Christian teacher on ACE training: “I was being indoctrinated”

 

Here, as far as I know, is the only first-person account of what it is like to ‘qualify’ as an Accelerated Christian Education supervisor anywhere in the academic literature. ACE supervisor training is much like ACE schooling: The staff complete workbooks at desks facing the wall, separated by vertical screens. They obtain permission to leave their seats by raising a flag, and they mark their own work from answer booklets (score keys). The process takes five days, and then you can run an ACE learning centre (classroom). Lots of ACE students take this training while they are still at school, so they can assist the schools’ (often largely volunteer) staff.

Several ex-ACE friends asked me to post this publicly because it so strongly matched their own experience of school:

 

The atmosphere in the Learning Centre was intense. Many of the participants felt pressured by a sense of competition plus a fear that they might accidentally break one of the rules. Some examples may give the reader an idea of how serious this whole business was.

I remember vividly how one young woman signalled me as I waited by my chair for a turn at the Scoring station. She waited until the Supervisor was at the other end of the room and then proceeded to use sign language to tell me she had accidentally carried the red pen back to her office. At the conclusion of the charade and a quick glance to the left and the right, she had slipped me the red pen which I had then to return to its correct position on the scoring station. Minutes later, my own heart pounded when the supervisor tapped me on the back. “Excuse me, Ma’am, is that your office over there?”. “Yes,” I said in a nervous voice. “I’m sorry Ma’am. I’m going to have to give you a demerit, you’ve left your flag up!”. A little later that same day, I left my flag up and my chair out too!

An ACE 'office' (carrel) in the 'model school' at ACE's headquarters. Not all ACE schools are this well appointed, but this shows the office and flag layout.
An ACE ‘office’ (carrel) in the ‘model school’ at ACE’s headquarters. Not all ACE schools are this well appointed (nor are the offices all this large), but this shows the office and flag layout.

As I recall, it was only Mrs Joyner [an Australian anti-abortion and anti-pornography activist] who received Detention no more than once during the week.

Many times, while I was confined in my stall I wanted to “stretch and turn my head to focus my eyes on something distant but an irrational fear seemed to grip me. During the lunch break I talked to others and they too were experiencing similar feelings. Another common problem was sore ears from the headphones and aching backs from the height of the chairs. I wondered how a small child would feel isolated in his office with a strict supervisor pacing the corridors behind him.

It is hard to believe but I sat next to a gentleman for four days and I did not even speak to him. In fact I do not think I even saw his face as we did not ever seem to be standing at the same time. I guessed my fellow student was a male by the trousers and shoes I could see under the partition.

As the days dragged by I found myself able to answer the questions on the test at mastery level. It frightened me the unthinking way I was acquiring knowledge and disgorging the answers automatically when triggered by key words and phrases. It almost seemed as if the information was going in without being filtered, in a dispassionate mechanical way. In my opinion I was being indoctrinated.

I wonder how a child would feel being fed information day after day, year after year in this same mechanical way.

Meredith Joan Murray

Murray’s monagraph is interesting for another reason. Like most of the people who took a research interest in ACE early on, she was an evangelical Christian:

During my pre-service training at the Mount Gravatt College of Advanced Education in the 1970s, I was an active member of the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students, serving as Secretary and then President …

I have written this monograph ‘from the inside’ as an evangelical Christian and a teacher who genuinely attempts to think ‘Christianly’ about educational issues.

Early Christian researchers were almost uniformly excoriating in their view of ACE, and Murray is no exception. ACE’s advocates make out that criticism of ACE is an atheistic attack, but actually the initial response to ACE from most secular academics was silence. It was Christians who took an interest, and they were not impressed.

For those new to this blog, I spent the last four years doing a PhD researching Accelerated Christian Education (ACE). One of the sad things about doing a PhD is coming across forgotten pieces of research that never got the attention they deserved and, because of their age, probably never will. One of the frustrating things about researching ACE is the discovery that numerous researchers had concluded before I was even born that ACE was unacceptable. Yet here I was, doing a PhD, thinking that if people had just listened to these researchers, I wouldn’t need to spend four years hearing ex-students telling me how they were abused and neglected in Christian schools in the 1990s and 2000s.

Meredith Joan Murray’s Alternative Christian schools: A critical examination of the theory and practice of Accelerated Christian Education and other similar school programs, from which the above excerpt is taken, is one of the most interesting. It was a nightmare to get hold of. It seems the only surviving copy in the world was in a library in Queensland, Australia, but fortunately Kylie Sturgess got her hands on it for me.

Ms Murray, if you’re out there, I’d love to speak to you.

Image credit: Screenshot from ACE promotional video, aceministries.com

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