The Benefits and the Workings of ACE

This is a guest post. Another advocate of Accelerated Christian Education has come forward to give her reasons for using the curriculum. Monica does a great job explaining herself, so I’ll give you no introduction. Please read it and let me (and Monica) know what you think.

I am writing this as a person with over 20 years’ experience of working in Christian Schools and home education with ACE as a Supervisor (teacher) for a range of ages from 4-18 years. My degree was in Chemistry and Biochemistry so I have taught practical science in schools as well as the ACE Curriculum. I also had the privilege of spending two years as an inspector (not Ofsted) for ACE Schools as commissioned by Christian Education Europe, UK who provide the curriculum.

My two main aims in writing this are to clarify the use and aims of the ACE curriculum in ACE Schools in the UK and also to make it clear that every curriculum has underlying beliefs and values.

In fact, some years ago, I wrote an article which I published in a leaflet called, ‘Education is Not Neutral’. The idea that education consists of a curriculum package containing a body of knowledge which is passed on to pupils in a sterile environment is truly false. Every curriculum has an underlying worldview whether it is religious or atheistic. The Jews, the Moslems, Christians and atheists all want to pass on the beliefs and values of their particular worldview to the next generation.

Education is the transference of principles and knowledge from one generation to the next, whether it is actually religious or not. The French, for example, declaring themselves a secular state, have excluded religion from their curriculum (except for the Catholic Schools) but include philosophy. Although this is essentially non-religious it is still the transference of ideals and values based on atheistic humanism.

Naturally, Christian parents would prefer to impart Christian values to their offspring rather than secular ones. Likewise the Moslems and the Jews, and thankfully, parents have the liberty in the UK to have some choice about their children’s education. This remains their right and their responsibility. The suggestion therefore that Christian Schools ‘indoctrinate’ children is true in a way, although the word indoctrination has a negative connotation and I would prefer to use the words ‘impart and share.’  They are not unique in this though, since every system of education passes on its ideas and values.

I would now like to write about the workings of ACE as I think this is something that is often misunderstood so I would like to clarify this. On the practical side, in the majority of schools the ACE curriculum is studied in the mornings since it is academic in nature and most children concentrate better at this time of day. The afternoons normally consist of practical activities such as sports, arts and crafts, drama, music and any other subjects not covered by ACE. This would include language learning at secondary level along with some UK history, geography and some English literature since ACE is mainly American. It is expected that there will be opportunities for children to interact, play team games etc. Since ACE is individualised there needs to be opportunity for this to bring a balance.

The ACE curriculum itself covers, maths, English, science, social studies (geography and history), word-building (spelling) and English Literature for all ages from 3-18. I also endorse (referring to Lyndell’s comments) that the Learning to Read Scheme is excellent. At the upper end of the scale, CEE in the UK has developed Certificates at levels equivalent to GCSEs and A levels, which are accepted and recognised by Universities and Colleges and is called the International Certificate of Christian Education. (ICCE)

In addition to all this, there is an annual event called the European Student Convention where schools participate and compete in many different types of events from the performing arts, to sports, practical skills such as woodwork and photography and also academic skills such as quizzes and essays. Students aged 12 years and above, spend a part of their school year preparing for this and it gives them opportunity to develop skills and the confidence to perform as well as interact with students from other schools. This event is highly commended by Ofsted and they encourage ACE Schools to participate in this event, which currently takes place in Somerset over a few days around Easter time.

I hope this gives a better idea of how the ACE curriculum is part of a bigger picture. I will now address the curriculum itself:

  1. It is of a high academic standard. An independent organisation known as NARIC have investigated the content of the Certificates (ICCE) produced by CEE and found them to be of a good academic standard.

  2. It is individualised as pupils each have their own workbooks and work through them at their own pace. This accommodates both the bright student who will not be held back as well as the slow ones who need longer to digest the material.

  3. It encourages students to take responsibility for their own work as they set their own goals each day (with guidance) and have to complete those goals or take them for homework.

  4. The curriculum itself and the way it is run is character building. Christian values are taught throughout (love your neighbour etc.) and the student has to correct his own work and be responsible for what he does. There are rules to be followed to ensure the correct use of the curriculum and they also provide character training for the student.

