEASE!!!

If I am speaking in a city where I am aware of an ACE school, I make a point of letting them know and inviting them to respond. Sometimes, because of a lack of organisation, I don’t give them much notice. So, for example, I think I only gave the Vine Christian School three or four days’ warning before my talk in Reading, so it’s understandable they didn’t come (though it’s less understandable that they never returned my calls or emails).

When I spoke in Lincoln, which is just down the road from Locksley Christian School, the organisers of Lincoln Skeptics in the Pub invited representatives from Locksley almost two months in advance, and Locksley never returned one of their many phone calls or emails.

We have the same situation in Manchester at the moment. I will be speaking in Manchester on August 14, and this was arranged in April. Greater Manchester Skeptics Society has been trying to get someone from King of Kings School to come and debate me ever since my talk was first booked, and again, they’ve had no reply.

I would welcome nothing more than an open, level-playing-field debate with an ACE advocate.

Which means that I find myself ending this blog post exactly the same way I ended the last one:

ACE, why won’t you debate me?

Oh wait, that isn’t actually how I’m ending, because I have a question for the author of these ten questions.

The author and I have been in contact for several years. They have my email address. So here’s what I’m wondering:

Why did I find out about this blog from a Google search?

Did you actually want me to respond, or were you looking to score points?

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