On “you’re just bitter” and other challenges

Over at ace-education.co.uk, there’s a post entitled “10 Questions for Jonny Scaramana“. Here are my answers.

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Jonny Scaramanga is infamous for his anti ACE blogs. If you Google his name then you will find his Leaving Fundamentalism site and lots more info. I am responding to some of the false information given to the media ATM.

Before we get going then, a question of my own: Please could you detail this false information? It would be useful for all sides, I think, to correct any misinformation that’s floating around. Until now, I’ve seen accusations of falsehoods flying around, but a shortage of specifics.


 

I invite Jonny to answer the following questions. I will post his response if any.

Q. It is stated on many blog sites and within the press that you went to an ACE school until you were 14. This would imply that you spent many years in the system. Is it true then that you only actually spent two school years at Victory School Bath?

I’ve always been consistent in reporting how long I attended Victory. In my open letter to CEE two years ago, I said I was there from 1996 to 1999. In his recent letter, Arthur Roderick interpreted this as “less than three years” which seems to have been reinterpreted here as “two school years”. In fact, I arrived at Victory in the spring term of 1996, in my last term of Year 6 (final year of primary school). I was then there for three full school years: 96-97, 97-98, and 98-99. I started the 99-00 school year, but my parents removed me halfway through the Autumn term of 1999. So I was there from April or May 1996 until October 1999—three years and at least five months.

I also attended Victory preschool in 1988/1989. So that makes a total of 4 ½ years.

No one has yet explained to me what it is that I would understand about ACE had I attended for 12 or 13 years that I was unable to glean in four. I suspect the real answer is that I would have been inculcated with more Christian character, so now I wouldn’t be asking these difficult questions.

Q. Why do you feel qualified to run this hate campaign?

Well isn’t this the loaded question! Coming next: “When did you stop beating your wife?”

Here are some relevant things about me:

  • I have completed ACE monitor (staff) training (Autumn term 1998), scoring 100% on all eight tests.
  • When I left my ACE school, I had completed all the credits required for NCSC Level 1 (now called ICCE General Certificate) in every subject except maths, where I was still about six PACEs away from completion. This was claimed to be the equivalent of GCSEs at the time. I then went to a mainstream school and did GCSEs. I think I might be the only person to have done this, so the only person that can make a direct comparison from a student’s point of view.
  • I have a PG Cert Ed teaching qualification.
  • I have taught teaching placements to KS4 and KS5 students, and been a permanent tutor to students on Level 3 and Level 4 courses.
  • I’m currently doing a PhD looking at student experiences of Accelerated Christian Education.
  • As part of this PhD, I’ve done a comprehensive literature review. If it’s been written about ACE and it still exists, I’ve almost certainly read it.

What qualifications would you expect someone to have that I don’t?

Q. Why do you personalise your campaign rather than just critique the system?

I don’t. I guess you are referring to my critiques of Brenda Lewis and Pieter Van Rooyen. This is not making it personal. If an individual has a public role (say, acting as a representative of a school or curriculum), it is not personal to criticise their actions in their professional capacity. It would be making it personal if I were to attack them for their personal appearance, or to criticise members of their families, or publish private information about them. I haven’t done any of those things.

Here’s a relevant comparison: When engaging in a political debate, it is normal to critique the words and actions of specific candidates, rather than just their party. For example, over at the Channel 4 blog Fact Check (and dozens of others like it on the net), the researchers frequently refer to specific claims made by individual politicians and conclude that their statements have been false or misleading, much as I did with Brenda Lewis. That’s not making it personal. Whereas you only have to search Twitter for comments mentioning David Cameron or Ed Miliband to find instances of people who have made it personal.

Q. Do you actually care about the students that you think you are campaigning for? Do you not believe in freedom of choice?

I don’t see how the second question is related to the first, but OK. Of course I care about the students I’m campaigning for. What other motivation could I have for doing this? I’ve earned a small amount from this campaign by writing for places like the Guardian, New Statesman, New Humanist, but this pales in comparison to what it’s cost me in lost earnings (because I stopped working to do my PhD) and expenses (because PhDs involve buying many books).

If you think the second question relates to the first, presumably your suggestion is that these students want to go to these schools, and so by campaigning against them I am restricting these children’s freedom of choice. I dispute this. To make an informed choice, you have to have good information, and ACE schools deprive children of the knowledge they need to make an well-reasoned decision. It’s a system of indoctrination, and indoctrinated individuals are not equipped to choose.