  5. There are rewards and incentives built into the system, which encourage the students.

Admittedly, the curriculum is prescriptive but so are other curricula too. If you take GCSEs for example, there is necessarily a set syllabus, which teachers teach to. In the main, pupils will regurgitate what the teacher tells them in order to pass the exams.

There are some aspects of the ACE curriculum which nowadays may be considered old-fashioned and do need some updating but the environment of the school itself, the attitudes of teachers, parents and other pupils are likely to be the biggest influence on a child’s life and it is up to teachers and parents to be open to answer pupils’ questions.

Not all schools hold fully to the American fundamentalist view described in ACE but this does not therefore invalidate a system which otherwise works well. Christian Schools are organised and run by Christians from a huge variety of different church backgrounds and the ACE curriculum is a useful tool. Many Christians prefer to use a curriculum which has some drawbacks but agrees with the basics of Christianity rather than submit their children to a totally atheistic and secular education.

However, I do believe that most Christian Schools, accepting secondary students for the first time, require the agreement of the child as well as the parent as this kind of system does not work well without the pupil’s cooperation. Having resentful teenagers in school is unhelpful for them and for the other students too.

I have read some of the bad experiences that people had with ACE from your blog and some of those were very unfortunate and demonstrates to me that ACE is a tool and any tool can be misused. It is the way a school implements it that is so important. Hopefully, it should be run by teachers who have love and compassion for the students and desire the best for them. I am happy to say that this is certainly my experience in nearly all of the schools I have visited in the UK. I should also mention that all ACE Schools are subject to government Ofsted inspections which are available online and can be read by the public.

What of the fruit of these particular schools? The best test of an education system is how the students turn out at the end. I only know of anecdotal evidence but many schools say that colleges and employers are glad to receive students who have learned to take responsibility for their own work, are honest and truthful and able to turn up to work or lectures on time. The character-building aspect of Christian Schools seems to bear fruit. This is true of all types of Independent Christian Schools regardless of whether or not they use ACE.

I have not addressed the Creationist view which runs throughout the ACE curriculum because it really needs another whole article to deal with this. As a scientist, I see more evidence for a Creationist view than for evolution which is a faith of its own kind – but that’s another story. There are plenty of articles on the evidence for a Creationist view published on websites like Answers in Genesis, which people can read for themselves.

Monica Stringer B.Sc. (London), Ph.D.

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 April 4, 2013, in Accelerated Christian Education, Christianity, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Children do not learn character building through workbooks. Children learn character building through interacting with other children and adults.

    A note about the NARIC study: “It is important to note therefore that the UK NARIC benchmark assessments apply to the individual ICCE awards and not the ACE curriculum materials in isolation.” Essentially they are saying that the tests for the certificates are *comparable* for the same academic standing as opposed to “equivalent”. Only the general and the advanced passed. The intermediate did not. http://www.ecctis.co.uk/naric/news%20story.aspx?NewsID=106

    In other words, ACE does a good job of teaching to the test.

  2. Dear Monica,
    I spent eight years in your precious curriculum. All the abuse aside, the only thing I learned of value was how to read and spell. Yes, the reading program was good, and I suppose it didn’t hurt that the only way to ‘learn’ aka ‘memorize bogus facts’ about the world, was to read your PACE. Fortunately for me, I left this school when I was 14 and I used the reading skills it imported on me to devour all the books that weren’t available in the system to basically self-teach myself all the things ACE lied to me about. As far as I’m concerned, I had about three years of actual education in my life. Eight years in ACE taught me nothing but propaganda (but for the reading skills, Thanks ACE).

