The Dirty Secret of Religious Homeschooling.

The Dirty Secret of Religious Homeschooling. December 2, 2014

There really do seem like two approaches to homeschooling now. In one, parents who are very concerned about the individual needs of their children–or about a lackluster local school district–pull their kids out of school to teach them at home. It’s not done to insulate their children but rather to help them in a way that the school in their area just can’t. This version of homeschooling seems pretty okay to me and seems a lot less prone to abuse and scandals. I’ve met many parents involved in this kind of homeschooling–Christians, atheists, pagans, you name it, their main concern is making sure their kids get what they need.

In the other, though, terrified and furious Christian parents yank their kids out of a school district perceived as demonic or otherwise “worldly” so their kids won’t be subjected to the dangerous influence of the outside secular world or its nasty, evil denizens. It’s not done because their kids necessarily need the one-on-one attention or personalized care that a school has more trouble providing, but because these kids’ parents just can’t think of any other way to keep their kids indoctrinated and unsullied. And that’s the version we’ll be talking about today.

A friend of mine passed me a link recently of a homeschooling outfit she’d experienced in her youth called Accelerated Christian Education (ACE). ACE is an arm of Ace Ministries, which is a fundagelical Christian organization with a focus on Biblical literalism and inerrancy, separation from “the world”, and a hard-on for evangelism. To accomplish their objective, they have a whole series of homeschooling materials meant to indoctrinate children so thoroughly that hopefully they’ll reach adulthood without ever having questioned a single thing they’ve heard. ACE has been around for some time–since the early 1970s–but it’s now coming into its own as the preeminent Christian homeschooling resource.

Their timeline reveals that the Russian government decided to start using ACE materials in their schools in 1992, joined by Paraguay in 1993 and Jamaica in 2005. ACE has had conventions in South Africa (1985) and have built warehouses to handle operations all over Central and South America as well as China, Singapore, Korea, and other such bastions of freedom, liberty, democracy, and self-determination.

As education goes, we really ought to put this disgraceful organization down as a bunch of crackpots who are very thinly masking education with right-wing Christian extremist indoctrination. Do you remember seeing that image online of that Creationist “science quiz” about dinosaurs that was completely ridiculous? That came out of ACE. The blog Leaving Fundamentalism talks about ACE fairly often and has a lot of resources up about the ridiculous lies taught in their materials, such as the Loch Ness Monster being not only real but a debunking of the Theory of Evolution. The blog followed this list up with Even Worse Lies from ACE, including the astonishing (and unsupported, citation-less) assertions that the Gospel of Mark was written around 50CE when Biblical scholars tend to put it around 70CE and that homosexuality is learned, not an inborn trait. Hey, who cares about facts when indoctrination is at stake? There are talking points here to push into impressionable kids’ heads, people!

Indeed, ACE has been involved in 150 lawsuits or so since the 1970s, most of them over their efforts to stay free of oversight and accreditation. That link also discusses one of ACE’s top names as being an oft-accused child abuser. Pretty wild stuff, isn’t it?

It’s also a massively racist and sexist organization, but you didn’t really need me to say that, right? Leaving Fundamentalism has some excellent citations supporting this assertion, and there are other impassioned denunciations of the group. Salon ran a devastating critique of not only the junk science but also the shocking examples of racism and sexism threaded all through the group’s materials.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s their very own promotional video. Feel free to watch it; it’s long, but it’ll show you a lot of things about ACE and its various shortcomings. Here are my reactions as I watched:

* Did I seriously hear children referred to as parents’ “possessions” in the early part of the video?!? Why yes, yes I did. What were we saying about “consent” recently?

* Secular schools teach “anti-Christian values” and “ungodly lifestyles”, apparently. Their mockups of secular classrooms is insulting and inaccurate, sort of a Rydell High meets Reefer Madness, but it plays well to the hysteria that right-wing Christian parents feel thanks to their media convincing them that “not being allowed to proselytize and force people to pray or listen to them showboating” directly equals “persecution.” Secular humanism is presented as the worst thing ever, when really the problem is that schools are not Jesus-fied to the umpteenth level.

* The video’s narrator and presenter keep saying this educational system is “Biblical,” but I don’t remember ever reading about how schoolrooms should be set up in the Bible. I especially don’t remember reading about the need for school uniforms, workbooks, and little star stickers to indicate progress. Maybe it’s in the Apocrypha? What’s hilarious is that early on it refers to “individuality” as a Biblical value (?!?) and as it says so, it’s panning across identically-dressed little Jesus drones in their identically-outfitted cubicle farms. “When god designs an individual, he throws away the blueprint,” the narrator says with a chuckle, but that’s a pretty shocking lie all things considered. I have to admit I’m really floored that ACE would make that claim when forcing conformity and indoctrination upon their victims is clearly their top priority.

