The first PhD on Accelerated Christian Education this century is online now

Does anyone still read this blog? I haven’t exactly been keeping pace with The Friendly Atheist for the last two years. But today you can finally see the thing which has been distracting me, because my PhD thesis is available to read online! If you’ve ever enjoyed my blog, I think you’ll get a lot out of it. I tried to make it readable, and for the most part it’s not too technical. If you read this blog, you know why this thesis matters. If you don’t read this blog, the thesis will get you up to speed. It’s shorter than Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and very nearly as entertaining.

Be warned that parts of it might be distressing, as participants describe corporal punishment and sexual harassment.

So far I’ve had very positive reactions from the participants in the research. Even the pro-ACE people have given it a cautious thumbs up.

Jonny's PhD thesis. It is hard-bound in medium blue, with gold lettering on the spine

My PhD thesis. Photo by me (Jonny Scaramanga). All rights reserved.

Here’s the abstract (although as I’ll explain below, I kind of wish I’d written something different):

Christian Education (ACE) is an individualised curriculum used in some private schools. It is known for its conservative Protestant stance and largely literal interpretation of the Bible, and for teaching every academic subject from a biblical perspective. ACE claims the curriculum is used in more than 6,000 schools worldwide, but there has so far been minimal academic research into the curriculum or students’ experiences of it. I attended an ACE school for some of my secondary education, and this thesis combines reflections on my experiences and analysis of qualitative interviews with students who were educated at ACE schools in England. These interviews give a sense of what it is like to attend an ACE school, students’ perceptions of their education and its effect on their subsequent lives. ACE promotional materials have in the past said the system is “designed for programming the mind to see life from God’s point of view”. From a liberal perspective, this raises concerns about indoctrination. I conceptualise indoctrination as education which makes students closed-minded, and argue that closed-mindedness is linked to cognitive biases and cognitive dissonance. I then examine ways in which ACE is likely to instill closed-mindedness in its students through the use of forced compliance, conformity pressures, and extrinsic rewards. While some participants found their ACE experience beneficial, the majority experienced inadequate education, sexism, homophobia, excessive punishment, and discrimination against those considered ‘ungodly’. Many participants described continued effects of indoctrination despite their rejection of ACE’s teachings. Inspection reports from ACE schools do not indicate awareness of these issues. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the possible effects of increased regulation on these schools.

All of that’s true, and I do think there are aspects of my argument about indoctrination which are new, but the real thrust of the thesis is the experiences of the 23 former students I interviewed. It’s their accounts that make up the most important part of the thesis. If you want to know what it’s like to go to an ACE school, or if you want to know what life is like after an ACE schooling, read this. If you have already had that experience, you might find this validating. And if you’re trying to make someone else understand, this might be the information you need.

It’s the first PhD about ACE in my lifetime, the first one ever in the UK, and the first contemporary research published on this subject this century. I’m glad it’s out there at last.

So please read it!

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