I am defending the students’ choice. I am arguing that they ought not to be subjected to indoctrination, so that they are able to reach their own conclusions later on. I’m also arguing that they shouldn’t be sent to schools which don’t offer formally recognised qualifications, or schools that use methods of instruction that are based on outdated behaviourist ideas. Children deserve the best education possible, and ACE is not it.

ACE, on the other hand, is defending the parents’ choice. And I don’t think it’s moral for parents to deliberately shield their children from current scientific knowledge, or to decide on their children’s behalf what religion they will follow. Religion is a matter of personal faith and conscience, and making children recite pledges to Jesus and the Bible every day robs them of that choice.

Q. Has being infamous gone to your head?

Ha! Infamous. Sorry, but outside of the readers of this blog, no one cares. If I was after notoriety, I would have stayed in the music business (I actually got recognised in public when I was a gigging musician, which hasn’t happened since I started this). Even at QEDcon, hardly anyone knew me.

I know I’ve been on Newsnight, but think about it. There are talking heads on the news every day. How many of those people can you name or even picture now? I’m guessing hardly any. If you want to calculate the percentage of the world’s population who know who I am and/or care about what I do, start with a zero. Then a decimal point. Then six zeroes. Then you’re getting close.

Q. Do you think your reports of ACE Schools in the UK are very dated compared with the modern ACE school?

No I don’t, but I’d welcome anyone who can supply updated information. If ACE schools think that I am relying on out-of-date criticisms of what they do, all they have to do is show me around their school, or write a guest post explaining how things have changed.

Since I started my research, I have acquired the latest versions of the ACE Procedures Manual and Administration Manual. I’ve purchased new copies of dozens of PACEs. What I’ve found is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the PACEs have not changed since I was at school. Where they have, usually the total number of words that have changed is smaller than 1%. The majority of the text in the 2010 Procedures Manual is the same as the 1994 edition, which was current when I completed ACE monitor training.

I haven’t had a chance to blog about the findings yet, but one of this blog’s readers recently sent me the entire set of supervisor’s training PACEs from the early 1980s. They do vary rather more from the more recent versions, but even there, the teaching methods and much of the content remain extremely similar. My conclusion is that ACE rarely changes, and when it does, the changes are minor. The people who run it clearly believe the system is excellent as it is.

On ace-education.co.uk, I have been criticised for suggesting that ACE schools still spank students. But I have never been misleading about this. My post about paddling made clear that the current Procedures Manual instructs teachers not to spank kids in school. I also linked to a number of ACE websites which had clear written spanking policies on their websites. All of the links were active at the time of writing. None of those schools were in the UK, but my focus on this blog is not restricted to the UK; I am interested in ACE worldwide.

Anyway, the case of paddling shows why a campaign against ACE is worthwhile. The only reason ACE schools stopped spanking in the UK is because it became illegal in 1999 for schools in England and Wales to use corporal punishment. If the law hadn’t changed, they would have carried on. As it was, CEE hosted a protest against the law in London (see also here)

Q. All the bad press seems to be instigated by you. Can you explain why then thousands of children educated by ACE are not joining your campaign?

Well, since my main contention is that ACE is a system of indoctrination, I can quite reasonably argue that at least some of them are indoctrinated and think I’m of the devil. Of course, that won’t be true for all of them. No system of indoctrination, even the ones in totalitarian regimes, is completely effective.

It should be noted that most of these ex-ACE students aren’t exactly leaping to ACE’s defence either. I can’t comment on what most students think, because I’m not in contact with them. It’s fair to say most of them probably don’t know about my campaign. I’m in touch with large numbers of ex-ACE students, quite a lot of whom support what I do but have no wish to join the campaign publicly. Some of them would be shunned by their families if they did. Some just want to get on with their lives and forget about ACE, and I don’t blame them. That’s what I plan to do after this PhD.

Anyway, popularity makes no difference to whether I’m right. Almost all major campaigns begin with just one or two voices. The campaign for women to have the vote was ridiculed at first. That doesn’t mean the suffragettes were wrong.

Q. Are you comfortable being an Atheist or is it another crutch to replace Christianity?

In response to the first part of your question, yes.

In response to the second part, no.

(This has nothing to do with anything.)

Q. Are you blaming ACE for your failure to cope with life’s circumstances?

Again with the leading questions! What evidence is there that I’m failing to cope with life’s circumstances?

My life is going fine, in spite of ACE’s best efforts, but guess what? I know a lot of people who do blame ACE for some of their problems, and this complaint is entirely legitimate.

