Even this creationist can’t stand Accelerated Christian Education

“The ACE system is an abomination. It is isolating, oppressive, racist, sexist, ill-informed and abusive.” You probably won’t be surprised to read those words on this blog. But you will be surprised about who they’re coming from. Today’s post is from Simon Dillon, who is still a creationist and a Christian fundamentalist despite attending an ACE school for seven years. Take it away Simon. 

When Jonny asked me to post on his blog, I felt both humbled and honoured that he would want me to do so. After all, I am a born-again Christian Creationist, and would no doubt qualify as a “fundamentalist” in the eyes of many. However, Jonny recently said this about me, one of the highest compliments I have ever received: “If all fundamentalists were like you, I don’t think I’d be one, but I almost certainly wouldn’t have a blog called Leaving Fundamentalism”. With such an endorsement, I hope you will read on.

Simon Dillon

 

Jonny has asked me to post my views on the ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) system specifically and Christian education in general. Therefore, perhaps I should begin with my ACE credentials. I was a student at The King’s School Witney from when it opened in 1984 until 1991, from the ages of 9 to 16. I must point out from the outset that the school didn’t only use the ACE system. For students up to the age of 11 it was used about 60 to 70 percent of the time, from 11 to 13 considerably less (maybe 40 percent), and from 14 (the onset of GCSE age) not at all. The school was never entirely happy with the ACE curriculum, seeing it rather as a means to an end until they could replace it with something better. They ditched the entire ACE system years ago, although they were still using it in part when I left in 1991.

Again, to bring complete balance to what I am about to say, I should add that I have no hard feelings towards the school or any of the teachers there. In fact, compared with some of the ACE schools I have read about, The King’s School Witney seems relatively broad minded. In spite of ACE, I actually obtained a pretty decent education there for this simple reason: in the state school I went to previously, I was told I was no good and wouldn’t amount to anything. The teachers at the King’s School – in spite of some seriously crazy mistakes, not the least of which was the ACE system – told me continually that I could succeed if I put my mind to it. When I left the school, I was pleased with my GCSE results and they proved a great stepping stone into the next part of my education. So for me at least, things seemed to work out. On paper at least, The King’s School had taken a downtrodden, introverted child who had been constantly told he was a failure by teachers at his prior school, and inspired him to prove those naysayers wrong.

However, I must also say that my experience does not seem to be typical compared with that of my fellow guinea pigs from the same years. The King’s School in those days had an absolutely insane list of ridiculous and arbitrary rules that it was almost impossible to keep (no doubt adopted by the ACE system). After discovering this, I took great delight in making as much mischief as I could, as creatively as I could, because such pranks were a means of making school life tolerable – in spite of the punishments that inevitably ensued. I used to think that if you were going to get caned for something (yes our school used corporal punishment), it might as well be for something that gave everyone a good laugh. (By the way, for the record, I completely oppose corporal punishment in schools, so please forgive my somewhat cavalier attitude towards my own past. I know others who had corporal punishment inflicted on them in school were often left them with serious emotional problems. I don’t want to belittle such experiences.)

I should also mention at this point, in the interest of putting my experiences into perspective, that for the first seven years of my life, my parents belonged to an organisation that can at best be described as Christianity gone seriously wrong, and at worst a full-on cult. It was an almost unimaginably oppressive and hideously abusive environment, but I am not going to expound on that part of my life in this blog. Suffice to say, when said cult came crashing down, my betrayed and hurting parents found solace in Oxfordshire Community Churches – the organisation behind The King’s School Witney. Now some have suggested they simply switched one extreme cult for another, but believe me when I say the two were not comparable in any way. Compared with what I went through in the first seven years of my life (which is eye-watering stuff, believe me), The King’s School was a piece of cake.

Perhaps because I had already been through so much in my early years, I had a healthy scepticism for the ACE system right from the beginning. My parents shared my misgivings, though they thought my education would be better if I was placed in a Christian environment. Like the school itself, they saw ACE as a means to an end. I recall many occasions where we joked together about how ridiculous it was. Even at the age of 9, I could scarcely believe that characters like Ace Virtueson and Pudge Meekway weren’t meant to be satirical.

