Religious discrimination

Religious discrimination October 17, 2012

The most damaging aspect of Accelerated Christian Education, I think, is the demonisation of everyone who is not a Christian. And by Christian, I mean the Right Kind of Christian – Bible-believing, saved-by-grace-through-faith, conservatively dressed protestants.

The entire system is set up to discriminate against anyone who does not believe the Right Things. Here’s the admissions policy for Maranatha – the UK “model school” for ACE. You can’t attend unless at least one of your parents believes the Right Things. Over the age of 12, students must give a personal commitment to the faith as well (below that age, in my experience, it is simply assumed). If you enroll as an ACE home educator, you have to state how long each of the child’s parents has been a Christian.

In practice, this is merely a formality; I can’t imagine what kind of insanity would have to grip a non-Christian before they’d put a child through ACE. Let’s imagine, though, that a non-Christian child – perhaps a Hindu, or a Catholic (non-Christian for ACE’s purposes), or an agnostic – slipped through the cracks and somehow got into the school.

They’d learn every day that they are going to hell. In order to pass any test, they would have to memorise a verse of the Bible, which they would be reminded is the word of the only true God.

ACE also has a system of rewards in place for high-performing students. Students qualify for three levels of Privilege – A, C, and E, in ascending order – depending on how much work they’ve achieved, how many Bible verses they’ve learned, and how much “Christian service” they’ve performed. A non-Christian child could not qualify: one of the criteria is attending church, according the Accelerated Christian Education Procedures Manual (2010 edition).

Interestingly, the evidence is that rewards for performance are actually counter-productive. There is what psychologists call “negative anticipatory contrast.” If you say to a child, “Eat your vegetables, and you can have some chocolate,” you are in effect saying, “If you do this horrible thing, you can do a nice thing afterwards.” It has the effect of making the nice thing seem better, and the horrible thing seem worse.

ACE needs this system of bribes, because PACE work is inherently boring. So the teachers say, “If you do all this boring work, we will give you longer break times.” If you do well now, you won’t have to do so much horrible work. This is extrinsic motivation, and it encourages a negative attitude towards learning. You are teaching children to dislike education, and rewarding them for it. And creating a two-tier system in the school, of “good kids” who are always on privilege, rewarded with fun afternoon activities and longer breaks, and “bad kids” who continuously have to complete PACE work. A child of non-Christian background would automatically be one of the bad kids.

Here’s a recent episode of the Atheist Experience where the hosts explain eloquently the problem with this divisive type of faith. The whole episode makes worthwhile viewing, but the pressed-for-time among you can skip to 10 minutes 26 seconds and watch the last four minutes.

It’s not OK to teach children to think like this. And simply going to school with non-Christians – both staff and fellow pupils – will make children realise this. Contrary to ACE’s belief, children are not inherently evil, and they recognise good in other people. By simply putting children of different faiths – or non-faiths – in the same school, we can take a giant step towards ending religious discrimination.

Which makes it a real question whether this type of discrimination should even be legal. In the European Union, it isn’t legal in any other context. Why should this be an exception?

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