How to indoctrinate your kids: A Christian curriculum guide

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about a conversation with Cindy, a supervisor in an Accelerated Christian Education school who joined the ACE Exposed Facebook group. We saw how much of the ACE science curriculum in the early grades consists of memorising what God did on each of the six days of creation. Cindy had said that all the information in the early grades of the curriculum was accurate. I dispute this.

But actually, I suspect that Cindy is more right than wrong. I think the majority of facts presented in the ACE curriculum are probably accurate. I’ve made a big deal out of attacking some major inaccuracies because I think they are important, and I’m still angry that I believed them to be facts. But outside of material relating to the origins of species or the historicity of the Bible, I have found the PACEs to be generally reliable. I still think they are a bad form of education for many reasons, some of which I also explained yesterday.

When Cindy said she thought the information in the early grades was accurate, my initial response was to look at a couple of PACEs and find some inaccuracies. As soon as I looked at them, though, I realised that our disagreement is far more fundamental than that. Let’s look at a fourth grade Social Studies PACE (This one, by the way, is US-specific and wouldn’t be completed by UK ACE students. In terms of style and content, however, it’s typical of the PACEs worldwide).

This is Social Studies 1048, about the early exploration of what is now the USA. As for how accurate the information in this PACE is, well, it teaches what might be called “The creation myth of America”. Most US school students get taught a generally patriotic narrative about how their nation came to be. I’m not going to get into what constitutes truth in history but let’s just say it’s based on a true story, and I don’t think ACE is unique in this regard. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume all the empirical claims in this PACE are true.

A white boy wears a headband with feathers in it while a thought bubble shows a Native American chief.
Ace Virtueson engages in a spot of racist fancy dress. ACE (2010) Social Studies 1048.

Here are a few excerpts:

When God made man on day six of Creation, He made him with the ability to form pictures of things in his mind. This ability is called imagination. (page 5)

The Pilgrims depended on God during those difficult days on board the Mayflower. During a storm at sea, the Mayflower was almost torn apart. However, God protected the lives of the passengers on the ship, and the Pilgrims reached the shores of what is now called America. (page 9)

The men returned to the Mayflower and brought the other Pilgrims to the place where God had led them. The Pilgrims took their first steps onto the new land near a large rock. They decided to name the rock Plymouth Rock, in honor of a town in England. (page 10)

Squanto showed the Pilgrims how to plant corn, how to fish, and how to make friends with Indians like himself and Samoset. God had prepared Squanto to help take care of the hungry Pilgrims and show them how to develop the new land. (page 15)

God blessed America’s form of government with its Constitution, and America grew larger as other areas of land were added. God knew America would reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. (page 19)

I love my country, and I am happy to be an American. Thank God for America! (page 32)

As usual, students’ comprehension is measured through fill-in-the-blanks which successfully combine tedium with an almost total absence of any need for thought:

Fill in the blanks with the right answers. (1) The Pilgrims [blank] that God would lead them to the place where they should settle in America. (2) God led the Pilgrims to a place where there were many fish and where the land was clear of [blank].

You get the point. Almost every page invokes God as an explanation of historical events. Most historians, Christian or otherwise, focus on the natural explanations. They wouldn’t say “God protected the lives of the passengers of the ship”; they’d simply talk about the weather, contemporary ship building technology, and the expertise of sailors in the day. They may or may not believe that God is in control of world events, but because God’s influence on world events is not demonstrable except by faith, they simply leave it out. If we need to say “The Pilgrims got to America safely,” it doesn’t add anything (in historian’s terms) to say “God made the Pilgrims get to American safely.”

Obviously, I don’t think God protected the Pilgrims because I don’t think God exists, but that’s not really my point here. My point is that historians have a consensus that historical claims are made based on empirical evidence. Since we don’t have such evidence about what God wants or does, or even His existence, we just leave supernatural explanations out of history, particularly where natural explanations are eminently available. That’s how history is done at most schools, religious or secular, around the world.

For advocates of ACE, however, this is ‘atheism by omission’. They argue that by failing to mention God, other history curriculums are implicitly atheistic. In Rebirth of Our Nation, ACE’s founder Donald Howard argues that education must be either theistic or atheistic. Supporters of ACE schools argue that even conventional faith schools fail to show children the hand of God at work in history, and so promote a fundamentally godless understanding of the world. They refuse to accept that history can be secular in the sense of ‘neutral’ without also being secular in the sense of ‘atheist’.

The result of this constant drip-drip of God on every page is that students come to think of the truth of Christianity as just another straightforward historical fact. It becomes common sense. A couple of years ago I had a conversation with a girl from an ACE school in the Philippines. She kept saying the Bible was the Word of God. I asked “How do you know the Bible is the Word of God?” She reacted like I’d just asked if she could grapefruit a triangle. Eventually she managed “Everyone knows the Bible is the Word of God!”

This is indoctrination, and in that girl’s case it had resulted in a near-total lack of intellectual flexibility on theological matters.

That’s a major part of my objection to ACE, but of course to Cindy, all this information is ‘accurate’. And because our starting premises are so far apart, it’s doubtful she’ll be able to get why I have a problem with this.

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