    Ignoring your ignorant idea that atheism is an ideology (really secular reasoning is about teaching people HOW to think, not WHAT to think – but I know that will likely go over your head) you go on to say that a creationism view makes more sense to you, which basically means you’re the kind of person to take one bronze age book and use it to dispute all the real science in the world. Perhaps you think the scientists are all in on Satan’s plan and are lying to us? Well, assuming you’re an AIG fan and from hence comes your ‘evidence’ to state such bologna is factual, take a look at this rebuttal (attached), keep an open mind, and ask yourself if you’re really being faithful to your brain. Or just to the Kool-Aid.
    All the best
    Sincerely,
    Aram

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/101_evidences_for_a_young_age_of_the_Earth_and_the_universe

    • Thanks for replying Aram, but I do say in my comment policy that comments should be polite. I value your comment and I’m keeping it live, but please don’t overdo the sarcasm. I want people like Monica to keep talking to us.

      • You’re a more patient man than I, Jonny. Still, I’m quite certain that if you lived in North America for a spell, you would better understand the impatient sarcasm of my tone. Europe is, for all intents and purposes, an oasis of secular life compared to the ‘New World’ I hail from. Perhaps all the religious death and bigoted suffering over the centuries is finally started to catch up with the mentality of ‘Old World’. The fact is, my German wife met me with the idea that, ‘Religion is stupid, but hey, at least it helps people.’ After a year and a half of living in North America she now despises religion for the child abuse and horror-show that it is. So it goes.

        I’ve lived in London myself over the years. (I’ve spent about six years in Europe all together.) Only recently did I understand what it is that I loved about the energy of your city (and most of Western Europe in general). It was/is the lack of religious rhetoric that haunts every aspect of life there. Perhaps this lack of constant attacks of moralism in your life is why you still have the patience to debate civilly with religious folks who are basically condoning child abuse. And I don’t mean that in a snarky way. It’s a genuine observation.

        But I do apologize for coming across too sarcastic on your blog. It’s your rules, after all.
        It would, of course, be much better to chat with you about this face to face. I’ve heard my prose can sometimes come across much more intense than I mean to. If you happen to be in Scotland in the next two weeks, let me know.
        Cheers

  3. It’s refreshing to see finally an articulate argument from the other side. I agree with much of what you’ve said: that all curricula have flaws, that parents have the right to raise their children with a chosen worldview, and that school should be a place for character-building as well as academic education. There are a couple of key points, however, that I very strongly disagree with.

    Firstly, I think it is incorrect to say that all schools have an equal amount of agenda and indoctrination with regards to the religious (or non-religious) beliefs that are presented to pupils. It is not possible to equate a certain amount of inevitable bias (because however strict any guidelines are, the mere fact that teachers have contact with pupils introduces bias, unless we start ‘double-blind’ teaching) with outright indoctrination.

    My secondary school was of no faith, but neither did it teach atheistic or humanist views; pupils of a variety of faiths attended, and in Religious Studies we learned about what different faiths believed, and were encouraged to debate topics such as abortion, capital punishment, sex before marriage etc. A typical R.S. question might be: ‘Abortion is wrong because the Bible says “Thou shalt not kill”.’ To what extent might a Christian agree with this statement?, and a high-scoring answer would discuss how some Christians might be pro-life and others pro-choice, depending on their denomination, and supported by quotes from the Bible and other sources. You would be expected to conclude with your own opinion on abortion and give justification, although – crucially – there was no right or wrong answer to this part. The whole point of R.S. was to learn about other people’s beliefs and to be accepting of them. Contrasted with a biology PACE with the objective ‘To learn why abortion is wrong’, I think the difference between ‘indoctrination’ and ‘imparting and sharing’ is made pretty clear.

    My second issue is your praise of the ‘individualised’ nature of ACE. Working through a fixed set of examples and questions at your own pace is not the same as tailoring a curriculum to suit the individual; in fact, it is entirely unadaptable. Although I agree that this is an area that many schools probably need to work on, having a core curriculum is not the same as preemptively setting all the material in stone. By working through booklets individually, pupils can set the pace of their work, but nothing else. Some students may only require three examples to grasp the concept of factorising a quadratic equation, say, whereas another student may need fifty example. A fixed set of ten examples is then either a needless waste of time, or insufficient. A pupil might very quickly be able to factorise an equation where the coefficient of x-squared is 1, but not when it is something else. The way that factorising has been explained might work for some pupils, but not others, who might need to be shown a different way of doing it. Non of this is conducive to working alone with a fixed set of material, even ‘at your own pace’.