Let’s cut to the chase: the ACE system is an abomination. It is isolating, oppressive, racist, sexist, ill-informed and abusive. The overwhelming evidence indicates the ACE system is guilty of causing extremely serious problems in later life for those unfortunate enough to have it inflicted on them. The experience of sitting in those soul-destroying, sectioned off desks, of suddenly having to learn entirely by oneself (having previously been used to an open classroom), of having a list of inexplicable rules that rivalled the book of Leviticus, was a shock to the system to say the very least. As I have already stated, I tried to make the best of it, but the fact remains that ACE is a truly horrible, horrible thing to inflict on a child.

Perhaps that all sounds a little melodramatic. After all, ACE isn’t Nazi Germany. But I have now heard so many deeply troubling stories about what ACE did to others that I feel the time has come to add my voice to this. My main reason for doing so is I cannot help but feel extremely angry at the way the God I know and love has been so horribly misrepresented by the ACE system and by its adherents. Ironically, it is because of my “fundamentalist” views that I feel I must speak out.

You cannot brainwash children into becoming Christians. It simply does not work. Adherents of the ACE system argue that they are simply following through on Proverbs 22 verse 6, which says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”. But this verse is very broad, and does not in my opinion refer to schooling. It is addressed to parents, who, if they are Christian, will obviously share their worldviews with their offspring (as indeed I have). A child will always adopt the views of their parents to a certain degree, especially in early years, simply by osmosis and because it provides security. But in the end, children have to decide for themselves whether or not they will follow in their parent’s footsteps. To try and force them to do so, which is effectively what the ACE system does, is absolute madness and in my view un-Biblical – not to mention very likely to fail.

Many of my fellow Kings School guinea pigs went wildly off the rails in many spectacular ways after they left, as they were hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the real world. Many if not most of them currently have no relationship with God or any kind of faith, which pretty much proves my above point. Conversely, one of my close friends growing up in Oxfordshire Community Churches was not permitted to go to the King’s School along with the rest of us, because his father was not a Christian and opposed his enrolment there. Yet this boy, in spite of the “worldly” education he received in a state school, remained a Christian throughout and still is to this day. He never got into any trouble as a teenager, never took drugs, never got drunk, and didn’t even go out with a girl until he met his wife. The ultimate irony is this boy is now the headmaster of The King’s School, Witney.

If I might reference Christian history for a moment, what the Romans couldn’t achieve by the persecution of Christians was achieved after the Constantine Reformation. At that time, all citizens were told they had to convert to Christianity – the new state religion. Thus it was suddenly “politically correct” to be a Christian, regardless of whether or not one had a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ (which is what Christianity is – in a nutshell). One only has to study further church history to see what a complete disaster ensued. The ACE system is merely a relatively recent development of that disaster.

Another big problem with the ACE system is it completely fails to take into consideration that all children are different. The rigid, militaristic structure might appeal to a certain mindset, but what ACE generally does is crush all creative and independent thought. I might have been equipped to resist this, but many of my fellow guinea pigs clearly were not – including my own siblings, who all had a much harder time than me, particularly my youngest brother.

One of my pet peeves – not just in ACE, but in the church in general – is legalism. Let me be clear: I am, for want of a better expression, a Christian fundamentalist. And it is for that reason that I am also a liberal in the best sense of the word. If you call yourself a Christian, you are free to do whatever is not specifically prohibited within the Bible. Obviously the biggies – thou shalt not steal, commit adultery, murder, etc – are no-brainer rules. But the everything-fun-is-wrong brigade (of which ACE are card-carrying members) try to brainwash Christians into thinking many things are sins – from drinking alcohol to secular music, going to the movies, going to pubs and clubs, going swimming with members of the opposite sex, wearing sexy clothes, wearing make-up, smoking… the list goes on and on.

All such claims are false. None of these activities are sinful in and of themselves. Christians are supposed to navigate through areas the Bible is silent on through their personal walk with God. For example, there is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol, but if you are a recovering alcoholic, that’s obviously going to be a no-no. One of my great passions is movies (of all kinds). On many occasions I have rigorously defended horror movies as perfectly acceptable for Christians to watch, but at the same time conceded that they aren’t for everyone, Christian or otherwise.

