ACE and Racism, Part 2

ACE and Racism, Part 2 May 30, 2012

I’ve previously noted that, during the reign of apartheid in South Africa, ACE taught that the policy was justified. If the blacks got control of the economy, said ACE, they might destroy it.

I recently bought a copy of an updated PACE to see what they say now the system has fallen in South Africa.

I’m glad to report the situation is improved, at least in this particular PACE. You can see where the change has been made, because the font is visibly different. Here’s what they say now:

“Since ‘the power to tax is the power to destroy,’ white South Africans attempted to create a system that would protect their interests from a nontaxpaying majority. Under apartheid, the economic system in South Africa was controlled by the minority population of whites who, therefore, controlled most of the nation’s wealth. Apartheid was excused for several decades because of the advanced industrialization of the nation. However, due to the carnal nature of man, apartheid was also used to exploit the nonvoting black majority. God’s Word teaches that no people should ever be wrongfully treated because of their race, since all people are created in God’s image. Apartheid was abolished in 1991 and a new government established that provides for equal representation by all races.”

Social Studies 1086, p. 29

It still sounds equivocal. They hint at justification for apartheid on economic grounds, when in truth it was never anything but a work of racism. But maybe I’m so biased by my dislike for ACE that I’m seeing trouble where there is none. They’ve made a move to improve the curriculum, and that’s commendable.

Even so, I’m not entirely happy.

Academic studies by the Alberta Department for Education, by professors from the University of West Virginia, and by professors from the University of South Australia have all noted unacceptable comments on race within ACE, and they’re not limited to this PACE. The 1984 Committee on Tolerance and Understanding for the Alberta Department for Education declared of ACE (and other fundamentalist curricula) “There is no place for curriculum of this kind in the schools of Alberta,” (page 111 of their final report, if you’re counting).

Many commentators, from Paul F. Parsons in Inside America’s Christian Schoolsto Adam Laats in Forging a Fundamentalist One Best System, have noted that the rise of fundamentalist schooling in American began as a response, at least in part, to desegregation and mixed busing. ACE, therefore, has a responsibility to vigorously challenge any possibility of racism in its students.

ACE wasn’t exactly in a hurry to correct its error. This update wasn’t released until 1998. Even then there wasn’t a massive rush to circulate it – I saw the old edition in use at my school in 1999. I think the timing of this update had more to do with ACE’s expansion into Africa than a change of heart.

Also, apartheid has no relevance to the rest of this PACE, which is about life in colonial America. They only bring it up because the authors have got sidetracked onto a rant about how socialism is evil and how non-taxpayers should not be allowed to vote. This is political propaganda that has no place in a history textbook (unless it is being fairly debated alongside alternative points of view). There’s a lot of that in ACE.

Three reasons I’m still not happy:

1. The PACEs still depict racially segregated schools.

If ACE is serious about promoting racial equality, they have the opportunity. The fourth edition PACEs are in production now, and as part of this, all the cartoons are being redrawn. Yet their updated Procedures Manual for the fourth edition clearly shows (pp. 20-23) that the children are still depicted at segregated schools. Despite this, they say, “There is also an ethnic awareness quality that illustrates how various ethnic groups can live harmoniously as they walk in wisdom.” Clearly, they don’t get it.

To be fair, Social Studies 1095 does talk about Martin Luther King in a positive light, and does state that segregation in schools is wrong. It’s just that, overall, there’s a confused message.

I don’t think ACE is a bunch of malicious racists. The Alberta Department of Education said there was no “systematic lack of tolerance” towards minorities, but there were “occasional lapses.” I think that’s accurate. The writers aren’t members of the KKK; they’re just ignorant of things outside their own American, WASP tradition.

2. Coverage of apartheid elsewhere is equivocal at best

What about the comments in World Geography 1099? They say that apartheid had been beneficial, at least in some ways, because, “Separate living area and schools made it possible for each group to maintain and pass on their culture and heritage to their children.”

Not only that, but “In spite of apartheid and the unrest in recent years, South Africa is the most developed country in Africa, and Blacks in South Africa earn more money and have higher standards of living than Blacks in other African countries.”

And what about ACE founder Donald Howard’s claim that primitive Africans have no word for wisdom, because the concept comes from Christianity? Are they taking that back?

3. What about everyone else who was taught this?

Or, to put it another way, where’s my apology? I was taught lies (and more lies) by ACE for years. The defence of apartheid was found in the Social Studies PACEs for at least eight years. It’s not enough just to change the curriculum without comment and hope no one points out its racist history.

You might get the impression from this blog that I was always rebellious, and always questioned my ACE schooling. That’s not the case. I believed all of it. It disadvantaged me in all kinds of ways; it took years to correct all the wrong ideas they filled me with.

So, ACE, do you renounce your past teaching on apartheid?

If you do, I want a public apology. I want you to do your best to reach out to past students and let them know that what you taught them was wrong, and that racism can never be justified on any grounds. I think a statement on your website would be most appropriate, since obviously it wouldn’t be practical to contact all your alumni individually.

If you do all that, then I will stop complaining about racism in PACEs.

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