The textbooks that lost a lawsuit

Accelerated Christian Education has two main rivals: A Beka and BJU. These companies are, if anything, even worse than ACE.

As we discussed previously, schools using A Beka and BJU textbooks as college preparation were rejected by the University of California. These schools lost their subsequent lawsuit against UC, because what they teach is bollocks. So what do they teach?

Two authors have undertaken the thankless task of ploughing through the textbooks to find out: Albert Menendez, in Visions of Reality, and Frances Paterson, author of Democracy and IntoleranceThese two books are twenty and ten years old respectively, but the similarities in content are so striking (and fundamentalism so resistant to change) that there isn’t much reason to suppose the content of the textbooks would be vastly different now. ACE certainly hasn’t changed significantly in the last 15 years.

What we learn from these books is, well, what you’d expect really: Non-Christians (a category which includes Catholics) are evil, extreme laissez-faire economics are the only system sanctioned by God, history has simply been the fulfilment of God’s will, and it’s the job of good children to obey before growing up to establish a thoroughly Christian (ie dominionist, theocratic) society. 

Visions of RealityVisions of Reality paints a world of dogmatism and intolerance where “in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, students are warned against pursuing the life of the mind.”

Other religions are, of course, evil: “While Muhammed used many Biblical terms in his teaching, he distorted biblical truth. Satan often uses this tactic to deceive people – he dresses error in the clothes of truth.”

Bad things happen to bad people

In BJU, students learn that they shouldn’t read Jack London (author of White Fang, which I remember being a good book when I read it in primary school, before my real extremist fundy period), because “he illustrated many of the beliefs central to the socialistic and evolutionary doctrines he had accepted from his wide reading.”

There’s barely a word in that sentence which isn’t pernicious. But, the reader learns, London got his just desserts. “London’s debts piled up, the crops on his farm were ruined, his drinking increased, his health failed, and his second marriage went sour.” According to Menendez, in these textbooks, bad things only happen to sinners. “One can only wonder if students can relate to such a view of life, which seems to many to be profoundly ‘unbiblical’, to use a favorite catchphrase of the Bob Jones University series.”

In A Beka, Jonathan Swift is similarly “unwholesome”, and “that Swift was an Anglican minister illustrates something about the state of the clergy and the church in the first half of the eighteenth century.” George Whitefield, by contrast, is a pillar of strength, because “It was God’s power in his life that made him successful.”

Science & evolution

BJU defines a fallacy as “that which is contradicted by God’s revealed truth, no matter how scientific, how commonly believed, or how apparently workable it may seem… Because Satan has used evolutionary theory effectively against Christians, they should know what they believe concerning this theory.”

There’s also the usual stuff about how “one must believe all the Word of God or believe none of it” and “We can be sure that anything that contradicts the Word of God is wrong”.

Even sleeping pills are the devil’s tool:

When the still small voice (I Kings 19:11-13) begins to speak to a Christian, teaching him faith by permitting a sorrow in his life, but the Christian takes a pill rather than turning to the Lord, what has he done? When God wants a person to wake up in the night and wrestle with a sin in his life and pray and grow spiritually strong, but he takes another sleeping pill because the last one has worn off, what is he really doing?

I struggle to see how anyone can defend teaching like that in a science book, even if you agree with it, because it isn’t science.

Slavery, civil rights, and race

ACE is quite racist, but A Beka kills it in this regard.

The Bible does not specifically condemn slavery… It is clear that the problem of slavery was not a simple one… IThe story of slavery is an excellent example of the far-reaching consequences of sin. The sin in this case was greed.

Menendez sees the treatment of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement more widely in the textbooks as somewhat ambivalent. They criticise King for his “shift to the left”.

During Kennedy’s administration civil rights leaders made steps toward gaining better treatment for Negroes, but the demonstrations increased hatred and bitterness among many… As violence increased, the leadership of civil rights organisations became more militant.

Native Americans (always called Indians) are also criticised:

The concept of sin was foreign to the Indian culture; discipline was intended to teach children to survive rather than to make them moral. This amoral philosophy was often discouraging to Christian missionaries, who found it difficult to teach the Indians the difference between right and wrong… The Indian culture typified heathen civilization – lost in darkness without the light of the gospel.