    When we were shown new concepts in maths, we were referred to our textbooks, which had an obscene number of examples and questions, with answers in the back. We were told to do whichever and as many questions as we needed to understand the material, and if people were getting stuck on similar questions then the teacher might go through an alternative method with the class. My school was not perfect, and we will – and should – always be striving for improvements in education, but this to me is a better system than “Read this, do these questions, now you can factorise!”

    Regarding the ‘rewards and incentives’, this is apparently a poor method for teaching; research shows that it is far better to motivate students by enthusing them intrinsically about the subject. Jonny knows much more about this than I do, and I am sure he will address it directly.

    To summarise (finally!), one of your main arguments seems to be that no curriculum is perfect, so why complain about ACE? But this is the wrong approach. If flaws that are present in the ACE system are also present in other systems, then they should be dealt with across the board, not ignored. That’s like defending an accusation of racism by saying ‘Yeah…but your other friend’s racist, too!”. You haven’t addressed, and I would be interested to hear your views about, the outright lies present in the ACE curriculum, as given in the ‘Top 5 Lies…’ and ‘5 Even Worse Lies…’ posts.

  4. If “As a scientist, I see more evidence for a Creationist view than for evolution which is a faith of its own kind”, you destroy your credibility in every other claim that you make.
    If you are scientifically trained and unable to see the truth of evolution, I cannot trust anything that you say.
    Thank you for trying.

  5. This is certainly an amicable and well written letter, but this masks several key flaws in the reasoning presented.

    For example, we have the conflation of secularism with atheism. Secularism is the attempt to remain neutral with regards to religion, neither promoting nor denigrating any particular faith. This ensures that all beliefs are treated as equally as possible, a necessity if you want to avoid discrimination in a multi-cultural society. It also means that if a parent wants to teach “Christian values” to their child they can, since they haven’t been predisposed one way or the other by the school. It also means that Muslim parents are in the same situation, something that would not be possible if the school was teaching one faith as true. This equality is to embraced

    There’s also the “you too” fallacy; the claim that since GSCEs teach to the test, ACE should be allowed to as well? I’ll happily admit problems with the way schools work, but surely this is an argument to improve them rather than lowering the bar and allowing similarly flawed methods into the system.

    And then there’s the whole kerfuffle with evolution at the end. I’ll be watching any follow up posts with great interest

    This list of problems is by no means exhaustive, but is all I could be bothered to type out.

  6. ashley haworth-roberts

    “I have not addressed the Creationist view which runs throughout the ACE curriculum because it really needs another whole article to deal with this.” Indeed. I would be interested to see how she would defend teaching as ‘science’ beliefs which either have been falsified by the scientific method or which are unfalsifiable by the scientific method. It is possible to seek to instil into students a Christian ethos, and to present within the religious studies curriculum the unique claims of Christ and the Christian gospel, WITHOUT attacking science and presenting a highly distorted view of what science can know and what it thinks it already knows about our origins.

  7. Jonny, I admire you for finding good presenters of various viewpoints on you site. I found this post very interesting. As a fundamentalist child attending public education in the USA, I often felt isolated and different from the other children. ACE would have prevented that but would have isolated me further from the rest of the world.

    I read this article with the question, ‘How could ACE have benefited me as a child?’ I cannot see that it would have. The enlightening aspect of this post is that, though it is well presented, it is not at all persuasive. Perhaps this type of curriculum does a good job teaching math and language skills, but one of the most important needs of education is to teach thinking skills. This seems totally lacking not only in what I understand of ACE but in fundamentalism as a movement. If you have all the answers, why consider alternatives?

  8. Thanks Monica for your post. Your view of this style of schooling is in almost complete opposition to my experiences as described in my guest post. I attended The Kings School, Whitney, when David Freeman was the head master. We had a mixture of PACEs and class-room teaching as you described. I also hold a science degree – in my case Genetics BSc and PhD, and have lectured at university level (mainly masters) but have not taught in schools.

