A Student of Accelerated Christian Education responds to Jonny Scaramanga’s PhD Thesis on ACE Experiences
By Alexis Record
Part 2: Life since ACE
ACE prepared me for life like a bullet wound prepares someone for a race. I got through it, but while bleeding and limping.
Two weeks into second grade I was pulled from my elementary school and placed in an Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) preschool (Learning to Read) program. This regressive move backwards was inspired in part by a belief that having a God-soaked curriculum would help me learn to read better. But it also worked to make up for my godless kindergarten and first grade experiences in public school by doing them over.
“A child of God has no business even listening to instruction that is contrary to God’s Word.” Donald Howard, founder of ACE (Page 26)
I remained in that ACE school until my high school years when I transitioned to using the ACE curriculum at home, often working less than an hour a day on the mindless Packets of Accelerated Christian Education (PACEs). I never had to retain what I learned or completely grasp the concepts, so lessons rarely made it into long-term memory. I did not so much as speak to an actual teacher those entire four years.
“Since PACE activities typically require only verbatim repetition, completing the PACE without understanding will not hinder the student’s progress.” (Page 311)
When asked how I had so much time for a good-paying job and my many hours on the softball field, I informed people I was a high school dropout. This helped cover for my ignorance of math and science, explained my failure to get any literary references, and offered a reason why I could not keep up in academic conversations, which was especially embarrassing at the dinner table with my boyfriend’s family. Yet, technically I was completing all the mandatory PACEs in order to complete the high school program at home. I finished in 2000 and had a tiny graduation ceremony with strangers in a church I’d never attended. We were promised we’d be blessed with success (Joshua 1:7) for our faithfulness to study God’s word in our ACE schools.
Fast forward to 2006 and I am applying to my first real job with the state of California. This is when I am informed by the person conducting my background check that my high school diploma is not real.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. My education included laughably absurd things like learning the Loch Ness Monster was real, the earth was 6,000 years old, woman came out of man (a reversal of nature), that God loves capitalism, solar fusion is a myth, science disproves homosexuality, wives should submit to their husbands’ rule, the scientific method includes running data passed the Bible first, apartheid in South Africa was a good thing, the Bible contains no errors, the political right is morally right, and humanism is devoid of good values. History lessons taught that the Garden of Eden was a real place. A study of how language began concluded it was gift from God that Eve misused. Our science lessons including learning about the world wide flood. And our Social Studies materials taught the gender roles of men and women with any deviation from those roles seen as wrong.
“[ACE] does not limit itself merely to not-known-to-be-true beliefs. Many of ACE’s claims are demonstrably false. […] Students who believe themselves to have benefitted from their ACE education, then, either have been indoctrinated into at least some false beliefs, or else they reject ACE’s worldview but consider their education beneficial in other ways.” (Page 262)
The fact that I had a subpar education which stunted me for further studies was of no concern for ACE’s founder and leaders. For them, the system worked when I emerged from it as a dedicated Christian.
“We do not build Christian schools primarily to give a child the best education nor teach him how to make a good living. Teaching him how to live and to love and serve God are our primary tasks.” ACE’s founder (Page 28)
(If your schools are not “primarily to give a child the best education” they are failing as schools!)
Reading ACE leaders blatantly flaunt their rejection of education in favor of religious inculcation makes me angry, but it is also somehow validating. My ACE indoctrination had always been couched in academic-sounding language, which left me convinced that my struggle to learn using the materials was my own. Now I know better.
If only my parents knew the truth! If only they knew ACE was involved in more than 150 lawsuits over things like accreditation! (Page 31) If only they knew that before they even enrolled me in such a system that there were already reports on the curriculum that showed that “ACE materials confuse faith with fact, and further, that the ACE program ignores learning principles beyond the most simple acquisition and regurgitation of ‘knowledge.’” (Page 32) Could they have ever, in the pre-Internet world, had access to the curriculum reviews (Alberta Department of Education 1985; Fleming and Hunt 1987; Moser and Mueller 1980; Speck and Prideaux 1993) during my years in the system that all concluded “ACE is educationally inadequate, a system of rote learning that lacks opportunities for critical thinking, problem-solving, and creative activites”? (Page 32) Would they have been shocked to know that the PACEs I was forced to swallow whole sale were not written by anyone actually qualified in the fields (English, Science, Social Studies, etc.) written across the PACEs’ covers? Would they have wondered how on earth this would have prepared me for higher education or success in the real world?
