Monthly Archives: December 2012

Divine and Rule, part 2

This is the second half of my look at Natasha Walters’ Guardian article on fundamentalist schools, Divine and RulePart 1 is here.

We begin with the joys of sexual purity.

I can see that here the staff strive to give children a sense of pride. But their learning is shaped by the narrowest interpretation of the Bible with all the preconceptions of this religious bias, including a very particular approach to sex education. Maxine responds first when I ask the Hargreaves about the subject. “We talk to the older girls about virginity,” she says. George takes up the theme. “We tell them that the blood shed when virginity is broken on the marriage bed is part of the blood covenant made between you and your husband under God, and if the blood is shed elsewhere it will weaken the covenant.” A few moments later, George reaches into his pocket for a tiny pink plastic doll foetus, and drops it into my hand: “180,000 babies like that are killed every year in Britain. That is what happens when you take sex out of God’s order.”

Then there’s this interesting part:

Although there is clearly a danger that children educated with ACE, especially at home, could end up unsocialised, it seems to me after meeting a few of them that they are no less socialised than the average product of a mainstream education system that tips a whole lot of 13-year-olds into a classroom together and expects them to get on.

I, and, judging from the comments I receive, a lot of others, felt socially retarded after nearly four years learning in silence in a carrel. After he interviewed me for Radio 4, Charles Carroll asked me, “What would you say if I told you that I met a lot ACE pupils today, and they all seemed bright and well socialised?”

I was so unprepared for the question that I didn’t have much of a good answer. I’d spent the last few years building my “ACE pupils are socially stunted” schema, and I was amazed he thought otherwise. This is a big enough issue that I think it deserves a separate blog post, probably in the New Year. Based on Christian Right literature, I think I have the answer: ACE schools are pretty good at teaching children to respond respectfully to adults, which makes a pretty good impression. By contrast, a typical secondary school kid, who is not drilled to death to treat authority with the deference and respect you would give to God, might well be monosyllabic when interviewed by a strange adult. It’s with their own peer groups (outside of their own, isolated environment) that the ACE students tend to struggle.

But I am mindful that, as a journalist, I am unlikely to be introduced to the children who lost out in this system, who rebelled against it, or who felt trapped within it. Because the question still burns about how this kind of education can possibly prepare children to make their own intellectual choices. In the US, where ACE is a much bigger force, that is really what exercises its critics…

A style of education that discourages doubt and debate clearly poses a question for the rest of society. As David Berliner says to me, “Their educational system is closer to ultrafundamentalism than is healthy for a democracy.” Yet ACE schools are independent, they ask for no state support, and families who choose to educate their children at home do so in the face of indifference or hostility from local authorities. Aren’t they just exercising their own right to free choice as to how their children should be educated? So long as their children reach a reasonable standard of learning, has anyone the right to interfere?

This is the whole debate, succinctly put. My recent guest blooger, Lyndell, argued that no one has a right to interfere. My counter-argument is this: My rights end when they start to infringe on someone else’s rights. I do believe parents have the right to decide raise children in accordance with their beliefs, but that right stops when it infringes their child’s right to a good education, or the possibility of that child reaching their own conclusions about belief later on.

I agree with the view put forward by Ben Rogers:

Ben Rogers, the associate director of the thinktank Institute for Public Policy Research, produced a recent report, What Is Religious Education For? which argued that discussion of atheism and agnosticism should be included within religious education for all children. “There is this view that parents own their children,” he says. “Nobody owns kids. Children aren’t yours to control, you hold them in trust, and you should cultivate certain qualities in them, including the ability to understand the value of different points of view.”

The future is likely to see more of this debate, since most of the people I interviewed believed that independent fundamentalist education is set to spread in the UK, partly because of the inspiration evangelical Christians seem to take from what’s happening across the Atlantic.

Fortunately, that last part is simply delusional. Numbers of ACE students have been pretty static for the last couple of decades. I grew up with evangelicals, and they were always talking about how a big revival is just around the corner, and we would see the spread of Christianity on a massive scale. It never happens. I think the UK has fairly good cultural immunity to that kind of crazy, thanks in part to the moderating influence of the Church of England. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be on the alert for things like ACE, which can seriously mess with a child’s future, but it does mean that the UK will almost certainly never have its own Rick Warren or John Hagee.

Walters concludes:

In the US evangelicals have effectively created a parallel system of education which has schooled hundreds of thousands of pupils in its messianic world view and the evangelical social and political agenda has moved into the mainstream. Evangelical Christianity is far from being such a force in Britain, but it is clearly the desire of many of those I met that it should become so. They are being inspired by the growing confidence of other faith groups. Supporters of ACE talked admiringly of Muslims who make it clear they do not wish to join the mainstream. Fundamentalist Christians point enviously to the fact that more children are currently educated in Muslim independent schools than independent evangelical Christian schools – about 14,000 compared with about 5,000 – and independent Muslim schools are growing more quickly. Rather than confronting this sectarianism with a call to inclusiveness, they would like to react with further sectarianism of their own. The goal is a more, rather than less, divided society. “Christians have been leaving it to the government to decide on their values, while Muslims have said, ‘This is mine, this is my culture, this is who I am’,” says Maxine Hargreaves. “Now we Christians are saying that we want to defend our culture, too. We want to take back our children.”

I’m sort of reminded of Rick Warren saying he wishes young Christians were as dedicated as the Hitler Youth (I know, right?)