* You’ll see a total of about three black people in the entire video–a field-trip supervisor who might or might not actually be a staffer of the ACE-using school taking the field trip, and a young student who eagerly copies answers from his textbook (or should we call it a “textmagazine”?) into his worksheet–because that’s what education is all about, isn’t it?–the ability to transcribe answers you just literally read onto a worksheet (isn’t that why they think “worldly” schools are bad?). There’s also a black instructor talking to the black student. But you’ll note that this student and instructor are kept generally isolated. Only about 8% of homeschooled kids are black, but still, it’s jarring to see almost nothing but white people in this context. The illustrations and mascots in their books all looked like they were of white people as well. I’m not sure how else they could communicate that black people aren’t particularly welcome here.

* The kids in school uniforms are wearing the logos of “Lighthouse Christian Academy,” an ACE-run private school which is mentioned on at least one white-supremacist group’s site (via Leaving Fundamentalism) as a great place to warehouse little Brooklynn and Brandon to keep them away from scary black and brown people while they get indoctrinated with racist ideology. I’ve got to wonder just how thrilled Lighthouse and ACE were at being included on that list, but the facts are that they are indeed there. When white supremacists think a group is doing a fabbo job of excluding other races and promoting supremacism, can we agree that that group is indeed doing those things?

* Despite crowing about their state-of-the-art computer setups, ACE’s video reveals outdated graphics, confusing GUIs, and most of the work being done the old-fashioned way with pencils and worksheets. In fact, filling out worksheets appears to be the only actual schoolwork displayed in the video. The only time a student is shown sort-of reading at all is toward the end when a boy nods smugly to himself as he turns the pages of a Bible way too quickly to be actually reading it. When kids in the school classes have a question, they raise a little flag on their desk so a teacher–er, sorry, supervisor–can come find out what the problem is. Since they present ACE as students teaching themselves, obviously they don’t have teachers, just adults who badger kids with lawyer-like questions until the kids arrive at the correct parroted answer.

* The entire curriculum is based around “motivating and controlling” students. Are we sure we’re really that enthused about individuality when there’s this much emphasis on controlling a child utterly and education based on rote memorization, worksheet copying, and singsong recitation of repetitive information?

* On that note, ACE uses that bizarre-ass twisted version of Socratic questioning that’s becoming the trendy way for fundagelicals to interact with non-believers–where someone with the information refuses to just get to the point, but instead dances around it with the person who requests information. Frankly, if a teacher had done this to me as a child, I probably would have dropped out of school in eighth grade because I find the approach aggravating and maddeningly indirect. But I’m starting to see in how the supervisors interact with these kids the roots of what drives me craziest about how modern fundagelicals talk to people.

* ACE presents its “customized” learning materials like they’re the most amazing thing ever, talking about a kid who needs 6th level this or 8th level that. Um, in public school I was doing the exact same thing in the 1970s and 1980s (in 3rd grade I walked down the hall to the eighth grade classroom for my English and reading classes; in another school I got bussed to a Gifted & Talented program at another school once a week). This isn’t new or weird or special, but it’s presented like the most amazingly innovative idea ever conceived.

* The video uses a disturbing kind of negation against girls; though it is common in English usage to substitute “their” for single subjects (or to reword a sentence to include both male and female pronouns) to indicate inclusiveness, ACE goes with the old-fashioned, determinedly paternalistic and patriarchal “his” to mean both “his and hers.” Now, in an ancient preacher I might be inclined to be a little gentler, but in an educational setting this treatment of girls is in my opinion reprehensible. The National Council of Teachers of English has suggested gender-inclusive language to prevent the negation of girls in school settings and mentions studies indicating that when only male pronouns are used, listeners/readers in the modern age tend to think only of male people even when the pronoun is clearly meant to indicate either gender. This level of ignorance on the part of people pretending to be experts in education is baffling–until one remembers that ACE is a patriarchal, deeply right-wing Christian group. Still, it’s kind of mind-blowing to me that during some of the times ACE uses male pronouns to indicate universality, a female student is shown onscreen doing worksheet transcription.

