Why don’t we just ban fundamentalist schools?

For a while now, I’ve been wondering if programmes like Accelerated Christian Education should just be illegal. I think I’ve done enough to establish that it’s harmful. So far we’ve had:

And that’s just for starters. And without getting into the physical and emotional abuse which has occurred in so many of the schools, which is not just a coincidence.

So it’s bad. But not everything bad is illegal. Freedom of expression; the right of parents to choose their child’s education; religious tolerance – these values are crucial to the pluralist democracies we hold dear. And just because people of generally liberal (ish) persuasion rule our country now doesn’t mean they always will. If an explicitly religious party came to power, wouldn’t liberals want that party to allow their children a secular education? 

And, realistically, who knows better than parents what’s best for their children? Even when parents get it wrong, can we be confident the state – our blundering, useless government – would do it better?

Those are not trivial arguments. I’m still researching this topic, considering the various viewpoints, and making my own conclusions. Anything I say at this point is tentative and provisional. But my core feeling is that something as harmful as ACE needs to be stopped. We are doing children a disservice by wringing our hands about relativism and cultural imperialism.

The truth is that although we like pluralism as an ideal, not many of us have the stomach for it in its purest form (thanks to Katherine for pointing this out). Absolute pluralism would allow the KKK the right to teach their children to hate black people. It would allow the practice of female genital mutilation in the UK.

We are not, when we really think about it, that kind of pluralist. We all know there are some things that we don’t want in our country (and preferably on our planet); we’re just not sure where to draw the line. I’m pretty sure, wherever the line is, ACE is on the wrong side of it.

In practice, the US and the UK are happy to legislate on matters like this where it seems clear cut (in the wake of 9/11 and 7/7, they passed legislation that didn’t seem to worry about pluralism even slightly). The UK and a majority of US states have banned corporal punishment even in private schools. The British House of Lords squashed a legal appeal from Christian schools on freedom of religion grounds. Children’s health was deemed more important than the right of the parents to practise their religion.

If we can legislate on corporal punishment, why not science? Creationists make an empirical truth claim – that the Earth can be shown by science to be less than 10,000 years old. This is demonstrably false. Intelligent design has been defeated in scientific journals, and it’s been defeated in court. Endorsing pluralism on Creationism in schools amounts to saying it’s OK for parents to lie to their children.

Then there’s the right to freedom of religion. The emphasis here is on the parents’ freedom. Various religious education campaigners claim, “Children belong to their parents.” It seems that many conservative Christians view children as their property. That’s not right. Children are individuals, and they have their own right to religious freedom. That includes being educated with the skills to form their own religious views in later life.

By stopping children from asking questions, fundamentalist education robs them of this opportunity. It is not a legitimate expression of parents’ right to religious freedom to deny their children that same right.

The popular fundamentalist curriculum Accelerated Christian Education has been repeatedly accused of indoctrination. Brian Hill, a Christian Professor, writes,

“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.”

Experts comment that fundamentalist curricula like ACE and A Beka neglect higher order thinking skills. Those are the very skills needed to evaluate truth claims and come to your own decisions. In Keeping Them Out of the Hands of Satan, sociologist Susan Rose writes that the ACE curriculum “may make it difficult for… children to be able to question and evaluate ideas that they may be exposed to later on.”

This is not an accident. The fundamentalists do not want children relying on human reasoning, which they regard as fallible and prone to leading them away from God. The ACE Science 1109 textbook reads,

“Man should never trust his reasoning because man’s reasoning is not God’s reasoning.”

Fundamentalist education teaches lies as fact, and it does this in ways which may deny children the right to freedom of religion. The issue is not taxpayer’s money – it’s the child’s right to learn the truth, and to receive a quality education.

So, at this point, it seems quite obvious to me what the right thing is here. Next time I look at this subject, I’ll consider the arguments of the people who disagree with me.

On another note…

I’m thinking of reducing my posting schedule, for reasons which I will explain later. I’m going to try posting once a week for a while, and see how that goes. So for the next coupe of weeks, expect a new post every Monday. If anyone wants to submit a guest post, I will still be accepting those and they will be in addition to my posts.

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 October 29, 2012, in Accelerated Christian Education, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. I rather like the idea of making it illegal to teach religion to minors

    • I’m actually not sure if I would go that far. I certainly think that, if minors are taught religion, they should be aware that it isn’t a fact, and that there are many people with different beliefs.

    • I agree, but for reasons other than avoiding indoctrination. Is it not ludicrous to teach children about the ‘immaculate conception’ or martyrdom, before they have any real concept of sex or death? And don’t get me started on Hell.

      “No, you can’t stay for the sex ed lesson at school because sex is filthy and you should never talk about. By the way, Mary was a virgin and Jesus died for your sins. Now here’s a pet goldfish to help you learn about mortality.”

      Fucking mental.

  2. It sounds to me like most of your comments are being fuled by your own hurt and anger.


  3. This is the best (and maybe the only) blog on private religious education. Don’t worry about reducing your posting schedule. High quality at a one or even two week interval will have the best impact imo.