So-called fundamentalists get themselves a bad name because they take a specific piece of revelation God has given to them then try to make a doctrine out of it. The horror movie thing is a good example. Let’s say a Christian feels horror movies are bad for them personally. Fair enough. But then they think that should apply this to every Christian when that isn’t necessarily the case. God has made us all different. Some of us have sufficiently robust temperaments to deal with horror movies. Others don’t. Unless you can point to a specific prohibition in the Bible, the “fundamentalist” position ought to be Live and Let Live on issues like this. (By the way, the verse God-bothering Christians always try and bash me over the head with on this one is the “noble, lovely and true” verse from Phillipians 4 verse 8 – but I consider many of the PG rated romantic comedies they watch to be far more spiritually questionable than any number of 18-rated/R-rated zombie bloodbaths that I watch, many of which have very noble messages behind them if you can get past the blood and guts).

The reason people slide into legalism is it is actually so much easier to have a hard and fast list of rules and regulations, because then you don’t have to deal with the pesky business of actually maintaining a relationship with God. But in having such a list of rules, the entire point of the Christian faith is missed. A proper examination of the Bible, taking everything in context (include the notorious book of Leviticus that so often gets quoted out of context) reveals that actually God greatly dislikes unnecessary and burdensome rules and regulations. He’d much rather only have those that were absolutely essential, and even those can be misused (see for example Jesus berating the Pharisees for their misuse of the Sabbath commandment). I could say a lot more on this, but I won’t go into a big theological study in this column, as I feel I will be exceeding the mandate Jonny has given for this post.

In conclusion, I can only reiterate my utter opposition to ACE for all the reasons listed above and my suspicion of Christian education in general. I don’t think it always follows that Christian schooling is bad, but anything that adopts the ACE system, in part or in full, should be avoided like the plague.

Simon Dillon.

That. Was. Awesome! Simon is also an author; check out his blog.

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About jonnyscaramanga

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 February 24, 2014, in Accelerated Christian Education, Christianity, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. You wrote: “One of my great passions is movies (of all kinds). On many occasions I have rigorously defended horror movies as perfectly acceptable for Christians to watch, but at the same time conceded that they aren’t for everyone, Christian or otherwise”. Is one of your ‘great passions’ the Lord Jesus Christ, and doing His will?

  2. In general, I think this is a great article, even though I view Christian fundamentalism in the same light as the author does ACE. One area that concerned is where the author implied, based on anecdotal stories, that those who had an ACE education were spiritually messed up, often not believing in God or having a relationship with him, whereas the boy who was not allowed to go to the ACE school remained a Christian through his secular school years and remains so today. Many of us broke free of mind numbing Christian fundamentalism and embraced atheism. Our lives today are anything but messed up. Education, for many of us, led us away from Christianity rather than towards a healthier expression of it.

    • But agnosticism/atheism is not the only legitimate conclusion of an education, right?

      • There are many possible outcomes, but I would say the a good education militates against fundamentalism. Since fundamentalism is a closed minded worldview that rejects any worldview but its own, I see it as being anti-education. (In a broad, comprehensive sense) a good education should lead a person to see complexity and diversity, two words fundamentalists hate.

      • “Anti-education”?

        Surely their view of education is just different to the widely accepted standards of what that means? They have different priorities, therefore different outcomes?

      • What are you driving at here, David? I sometimes don’t follow where you’re going with a line of questioning like this.

        I argued ACE was anti-educational in my last AlterNet piece. My argument was that the emphasis on obedience was so strong that it severely limits questioning and agency on the part of the child. Since I regard learning to think critically as a vital objective of education, I regard ACE as anti-educational. Bruce appears to be making a similar point.

        Since I know you don’t think ACE’s take on education is equally legitimate, I’m not sure what your quarrel is.

  3. This is just disappointing. I came here and have been reading a long time for the work you do AGAINST religion, and lately you’ve just been sleeping with the enemy. It’s a black and white issue, either you’re one of them or you’re awake, and the last half-dozen entries are making it pretty clear that like it or not, you’re still one of them. We should be burning them out and forcing them into holes, not giving them platforms on the few spaces we actually have.

    • Sorry to disappoint you, Isak. Sadly, I have to disagree with you. There are very few black-and-white issues in real life. I saw everything as black-and-white back when I was a fundamentalist, and that was one of the most harmful things about that mindset. It would still be harmful to think that way now I’m an atheist. Life is nuanced; there are shades of grey. Discovering that was liberating for me.

