In the past, this blog has repeatedly accused the Christian textbook publisher Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) of racism. I’ve pointed out that an organisation calling itself White Pride Homeschool includes ACE material in its list of recommended educational materials, and I’ve made fun of at least one racist defending ACE in the comments section. In 2015, ACE brought out new editions of its 8th grade Social Studies workbooks, which had been the subject of some of these accusations. You know what that means, right?
Buckle up: it’s time to examine some updated racism.
ACE, for those who don’t know, is a fundamentalist school curriculum used in a claimed 6,000 schools worldwide. It receives state funding through voucher schemes in several states, most recently Florida and North Carolina.
Let me say this straight off the bat: people who like ACE think I am being ridiculous. They think the notion that ACE might be racist is laughable. But since 2017 seems to be the International Year of Racist People Saying They Are Not Racist, I am not concerned about this.
The reason ACE supporters think I am ridiculous is well illustrated by this quotation from one of the new textbooks:
No one should be oppressed because of race, religion, or color. Leviticus 25:17 states, “Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God: for I am the LORD your God.”
See? ACE is Definitely Not Racist. They explicitly say no one should be oppressed because of race. How much more explicit can you get?
Well, do you know anyone who faced with the survey question “Do you believe that some people should be oppressed because of their race?” would answer “yes”? Of course you don’t. Even the current crop of white nationalist scum, with their doublespeak about “peaceful ethnic cleansing“, would pay lip service to the view that no race should be oppressed. Actions are evidence, so let’s see what ACE’s actions are.
The books we’re looking at today are Accelerated Christian Education’s Social Studies 1095 and 1096, available now from terrible bookstores. They’re designed for students at the end of 8th Grade, but actually ACE students work through the sequence of workbooks at their own speed, so they could theoretically be studied by people of almost any age. They are the final instalments of ACE’s US history course.
1095 covers the period from 1945-1969. By my estimate, there are about 13,000 words of text in its 59 pages, and the rest is made up of fill-in-the-blank, matching, and multiple choice activities to complete. The pages are punctuated by little devotional messages, which range from standard Bible verses to the nauseating:
The period covered is the height of the civil rights era, so you’d think we’d learn about that. So what do we get?
Rosa Parks? Not mentioned. Malcolm X? Nope. James Brown? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
But not only are the giants of civil rights missing; so are the evils of racism. In both this book and the one before it, which covers 1933-1945, there is no mention of the KKK, Jim Crow, or lynchings. The word ‘racism’ never appears. As far as the book is concerned, it never happened. And you must understand that ACE is designed to be a self-contained curriculum. The workbooks contain everything you need to know to complete all the activities and to score 100% on the test. They are not expected to be a starting point for further inquiry, or to be supplemented with additional materials. For most ACE students, if it’s not in the book, they just don’t learn it. Which means most ACE students have next to no cultural knowledge of racism.
We do get just under 500 words on Linda Brown and Brown v. Board of Education, the SCOTUS case that found school segregation unconstitutional. It’s in this section that the above “no one should be oppressed” quotation appears. This section tells us:
The [black] students bravely faced the embarrassment of walking through a large mob of white students and townspeople who called them names. When the nine black students reached the schoolhouse door, the National Guard turned them back and wouldn’t allow them to enter.
Other than this, which does little to convey the full reality of the opposition faced by those children, we learn nothing about 1950s racism. Segregation in other contexts is not mentioned.
Martin Luther King
The PACE’s authors devote 345 words to the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. By “life and death” I mostly mean “death”: all but 73 of those words are about King’s assassination and its aftermath. This is part of what I mean when I say ACE is still racist. In 350 words on MLK, we get exactly 16 words from the mouth of the man himself—and they’re the last words before he was shot.
“James,” he called to one of the men on the ground, “make sure you play ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand.'”
“I will,” nodded the musician.
“Play it real pretty,” said Dr. King, “for me.”
This, and a single picture captioned “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” is the sum total of quotation from MLK (no other Civil Rights leaders are mentioned by name, let alone quoted). The expository background tells us that he had been a pastor of a Baptist church, that he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and that “under his leadership many civil rights demonstrations took place”. We are not told about the conditions that led to these demonstrations, what the demonstrations involved, or what they hoped to achieve. We learn precisely nothing of note about King. The previous edition included a line from the “I have a dream” speech. That’s gone from the new book.
A later section has three whole sentences on the Civil Rights Act, where we finally learn something about what civil rights are:
One of the strongest civil rights bills in history was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The bill ordered restaurants, hotels, and other businesses serving the public to practice integration by serving all people regardless of their race, color, religion, or nationality. It also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce fair employment practices.
Imagine reading this as an 8th grader knowing next to nothing about Civil Rights history. You might, if you were paying attention, work out that there must have been racial segregation prior to 1964 (why else would there have been an Act of Congress to ban it?), but if you’re not smart enough to catch that, you could remain ignorant that segregation was ever a thing.
When we return to MLK on the next page, we get a frankly unnecessary level of detail about how he died:
Suddenly, there was a loud snap, and a bullet struck the jaw and passed through the body of Dr. King. His spinal cord was cut, and he fell to the floor.
Are you kidding me? You couldn’t find space to say what Martin Luther King stood for, to tell us why he was campaigning, or to quote any of the important things he said, but you could find space to tell us “his spinal cord was cut”. Then there’s an entire paragraph about King’s assassin James Earl Ray, which is actually longer than the expository paragraph about King. Because knowing about the guy who shot him is more important than knowing what King believed, I guess.
