Criticism of ACE from Christians

Defenders of Accelerated Christian Education often dismiss criticism as coming from those pesky secular humanists, the source of most of the world’s evil. Yet on Christian Education Europe’s website, they admit they “have been surprised and disappointed by a general lack of interest ­– if not antagonism – found in some churches” toward their mission. If I were them, I’d think about why.

Child Abuse

I’ll start with a book that makes me want to cry with relief – Ungodly Fear by Stephen Parsons, a vicar. This book, subtitled “Fundamentalist Christianity and the Abuse of Power,” describes my old ACE school in the first chapter. It isn’t mentioned by name, and the staff have pseudonyms, but it’s unquestionably my school. I am titanically grateful to see it recognised in print that this type of school is abusive. It is described as authoritarian, “a regime of being ruled by fear,” with ruthless discipline. “Most days at least one child would get the paddle. So on average, each child would get hit with a spoon at least once a month.” The book describes a child being humiliated by a member of staff in front of the whole school. The author suggests the staff’s counselling techniques were in fact intimidation.

If children are being abused (and I’m certain they still are), the quality of the curriculum is moot. Still, Parsons does add (p. 50) that in ACE, “The Bible is taught without any critical ideas being entertained.” The result, says a parent (p. 37): “The ACE system tends to produce either robots or rebels.”

Let’s be clear on this: you don’t have to be a secularist to see that Accelerated Christian Education is destructive. And yet, I remind you, it is used by 60 schools and 800 homeschooling families in the UK (source).

In Christian Perspectives on Church Schools (google preview), Geoffrey Duncan (General Secretary of the National Society and the General Synod Board of Education for the Church of England) describes an ideal Christian school as one where “the ethos of Christianity pervades the schools, but its dogma is notably absent,” and Muslims can attend a Christian school without their faith being denigrated (p. 123). He notes, correctly, that ACE would have little time for this scenario.

Elsewhere in the same book, Professor Brian Hill (former editor of the Journal of Christian Education) has this to say about ACE (pp. 254-255, emphasis added):

It is interesting that in at least three Australian states questions have been raised about whether schools using Accelerated Christian Education materials should be refused registration. The verdict of many secular authorities is that some of these materials are indoctrinative rather than educative, and the fact that they refuse to allow their pupils seriously to examine the evolutionary theory in biology is not the only reason. I find it even more interesting that so many Christian educationists agree with the states’ estimation of these materials. The point at issue exactly the one I have been discussing, and educational and biblical grounds come together in outlawing the way these materials set out to manipulate young persons.

In Christian Perspectives for Education (google preview), Hill again describes ACE as using mind-control (pp. 129-130, emphasis again added):

The psychological foundation for [ACE’s] approach is the ‘operant conditioning’ theory of B.F. Skinner. The human organism is determined by his environment, and susceptible to behavioural conditioning. Skinner has no respect for the supposed faculties of critical reasoning. ACE stands in direct line of succession to those who sought, by emotional manipulation, to obtain decisions for Christ which by-pass the individual’s rational autonomy, but it cashes in also on the improved manipulative techniques discovered by modern behavioural psychology.

The theological underpinnings of ACE, as with many Christian programmes coming from America, are even more suspect. The ACE student lives in a universe of authorities and right answers. The available ideological options are boiled down to two: ‘One is the Christian way of life, as laid down in God’s Word and the other is the secular way of life which promotes humanistic ideas.’ The Bible supplies the answer, by direct inference, to every question of social interpretation and pedagogic method.

A pro-ACE comment on my old blog noted that  this book also argues that neutrality in education is also an illusion (p. 139). That seems like a discussion for another day, though (especially since it’s in another essay by a different author). Whether or not neutrality can be achieved, something better than ACE is easily possible.

Another non-fan of ACE is “longtime Christian educator” Bruce Lockerbie, cited on page 23 of God’s Schools: Choice and Compromise in American Society (Google books preview). “Lockerbie disapproves of Accelerated Christian Education because ‘the exchange of ideas is almost altogether lacking, [and] the necessity of articulating what it is you think you’ve been taught… has been eliminated by this method, which also, in fact, eliminates the teacher.’”

Other criticism of ACE comes from Dr. Roger Hunter, Executive Director of Lutheran Education, Queensland, who, in his 1984 doctoral thesis at the University of Illinois, noted that ACE relies on rote learning techniques. He writes that ACE represents the “militant church,” adding that ACE endorses the censorship of texts and corporal punishment for procedural errors.

A Professional Opinion

I sat down last week with a Christian friend who sent her son to an ACE pre-school, and now doesn’t know what she was thinking. She has become a teacher in Wiltshire, whose work is listed in the best practice section of the Ofsted website. She has given guest lectures to PGCE students at Bath Spa University. I asked her if she would ever use ACE. She told me, “Absolutely not. Children need to learn through investigation, through exploring, through finding out for themselves, and hands-on exploration, which is far, far more meaningful.”

True Christians

ACE supporters, I know how you think. These “liberal” Christians are not true Christians. You want proper, Bible-believing Protestants.

OK, well, how about Bob Jones University? Are they conservative enough for you? Bob Jones University banned interracial dating as recently as March 2000; its founders have called Catholicism a cult, and the University’s Chancellor stated that homosexuals should be stoned to death.

In Adam Laats, “Forging a Fundamentalist ‘One Best System’: Struggles over Curriculum and Educational Philosophy for Christian Day Schools, 1970-1989″ in History of Education Quarterly 50, no 1 (February 2010): 55-83. [Read the first page here] we find this:

 According to BJU [Bob Jones University] writers, the ACE and A Beka curricula failed to adequately educate their students academically or spiritually by neglecting these higher-order thinking skills.

