Fun with fundy textbooks

I occasionally get an email from a homeschooling parent, saying something like, “We were going to use ACE for our children, but now we’ve seen your blog, we definitely won’t!” Emails like this are enormously gratifying. There have only been three or four, but they make the whole blog worthwhile.

But sometimes I wonder what these parents are going to use instead. Occasionally I’ve also had a smug parent using A Beka, ACE’s main rival, comment something like, this ACE stuff is ridiculous! We use A Beka. It’s much better. 

So let me say this clearly: If you’ve been reading this blog and feeling smug that you use A Beka and/or BJU materials, stop. They are at least as bad as ACE.

There are a bunch of fundamentalist textbook publishers: A Beka, Bob Jones University Press (BJU), AlphaOmega Lifepacs (which are essentially PACEs by another name, as far as I can tell). And everything I read about them is hideous. The only reasons I haven’t mentioned them before are that I don’t have firsthand experience, and their use is rare in the UK.

In 2005, some Christian schools filed a lawsuit against the University of California. UC had refused to allow certain Christian school courses as college preparation. The courses in question used textbooks by A Beka and BJU. The Christian schools lost. According to the great and noble scholarly source Wikipedia, the judge found that the books are “inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community.” Frankly, every University should follow UC’s lead. It is unbelievable that in some US states, ACE, A Beka, and BJU schools are eligible for state funding through voucher programmes. 

In terms of content, the big three Christian publishers, A Beka, ACE, and BJU, are basically the same. The differences are in teaching methods. ACE I’ve told you about. BJU espouse relatively conventional, even progressive, teaching. According to Adam Laats (paywalled, but a discussion is available here), it was accusations of using progressive pedagogy that led ACE’s and A Beka’s founders to split off and start their own curricula. With BJU, it was claimed,

future teachers learned to vary their instructional methods, to differentiate instruction in order to reach learners of different abilities, to emphasize conceptual learning over rote memorization, and to make learning a pleasant, active experience tailored to the developmental maturity of each individual student

To the traditionalists like the Hortons, who ran A Beka, and ACE’s Donald Howard, systems like this risk undermining the authority of the teacher and obedience of the child which were essential to Christian education. Originality, creativity, and self-expression were not to be encouraged in children; these could lead to questioning God, or outright rebellion. What was needed was mastery of received knowledge. Hence ACE’s fill-in-the-blank rote learning method.

A Beka somehow managed to come up with the one teaching method which sounds worse than ACE. Like ACE, A Beka required hardly any lesson planning; teachers just had to follow the system. It taught with scripted drills which students repeat until they knew them inside out:

Teacher’s Statement:

Heaven is a real place, just as real as this room. It is a wonderful, safe, happy home where God lives. God wants everyone to come there and live with Him. Anyone who has taken Jesus as his Savior will be able to go to heaven and live forever with God; but anyone who has not taken Jesus as his Savior cannot go to heaven, but must go to a terrible place of eternal punishment.

Drill Questions:

1. Will everybody get to go to heaven? No.

2. Who gets to go to heaven? The people who trust in Jesus and who take Him as their Savior while they live here on earth.

3. Does God want everybody to go to heaven? Yes.

4. Why won’t everybody get to go to heaven? Because some people won’t take Jesus as their own Savior.

Today, A Beka is most famous for it’s bizarre rejection of set theory:

Unlike the “modern math” theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute….A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.

There’s a superb exploration of fundamentalist attitudes to set theory, and just why A Beka would say something so outlandish, by Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing.

By comparison, BJU is an academic haven: It recognises the importance of a well-prepared teacher, and felt that the emphasis on rote learning was to the detriment of the pupil’s total development. But that’s not to say BJU is good.

Over at 11 Points, there’s a blog post with photos of pages from a BJU science textbook; it’s full of the levels of ignorance and anti-intellectualism we’re used to from ACE. There’s the usual Creationist stuff, and the last page begins with the sentence “Electricity is a mystery.” In a science book.

A huge chunk of my traffic comes from an AlterNet post on ACE, A Beka, and BJU, so I presume many of you have seen it already, but for those that haven’t, here’s a bullet point list of claims taught by BJU and/or A Beka (here’s a video, for those who prefer):

  • Only ten percent of Africans can read or write, because Christian mission schools have been shut down by communists.
  • “The [Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross… In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”
  • “God used the ‘Trail of Tears’ to bring many Indians to Christ.”
  • It “cannot be shown scientifically that that man-made pollutants will one day drastically reduce the depth of the atmosphere’s ozone layer.”
  • “God has provided certain ‘checks and balances’ in creation to prevent many of the global upsets that have been predicted by environmentalists.”
  • The Great Depression was exaggerated by propagandists, including John Steinbeck, to advance a socialist agenda.
  • “Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created.”
  • Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential win was due to an imaginary economic crisis created by the media.
  • “The greatest struggle of all time, the Battle of Armageddon, will occur in the Middle East when Christ returns to set up his kingdom on earth.”

Stay tuned, I’ll be returning to this subject.

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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 June 17, 2013, in Accelerated Christian Education, Atheism, Christianity, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. “God has provided certain ‘checks and balances’ in creation to prevent many of the global upsets that have been predicted by environmentalists.”

    That’s just dangerously regressive, immoral thinking. It reconfirms in me why religion (and in particular fundamentalism) must be met head-on and exorcised.

  2. Jonny, great post.

    As a pre-teen I went to a small church school that used Lifepacs. We were all of different grades and sat in seperate cubbies, they were like closets with no doors. When we needed the teacher we would stick a little flag (usually the American or Christian one) right outside of our desks.

