The case for private Christian education: parental freedom

Finally! Just when I was wondering if I ever would, I’ve heard from a parent who has used the ACE system and sees merit in it. Unlike other people who disagree with me, Lyndell actually engaged with my criticisms of ACE and we’ve wound up having a long and worthwhile discussion via email. I present the highlights below.

I’m hopeful that Lyndell might answer your questions in the comments, but I haven’t actually asked her yet, so we’ll see. Here’s her initial comment:

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Hello. Just stumbled across your website as I was looking for overviews of ACE programs. I’m actually considering a return to ACE, believe it or not :-) We started home schooling with ACE many years ago, but changed to some other programs for various reasons. After a few years of working at other programs I can see some of the merits of the ACE program.

Like Dave in your comment section, I am also a “legitimate educator”. I attended public schools and did my four year teaching degree at a secular university. I’ve taught in many different public schools. Years 5, 6 and 7 Japanese, year 10 science, year 10 “remedial” english, year 8 and 9 english etc…. Let me tell you, I don’t see any major deficiencies in the academic side of ACE when I compare it with the material students are learning in the public schools. The grammar in ACE leaves public education standards for dead. Even the year 8 English is more comprehensive than public senior education standards. My children, who went through the ACE reading program, were well above their so-called reading level that would have been assigned to them in public school. My oldest child is in his 8th year of HSing at the moment, so I can’t say what the academic side of things are like in the later high school years. However, there are many ACE graduates who continue on with academic studies without any issues of “gaps” in their education. In fact, my ACE educated nephew was asked by his secular university lecturer to help the “normal” school kids learn how to write an essay correctly. Academics is a non-issue.

A couple of people have commented on your site said that they were spanked at an ACE school. I do not at all condone this practise, but I do wonder what makes anyone think the same thing wouldn’t happen in public schools? I remember getting hit over the hand with a ruler by my public school teacher for talking in class. In grade one I was dragged out the front of the class and smacked with the big metre ruler in front of everyone because I turned around to tell the boy behind me to be quiet. ACE is not perfect, their teachers aren’t perfect, and neither is the public school system. I completely disagree with teachers smacking children. However, I would argue that there would be many more instances of physical abuse in public schools than in ACE schools.

As far as the belief that ACE indoctrinates, I would contend that EVERY curriculum has an underlying set of beliefs. So, I disagree with the idea that ACE indoctrinates children while “normal” schooling does not. Children will be taught a worldview either way. Parents who choose to educate with ACE are no more indoctrinating their children than parents who send their children to public schools. The difference is in the worldview. As a parent, I choose to teach my children my beliefs. Are atheists going to send their children to a christian school so that their children get a balanced view of life? No, parents educate their children according to their belief system. All children are being indoctrinated, just like I was in the public school system. I grew up believing that truth is relative, that there are no absolutes, that life evolved, and so on. I wasn’t taught that there is another worldview that disagrees with these ideas. So, just like some of the people who have commented on your site, I can say that I was indoctrinated.

I’m not sure that many people have a perfect education or upbringing. I know that some have horror stories to tell in so far as they are physically abused etc. I don’t see the ACE books themselves as being responsible for abuse. Perhaps it’s the ACE school system, but I can’t comment on that as I have no experience with it. I see there is no need for ACE to be ashamed of teaching children about Christ and the christian worldview. In fact, I think it’s fantastic that there are Christ-centred programs out there.

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After this, Lyndell and I had a long and far-reaching discussion. Here’s a bit more of it (the blockquote section is a reference to one of my comments).

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I’ve been thinking through this discussion and trying to figure out why I felt compelled to add my comment on your site and I think it is really because this as an issue of freedom.  If we clear all of our opinions to the side, I think that it all really boils down to this one issue of parental freedom and the very question of who should determine child training and education.

Just for arguments sake, let’s say ACE is guilty of all you say. When you assert that ACE lacks important skills and topics and limits the child to think critically, then that’s a very valid point if they are in fact important skills.  You see, what you may think is important another person may not.  It really opens up the debate on just what and how much children need to know.  Don’t get me wrong – I really want my kids to be able to think critically, so I share the same opinion.  And, who really cares if we don’t know what a gerund is?  I agree with you there, too.  But, what I don’t agree with is the idea that one person, or body, should assert what all children need to learn.  If we do that, then we need to ask the question: who is responsible for a child’s education?  If it is not the parents right and responsibility to educate their child in a way they see fit, then whose is it?