Even those guys, who would completely support ACE on grounds of ideology and content, reject it on academic grounds.

If you like ACE and can articulate why, please tell me. I genuinely don’t understand why anyone supports it, but I will happily post intelligent responses to my criticisms here on the blog.

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About Jonny Scaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on May 25, 2012, in Accelerated Christian Education, Christianity, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Hi Jonny,

    Can’t help with your final question. But my wife is a teacher and we sent our kids to a christian school. There were a few ACE schools around in Australia at the time, and they were not viewed favourably by the people at “our” school. They were very American, and impersonal, with little interaction between students and somewhat mechanical in their approach. I don’t know enough to comment on most of what you say, but that’s the impression I have. I doubt many christians had ever heard of them.

  2. My only caveat, would be that Bob Jones is a major competitor in the Hone School/ Christian Curriculm marketplace. The fact that they criticise their competition should come as no surprise. I happen to agree with what they’ve stated, but I don’t know that their curriculum is any better at achieving “higher order thinking skills”.

    In my opinion, most of the Christian based curriculums are of dubious educational value.

    • Fair shout. Most of the literature on ACE also discusses Bob Jones, and if anything the content sounds even worse than ACE. But the Adam Laats article I quoted makes interesting reading. It’s about how three Christian curricula (the other is A Beka) with the same beliefs, had different ideas about educational methods. Although their content is horrific, BJU’s teaching methods are the most like what I (and most educators) consider to be proper education.

      • Fair enough, I hadn’t read the link, but can see that the methods of teaching matter. The quote about ACE producing rebels and robots is concerning.

        It’s been a while, but I had reviewed some of the history texts by BJU and was surprised at the amount of slant and moralizing. I was a Christian at the time, but could see that they were not teaching history in the traditional sense.

  3. ACE is really an accelerated Christian education and I love it because I get to learn more about wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. And as for your question, here is how I look into it.

    1. Child Abuse
    - “Train up a child the way he should go, when he grows up he will not depart from it.”
    I love that my mother raised us strictly rather than spoiling us just because we are children. We receive punishments when we sin and I love it about my mother because she does not get easy over sin.
    School is children’s second home and they spent most of their time here. I don’t know how you were treated, I don’t know whether you were abused but I quite pity you after all. I didn’t experience it though but there could be child abuses somewhere. If that school is really an ACE, they don’t go easy over sin because they are fundamental. So for those new to ACE who does not understand, you must be aware of it. They want to raise children who are pure and who possess knowledge, wisdom, and understanding both in academics and in the Bible. They want children, even they seem young and not ready for it, to not be easy over sin.
    ACE for me is an advance education both in academics and when it come to the Bible and I believe that not everyone can do it. Children who are having a hard time might seem as if they are being abused. I, as a student, understand people that is why I just do not recommend it to people who are not ready for it.
    Lastly, Accelerated Christian Education will mostly be understood by and be suited to Accelerated Christians.

    2. A Professional Opinion
    A student who is curious about a subject is normal but I tell you that not all the student’s question will be answered by his own. If we are talking about Science, especially the Creation, it will be very hard to search for the real answer by himself because the only answer that will come out from his hypothesis are probably based on his own standards.
    A student must not be dependent from books but must also go out and explore, that is right but again, not all his questions will be answered by his own.
    ACE bases its lesson from the Bible so it is normal that not everyone will understand it especially when you doubt and question a lot from the Bible.

    3. True Christians
    No one is perfect, but this is not an excuse to go easy over sin. By the way, a true Christian is not calculated by his works because it was by grace he was saved. ACE students are not special type of people so they are not perfect and I am happy about it because this just means that we really need to depend on the strength of God while doing our best.
    ACE is not teaching for students to love the world but to love God. And if you love God, you obey His commandments. God knows that we can’t perfectly follow all His commandments but it was written in the Bible. The only way to be close to God is to be pure. (To be pure is to get rid of sin.) That is why ACE usually talks a lot about sin for students to be aware of what they are doing.

  4. I’m honestly surprised there *ARE* any ACE schools outside of the US. I can’t imagine of what possible use learning about the Eisenhower Administration could be to people in Africa or Australia. It is very, very, very culturally biased. Specifically: It’s very SOUTHERN, which is not a culture that translates well. (Though they do have great food)

  5. i am a Chinese from mainland China, grew up in public school till university. public school has been “student concentration camp” for me and all students in China. if you dont believe this, come to China and do your own research. then you will understand why we appreciate ACE, even though it is NEVER a perfect system.
    in fact ACE save many students from destruction..

    • Thanks for commenting James. I’d love to hear more about what it’s like to attend ACE in China. I’ve done lots of research on ACE and can’t see much to appreciate about it. I’d like to hear your side of the story though.

      I don’t know anything about public school in China; you may be right that it is worse than ACE. But that doesn’t change the fact that ACE could be much, much better, but that ACE has not listened to thirty years of criticism from Christian and non-Christian academics, parents, theologians, and teachers.

  6. Okay, so my name is Njeri, and i am from Kenya, which is in Africa… ive been going though your blog and no offence but it seems very biased. I did and am still doing A.C.E in my last year now and someone commented how they dont think A.C.E could do much in Africa but it totally has done a lot. Personally it has built up character in me and even in some of my friends around me. It is definitely not a perfect system, but no system is, and again like James said about China, it is way more preferable to go to A.C.E than the public schools here. I believe A.C.E has a chance to make a difference in people’s lives if run the right way and since I know in places like the states its becoming illegal to talk about God and faith in a public school because it might “offend someone” I believe it is completely fair Christian systems fight back, but that is just my opinion.

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