Recovering from ACE

Recovering from ACE November 11, 2013

Lisa Kelly first commented on this blog mentioning that her bad experience of ACE had pushed her into the education business. “It was one of the driving things that made me seek to become an educator – so that I could encourage children and people of all ages to think for themselves and explore their *own* reasons for being and doing.”

Lisa and I have forged similar paths. I’m doing a PhD in education; she’s an Ed.D. I thought it might be nice for you to hear from someone else in the profession just why educators don’t think much of ACE. So here we go. 

Before I answer your questions, let me tell you a bit about me and how I came to be exposed to ACE.  

I was raised in a conservative, fundamentalist Christian family in Portland, Oregon, USA. My parents were ‘born again’ when I was a small child. They gravitated toward Pentecostal fundamentalism and denominations such as Assemblies of God and Foursquare Gospel. For some reason, my mother believed public schools to be ‘evil’ without regard to the broad spectrum of free education that was available.  She felt very strongly about instilling strong Christian values and thought that the best way to do that was with a private Christian education.  Consequently, my younger sister and I were enrolled from Kindergarten onward in different private schools.  The one that used ACE curriculum was Assemblies of God in doctrine.  I was enrolled for 4ththrough part of 6th grade, my younger sister for first through part of third.  We were then withdrawn from that school during the Christmas holidays and homeschooled for a few years (with PACEs for a year or so), then returned to a private school for high school.  I continued my education in private universities.

I do hope this has answered your queries, albeit in a personal fashion.  You will note that I did add in some qualifying definitions and did not endorse or harshly critique ACE. I would enjoy doing a critical analysis and review of their curriculum now against what is considered to be acceptable for State and National standards and see how it matches. Such a project that would be!

Lisa M. Kelly, Ed.D. 

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What are the particularly memorable aspects of your time in ACE?

To answer your question regarding what memorable aspects of ACE I recall, there are two primary things that still permeate my brain: their curriculum design and methodology,  and strictly Scripture-based pedagogy.

During the mid-1980’s, when I experienced the ACE curriculum, I distinctly recall their SQ3R method (known affectionately as a variety of ‘drill and kill’.)  While ACE postulates the idea of self-driven curriculum, it does so by removing the need interpersonal interactions with other students and guidance from a teacher entirely. The tests were designed so if a student read or memorized the packet, they would pass the tests.  Nothing less than 80% was encouraged for acceptance.  Should a student pull a low test score for whatever reason, you were allowed to ‘re-take’ the test, but couldn’t get above an 80% which was a ‘B’.  The memorization techniques also were linked to copious amounts of Scripture memorization that were chosen at the principal’s discretion.  Rather than a few verses a month, there were multiple verses a week that we needed to recite.  Should you be able to recite the entire text or chapter by the end of the month or term, there was some sort of special reward for shaping your Christian character.

I recall ACE methodology was work packet-based; each subject was comprised of a dozen packets, exploring a topic in-depth.  These were called PACEs, Packets of Accelerated Christian Education.  For example, the Social Studies packets for 4thgrade were numbered 1-12, you were to complete a packet every few weeks and move onto the next packet and thus on through the curriculum by the end of the year. This packet format was minimized an individual’s need to interact with others, learn project management skills, partnered learning, and the development of higher thinking skills, including critical thinking, was simply suppressed.  Teachers were more like babysitters who encouraged kids to move through the booklets as fast as possible and the only supplemental sources for information were encyclopedias – one set for 25 students.  Whether or not this was normative, I was not challenged academically and was bored out of my mind – for years.

It did not help that we were structured into wee cubicles barely large enough to work in, let alone spread out to do work. If we needed help, we had a red or green flag to raise.  Green meant we needed help, red meant we had come to a quiz or test and needed an adult to pull it from the file.  We had to wait for a teacher or aide to approach us – we could not go get help.  If we left our desks without permission – even to use the restroom, there was a ‘demerit’ issued for bad behavior.  You accumulated demerits and could be sent to the principal’s office; for three or more, a student could warrant suspension for a day or more. Whenever we had to test, we had to leave our cubicles and sit in the middle of the room at a ‘testing table’ also used for ‘research’ when we needed to use the encyclopedia. This was done for most days of the week; we did have PE (physical education) and perhaps other after-school sports if you wanted to pay for them and participate.

Permeating the curriculum and ethos was the overwhelming concept of Scripture as the ultimate authority. When I would inquire about something I saw in National Geographic, or human anatomy, I was shushed and told that if it wasn’t part of the curriculum, it wasn’t necessary. Should I continue to question, corporeal punishment was threatened, for adult authority was equated with God-like power.