Yes, some of us in Accelerated Christian Education Exposed are angry, some have battled with depression and mental health issues, and some are bitter. If anything, this makes us more credible. Given what we experienced in ACE schools, it would be surprising if nobody had any issues.

It is completely reasonable to be angry if your school taught you falsehoods as facts.

It is entirely understandable to suffer mental health issues if you attended an abusive school.

If you found yourself as an adult with no recognised qualifications and hence no employment prospects, like Anaïs or Christina, and this was because of your school, it is wholly legitimate to blame the school and the curriculum writers.

If you dropped out of university because your school failed to prepare you for the process, it’s fair to ask why they let you down.

If you are gay and your school made you feel like you don’t exist, you have every right to be angry.

If you are a woman and you were raised to believe that you had to obey and submit to your husband, your human rights were violated and, yeah, you should be mad about it.

“Failing to cope with life’s circumstances” is a predictable result of a bad education and abusive teaching practices.

So if anyone plays the “you’re just bitter” card (or anything like it) again, I’m going to ask what their point is. If someone’s been wronged, they may have good reasons to be bitter. Dismissing someone’s complaint because they are bitter shows a disturbing lack of empathy and—frankly—a shockingly un-Christlike attitude.

Even if I and the others who write on this blog are wrong about ACE, as Christian educators, CEE’s first concern should be with the wellbeing of young people. If it were, their corporate image would take care of itself.

Q. How would you feel if CEE reps or ACE parents came to your skeptical tour dates?

OH YES PLEASE!!!

If I am speaking in a city where I am aware of an ACE school, I make a point of letting them know and inviting them to respond. Sometimes, because of a lack of organisation, I don’t give them much notice. So, for example, I think I only gave the Vine Christian School three or four days’ warning before my talk in Reading, so it’s understandable they didn’t come (though it’s less understandable that they never returned my calls or emails).

When I spoke in Lincoln, which is just down the road from Locksley Christian School, the organisers of Lincoln Skeptics in the Pub invited representatives from Locksley almost two months in advance, and Locksley never returned one of their many phone calls or emails.

We have the same situation in Manchester at the moment. I will be speaking in Manchester on August 14, and this was arranged in April. Greater Manchester Skeptics Society has been trying to get someone from King of Kings School to come and debate me ever since my talk was first booked, and again, they’ve had no reply.

I would welcome nothing more than an open, level-playing-field debate with an ACE advocate.

Which means that I find myself ending this blog post exactly the same way I ended the last one:

ACE, why won’t you debate me?

Oh wait, that isn’t actually how I’m ending, because I have a question for the author of these ten questions.

The author and I have been in contact for several years. They have my email address. So here’s what I’m wondering:

Why did I find out about this blog from a Google search?

Did you actually want me to respond, or were you looking to score points?

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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 July 28, 2014, in Accelerated Christian Education, Atheism, Christianity, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. bitter (adj) feeling or showing anger, hurt, or resentment because of bad experiences or a sense of unjust treatment

    I love that bitter is used as a pejorative term by so many seeking to deny the legitimacy of one’s anger.

    She clearly doesn’t know many gay men, because otherwise she’d know that the transition from twink to bitter old queen is about 2 years, and happens around the age of 25. And that bitter old queen is a badge of pride ;-)

  2. Also, I love that you haven’t commented on the misspelling of your name ;-)

  3. Could you let me know if/when they post your responses?

    Cheers :)

  4. It’s my firm belief that none of these questions were ever meant to be taken seriously. The blog post to which this post is in response was nothing but a personal attack. Period. The person that wrote these questions, IF they were serious questions, (which they aren’t) needs to take a few classes in debate, especially in how to recognize and avoid logical fallacies (such as the “ad hominem attack”, of which their post is a perfect example).
    However, if the person that wrote the questions is a product of an ACE education or is instrumental in the development of the curriculum, and intended them to be serious questions, it points up the rather gaping holes in that education, including the lack of instruction in logic and critical thinking skills. Their original post, in and of itself, is a prime example of how poor the ACE curriculum is in teaching learning concepts.
    Given that the sole purpose of ACE is to indoctrinate, rather than actually TEACH, this is not surprising.

    • The author of these questions is not an ex-ACE student. But these questions are similar to tactics that ACE might employ in the PACEs against a target it doesn’t like (a lib’rul or an evolutionist, say).