    Your first point about the non-neutrality of education is of course both entirely correct and at the same time entirely besides the point. It is not the neutrality or otherwise that is in question but the balance. All teachers, texts and syllabi are non-neutral to some degree, in that they intentionally or unintentionally support opinions and interpretations. They do this by explicitly backing or refuting positions, or by introducing or omitting raw facts. However, the intention of a balanced education is to give the student the tools to be able to buffer themselves against these biasses by teaching them how to judge for themselves what is reliable data, what other data they need to test a possible conclusion, and how to test and justify opinions using supporting data. This whole process is entirely absent from PACEs, indeed is in direct oposition to the ‘beliefs and values’ of PACEs. They tell the student what facts are admissible and what single interpretations are the correct ones. They leave no room for students to negotiate with the facts to inform positions, and you fail the tests if you express a different opinion with not even a format within the testing framework to justify why your opinion may be valid. This is one of the ways that the syllabus clearly cross the line from ‘impart and share’ to ‘indoctrinate’.

    Essentially the same point stands in relation to the restrictive nature of the syllabus. Of course syllabi by their very nature are restrictive – if you have a history syllabus that covers the Second World War in Europe, then material about the effect of the Enlightenment on the Islamic world is off-topic. However, where as in a GCSE course there is considerable room for personal learning, use of a range of sources and development of skills in analysing data and justifying opinions and interpretations, in PACEs there is none of this, just a collection of prescribed statements with missing words. Again, you’re pointing to there being some restriction in main-stream education and saying that the straight-jacket of PACEs is justified. These are qualitatively different levels of restriction. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

    I agree that “The best test of an education system is how the students turn out at the end.” My experience is that what was produced where people with serious, life-long problems. Some are psychological requiring professional counselling. Others are deficits in critical thinking skills. Then there are the gaps in cultural knowledge due to the restriction on the available material and the allowable interaction with ‘the world’. I know people who even 15 years after leaving that schooling environment are stumped by pop-culture references or basic knowledge about contemporary politics or biology because at the time this was ‘sinfull’ and ‘of the world’ or ‘communist’ according to PACEs so wasn’t dealt with or was glossed over and rejected. Perhaps PACEs make good sheeple for stuffing churches, but in my experience the students are disadvantaged and damaged in the end.

    Lastly, I couldn’t resist saying something about Creationism. Ignoring that PACEs present known frauds as evidence for creation, or plays the usual FUD games to cast evidence for evolution in a poor light or any of the other manipulative and dishonest tactics used to sell Creationist beliefs. It really should be enough to recognise that the body of biological science accepts evolution and rejects creationism. If you wish to teach that science supports creationism then you wish to teach an outright lie. You are, of course, free to teach that science supports evolution but that you believe science to be wrong on this point. But, then you’re not teaching a science curriculum. You’re teaching a religious belief curriculum and calling it science. That in a nut-shell is the problem with PACEs. They claim to be teaching sums or spelling or science or history but they are teaching religious belief and the apparent topic is a secondary concern. It is from this root that all the other evils of PACE grow.

  9. My first comment is on the use of language in the post. Muslim is generally the preferred spelling, as Moslem (pronounced with a z) is quite offensive in the original Arabic. In addition, the objectifying phrases “the Moslems” and “the Jews” jars when used alongside “Christian” without the definite article. It’s almost as if the author is attempting to ‘other’ religions which aren’t Christian and make them seem foreign. I’m sure it’s just a mistake thought as I know how sensitive the Christians are about use of language around their beliefs.

    My second comment is also about the use of language. The author says, “…parents have the liberty in the UK to have some choice about their children’s education. This remains their right and their responsibility.”

    This is inaccurate. The Children Act is predicated solely on the principle of parents having the RESPONSIBILITY; parents don’t have rights, they have duties: children have rights. Children are not mere chattels to be done with as one wishes, they are to be held in trust on behalf of society until they are ready to be independent, mature members of society.

    One of the rights of children is to an education. The phrasing of the treaty is pretty non-specific, and at the time, education for some would have been basic literacy with extensive practice in agriculture, for others it would be a full university education. Times have changed, and as flawed as the National Curriculum is, it’s an attempt to codify the educational expectations we have for secondary education.