“Five participants [of 23] went directly to university after completing their ACE education: Lily, Nathan, Gideon, Philip, and Erin. Of these, Gideon and Philip excelled while the other three struggled or dropped out of their courses.” (Page 140)
Despite getting excellent grades in ACE, my ACT and SAT scores were so abysmally low that as an adult I’m still embarrassed to state them publicly. At a college fair I visited with my mom, several booths of colleges I was interested in each told me not to bother applying after learning my test scores and school history. I took remedial classes in English and Math (algebra) at the local community college to catch up. I tried a basic science class as well, but dropped it immediately upon not understanding a single part of the entire first lecture. It was at this point in my life that I asked my 17-year old boyfriend if he was ready to get married. My life was bottoming out and being a homemaker was the only thing I had seriously been prepared for. He went off to college instead.
It was back at the local community college—a small satellite campus that felt like the whole wide world to me—where I heard my very first lecture. I felt giddy; like I was a real student for the first time in my life. Afterwards I realized other students had taken notes, and my good feelings were replaced with horror at how ill prepared I was for this environment. I had no idea which parts of the sentences the professor said were even worth writing down! I had not read any of the books (save one) my peers had read to prepare for college. I was starting to figure out just how gigantic the gaps were in my education, to the point that many of the concepts taught or the language used by my professors was unfamiliar to me. I bawled in the offices of those poor educators my first semester. Some took pity on me and offered me tutoring, but one professor found my extreme religiosity especially off-putting and confirmed what I had suspected about myself: I was unintelligent and hopeless. I was forced to drop his class.
It was at college where I was introduced to the idea that 101 classes lead to 102 classes; that I had to stop relying on short-term memory and start retaining what I was learning. It turned out, after eleven years of thinking otherwise, that I loved learning! And I was good at studying more than the Bible.
I decided I valued being an educated person, and I gave up any dreams of a social life and devoted two years to playing catchup.
Two years of my life were wasted as educational do-overs.
After community college I transferred to a Christian college where I could take a class on creationism. My deficiencies in science would not be an issue here. Since my degree included biblical studies I figured I wasn’t completely useless academically if I at least knew the Bible! I graduated as valedictorian of this institution in 2006, yet due to my extreme ACE neurosis only a handful of people at the school even knew my name. I hardly left my room or participated in fun events in favor of sticking my head into a corner and learning silently as I had been trained. After graduation I immediately began looking for work, and now we are caught up to the moment I learned my high school diploma was likely worthless. In fact, since it came out during a background check, it was doubly awkward as it came with an accusation of fraud.
When I called the principle of my ACE school to inquire about my diploma’s legitimacy, he merely offered to print me up another one. When he heard I had graduated from a private Christian college at the top of my class he immediately credited ACE for my academic accomplishment. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had to take remedial classes to catch up to where most incoming students started at. We didn’t talk about my test scores that disqualified me from all my college picks. We didn’t get into the psychosomatic pains I would receive during quizzes. We didn’t touch on the looks I got from professors when I asked ignorant questions that they patiently answered. Nor did we get into the time my English professor initially laughed, then looked horrified, and finally hugged me after learning that I had never read a single book off a long list she had printed out of typical high school fare. I definitely did not bring up all the times I cried in class, or all those times I was constantly overwhelmed by academic rigor. I absolutely did not vocalize how all those accumulated lessons in ACE worked to convince me I was worthless because of my gender so my struggles in school were ultimately pointless as I would be a homemaker someday.
No, we discussed none of that. ACE was what students needed to succeed, according to my ACE principal. It’s why I was such a hard-worker. It’s why I can memorize large chunks of text so quickly, flushing them through my system just as quickly. It’s why I didn’t go to parties or disobey God, or have any sort of life really. It was why I got good grades in Christian college, which would qualify me for Christian service. ACE was the reason for it all.
Once again the bullet wound received the credit for my recovery from it.
In part 3, Alexis describes how Accelerated Christian Education affects her life today