Fun with fundy textbooks

Fun with fundy textbooks June 17, 2013

I occasionally get an email from a homeschooling parent, saying something like, “We were going to use ACE for our children, but now we’ve seen your blog, we definitely won’t!” Emails like this are enormously gratifying. There have only been three or four, but they make the whole blog worthwhile.

But sometimes I wonder what these parents are going to use instead. Occasionally I’ve also had a smug parent using A Beka, ACE’s main rival, comment something like, this ACE stuff is ridiculous! We use A Beka. It’s much better. 

So let me say this clearly: If you’ve been reading this blog and feeling smug that you use A Beka and/or BJU materials, stop. They are at least as bad as ACE.

There are a bunch of fundamentalist textbook publishers: A Beka, Bob Jones University Press (BJU), AlphaOmega Lifepacs (which are essentially PACEs by another name, as far as I can tell). And everything I read about them is hideous. The only reasons I haven’t mentioned them before are that I don’t have firsthand experience, and their use is rare in the UK.

In 2005, some Christian schools filed a lawsuit against the University of California. UC had refused to allow certain Christian school courses as college preparation. The courses in question used textbooks by A Beka and BJU. The Christian schools lost. According to the great and noble scholarly source Wikipedia, the judge found that the books are “inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community.” Frankly, every University should follow UC’s lead. It is unbelievable that in some US states, ACE, A Beka, and BJU schools are eligible for state funding through voucher programmes. 

In terms of content, the big three Christian publishers, A Beka, ACE, and BJU, are basically the same. The differences are in teaching methods. ACE I’ve told you about. BJU espouse relatively conventional, even progressive, teaching. According to Adam Laats (paywalled, but a discussion is available here), it was accusations of using progressive pedagogy that led ACE’s and A Beka’s founders to split off and start their own curricula. With BJU, it was claimed,

future teachers learned to vary their instructional methods, to differentiate instruction in order to reach learners of different abilities, to emphasize conceptual learning over rote memorization, and to make learning a pleasant, active experience tailored to the developmental maturity of each individual student

To the traditionalists like the Hortons, who ran A Beka, and ACE’s Donald Howard, systems like this risk undermining the authority of the teacher and obedience of the child which were essential to Christian education. Originality, creativity, and self-expression were not to be encouraged in children; these could lead to questioning God, or outright rebellion. What was needed was mastery of received knowledge. Hence ACE’s fill-in-the-blank rote learning method.

A Beka somehow managed to come up with the one teaching method which sounds worse than ACE. Like ACE, A Beka required hardly any lesson planning; teachers just had to follow the system. It taught with scripted drills which students repeat until they knew them inside out:

Teacher’s Statement:

Heaven is a real place, just as real as this room. It is a wonderful, safe, happy home where God lives. God wants everyone to come there and live with Him. Anyone who has taken Jesus as his Savior will be able to go to heaven and live forever with God; but anyone who has not taken Jesus as his Savior cannot go to heaven, but must go to a terrible place of eternal punishment.

Drill Questions:

1. Will everybody get to go to heaven? No.

2. Who gets to go to heaven? The people who trust in Jesus and who take Him as their Savior while they live here on earth.

3. Does God want everybody to go to heaven? Yes.

4. Why won’t everybody get to go to heaven? Because some people won’t take Jesus as their own Savior.

Today, A Beka is most famous for it’s bizarre rejection of set theory:

Unlike the “modern math” theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute….A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.

There’s a superb exploration of fundamentalist attitudes to set theory, and just why A Beka would say something so outlandish, by Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing.

By comparison, BJU is an academic haven: It recognises the importance of a well-prepared teacher, and felt that the emphasis on rote learning was to the detriment of the pupil’s total development. But that’s not to say BJU is good.

Over at 11 Points, there’s a blog post with photos of pages from a BJU science textbook; it’s full of the levels of ignorance and anti-intellectualism we’re used to from ACE. There’s the usual Creationist stuff, and the last page begins with the sentence “Electricity is a mystery.” In a science book.

A huge chunk of my traffic comes from an AlterNet post on ACE, A Beka, and BJU, so I presume many of you have seen it already, but for those that haven’t, here’s a bullet point list of claims taught by BJU and/or A Beka (here’s a video, for those who prefer):

  • Only ten percent of Africans can read or write, because Christian mission schools have been shut down by communists.
  • “The [Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross… In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”
  • “God used the ‘Trail of Tears’ to bring many Indians to Christ.”
  • It “cannot be shown scientifically that that man-made pollutants will one day drastically reduce the depth of the atmosphere’s ozone layer.”
  • “God has provided certain ‘checks and balances’ in creation to prevent many of the global upsets that have been predicted by environmentalists.”
  • The Great Depression was exaggerated by propagandists, including John Steinbeck, to advance a socialist agenda.
  • “Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created.”
  • Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential win was due to an imaginary economic crisis created by the media.
  • “The greatest struggle of all time, the Battle of Armageddon, will occur in the Middle East when Christ returns to set up his kingdom on earth.”

Stay tuned, I’ll be returning to this subject.

Related articles

Browse Our Archives