    ACE does not meet the requirements of the National Curriculum. ACE does not meet the requirements of an inquisitive child hungry for knowledge. ACE does, however, meet the needs of parents desperate to ensure their children aren’t contaminated by the ideas held outside their church. Oddly, doing something to meet the needs of the care-giver instead of the the cared-for is, in any other circumstance, described as an abuse of the relationship. I wonder why it isn’t when it comes to preparing young people to operate in the real world?

    NARIC’s analysis of ACE appears to be a shallow approval which doesn’t critically examine the materials or the content. ACE is not of a high academic standard. ACE is academic in the same way that a McDonald’s is of a nutritional standard. It may fill you up for a while, but soon you realise it doesn’t have the nutrients you need, and makes you feel ill. ACE is academic in the same way that matching pairs is a role playing game. ACE is academic in the same way that IKEA is fine furniture.

    Individualised approaches have been largely phased out in mainstream education, because it creates hierarchies and maximises inequalities in groups. Where a person doesn’t have a peer to compare themselves to, they have nothing to strive for, no aspiration to achieve further. In a dynamic classroom, the brighter students help the less able, and the diverse student population helps to ensure that the standard of the entire class increases. In other words, mixed abilities leads to a highly socialised and capable young person. In the ACE system, individualisation actually means isolation.

    ACE students don’t actually set goals for themselves. They know they have 15 days to get through 30 pages of a PACE. That means they have to do 2-3 pages per day to hit the (externally imposed) goals. In addition, this punishes the less able who aren’t able to achieve that goal. Pupils who get stuck – or distracted – from their studies are effectively punished by not being able to socialise in the evening either. Frankly, taking responsibility in this context means accepting whatever challenges are put in their way by the system.

    ACE is not character building. It’s character destroying. It creates mindless clones who all think the same way, and are unable to critically assess evidence themselves. The saccharine-sweet social lessons they learn from the diabetes-inducing cartoons teach them nothing about the real world, and allow no leeway for independent thought, learning or growth. For example, the sexist implications of the female characters result in unhealthy gender expectations. Another example would be that by forbidding critical thinking of adults can lead to young people being trapped in abusive situations where they have already been told that their parents are right and cannot be questioned. This is not beneficial to the child or to society.

    Rewards and incentives is an interesting choice of words. ACE rewards compliance and conformance, and punishes everything else. Whilst in the UK, corporal punishment is banned, ACE is still very much in favour of it. Put it another way: tot up the number of awarded demerits and achievement marks over a year across an entire school. Demerits massively outweigh the number of achievement marks. Why? Because ACE believes in negative reinforcement, a position which has been massively discredited by behavioural psychologists. In other words, the incentives are all “DON’T OR PAIN”, an unhealthy mindset for a young person to grow up with.

    It’s entirely true that any curriculum has values embedded in it. However, not all values are created equal. For example, you state that, “Christian parents would prefer to impart Christian values to their offspring rather than secular ones”. What you fail to distinguish is that these values are not dichotomous.

    Secular values advocate freedom of religion, but are clear that it is not the role of the state to impose religious values on anyone. In any state school in the UK, you will find a greater or lesser mix of students from agnostic, atheistic, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jainist, Buddhist and other faith-system. A secular education includes valuing all of those positions, and discriminating against none of them; don’t get me wrong, this isn’t always perfect, but it’s something that is being worked on. However, ACE advocates, first of all, the separation of the pupils from “The World” (there’s that othering definite article again!), and then systematically criticises them. A simple example is the teaching of radical right-wing ideology instead of promoting a discussion which explores both sides of political debates. Attempting to dichotomise between secular and religious education is deliberately misleading, since the first doesn’t impinge on the other, and the other attempts to totally destroy the first.

    This lack of respect for other viewpoints percolates into the ways in which ACE schools manipulate the social circumstances. Students at ACE schools tend to be children of members of the host church, and also tend to participate in whatever youth provision that church has. This means they will be spending their time with the same small circle of friends all of the time, limiting their socialisation and creating an inability for them to deal with the diverse world views they meet when they leave school. It makes them arrogant, asocial and unable to deal with value conflicts. In addition, the parents tend to become isolated; they cannot afford to go outside of the church circle because they are paying towards tuition fees. The entire enterprise results in a positive feedback loop, which tends to result in a more extremist version of whatever doctrinal beliefs are held by the church. This is not beneficial for the child, the family or the wider community.