Did you accept ACE’s ideas when you were learning them? Assuming you did, how did you get from there to thinking the way you do now?


Part of my personality has always been to question everything.  Since I was not taught critical thinking skills or logic, I asked a lot questions.   was told a number of times:“This is just the way we do it,” or “Just be quiet and do your work. Good children get rewarded,” or, “It’s disrespectful to question your elders.  Just be obedient.”

As a child who had a thirst to question, learn, and make the world fit together, this was not satisfactory. I constantly read at home but always knew I was missing something, somewhere. Although I haunted the local library, the librarians were instructed by my mother to only let us check out books in certain categories.  If I were to take home ‘unacceptable works of literature’ (i.e. anything not on the school-approved reading list), the librarian was to call my mother to clear it.  Often, I would read a book there in the library and not check it out.  It wasn’t until I was an adult and became a teacher that I began to see chasmic holes in my education, particularly with regard to history, world politics, geography, science, economics, and math skills; moreover academic process and learning skills.

As a side note, I recall some of the assignments being really vague, and in my logical but young mind, rather stupid.  As an adult who is now an educator, I see now that they held no sort of academic reasoning or interdisciplinary pattern, let alone scientific validity.  In my opinion, ACE/ PACE barely qualified  as instruction; their methodology did not teach project preparedness, organizational management, or a host of other skills.  Rather, their lack of communication and planning resulted in recurring apprehensions of projects that needed completion with no tangible boundaries or expectations.  If anything, I’d say ACE curriculum was more responsible for instilling text anxiety and poor academic skills rather than encouraging the formation of learning habits that would last a lifetime.

On a more personal note, it was not until I was in high school and college that I was able to actively question and examine why my family had the beliefs it did in Christianity and why I was raised with the beliefs I was, particularly with regard to the spirituality which permeated our daily living.  I thank a wonderful theology professor for helping me examine the history of Christianity and encouraging my mind to question and see things with new eyes.  As I did research with a critical mind, I began to see flaws in logic that had structured my reality for my entire life.  When I realized that I could out-argue my parents’ minister easily, that my parents’ authoritarian views were simply indoctrination without grounding truths, I quickly saw there was no real logic to believing or behaving a certain way except for fear and manipulation so I set out on my own journey of self-discovery and learning.


In what aspects is your brain still recovering (from ACE)?

When I began college, I realized how much I truly didn’t know and I felt as if I was constantly behind on subject matter.  When people would comment, “Oh, this is a middle school concept, haven’t you ever seen this before?” I would turn red and change the topic.  Rather than drop out of my private university and take classes from a community college to strengthen my general academic skills, I dealt with undiagnosed test anxiety and slogged through.

When I went on to graduate school, I realized there were different types of thinking and academic standards. What was unacceptable at one school was embraced at another.  It didn’t matter that my grades weren’t stellar – what mattered was the journey and that I reached goals I had set.

At that time, I realized I would likely spend a lifetime recovering (and not just intellectually) from the inadequate scholarship and pedagogy from the ACE program and other forms of deficient and one-sided ‘Christian’ curriculum I had been exposed to in Christian primary and secondary schools.  I firmly believe this was due to exposure of said systems in lower elementary, when many concepts and ideas are introduced and reinforced during key points of neurological and brain development. Furthermore, as a result of exposure at those specific stages of development, I missed a very valuable window of learning.  I see this in my difficulty with math, languages, and abstract concepts such as scientific theory and some forms of music.  While I have struggled to account for my lack of learning in these areas, I feel it will always be something I struggle with.


In your view as an educator, what should a good education be? How is ACE different from that?

As an educator, I believe we have the responsibility to provide a well-rounded education to children which addresses not only academic needs and challenges them beyond complacency to excellence.  Children and young people need exposure to different types of learning styles, different classes, subjects, hands-on manipulatives, and activities ranging from mundane to intricate.  They need involved parents, a caring community, and tangible ways to shape their character within their world.  A wide variety of subjects is essential so children can be exposed to different ways of being, doing, and thinking.  Furthermore, education must be challenging, culturally relevant, encouraging, and transformative in pedagogy and rhetoric.

Allow me to clearly state that I do not have an axe to grind with the people who have created and continue to publish the ACE/ PACE curriculum.  While it has evolved in various ways over the past 40 years, I have not done a comprehensive review and analysis of their current works to warrant a critical analysis or critique. As a child, I was exposed to it and for me, it was not a good fit and affected both my sister and I quite adversely on a number of levels.

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