Frances Paterson‘s Democracy and Intolerance finds that in ACE, BJU, and A Beka materials, the following themes emerge:

Demoncracy and Intolerance

  • Conservatives are heroes, and liberals are villains
  • Catholics are evil
  • The Founding Fathers were Christians, and the Constitution should be interpreted along those lines
  • Non-Christian indigenous peoples are savages and cannibals

Politics

According to her book, a direct quote from a 10th grade A Beka history book defines a conservative as

a person who wants to conserve a standard [that] is desirable if the standard is good (the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, Judeo-Christian ethics) and undesirable if the standard is bad (Marxism, false religions, immorality).

As with ACE,

People will be happier if they maintain private responsibility for their own property, families, and futures [but] if government controls these things the result will be poverty and tyranny… Modern liberalism has had many tragic consequences – war, tyranny, despair – for mankind.

Paterson notes two things about political teaching. One is that both sides of legal argument are not given – only the argument endorsed by the authors. In evaluating Supreme Court decisions, the reasoning of the court for reaching its decision is not given. Second, where the authors disagree with a Supreme Court decision, they write extensively about the negative social consequences which they say resulted from it. They don’t discuss the consequences at all where they agree with the decision.

Catholicism

According to Bob Jones University, “The seeds of error that took root during the fourth and fifth centuries blossomed into the Roman Catholic church – a perversion of Biblical Christianity.” An A Beka high school test asks students to “name two groups in Europe that stood for the Word of God against the Church of Rome”.

After telling students that Austria is 90% Catholic, they they say

The Austrian people are very religious. They believe in God. They know of Christ and His good life. But htey do not know that Christ died to save them from judgment and eternal death. They believe that their religious works will get them into heaven. Few missionaries are in Austria to tell the people about the salvation God has provided through Christ Jesus. Thos epeople need to be shown the peace and the joy that they can have in their hearts when they accept Christ as their savior.

Other religions

The desire to return minority peoples to their tribal roots and religions, a pre-Christian status, is called multiculturalism. Some have seen multiculturalism as a new form of segregation that will keep minority groups from becoming part of American culture.

You can always rely on fundamentalist groups based in the American south to slip in some good old-fashioned racism, and these guys do not disappoint. We learn that the absence of Christianity was to blame for Africa’s backwardness:

For over a thousand years, there was no clear Christian witness in the vast heartland of Africa; the fear, idolatry, superstition, and witchcraft associated with animism… prevented most Africans from learning how to use nature man’s benefit and thus develop a high culture like that of other African empires.

Bob Jones echoes the A Beka sentiment:

This religion, like all false religions, is based on works and cannot give blessing or salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). The strong influence of magic and demonism on African religion made much of African life unhappy and savage. Satan’s strong hold on these people kept them worshiping him rather than the true God.

Menendez and Paterson come to near identical conclusions. Menendez says that the schools are “intent on creating a generation of adults with a mindset that can only be harmful to democratic freedoms and to interfaith harmony.”

Paterson writes,

I would be remiss if I did not raise the possibility that prolonged exposure to a curriculum dominated by books that foster resentment toward government and strong and unequivocal condemnation of people with different political, social, and religious beliefs may well have a deeply corrosive effect.

Interestingly, neither author seriously tackles the question of whether this material should be banned. Their concern is with raising awareness, and keeping such material away from voucher programmes. But I think this is harmful to students, in which case it may be that state regulation is justifiable. But anyway, my American readers: Have a look and see if your state is endorsing a voucher program for A Beka, ACE, or BJU. And if they are, start making noise.

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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 24, 2013, in Accelerated Christian Education, Atheism, Book Reviews, Christianity, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Thanks for this excellent post, and for exposing these (willfully) ignorant and dangerous folks!

    The Founding Fathers were Christians, and the Constitution should be interpreted along those lines

    This is of course nonsense, as every historian would know. Most of the founding were deists and as such they were very critical of religion, and in particular christianity.

  2. I would be remiss if I did not raise the possibility that prolonged exposure to a curriculum dominated by books that foster resentment toward government and strong and unequivocal condemnation of people with different political, social, and religious beliefs may well have a deeply corrosive effect.

    Given the increasing lunacy of the far-right in U.S. politics, seemingly driven by the overtly fundamentalist-religious Tea Party and their ilk, I’d say we could call this a well-and-truly vindicated prediction.