    • I think it’s fallacious to assert that ad hom attacks don’t have a place in an argument. That’s not to say they are “good practice”, but rather to say it depends on who your audience is and what your objectives are.

      You’re right, it might not persuade you or the person at whom it’s aimed, but it will likely speak loudly to the people who are already persuaded that Jonny is the personification of evil…

      • The only people to whom this may “speak loudly” are people that are already indoctrinated. That lack of an open mind and inability to think critically, even of their own education system, is a hallmark of a system that doesn’t “educate” but “indoctrinates” and thus self perpetuates. (I should say, that’s what they HOPE.) It is, simply put, a form of brain washing.
        Given that the very goal of any religion is to indoctrinate, basing an educational system on religion will never truly “teach”.
        That’s not to say that there aren’t religious affiliated schools that don’t actually teach. There are many that do. The philosophy of those schools is to not fear criticism and they actually believe that a faith that can stand the test of it is a “true” faith, freely chosen, based on the Biblical concept of “free will”.
        However, in my opinion, the very fact that ACE can’t respond to criticism without defensiveness and refuses to engage in real and open debate; the very THREAT they appear to feel from that, is an indication that they aren’t there to actually educate or teach their students.

  5. Ann Veronica Scaramanga

    Oh Jonny! I have to comment. I put you into that system and you have climbed out. I am proud of you and grateful that we still buzz happily along. To your critics I say shame on you. You malign Jonny, you are arrogant and proud about an education which is harmful, feeble, appalling and you are cowardly for not debating with Jonny. As for your representation of Christianity, nobody would want to know.

  6. I don’t mean to go off topic, but would it be worthwhile for some of us to leave a review here? http://www.homeschoolreviews.com/reviews/curriculum/reviews.aspx?id=351

  7. Hmm. Me thinks the author of those questions bit off more than he can chew. He thinks those are good questions? I agree with Cait. Looks like a condescending personal attack . . . almost like the author thinks he/she is clever and they’ve got you now Johnny. o_O

    Johnny’s Mum (((hugs))). It’s an honour to hear from you. <3

  8. An excellent, well argued response to all their questions.

  9. Jonny, kudos for keeping such a civil tone in your measured responses. Your self-restraint is remarkable.

  10. What a baffling set of questions/accusations.

    Is the site in anyway affiliated with ACE? (a domain name hardly counts)

    It *almost* reads like a “false flag” operation by someone trying to discredit ACE!

    • I know the author, but because they’ve chosen to remain anonymous, I’m not sure how much I can say that won’t identify them.

      It’s not an official site, but it is genuine.

      • Thanks Jonny – anything I’ve read from you seems to be well measured and engaging. I say that as someone who is a committed evangelical Christian and wouldn’t agree with you on every point :-)

        You could do worse than point people at Tim Keller’s rule’s on (gospel) polemics.

        http://www.redeemercitytocity.com/blog/2011/10/4/gospel-polemics-part-2

        http://www.redeemercitytocity.com/blog/2011/10/17/gospel-polemics-part-3

        Some of the ones that are universally helpful regardless of the issue:

        2. Murray’s Rule—You must take full responsibility for even unwitting misrepresentation of someone’s views.
        3. Alexander’s Rule—Never attribute an opinion to your opponent that he himself does not own.
        4. Gillespie’s Rule A – Take your opponents’ views in total, not selectively.
        5. Gillespie’s Rule B – Represent and engage your opponents’ position in its very strongest form, not in a weak ‘straw man’ form.
        6. Calvin’s Rule – Seek to persuade, not antagonize, but watch your motives!

        Keller is an excellent of example of Christian engagement. I’d recommend his book the “Reason for God” as a thoughtful response to what’s often referred to as New Atheism.

      • Cheers Ralph. I do mean to read Keller’s book at some point. I borrowed it from a library once and never got around to reading it.

      • Just to be clear (and not to start a different thread) a word to Ralph: New Atheism is about criticizing religious privilege in the public domain (in areas like education, for example). Keller’s book is nothing more than conventional apologetics wrapped in a modern packaging and does not respond to the New Atheist criticisms but attempts to use emotional pleas to stand in for a lack of evidence for various theological claims made about reality.

      • Sorry Jonny – have to row back somewhat on “anything I’ve read from you seems to be well measured and engaging” after reading some of the top posts on the site.

        Much of what I’ve read is excellent, but there’s a crass element as well (e.g. 22 awesome things I used to believe were sinful – yes I do recognise elements of satire).