    For me, however, the entire argument is undermined by the assertion in the last paragraph that there is more evidence for Creationism than for evolutionary theories. I consider the teaching of Creationism as uncritical truth, and the absence of examination of the wealth of evidence for evolution, to be a form of intellectual abuse in and of itself. For me, it brings into question the critical skills of the practitioner, and brings into question the quality of the education they are able to deliver to the children in their care.

    In short, the argument put forward in this article is, it seems to me, deliberately divisive in its use of language and description of the system, dependent on false dichotomy and uncritical of a system which consistently and repeatedly fails its students.

  10. Re. The teaching of philosophy in French schools. Firstly, ‘philosophy’ is actually thinking skills: how to form a logical, coherent argument, how to agree on a premise, common errors in arguments such as ‘straw man’, ‘circular arguments’… that sort of thing. The kinds of skills which are immensely useful in this world, regardless of your religious perspective. Perhaps you assumed that it is about memorising the philosophy’s of others because that is how ACE is taught?

    Secondly, even if the teaching of ‘philosophy’ includes the ideas of famous philosophers, it is erroneous to assume that French philosophers are all atheists. John Paul Sartre and Voltaire might spring to mind, but the majority, like Descartes, argued from a Christian perspective.

    Perhaps what makes you uncomfortable is the idea that children might debate and dispute what they are being taught? That they might question? But cutting off questioning does not create faith, it creates ignorance.

  11. In addition to the excellent critiques posted by other commenters, I just wish to quibble over your incorrect use of ‘secular’ and ‘atheist’ as synonyms throughout your article. From personal experience with fundamentalism, I have found that these words are commonly mistakenly substituted for each other within fundamentalist circles. I am not sure if this is done from true lack of knowledge of the different definitions of the words or as a scare tactic. In my experience I have seen it used to scare other Christians away from placing children in public schools as an attempt to suggest that public schools indoctrinate children into atheism.

    However, incase you did genuinely believe that they are the same I wish to explain why they are not synonyms. Secular is defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as “not being overtly or specifically religious” while atheism is defined as the “disbelief in the existence of a deity”. From these definitions it is clear that they intact refer to separate notions. A secular school would be one that does not indoctrinate children with a view on religion (including not pushing atheism). In my experience secular schools normally do not discuss the existence of a deity at all and simply discuss basic moral precepts which are agreed by most religions and non-religious people. Alternatively some secular curriculums may include some sort of comparative religion class. In contrast, an atheist school would actively tell children that there is no god and explain reasons why the teachers believe that there is no god. I do not personally know of any schools which are actively atheistic, however, if they were to exist I wouldn’t support them.

    I would be interested to hear why you believe that schools not discussing deities at all (including the possibility that deities don’t exist) is a bad way of educating students. However, please don’t use secular and atheist as synonyms as they aren’t and it confuses the issue at hand by making assertions which aren’t true.

  12. I went to a school that taught ACE for two years and I have heard before that ACE uses the skinner method but Could someone clarify how ? Is it the star chart or does it have something to do with the paces themselves? I am just trying to understand the skinner method because I hear that they also use this in the public system as well. I am not sure how they use this in the public system either.?? Could someone explain it better for me? BTW, I am a fundamentalist Christian and believe that it is a good thing to learn those values and beliefs if you and your family are Christians however, I think it’s scary to hear that ACE would base their curriculum off of such a Crazy individual as B.F. Skinner.

    • Hi Andy,

      ACE uses a system called Programmed Learning which was developed by B.F. Skinner. The idea of rewards and punishments is also Skinnerian.
      This is a link to a thesis written by a former employee of ACE South Africa. Starting on page 20, and on page 36, she discusses Skinner’s influence on ACE. You could find more by searching within the document for behaviorist/behaviorism or Skinner.