Note to fundamentalists: If you’re looking admiringly at Nazis and Jihadists, you’re doing it wrong.

OK, that’s it from me for 2012. Thanks to all of you for making this blog a success this year. Next year will be even better for the blog, for reasons I’ll explain soon, but in the meantime, have a good Christmas/ Yule/ holiday/ whatever you want to call it (but seriously, atheists, stop pretending to be offended and just call it Christmas, alright?).

Related articles:

Guest post

I’m a guest poster over at the Ramblings of Sheldon blog today.

I was walking back from my village shop with a loaf of bread. Like always, I was staring at the ground, so I didn’t see the group of girls coming the otherway. I jumped when one of them spoke.
“Jonny, do you know Esther?”
girl was speaking to me. I almost convulsed with the adrenalin. Then a voice completely alien to mine escaped my lips, at once threatened and aggressive.
“Yeeeaahh,” I grunted. The girls burst into laughter and walked off. One did an impression of my voice as they went. I returned to staring at the floor and walking home.
This was the result studying alone, in silence, being constantly told how evil the outside world is, for four of my most formative years. I could talk to grown-ups, of course, “Yes, Mrs. Johnson”, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Johnson”, “You’re right, Mrs. Johnson”. But people my own age? Those ones who were trying to drag me to hell with them? They were terrifying.

It was very kind of Sheldon to host my blog post, and you can read the rest of it here.

Stalinism without the subtlety

In 2005, the Guardian printed probably the most thorough look at ACE schools there’s ever been in the British press (or anywhere). It’s long – even I didn’t make it through in one hit – so I’ll pick out my favourite bits.

It features comments from David Berliner and Harry Brighouse. Harry is my new favourite academic (apart from Michael Reiss, obviously), mostly because he is the author of the greatest comment about ACE in the history of the world:

The Accelerated Christian Education schools, for example, teach in science classes that evolution is false and that God created the world in seven days (literally). Their history presents a teleological account of American history as leading to the ultimate fulfilment of God’s will, a kind of Christian version of the Stalinist approach to history but without the intellectual subtlety.

If anyone wants to put the last bit on a mug, I would drink tea from that every day.

Anyway, Natasha Walters’ Guardian article.

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The week in religious extremism

It’s been a bumper few days in the world of crazy Christendom. Here’s a news roundup for you.

First, Angus T. Jones, the child star of Two and a Half Men told us all we shouldn’t watch his show. Since he found Jesus he’s realised how damaging it is. In fact, it’s filth.

In the video, he even talks about the Laodiceans. That’s some deep Bible geekery. I lived in a church for a decade and a half, and I can’t remember what the Laodiceans were about. Also, he refers to Satan as “the Enemy,” which is evangelical jargon. What’s more, it shows how steeped in that world he is. Ordinary people wouldn’t necessarily make that connection straight away, but he just assumes everyone will know what he means.

Not only that, but he assumes that “doing some research on the effects of television on the brain” will make us immediately switch off his show. Which tells me he’s been fed some misinformation, because, contrary to what the fundies will tell you, television can’t bypass your rational will, and it can’t turn you into an agent of Satan.

Next, in Las Vegas, kid was reportedly beaten to death for failing to read the Bible and do his homework.

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Well, that sure told me

I know I’ve done a few posts based on comments I’ve received lately, but the standard of insight has been nothing short of trenchant.

Here are some of the faithful who have stopped by to show me the error of my ways.


“sounds to me like you are just bitter against the truth. Evolutions is disproven everyday but you are so “educated” you can’t see that”


“This “small” pack of “Ace” haters on here do not come close to the number of Ace Users and they never will! Keep yapping back and fourth it still will not change the fact that millions use this curriculum! Go ACE!!!!”

Superb use of punctuation there, Missy.

More critical engagement after the jump!

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Pinochet Good; Gay Bad: An ACE Survivor Story

I love it when other ex-ACE pupils write to me saying they agree with my views on ACE. It doesn’t happen that often. I think, in part, this is because ACE is overall an effective tool for indoctrination. A lot of students leave without the ability or the desire to question the beliefs ACE drilled into them.

Occasionally, someone slips through the net, and I’m always grateful when they add their voices to the others. The more people stand up and say that this isn’t right, the more others are going to take notice.

So this is Greg’s story. It’s a good un.


I attended an ACE school from the time that I was thirteen until I was seventeen. That was 1972-1978. Berean Christian School was its name. The school was in East Saint Louis, Illinois and has moved to Fairview Heights, Illinois since then. I found your website while I was looking to see if ACE schools still exist. I was hoping that they went down a long time ago. Unfortunately, they have not.

All of the experiences that I have read about on this site were the same experiences that I had at Berean. No one is exaggerating.

Although other students were paddled, some pretty often, I never was. I was pretty quiet but rebellious in my own way. I remember once being shown a film from Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist university. The film dealt with the American Civil War and starred the founder of the university, Bob Jones himself. He played a Confederate General. His son also starred in the film and played Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. I remember seeing only three Blacks in the film and only two had speaking parts. A Black woman playing a slave simply helped a white character with her jacket. Two Black men were used for comic relief when one of them put too many beans in a pot and it boiled over. It was typical racial stereotyping, just like Amos and Andy. The white Confederates were portrayed as the most Christian and kindess people one could ever meet. I was sixteen when I saw this film and I remember thinking that if the people who made it had their way, the South would have won the Civil War.

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