      I do not support conservative Christianity, but that does not make its adherents exclusively bad people. Simon seems like a good guy. I think he is wrong about some stuff, and some of those beliefs I would probably say are harmful. But here my goal is to bring down ACE and similar fundamentalist education. Fundamentalist parents won’t listen to me. They might listen to Simon.

      • Very few things are black and white, but religion is one of them. You make the point yourself when you say that you thought in black and white for so long; they ALL think like that, which makes them dangerous, either actively or as enablers of the active ones. Giving this man a platform on your blog validates his viewpoints, reinforces his dangerous and harmfull points of view and makes you complicit in all the harm done by religious people, just as he is. You need to look at the bigger picture here.

      • Listen, the takeaway point from this post is just this: The ACE curriculum is so bad that even a creationist can’t support it (and there are many more like him). This is important because ACE pleads religious discrimination when they are attacked. The recent posts from Christians make the point that this is not the case.

        I actually don’t know that I do think all religion is harmful. Not all believers are black-and-white thinkers. There are many who admit they could be wrong, many who are universalists (believing everyone will be saved in the end). And they are not all enablers. Fred Clark (Slacktivist) and James W. McGrath at Patheos, for instance, are every bit as damning of fundamentalism as I am.

        Giving Simon a platform on my blog only means that I believe his words in this post are worth reading. It doesn’t mean I endorse any other opinion he holds. I don’t grill people on their views about the world in general before I accept guest posts from them. It’s very possible that many of my other guest posters hold other opinions that you or I might find objectionable. This is just the first time they’ve been made explicit.

      • Isak, with regards your sentence “they ALL think like that” you might want to read up on out group homogeneity. Try http://io9.com/why-hipsters-are-all-the-same-1526705694 for example.

    • We’re advocating for a society in which people cannot force their religion on children through a subversion of the education system.

      This is not the same as advocating for a society in which religion is not tolerated. Indeed, since ACE advocates a society in which any religion other than their own branch of Fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity is not tolerated, I think it would be somewhat hypocritical and unethical to advocate for any form of control of consensual belief.

      In short, we are not anti-theistic, simply anti-FEC “education”.

  4. Anthony Bennett – to answer your question, absolutely. That’s why I agreed to write this post, because I actually “felt led” to do so.

  5. Thank’s Jonny. And thanks, Simon.

    Jonny, you are right. If all fundamentalists were like Simon, I would not find them troubling. It isn’t their religion that bothers me. They are entitled to their own beliefs. It is their attempt to control the behavior of everyone else.

    Simon, I like your take on this. I dropped out of religion, long ago. But I grew up in a conservative church. I was a naturally conservative person. It was my reading of the gospels that led me toward a more liberal perspective. As I like to put it, I concluded that I should be personally conservative (have high standards for myself), but socially liberal (be more tolerant and forgiving toward others).

  6. Utterly brilliant. Thank you for this, Simon.

  7. I am Simon Dillon’s sister, and went to the same school. Christy Lovejoy and Sandy McMercy were my role models (and you boys think you had it bad??!!) Seriously though, I think it’s a great post (not biased I promise; Simon and I disagree vehemently about a lot of things!) mainly because of the even-handedness of the approach to what is a very emotional subject for many of us. Jonny, you seem like a nice guy, and glad you think my brother is too, and I’m pleased you have put his post up and I think your reasons behind it are sound. You do not, I think, want your blog to be just a constant rant against ACE (we could prob all do that til the cows come home but that would serve no purpose). You have offered Simon a platform in order to show that even Christians with fundamentalist views object to ACE. Simon’s motivation was to show that many horrible mistakes (like ACE) have been made and continue to be made in the name of Christianity (see history). God has been misrepresented.

    • Great to hear from you Ruth. Thanks for commenting. I agree so much. And there are too few women on my blog, so if you ever wanted to contribute something you’d be most welcome.

      Sandy and Christi are hideous role models for girls, I agree. I don’t want the blog to be a long rant against ACE, you’re right, but I do think there’s a purpose to speaking out firmly against ACE. Children deserve better.