      • Thank You Jonnyscaramanga,

        I should have clarified that although I am a fundamentalist Christian believing in the five fundamentals of the faith..I am not IFB. I do believe skinner’s method is okay to be used in certain instances but reading the background of B.F. skinner and others like John Dewey. It scares me to think that the secular non-christians can use methods to “Brainwash & program” just as well as ACE. If we encourage critical thinking in schools then children can think for themselves and decide for themselves but if they are programmed then we have a problem and that could be said for Christian or Secular education. We should not be treated as mindless robots. thanks for the info.

    • I don’t think Skinner was crazy, nor to do think we should blame him for ACE. However, Skinner was working in the 1940s and 50s, which was over 60 years ago and psychology (like everything) moves on. Or least it does for everyone who isn’t stuck in a time-warp. Many of Skinner’s theories have been taken up, adapted and evolved (!) since he first came up with them. Many others have been abandoned. For example, mainstream psychology has shown that ‘aversives’ (punishments) are extremely ineffective. But many of Skinners ideas have been found useful, particularly in specific situations. My son’s autism school, for instance, uses some aspects of Skinner’s behaviourism (without aversives) to teach the autistic children life skills, such as potty training, using a knife and fork etc. Behaviourism isn’t evil, because real life, unlike ACE, isn’t black and white; and good educationalists are able to take the useful bits of a theory and leave the rest. The problem is not that ACE is based on Skinner’s Behaviourism, but that it is based on an out-dated and obsolete form of behaviourism and has taken it on wholesale, without learning from other approaches.

  13. Other people have covered fairly well most of the comments that sprung to my mind while I was reading your defense of ACE. Those would be the confusion between secularism and atheism, the misleading notion that following workbooks on your own is equivalent to individualized instruction, and your extreme position regarding the possibility of ideologically neutral education which seems to evoke a nearly post-modern notion that there is no objective truth.

    I always get a bit mad when people argue with me by implying that I know nothing about a given subject (usually I do at least a little, and occaisionally a lot, of research before I write a post) so I’m really uncomfortable with what I’d like to say regarding your statement on French education. So to turn it around on myself, let me say that I do not know what the French public school (American meaning of the word) curriculum regarding philosophy is and I would appreciate it if you could be more specific. Regarding that subject, you say, “The French, for example, declaring themselves a secular state, have excluded religion from their curriculum (except for the Catholic Schools) but include philosophy. Although this is essentially non-religious it is still the transference of ideals and values based on atheistic humanism.” On what basis do you assume that philosophy is based on atheistic humanism. Secondly, even teaching the ideas of an atheist philosopher is not at all the same as imparting their values to the students. People study many things for may reasons, including the ideas of people they don’t agree with. I was a literature major and I didn’t like the work, style and ideas of all the writers I read. I can appreciate the work of Jane Austen, for instance, but she will never be on my list of favorite authors.

    As someone who as the child of atheists who attended American public schools, like France, the United States is an officially secular country, I can assure you that I was far from the majority. Our secular school most certainly did not impart atheist ideas. My parents were both public school teachers and I know that most of their coworkers were believers of some sect or another. Many of my mothers friends were observant Jews. My father, who worked in a school in a town with large Hispanic, African American and Middle Eastern populations, demographics not famous for their atheism, was often needled by his co-workers about his lack of belief. (For orientation, we lived in a suburb of New York City.)

    I recall one teacher in school taught us about Spinoza although it was not in the curriculum. One day, she made a reference to her life outside of our Jr. High and mentioned that she taught in Sunday school. Apparently, it is not impossible for an observant Christian to be a fervent admirer of Spinoza. Like wise, I do not throw out valid ideas of great thinkers simply because they might be Christian, as many important figures in our culture are.

    Once, I had a discussion with a friend and he wanted to know what I though the difference between a religion and a cult was. That’s hard to pin down. But it seems to me that religion tends to be the most destructive when it moves towards isolation. It’s rarely the specific ideas of a religion that make it poisonous, but turning its back on the ideas of others’.

    Regarding an objective measure of outcomes:

    Click to access kelley-lisa-2005-ma.pdf

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