Do we hand our children over to the state to decide?  We only need to reflect on the example of South Africa last century when apartheid was taught in the schools as an acceptable and good practice to know that government control of education is a conflict of interest.  So, the question remains to be answered.  Who do you think should make decisions about child training and education?  I noticed in one of your blogs that you touched on this point.  You wrote this:

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.
When you say that children are not the property of the parents, then who do they belong to?  Yes, children are individuals, but that fact does not imply they are autonomous.  Children are not free to engage in paid work, they are not free to vote, and they are not free or equipped to drive a car.  The reality is that children are under the wings of their parents and, therefore, take on the beliefs, ethics, and values of their parents even if the parent does nothing to actively train their child in their beliefs.
When you make a claim that the child needs to be educated with the skills to form their own religious views, you are asserting that all parents should train children your way. So, if we go back to the original question of who should make decisions about how to train and educate children, then it appears by your statement that you think it should be you.  You are setting a standard that you believe is correct according to your beliefs.  Are you perhaps asserting your own religious view on child rearing?
One other thing to consider when thinking about who should determine child training and education:  if the whole population of the UK implemented your educational and parental recommendations and then 20 years down the track you see that you were wrong in some of these assertions, where does that leave the generations of children who were trained and educated under your views?  You see, parental freedom protects us from mass indoctrination of any kind and mass educational blunders.
I’m actually very passionate about home schooling and the rights of a parent to decide on what and how their children learn.  That is why I’m defending ACE, even though I agree that there are some problems with it.  I’m defending it because I see the very same problems in the public education system and yet people have the freedom to educate their children in that system.  Everything you have accused ACE of doing, the public education system has also done and continues to do so.
If your true cause was to liberate children from all lies, physical abuse, bias, and shonky educational methods, then your website should not be about ACE, but on all school cases of falsehood, physical abuse, biased programs, and bad educational methodology. If you have such a concern for children to be told the truth then why not target parents who tell their children that Santa, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are real?

I’m not saying these things to heat up the discussion or seem argumentative.  I’m just posing these questions to elaborate on my point of view.

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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 November 26, 2012, in Accelerated Christian Education, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. While it is nice that Lyndell took the time to be cordial and spell out the reasons ACE can be a good education, the indoctrination dismissal bothers me. Indoctrination is clear by the interweaving of Christian dogma in the material. This becomes problematic particularly in the sciences.

    Evolution is not a “world view”, it is factual. Religious beliefs and other opinions are world views.
    I fear that, although the writer is asserting that public school also indoctrinates, and makes a good illustrative point, the level of indoctrination in public school is not denying science and the knowledge humans have gained. The indoctrination in A C E is absolutely denying the scientific and cultural advances, and it is putting the children who only have A C E as instruction at a disadvantage in these areas. This cannot be seriously disputed.

  2. “When you say that children are not the property of the parents, then who do they belong to?”

    This assumes that children have to be someone’s property. They don’t. They’re the parents responsibility, certainly, but they don’t have to be anyone’s property.

    ” You are setting a standard that you believe is correct according to your beliefs. Are you perhaps asserting your own religious view on child rearing?”

    This sounds like a variation on a frequently used argument: “You say you are tolerant, but you don’t tolerate my intolerant beliefs! So you’re not tolerant!”

    This is nonsense. If I say I am not a picky eater, you can’t offer me horse manure for lunch and then say I am in fact a picky eater if I refuse to eat it.

  3. It’s nice to see some articulate reasoning from the other side. Here are my issues.

    If you have such a concern for children to be told the truth then why not target parents who tell their children that Santa, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are real?

    To me, this speaks for itself. The very nature of these lies is that children are expected to grow out of them; the idea that ignorance is bliss and lies are okay if they make you happy is normal in the innocence of childhood. However, I find the idea of an adult believing in Santa quite a disturbing one, which is why atheists often draw the comparison to God.

    Are atheists going to send their children to a christian school so that their children get a balanced view of life? No, parents educate their children according to their belief system.

    Aside from the fact that atheism is not a belief system, I feel that we need to clarify the difference between ‘indoctrinating’ and ‘teaching a worldview’. Of course children are more likely to have the same beliefs as their parents. The exact definition of indoctrination is widely debated, but I would suggest there is a strong difference between teaching a belief, and lying to a child in order to give them a belief that you expect them to hold into adulthood.

    Being short on time, I have only responded to the things I disagree with, so this post might be disproportionately negative. To summarise: “We believe that Jesus died for our sins and he loves you” is different from “(false evidence) and (outright lie) prove that evolution is not true”, which is again different from “Be good or Santa won’t bring you any Christmas presents”. In my opinion, only the second one is indoctrination.

  4. It seems as though Lyndell sees herself as an educated person but does not display the ability to critically analyze information. How can someone say that they were taught that life evolved and then go on to support the ACE program? Obviously, in my opinion, she was not taught anything about HOW we think life evolved.