      • I would love to discuss further via email and see if there’s really anything new I could add. I didn’t mean, I hope you understand, that ACE shouldn’t be spoken against firmly. Children do deserve much much better. Also those that have suffered need to be heard. It’s only that I could rant (oh I could so rant!) but that would only repeat what has already been said. What Simon said added something new I think.

  8. I’m in a hurry this morning and can hardly wait to give Simon’s article a good reading. I just want to say that what I’ve scanned so far of Simon Dillon’s article, I like very much. Although I was a hard-core fundamentalist in a previous life, I’m very glad that Mr. Dillon’s willing to associate with this cause. Thank you Simon. I hope more people will be able to step out of the shadows of ACE and let their views be heard. Somehow we “all of us” regardless of our current beliefs need to join hands to figure out how to best support ourselves and the victims of this abusive system called ACE. This article is a step in that direction.

  9. Ironically I would almost be a “fundementalist” by the way Simon describes it. (I do not, however, believe in creationism). My time in school was exceptionally bad although it is sometimes difficult to get my siblings to listen as they were older and had an easier time.

  10. Thank you for writing up your story, Simon Dillon. It’s refreshing to hear a “fundamentalist” articulate some dogmas held precious by the majority of the fundamentalist, that I personally know. I used to hold many of your view points in a previous life. In my case, my environment could not tolerate any moderation. I think your story is fascinating. Across the pond there may be a slightly greater appreciation for liberalism. There is a frightening majority of fundamental thinkers her in the USA that would like to litterally crucify you over such a broad-minded approach. Of course there are plenty others outside the Christian arena, that would take issue over some of your statements that show compatibility between science and Christianity. Your sincerity stands out to me. I’m thankful that you are not afraid to be true to yourself. This is perhaps the most admirable quality of your article. Thank you for sharing your story.

  11. I didn’t even know ACE existed, let alone in the UK. I did a simple internet search; I’m horrified. Is there anything we can do?

  12. Simon, I really appreciate your outlook and your contribution to Jonny’s blog.

    I am a former fundamentalist who is now a more progressive believer. Jonny invited me to do a guest blog about a year ago, so I am well aware that he has an open heart to reasonable believers.

    Your response and analysis on ACE was very well done, and I enjoyed it. But I really liked your take on legalism; it is a burdensome and demeaning system. Thank you for posting on Jonny’s blog.

  13. I too am an ACE survivor, and remain a Christian despite it. I’ve known Simon for a while, but we met post-PACE. I think this blog post is excellently written with perhaps a slight concern with the difference between correlation and causation. As we don’t have a control group it’s very difficult to see how we would be had we not been subjected to the suppression of a Christian eduction, and the same goes for those that have chosen not to follow a religion after the experience.

    My biggest beef with the ACE system is that it is absolutely anti-critical thought. I’ve grown up to become a scientist and I have a similar problem with churches that teach against science. It’s like they have a fear that if people think about it they will decide it’s not true. Which is kind of the point….isn’t all religion about faith after all?

  14. “You cannot brainwash children into becoming Christians. It simply does not work.”

    How… naive.

    • Hi Thomas – My general point (admittedly hyperbole) is that from what I have seen, the ACE system seems to be a far more effective method of producing atheists and agnostics, rather than Christians. My own beliefs are in spite of ACE, not because of it (indeed, I was not a Christian for many of my latter years in the King’s School, and for some years afterwards too).

      But I do accept your point. Some do swallow the thing hook, line and sinker, unfortunately.

      My own position as a Christian is that it isn’t my job to convince anyone of anything. The Bible says go and preach the gospel, so I’ll happily tell anyone who wants to listen what Jesus means to me, but I certainly won’t try and twist anyone’s arm into thinking what I think. That isn’t my job – and again, the Bible makes it very clear that whilst Christians are to preach the gospel, if people don’t list then they should basically “shake off the dust” and move on. What they should NOT do (and this is where I take huge issue with ACE) is brainwash children into a set of dogmatic, legalistic, and frankly un-Biblical beliefs.

  15. Thank you Jonny,
    I did appreciate this. I am certain now that A.C.E. is a way of education that is counter to my beliefs about educating children (even or my beliefs about Christian education). And you know, I agree. Kids deserve better.

  1. Pingback: Keeping Up With the Creationists Vol. I Issue 5: Freedom to Impose Your Religion on Everyone Else » En Tequila Es Verdad

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