Criticism of ACE from Christians

Criticism of ACE from Christians May 25, 2012

Defenders of Accelerated Christian Education often dismiss criticism as coming from those pesky secular humanists, the source of most of the world’s evil. Yet on Christian Education Europe’s website, they admit they “have been surprised and disappointed by a general lack of interest ­– if not antagonism – found in some churches” toward their mission. If I were them, I’d think about why.

Child Abuse

I’ll start with a book that makes me want to cry with relief – Ungodly Fear by Stephen Parsons, a vicar. This book, subtitled “Fundamentalist Christianity and the Abuse of Power,” describes my old ACE school in the first chapter. It isn’t mentioned by name, and the staff have pseudonyms, but it’s unquestionably my school. I am titanically grateful to see it recognised in print that this type of school is abusive. It is described as authoritarian, “a regime of being ruled by fear,” with ruthless discipline. “Most days at least one child would get the paddle. So on average, each child would get hit with a spoon at least once a month.” The book describes a child being humiliated by a member of staff in front of the whole school. The author suggests the staff’s counselling techniques were in fact intimidation.

If children are being abused (and I’m certain they still are), the quality of the curriculum is moot. Still, Parsons does add (p. 50) that in ACE, “The Bible is taught without any critical ideas being entertained.” The result, says a parent (p. 37): “The ACE system tends to produce either robots or rebels.”

Let’s be clear on this: you don’t have to be a secularist to see that Accelerated Christian Education is destructive. And yet, I remind you, it is used by 60 schools and 800 homeschooling families in the UK (source).

In Christian Perspectives on Church Schools (google preview), Geoffrey Duncan (General Secretary of the National Society and the General Synod Board of Education for the Church of England) describes an ideal Christian school as one where “the ethos of Christianity pervades the schools, but its dogma is notably absent,” and Muslims can attend a Christian school without their faith being denigrated (p. 123). He notes, correctly, that ACE would have little time for this scenario.

Elsewhere in the same book, Professor Brian Hill (former editor of the Journal of Christian Education) has this to say about ACE (pp. 254-255, emphasis added):

It is interesting that in at least three Australian states questions have been raised about whether schools using Accelerated Christian Education materials should be refused registration. The verdict of many secular authorities is that some of these materials are indoctrinative rather than educative, and the fact that they refuse to allow their pupils seriously to examine the evolutionary theory in biology is not the only reason. I find it even more interesting that so many Christian educationists agree with the states’ estimation of these materials. The point at issue exactly the one I have been discussing, and educational and biblical grounds come together in outlawing the way these materials set out to manipulate young persons.

In Christian Perspectives for Education (google preview), Hill again describes ACE as using mind-control (pp. 129-130, emphasis again added):

The psychological foundation for [ACE’s] approach is the ‘operant conditioning’ theory of B.F. Skinner. The human organism is determined by his environment, and susceptible to behavioural conditioning. Skinner has no respect for the supposed faculties of critical reasoning. ACE stands in direct line of succession to those who sought, by emotional manipulation, to obtain decisions for Christ which by-pass the individual’s rational autonomy, but it cashes in also on the improved manipulative techniques discovered by modern behavioural psychology.

The theological underpinnings of ACE, as with many Christian programmes coming from America, are even more suspect. The ACE student lives in a universe of authorities and right answers. The available ideological options are boiled down to two: ‘One is the Christian way of life, as laid down in God’s Word and the other is the secular way of life which promotes humanistic ideas.’ The Bible supplies the answer, by direct inference, to every question of social interpretation and pedagogic method.

A pro-ACE comment on my old blog noted that  this book also argues that neutrality in education is also an illusion (p. 139). That seems like a discussion for another day, though (especially since it’s in another essay by a different author). Whether or not neutrality can be achieved, something better than ACE is easily possible.

Another non-fan of ACE is “longtime Christian educator” Bruce Lockerbie, cited on page 23 of God’s Schools: Choice and Compromise in American Society (Google books preview). “Lockerbie disapproves of Accelerated Christian Education because ‘the exchange of ideas is almost altogether lacking, [and] the necessity of articulating what it is you think you’ve been taught… has been eliminated by this method, which also, in fact, eliminates the teacher.’”

Other criticism of ACE comes from Dr. Roger Hunter, Executive Director of Lutheran Education, Queensland, who, in his 1984 doctoral thesis at the University of Illinois, noted that ACE relies on rote learning techniques. He writes that ACE represents the “militant church,” adding that ACE endorses the censorship of texts and corporal punishment for procedural errors.

A Professional Opinion

I sat down last week with a Christian friend who sent her son to an ACE pre-school, and now doesn’t know what she was thinking. She has become a teacher in Wiltshire, whose work is listed in the best practice section of the Ofsted website. She has given guest lectures to PGCE students at Bath Spa University. I asked her if she would ever use ACE. She told me, “Absolutely not. Children need to learn through investigation, through exploring, through finding out for themselves, and hands-on exploration, which is far, far more meaningful.”

True Christians

ACE supporters, I know how you think. These “liberal” Christians are not true Christians. You want proper, Bible-believing Protestants.

OK, well, how about Bob Jones University? Are they conservative enough for you? Bob Jones University banned interracial dating as recently as March 2000; its founders have called Catholicism a cult, and the University’s Chancellor stated that homosexuals should be stoned to death.

In Adam Laats, “Forging a Fundamentalist ‘One Best System’: Struggles over Curriculum and Educational Philosophy for Christian Day Schools, 1970-1989″ in History of Education Quarterly 50, no 1 (February 2010): 55-83. [Read the first page here] we find this:

 According to BJU [Bob Jones University] writers, the ACE and A Beka curricula failed to adequately educate their students academically or spiritually by neglecting these higher-order thinking skills.

Even those guys, who would completely support ACE on grounds of ideology and content, reject it on academic grounds.

If you like ACE and can articulate why, please tell me. I genuinely don’t understand why anyone supports it, but I will happily post intelligent responses to my criticisms here on the blog.

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