    I will freely admit that ACE can be use to teach reading, writhing, and math. But I would like to know if anyone has gone through nothing but the ACE program and become a scientist who is published in an actual scientific journal? (Note that I said science and not just engineering. I have known young earth creationists with no critical thinking skills who went through ACE and were still professional engineers.) And if so do they still think that ACE is a good system? I do not think that such a person could exist. I will also freely admit that many public schools might fall short in many ways. But that has noting to do with the merits or faults of the ACE program.

    Parental freedom in the education of children seems to be more important to the religious than the rights and well being of the children. Parents will still have great influence over their children’s education and outlook on life if they go to public school. But parents play favorites even when they try not to. And when a non favorite child is cut off from the rest of the world to be home schooled using something like ACE they really get screwed in many ways. Lyndell says that ” Academics is a non-issue.” That may be the case for some ACE schools and students but there are no standards to make sure of that in a non accredited system.

    If Lyndell or anyone else thinks that I am wrong about any of these things I am open to discussion and questions.

  5. My first reaction to Lyndell’s comment is that it does point to the importance of the teacher. A good teacher can probably prepare students quite well, even based on poor educational materials, and even the best educational materials won’t overcome the disadvantages of a poor teacher.

    I am sympathetic to the parents having some say in the education of their children. I sent my two children to a neighborhood Catholic school for around two years. We were not religious ourselves and a bit concerned about that. But they seemed to get a good education. Whatever religion they got did not unduly influence them. We sent them to that school because the public schools in our neighborhood in Chicago were poor. After those two years, we scraped up the fees to send them to a a private non-religious school where they did very well.

    What troubles me most with religious parents, is the home schooling. I see that as a bad idea. The children need to get away from the home. Their own parents should not be their teachers. The relation between teacher and student should be very different from the relation between parent and child.

    I have never been impressed with the “world view” idea. If you are teaching your students a world view, you are doing it wrong. Children should be taught to question and analyze. It is not sufficient to only offer beliefs.

  6. I went to a conservative Christian school but excluding religious education classes,regular church services, regular prayers and not really covering evolution, it had a great academic programme (it had one of the highest ranks in the city and 99 – 100% of students went onto university). While they were not enormously common we did have students from atheist parents, this was because while there was religious brainwashing it did not interfere with the main curriculum. Also even though we weren’t taught evolution, we were taught the value of reasoning and were taught how to evaluate evidence (these were taught as skills on there own independent of religion i.e. it’s true because we have evidence in the bible doesn’t cut it). I say this to illustrate that atheists will send their kids to religious schools if the curriculum is strong because education based on evidence is not brainwashing in fact it is the opposite, at my school in our main classes (not RE) we were taught to question and evaluate the evidence ourselves (in our final years we even had class debates with the teachers). The church I went to at the time was more conservative and would not have encouraged this attitude of questioning because the bible is god’s word and you can’t question god. From my fundamentalist friends and family I know that this unquestioning attitude is what occurs in fundamentalist churches too and from the evidence I have gathered thus far this attitude is rife in ACE. In my church and RE lessons I experienced brainwashing and indoctrination but in my education I was taught how to think not what to think. Teaching kids isn’t indoctrination if it follows the principle of teaching how to think not what. All of my teachers at school were conservative Christians and if they met me now we would probably disagree on most things but I will always be grateful that they taught me how to reason and evaluate evidence rather than foisting their beliefs onto me.

  7. When I first used the ACE system it never once occurred to me that I was subjecting my children to a fundamentalist way of life, because in all honesty we picked our way around the ‘indoctrinating’ tidbits and dealt more with the academic aspect. I agree that the grammar tutorials are very complete but I still maintain that there is a need to forage around for other academic material to balance out ACE’s offerings.

  8. Are atheists going to send their children to a christian school so that their children get a balanced view of life? No, parents educate their children according to their belief system.”

    A couple of people have picked up on this quote but seem to have missed an important problem. The quote implies that if atheists aren’t going to send their children to a christian school, then christians shouldn’t be expected to send their children to an atheist school. I wholeheartedly agree! Like many christians, it appears Lyndell has failed to grasp the difference between ‘atheist’ and ‘secular’. It may be that there are in fact mainstream government atheist schools in some countries (unbeknownst to me), but the author is in fact writing from a country in which secular schools are the norm.

    Of course the importance of a secular education has been laid out by many people on this website. Such an education neither supports nor opposes any religion, encourages learners to develop their own thoughts and allows parents full freedom to educate, indoctrinate or brainwash their children however they see fit. I hardly see participation in such an education as an unreasonable request of any parent — religious, atheist or otherwise.

    Jonny, with regards to the claim that parents should be allowed to isolate their children from the mainstream and indoctrinate them with the traditions of their community, I don’t know how much you’ve looked into it, but you need to read up on communitarianism. It’s an ongoing debate.

    All the best,
    Sam

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