Alberta Department of Education Reviews ACE

Alberta Department of Education Reviews ACE August 24, 2012

In 1985, the Canadian province of Alberta got very worried about Accelerated Christian Education. In fact, they said in a report that “In the view of the committee, there is no place for curriculum of this kind in the schools of Alberta.”

The chair of this committee, Ron Ghitter, visited an ACE school and reported that he saw an ACE book which said “All kinds of Buddhists and Muslims are evil.” In the background was the rise of Stockwell Day, a controversial former pastor and politician, who was accused of anti-Semitism and connections to supporters of the Aryan Nation. Stockwell Day boldly and publicly defended Accelerated Christian Education. “God’s law is clear. Standards of education are not set by government, but by God, the Bible, the home and the school.” 

Ghitter, a former cabinet minister, was not impressed. “ACE schools were schools of dogma. They didn’t follow official curriculum and the kids who came out had sort of a twisted Christianity with anti-Semitic overtones.” Here’s a good article about it, with some quotes from ACE materials of the time (Democratic governments, apparently, “represent the ultimate deification of man, which is the very essence of humanism and totally alien to God’s word.”).

This was the background for the Alberta Department of Education’s Committee on Tolerance and Understanding (I found its report online for free and legal download, but for the life of me I can’t remember where). But when they began looking at the religious schools, they were so concerned that a separate report was commissioned, An Audit of Selected Private School Programs: Accelerated Christian Education, Alpha Omega, Mennonite Schools, Seventh-Day Adventist Schools, and A BEKA Instructional Resources. This report is widely available; I obtained it for free by emailing the Alberta department for education.

Now, this was published in 1985, so its information on ACE is not exactly bang up-to-date. But there’s been such a dearth of research into ACE, and ACE changes so slowly that this report is still worth examining. In 1985, second edition PACEs were in use. Today, most subjects are still on third edition; a few (Bible electives, mainly) are still on second.

To be fair, the auditors were not exclusively negative.

“While there are a number of inaccuracies in the use of terms and in their definitions scattered through the PACEs, these errors are the exception rather than the rule. For the most part PACEs are well written, present information clearly and are organized around explicit objectives. The use of examples, practice exercises, systematic reviews, and cumulative exercises illustrates the incorporation of commonly accepted, sound principles of pedagogy.”

But:

“There are far too few examples in the ACE curriculum materials where students are called upon to exercise their creative powers, to be original and to develop critical thinking skills. The schools concerned should examine carefully the validity of this criticism.”

“The use of self-pacing certainly does not rule out the possibility of students engaging in social studies and science inquiry activities.  In schools making exclusive use of ACE instructional materials, the acquisition of these skills by students would be most unlikely.

“PACEs which were reviewed by Alberta Education’s evaluators contained a very high percentage of exercises which have been described as being at a simple recall level. Often the test exercise was a restatement of material from the student resource which required only the insertion of a missing word. This is a case where the potential power of a learning method has been seriously curtailed by the manner in which PACE materials are written. A number of reviewers described PACEs as promoting rote learning.”

So, nothing we haven’t said before. But the reviewers’ strongest criticism is very bizarre indeed.

“One example of possible intereference with learning by the religious orientation of ACE materials has been cited by auditors. This case involves the ACE science program. The elementary part was rated problematic while the junior high science and biology programs were rated as unacceptable. The unacceptable ratings were given because of the repeated condemnation of those who reject the author’s interpretations of the Bible as these pertain to science. Those who challenge the explanations given in PACEs, and text references in particular, to historical events and scientific phenomena are descibed as  “godless, “anti-biblical”, “foolish”, and “a fake teacher”.

“In the mind of the auditors, the ACE interpretations of some natural phenomena are unscientific. Accepting the fact that one may hold a creationist view, the condemnatory language of those holding opposing views is a notable example of intolerance. ACE materials ought to respect the integrity of those who hold other views and teach a charitable attitude toward people who approach scientific data in a different manner.”

Speaking as a woolly liberal, this is woolly liberalism at its most preposterous. I am glad to see the ACE science curriculum criticised, of course, but this criticism amounts to, “Well, you can teach what you like, but you should be nicer about it.” That is ludicrous. ACE’s intolerance is a problem, of course, but so is teaching Creationism in the first place. Teaching Creationism would not be acceptable if ACE did it in a more tolerant way. They would still be guilty of misleading children. The teaching of charitable attitudes is a side issue in science (if not in education overall) in comparison with the teaching of proper science.

“ACE materials, except as noted above, do not display a systematic lack of tolerance and understanding toward any of the minority groups. Occasional lapses do occur as were noted and a degree of insensitivity towards blacks, Jews, and Natives was identified. These flaws are insufficient to warrant rejection.”

“The promotion of attitudes of tolerance, understanding and respect for others is more than an avoidance of slights towards people who are different. According to the criteria used in the audit of Alberta Education resources, material which fosters critical thinking as a basic objective is a necessary ingredient for developing each attitude. By themselves, ACE materials are notably lacking in this respect.”

Tolerance being the auditors’ main concern, they note occasional racism within the materials. But more importantly, they note that to learn tolerance, children must have critical thinking skills. The ability to assimilate and consider new ideas is an essential component of tolerance. In failing to promote critical thinking, ACE fails to prepare students for wider society.

Interestingly, ACE has never been banned in Alberta, despite the Committee’s recommendation. If anyone knows what happened, please let me know.

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