  4. Can you explain why creationists don’t believe in nuclear fusion? I’ve heard this a few times from people like Eric Hovind calling it ‘chemical evolution.’ I dont understand how this full blown reality denial helps their creationism in anyway, is there a part of the bible that is in contradiction to nuclear fusion?

    • Thanks for the comment Alex. The rationale ACE gives is this:
      1) According to the Bible, the Universe is 6-10 thousand years old (actually the Bible says no such thing).
      2) Therefore, the universe must be 6-10k years old.
      3) If the sun were essentially a massive bonfire, gradually shrinking as it uses its fuel source, then millions of years ago, its circumference would have swallowed up the earth. Clearly, then, this must be true.
      4) If fusion happened, on the other hand, the sun could be billions of years old, so that can’t possibly be true.

      As for Hovind’s chemical evolution claim, I haven’t heard it personally. But my best guess is that, since nuclear fusion is central to cosmology’s understanding of how stars, planets, and eventually life were formed over billions of years, Kent wants to reject it at source.

      • The Bible says no such thing? So where did they get it from, and why are they so fussed about it?

      • The 6,000 years figure roughly comes from adding up the ages of everyone listed in the genealogies in the Old Testament. Then the assumption is made that these genealogies are complete and uninterrupted. It is also assumed that from “In the beginning, God…” to “On the seventh day, God rested” is a literal 168-hour period, with no gaps.

        They’re so fussed about it because if the Bible isn’t completely and literally true in every regard, they might have to consider which other bits might not be true.

  5. In the best of all worlds, religion would not be taught in schools. Or, at least, it would not be taught doctrinally. My kids did learn some of the history of Christianity in the secular school that they attended, and that’s fine. (They were amused at “the Diet of Worms”).

    I think it is politically different to have that “best of all worlds”. There are reasons why some parents want to send their children to private schools. And, being one of those parents, I can’t much object to that. Once you allow private schools, it is hard to not allow private schools run by religious groups.

    Perhaps one can have standards which these schools should follow. But it seems to me that your earlier posts illustrate the difficulty of having good standards enforced.

  6. I’m going to try disagreeing with you here Jonny. You said “the right of parents to choose their child’s education” should be protected. Well, let’s see.
    I think we should have a national curriculum with national testing which allows for local variation in teaching (we have this) and even for some variation in curriculum to tailor the curriculum to the local community (We have this in RE — sacre’s). I think there should be opportunity for parents and community groups to express their desires for the curriculum to the local authority and the schools (possible but not really currently instituted) and I think parents should have the right to tuck their kids up at night while telling them what they were taught in school was wrong and ‘we’ think something different (yuck). I think parents should have the right to hire private tutors to help their kids get ahead of the pack (compete, child, compete!) and I think government funding should perhaps be granted to charitable schools held to the same high standards of curriculum, openness and everything else as all other state schools.
    I think all education should be publicly funded and all private schools should be illegal.
    Why? We are currently one of the most socially/economically divided countries in west europe. We apparently have lower social mobility than in medieval times. We do indeed have a ‘broken britain’ and it’s broken not by the criminal acts and laziness of the poor thick people as Mr.Cameron would have us think, but by the breaking apart of society into a deepening economic class structure. We already have one of the most socially divided education systems in western europe and if we’re going to repair our society we need to remove inequality from our education system. This mean overhauling school catchment areas to begin to reverse the effects of urban drift and I think it also means claiming back the 7% of the population many of whom are using their family wealth to head for the top of the pile. (I also think it means getting serious about inheritance tax, but hey)
    Well that’s badly written, but you get the point.

  7. When the subject of religion and the study of this is provided for children, in my opinion, this should be approached with a very open mind and presented to the child, free of doctrine or dogma and instead engage the child in a discussion of why and what ifs, allowing for speculation and opinion. Children have a right to know about many things, it all depends on how this is delivered. In the case of A.C.E, they just bomb.

  8. I want more information about the Martin Luther and John Calvin according to what I been told in ACE

    • Actually, I’m not sure how to help you here. I hope another commenter will have a suggestion. Most histories of the Reformers are written by people who support their theology. If you want a balance to what ACE told you, you need something written by a neutral source.

  9. kategladstone

    “Man should never trust his reasoning because man’s reasoning is not God’s reasoning” —
    Anyone who rejects “man’s reasoning” cannot honestly use the word “because” or the concept that this word represents. Denouncing reason — and then thinking you can still invoke reason to denounce it — is like outlawing all bread, but still expecting toast when you order breakfast.

  10. kategladstone

    I mean “I hope your blog will discuss how they respond.”

  11. There’s an easy way to stop this; just abolish the accreditation of Fundie schools. The parents can continue to send their kids there, but the diplomas won’t be legal; the kids will have to pass the GED, or British equivalent, and when they flunk they’ll have to take remedial courses at a secular school — which will cost them time and money — or else be functionally unemployable. The kids, if not the parents, will wise up pretty fast.

    • Fundie schools aren’t accredited. There is no British equivalent of a GED, and we already have a situation where numerous kids are struggling through life with a worthless high school diploma.

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