* On that note, girls are always in skirts, even when it’s kind of silly to have them in skirts–like one girl shown practicing archery in a skirt. Adult women are dressed in skirt-suits with those 80s-looking silly ribbon bows at their Peter Pan collars. Oh, that brings back some Pentecostal memories…

* In what is possibly its most egregious stretching of the truth, the video claims that its program is not geared toward any particular denomination. The reality of course is that it is most definitely geared toward an absolutely specific Christian mindset and worldview. I’ve run into liberal, progressive Christians who were absolutely horrified by this program. But I don’t think ACE would consider them TRUE CHRISTIANS™ anyway.

* Apparently their method of teaching kids the Bible is done through rote memorization; toward the end they crow about how awesome it is that they recite the same Bible verse every single day for a month during morning devotionals, at the end of which time they gloat that “most of” the children have memorized it. I don’t know how to say just how absolutely ghastly and excruciating I find this idea. Isn’t this sort of education supposed to be part of why those demonized, demon-possessed “government schools” are so bad? But I guess kids who are raised under super-tight control will put up with it. None of the kids in the video seemed all that happy about reciting the verse; some swayed, most fidgeted, and all of them looked to me like they’d rather be anywhere else.

* Under “does ACE really work?” near the end, the narrator notes that students who “graduate” with ACE go on to tons of different colleges, but they name prominently only super-fundie type pseudo-colleges, not real universities. Front and center in the list of “1500 colleges” is Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College, both Christian schools recently devastated by accusations that they not only cover up rapes committed against their students but also go on to blame rape victims for their own victimization. Why is ACE not distancing itself from these two colleges? If I were making an educational system, I sure as hell wouldn’t be bragging about my students going to schools like that. There are others listed in there, many of them for-profit or community colleges, or else “Bible Colleges.” I looked but didn’t see any reputable names in the list. If you wanted to know if ACE kids go on to Harvard, keep wondering. Or not.

* Bonus awesomeness at the very end occurs when the rah-rah educators in the real world, surrounded by the kids enrolled in their real-world church schools, talk up the program while their students stand behind them staring blankly, fidgeting with clear teenaged sullenness, and generally radiating obvious boredom and disgust. Not a single one of those kids looked anything like the meek, sweet, bright-eyed, well-groomed young men and women in the Lighthouse school. In fact they looked an awful lot more like the kids in the maligned “government schools” vignettes. Seriously, if you make it all that way, trust me: you will be rewarded with the clearest indication you could possibly have of just what this educational system produces.

So what are we left with here?

ACE is one of the biggest names in homeschooling materials. Most religiously-homeschooled kids brush up against its materials at some point. Sure, its teaching methods have been roundly criticized by reputable educators who have said that “If parents want their children to obtain a very limited and sometimes inaccurate view of the world — one that ignores thinking above the level of rote recall — then the ACE materials do the job very well. The world of the ACE materials is quite a different one from that of scholarship and critical thinking.” I certainly can’t disagree with that assessment based on the video I watched, which showed kids copying, reciting, and parroting rather than thinking or actively synthesizing information. Despite these serious shortcomings, ACE remains popular with fundagelicals hellbent on controlling their kids at whatever cost even though this style of education stands in stark opposition to pretty much the entire body of scholarship about how best to educate young people.

English: Drumnadrochit
English: Drumnadrochit (Photo credit: Wikipedia). CHECKMATE, ATHEISTS.

But the proof’s in the pudding. More and more kids are coming out of this environment with horror stories of abuse endured and ignorance enshrined. An entire movement, Homeschoolers Anonymous, has risen up to combat the damage done and maybe to prevent more young minds being taken hostage by well-meaning but gullible parents and pseudo-educators. We should be careful not to paint all homeschoolers with the same brush that ACE-type homeschoolers deserve to be painted with, of course. As said, a sizeable percentage of homeschooling households aren’t doing it for religious-indoctrination purposes. And I think as the harmfulness of its teachings comes to light more and more, parents will start steering clear of it. As it stands, as I’ve mentioned, I know some very true-blue Christian parents who are already avoiding ACE because of its junk science and historical revisionism. But its emphasis on control, rigid gender and race roles, and rote memorization is probably even more harmful than its objectively-false teachings and I can see that becoming a factor in Christian rejection of its system in time.

With all that said, the zealots who come out of this system are coming to adulthood now. We need to be ready for them. We need to know why they talk to us the way they do and what impact they could have on shaping future public policy. I don’t know about you, but I’m 100% glad I watched that video because I learned a great deal today about the people who were educated that way.

ACE is another symptom of the disease infesting and infecting modern fundagelical Christianity, and we need to know about it. We ignore this phenomenon–doomed as it undoubtedly is–at our peril.

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