  3. Excellent post. This one’s a keeper!

  4. A Beka on the end of aparteid manages to agree with the end of racial discrimination:

    The program of racial divisions also kept black South Africans from political participation and permitted widespread discrimination in employment, education, and housing. Many black Africans obtained permits to work in the cities or in the mines, but they were required to live apart in black communities on the outskirts of the cities. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, opposition to the racial divisions grew within South Africa and around the world until the United Nations intervened. World media focused on the racial conflict, making the Afrikaners’ discrimination against black South Africans known.

    Hooray! But unfortunately they didn’t just stop there. The very same paragraph continues:

    But newscasts did not mention the Afrikaners’ struggle against Communist terrorists who were trying to take control of the country. Hundreds of black Africans suffered and died at the hands of Communist guerrillas, but the world blamed the South African government.

    Communism. In 1990, South Africa’s president began working to end the racial divisions. Black citizens received voting rights in 1992, and in 1994 South Africa held its first multiracial elections, which brought to power Nelson Mandela, a Communist leader and South Africa’s first black president.

    Mandela’s political intentions soon became clear as he appointed Communists to key positions and extended government control over businesses and industries. The growing influence of Communism concerns South Africa’s citizens, especially Christians who make up a large part of the population.

    Bummer for A Beka, they couldn’t have it both ways, with a righteous (Dutch Reformed Church?) Afrikaner’s government which would conveniently end slavery. Probably how they feel about the US Confederacy as well…

  5. I meant “conveniently end apartheid…” not slavery

  6. Thanks for these insights into other fundamentalists curricula!

    You said, “You can always rely on fundamentalist groups based in the American south to slip in some good old-fashioned racism.”

    Hey! That’s my home you are talking about! I was born in Alabama and have lived in the south for 60 years. However, you are right about the concentration of racism. I was a racist until I was about 16. It was the first issue on which I departed from my raising and community. It is not nearly as bad as it used to be in the South; most southerners are NOT racists and racism is no longer systematic, but there are still racists here.

    • Thanks for flagging up my glib generalisation Tim. You’re right, of course, there are many Southern fundamentalists who aren’t racist, and I don’t help my cause when I misrepresent them.

      • My error… I took no offence; I meant my comment to be light-hearted (I should have added a smiley face). However, while there is plenty of racism in the South, I would not say racists are in the majority. In addition, there are racists in other parts of the USA.

        Besides that, I suggest that the South is not as solidly fundamentalist as others might think. In fact, during the original fundamentalist wars of the early 1900s the primary leaders were from New York City, Minneapolis, Toronto, and Princeton, New Jersey with one leader from Houston, Texas. However, the South has more than its share of fundamentalists.

  7. jwb: Think what I feel when I saw that INDIANA has as many creationist academies (or more) than most Southern states. 🙂

    But then, I escaped the benighted prairies twenty years ago. 🙂 I still follow doghouse riley’s amazingly funny blog, and have no desire to return!

    • Brian, many people think fundamentalism is a Southern thing–and it is. However it is strong throughout the USA.

      The fundamentalist movement in the early 1900s was mostly a northern movement. The main leaders were in New York, Princeton, NJ, Minneapolis, and Toronto. Even today, one of the largest concentrations of fundamentalist-evangelical ministries is in the towns surrounding Chicago.

  8. I believe that with wide reading and searching we should come up with our own decision regardin our belief. I don’t believe that we should be pushed into something.

  9. I do not understand how catholics, and i assume the same goes for the orthodox (copts, armenians…), are not considered christians. From what I understand fundamentalists are based on protestan principles, they just don’t realize it. Otherwise, do they affiliate to early-christian religion (pre-schism)?

    • Well, I (ex-fundy + ACE student) was taught that salvation is through faith ‘alone’. Of course, if there aren’t good works to follow this faith, then it’s evidence that the faith is false – but it’s the faith that does the saving of course guv.
      Catholics were dichotomised as placing an emphasis on salvation through works as well as faith, and also as creating an intermediary (the priest) in between god and man.
      So essentially it comes down to subtle theological differences, largely the role of faith and works in salvation – though as I have attempted to indicated here, the dichotomy is rather false.

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