And then, the pièce de résistance:
The response to Dr. King’s death was violent. Angry young blacks rioted, robbed, and burned buildings in several American cities. All of this was done in the name of a man who wished to be remembered as a man of peace.
So ACE, lemme get this straight.
(a) You didn’t have space to quote from any of King’s speeches but you did have space to make sure we read about those angry young blacks who are rioting (because that’s what black people do, amirite?).
(b) Admit it, ACE author: you’ve never read a thing King wrote, have you? And you’ve never heard a word he spoke other than that decontextualised bit from “I Have a Dream” which we all love to use to make out his message was nothing but butterflies and moonbeams.
(c) Because you’ve never read a damn thing King wrote, you don’t know that he said “we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard”. If you did, maybe you’d think about this context. Perhaps you’d think about how you’d respond as a black person on learning that your best chance of being heard was just assassinated.
The real insidiousness of ACE’s racial bias only becomes apparent if we compare their coverage of MLK’s assassination to what they say about desegregation busing, or, as ACE prefers to call it…
Sod it, ACE only manages a short burst on this, so I’m going to show you the whole thing and then deconstruct why I think it’s a nasty piece of work. Disclaimer: I am not a world expert on racism, nor on desegregation in the US. I am a white dude from England, born in the 1980s, with a PhD in education (nothing to do with race). So I’m sure there are people more insightful than me who could rip this apart. But when it looks racist even to my ignorant British bum, something is awry.
In 1969 the Supreme Court had ordered immediate integration of schools, which meant many school districts had to bus students to schools outside their neighborhoods. This practice was legal according to the 1971 Supreme Court case of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. Busing meant that black students were sometimes bused into white neighborhood schools, and white students were sometimes bused into black neighborhood schools. Partly due to the problems of busing, violence sometimes erupted. During President Ford’s administration, violence over forced busing of government school students continued to surface. In 1974 there were violent demonstrations in Charlestown, a small town outside Boston, Massachusetts. In 1975 the National Guard was called to stop a demonstration in Louisville, Kentucky. Both demonstrations were the result of the forced busing of government school students.
Many of you are probably reaching for the vomit buckets already, in which case you don’t need to read what follows, but if you’re sitting there sipping your pumpkin-spiced latte and saying “That doesn’t seem racist to me!” read on.
Problem 1: The missing ‘who’
Read the following parts again, imagining you’re an ACE student, reading about busing for the first time without the benefit of any context:
There were violent demonstrations in Charlestown.
The National Guard was called to stop a demonstration in Louisville.
Question 1: Who was violently demonstrating in Charlestown?
Question 2: Who was demonstrating in Louisville?
If you answered “I don’t know”, congratulations, that is correct. The text never tells us. Meanwhile, let’s go back to what they said happened after MLK’s death:
Angry young blacks rioted, robbed, and burned buildings in several American cities.
Question 3: Who rioted, robbed, and burned buildings in American cities?
Were you able to answer that question more easily? You were? What a shock! When the correct answer is “black people”, ACE suddenly gets all forthright about who is rioting. How about that.
Problem 2: violence has agency, somehow
Check out these sentences:
Partly due to the problems of busing, violence sometimes erupted.
… violence over forced busing of government school students continued to surface.
I’m sorry, what? “Violence sometimes erupted”? Is violence a volcano now? Does it sometimes just spontaneously break out without any human intention or participation?
In the world of this paragraph, violence is simply an inevitable consequence of busing children of different races to school with each other. Well, sure, there were riots, but what did you expect? You put black kids on a bus to a white school, for god’s sake! That’s just nature.
Meanwhile, if black people are staging violent demonstrations because one of the greatest civil rights leaders of history has just been murdered, well, those people are guilty!
Both demonstrations were the result of the forced busing of government school students.
I mean, sure. You could also argue, of course, that these demonstrations were the result of racist white people being racist pieces of garbage, and of centuries of systemic racism refusing to go away. But yeah, on balance, I guess white housewives waving n-word signs are just a fact of nature.
In case you, like me, were educated in the world of ACE and don’t know, here’s just a hint of what actually went down in Boston:
“I remember riding the buses to protect the kids going up to South Boston High School,” Jean McGuire, who was a bus safety monitor, recalled recently. “And the bricks through the window. Signs hanging out those buildings, ‘Nigger Go Home.’ Pictures of monkeys. The words. The spit. People just felt it was all right to attack children.”
Read the rest of WBUR’s feature on busing in Boston here.
Interestingly, the previous edition of ACE’s workbook did acknowledge the existence of racism. Kind of.
Many demonstrators on both sides were fanatic racists, but many simply believed that the federal government was once again interfering in local matters.
Now you understand the kind of people who loved Trump’s notorious “on many sides” comment. This sentence did at least admit that racism exists, but it did so while drawing a ludicrous equivalence between white parents who rioted at the thought of their child interacting with a black kid, and black parents who wanted their kids to get an equal education. The second clause of the sentence, well, I imagine it resonates well with people who are fond of talking about States’ Rights. So overall I class its removal for the new edition as a win, even if I find it interesting that ACE is now apparently incapable of uttering the word ‘racist’.
There is of course much, much more to say about ACE and racism (I said quite a lot of it here), but this, I hope, explains why I don’t think their lip service to the principle “no one should be oppressed because of their race” is sufficient to cleanse them of all guilt.
Clean your house, ACE. As you so rightly quote MLK in saying, injustice anywhere (say, a school curriculum?) is a threat to justice everywhere.
Libby Anne has posted an article about this at Love, Joy, Feminism, and it’s way better than mine. She includes powerful context that shows the reality of white violence and racism over school integration. Check it out.