    The curriculum was “work at your own pace”. As you can see, that just sounds better than lazy teaching.

    As someone who lives in what’s called the Mid-South in the U.S. and near the Mississippi River, I find numbers two and three of your bullets just down right SICK! Anyone who can justify the KKK or the Trail of Tears is indeed BRAINWASHED.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this.

  3. I know a lot of homeschooling families that decided to go with A Beka instead of BJUP because it was more “homeschooling friendly.” Basically that meant the child involved could open the “teacher’s manual,” figure out what he was supposed to do that day, and then do it. BJUP actually needed someone with an education to teach their material well.

  4. You have done so much to expose ACE, and I am happy that you are expanding your scope to include similar learning systems.

  5. I stumbled upon this website totally by accident and can honestly say it has been a breath of fresh air. I was hired to tutor a child whose parents used ACE and it was one of the most stressful things I have ever done. ACE is absolutely horrible and I wish that I could make my former employers see the light. Thank you so much Jonny for helping to expose ACE for what it really is !

    • Thank you very much AlLynne. Your comment makes an interesting corollary to a commenter I had a while back calling himself St Peter’s Fire, who said he had tutored ACE students and been very impressed by them. It then turned out that he had known me as a child, but when I asked him more he didn’t reply to my emails. I still have no idea who he was or how he knew me.

      • The parents of the child I was tutoring let ACE knew I was going to tutor them so if I had any questions I could contact them.You might be able to figure out who St.Peter’s Fire was by trying to see if they would tell you if there was any experienced ACE tutors in the area where you are from.

      • Thanks AlLynne. Unfortunately, ACE almost certainly won’t speak to me. They know who I am and they are not keen to assist. If someone else wants to find out, that would be useful. Just throwin’ it out there….

  6. All of this is quite upsetting for me, I was not at all aquainted with “christian education” before reading your blog. First of all I cannot understand why there are so many people who get homeschooled, does this happen as much in the UK as it does in the US?
    I was very lucky in my education, I went to a french public school in Athens, where we learned a lot of things: history, math, chemistry, geology, biology, political geography, litterature, philosophy, physics… So this way of teaching seems irrelevent to what one should learn in order to become a thinking citizen and to be able to live an autonomous, intepentend adult life. Of course, if one wishes to learn more about christianity, it is possible to do so in sunday school were you learn things about religion etc. In greek schools there is a religion class that is optional (since Greece isn’t a secular country). There is probably a gap between the way of thinking of fundamentalist protestants and orthodox christians.
    I only wish to clarify this in order to stress how ACE and other so-called christian schools can seem odd to people that come from other countries.

    • If it’s any consolation, I think they seem weird to everybody who isn’t directly involved.

      • To this day, I’m still not sure which weird ideas about history I got from ABB, which I got from ACE, and which are the result of uneducated assumption. I had to totally re-write my mental conception of history during (public) high school.

        My (private) elementary school used mostly ABB with a side of ACE in middle school. From what I understand, the high schoolers (when there were such) used ABB for math only; everything else in their classes was ACE.

  7. Our family went from ACE to BJU to ABeka then to a school who did a combo of the last two. It was all seriously messed up. Our education was just an extended form of brainwashing. We were only taught what they wanted us to know and in the way they wanted us to know it.
    We were told that 9/11 was sent from God as a punishment to America. That Obama was the Antichrist. We were also told that it was ridiculous and heathen to take care of the earth and the environment. In PE we were taught that if you were overweight it was a sin of gluttony and you were looked down on. It never once was taught that it could be an eating disorder, as was my case and the case of some friends of mine.
    I am so glad to finally be going back to school and getting a real education that is not distorted.

    • I was lucky in that my bro and I were allowed to watch any cartoons we wanted, as long as we didn’t emulate any bad behaviors from them.

      Two of our favorite shows were Captain Planet and the SatAM Sonic the Hedgehog series, both of which make it clear that people can harm the environment, and that we should take care of the earth.

  8. I was taught with ABB from (roughly) K-8. The only subjects that require the sort of drilling you’re talking about are Bible (where teachers must recite verbatim from the cards to avoid offending members of other denominations*) and math (which is taught using the Saxon method).

    ABB has a surprisingly good reading curriculum, and I’ve been told that the spelling and reading lessons are more advanced than those of AL public schools at the same level. The other subjects are the old-fashioned lecture type, but teachers have more freedom with the style of the lecture (my history teacher tried to make the lectures “fun” with humor).

    And as the Tumblr WTF Textbooks makes clear, ABB’s science books and upper-level health books are shite. (I remember loving the 1-6 grade health books because they had first-aid and the like, then getting to 7th grade and thinking WTF?)

    That said, most of the quotes there are either from after I used ABB (Clinton was eleted during my late elementary years), or they’re from BJU books. ABB’s science fails tend to be limited to evolution and “why man is not a mammal, or an animal of any kind.” (Spoiler: the answer is “we have souls and other living things don’t.”)

    * Yes, I know this from first-hand experience. In 2nd grade, a substitute teacher misread “Drunkenness is a sin” as “Drinking alcohol is a sin.” (She was a member of the conservative branch of the Methodist church.) I (Catholic at the time) raised my hand and said, “But when Mommy and Daddy go to Communion, they get bread and wine.” The teacher’s patronizing response: “No, honey, that’s grape juice.” I was adamant.

    The result: The sub wasn’t hired again because she didn’t stick to the cards, and I got detention for backtalk (which was pretty much my default state in 1st-4th grades, so it didn’t bother me much).

  1. Pingback: White Supremacist Homeschooling | Homeschoolers Anonymous

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