        It’s possibly written for the gallery (in this context those with an anti-theist view) and not directly written for those which hold a Christian worldview. Just to say that for me it doesn’t take away from how you engage with the substantive issues that arise from religious based education.

      • Ralph, please be careful not to attribute anti-theism to be synonymous with being anti-theist. New Atheists on principle are the former but in practice not the latter. I have as much respect for individual theists as I do with individual New Atheists but I am often painted to be an anti-theist because I dare criticize the pernicious effects of theism in practice.

      • Let’s leave this debate here. There’ll be other posts where it’s relevant; here it’s a derailment. As this comment thread shows, this post appeals to people with a range of religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and I want to keep it that way.

      • Agreed. I just wanted to make sure that those who criticize anything about religion aren’t confused with those who are against religious people. I think Ralph was hinting at this connection and it is almost always incorrect… an assumption that then tends to poison further exchanges.

    • That’s OK tildeb – I won’t bite and start another debate. I wasn’t meaning to get into arguing about the definition of “New Atheism” and defending Keller’s book. The applicability of his guidelines regarding polemics stand well enough on their own.

      I do appreciate his tone in general. He makes certain arguments and presents certain evidences (which of course many reject based on different presuppositions – a point he makes in a chapter dealing with examining scientific evidences, or as he calls them clues).

      On charges of emotional pleading – Christianity does engage the emotions/affections. To be fair I don’t think Keller reduces his engagement in his book to simply emotional pleas. (if I remember such engagement is towards the end of the book). I would hope most books on such topics would engage the emotions – even atheist ones!

      • In response to the post above that one: There is more than 1 “Christian worldview.” There are liberal Christian worldviews, conservative Christian worldviews, and everything in between.

  11. jesuswithoutbaggage

    Hello my infamous friend. I think you did such a great job here. But I am not surprised; you always have good balance.

    You said “Presumably your suggestion is that these students want to go to these schools, and so by campaigning against them I am restricting these children’s freedom of choice.”

    I wonder whether your information has as much impact on parents as on students, especially younger students who have little choice or awareness of the issues. I know homeschooling parents are under pressure to conform, but I have read stories of those who saw what was happening and stopped ACE-based homeschooling. Your exposes must reach some of them.

  12. I too hate the “bitter” argument. As you said so eloquently, those of us raised in fundamentalist cultures have a right to be at least a little angry & disturbed by the things we were indoctrinated with as children & teens. And, yes, that might leave us a little bitter at times. But that does NOT make our anger or our disbelief in the “system” illegitimate.

  13. Thanks for all the comments on ‘bitterness’ everyone. I needed to hear that.

    Getting questions like that is actually a good thing, better than getting the silent treatment, as it exposes the ignorance of the questioner and provides the opportunity to explain exactly how and why your critics’ arguments are wrong. Very well done Jonny.

  14. Heh, posting lists of rhetorical “questions” without ever informing the questionee is the kind of tactic I’ve come to expect from creationists. As is typical of such people, they don’t even link to the website of the person they’re accusing. Heaven forbid any of their readers should be exposed directly to your arguments!

  15. I’m so smart, I have 10 questions Johnny can’t answer! It proves how wrong he is! I’ll just sweep them over here into the corner so he’ll never find them…

    • And then when he never answers them, it’ll just prove that he can’t! My plan is flawless! Flawless! Mwahahaha–hey, wait, why are you answering them? NO FAIR! :P

  16. This is all somewhat surreal. Jonny is the perfect gentleman and is not willing to reveal the name of the person who is posing these questions. It is rather obvious who it is because they have spread their personal details across the Internet.

    Unfortunately this person is well known to Jonny and has contributed a significant portion of the insider information that he has published. They are now trying to go back on what they have said; having taken down their original site (the one Jonny has linked to) and created this new one.

    The names of the two sites are curious. The original one stole the name of the church intimately involved in ACE. The new one steals the name of ACE itself. This person is an IT professional and should know better.

    But why ask Jonny these questions at all when they already know the answers? Why first make a vitriolic attack on ACE and CEE and then make this vitriolic attack on Jonny whilst being very ambivalent about the merits of ACE? There is something irrational here. By their own admission they have serious mental health issues. Any form of debate would be totally inappropriate in the circumstances.

  17. Not sure if anybody will see this, but it’s been several days. The original question article stated he would post the response if there was any. I still do not see this response posted. I also would note you can only comment if logged in, and there appears to be no way to register so you can log in and comment. Seems to me this is simply a deceptive way to turn comments off.

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