Christians can’t trust psychology: Inside the world of A Beka

This is a guest post by Athena. Athena was educated using A Beka Book and attended Pensacola Christian College. This is an inside view of the atmosphere, education, and attitudes A Beka and PCC, two of the biggest names in fundamentalist education.

Starting from kindergarten onward, I was homeschooled, and while my family used a smattering of textbooks from all types of publishers, we heavily relied on A Beka Book distributed by Pensacola Christian College (PCC). I grew up within a few hours of their college campus, so when it came time for me to choose a college, I chose PCC (from an incredibly narrow field of options that only included three other schools, all more fundamentalist than PCC). I come from a religious environment called Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, so even going to college, as a woman, was a huge risk. Because of that, my choices as far as profession were extremely limited– I was not permitted to chose anything career-oriented, or that would remove me from my place as a “keeper at home.” This led me to becoming a Secondary Education major, with teaching concentrations in English and music.

There are already many critiques of the Orwellian atmosphere at PCC, but as far as I can tell (and I’ve gone digging) there is nothing except glowing praise for the education program (early childhood, elementary, and secondary) at PCC. During my last semester, I was required with the other seniors to attend a “job fair.” The only employers who showed up were Christian schools from all over the country; there is also a list you can put your name on for Christian schools to contact you. When I was with a friend who was being interviewed to teach at a Christian high school, the principal said that they try to only hire PCC graduates because of their “caliber.” In the Christian high school world, Pensacola Christian graduates are viewed as one of the best– if not the best– option available for new hires.

I had a hard time going through the education program. Many of the graduates will tell you that the program is difficult– and it is insanely difficult. However, what makes it “difficult” is nothing worthwhile. Decorating bulletin boards is a huge part of your grade for three different classes, and if you put the staples in the wrong way (and by “wrong” I mean placing them parallel with the edge of the board), you are automatically docked an entire letter grade. The requirements for the classes are ridiculous, purposeless, and almost entirely useless.

When I entered a graduate assistant program at another university, I was required to take a “Teaching College Writing” class, since that was what I’d been hired to do. At first, I thought I’d have no problem– after all, I’d just spent four and a half years getting an education degree, and I’d just completed an internship at The Academy. What could be harder than that?

However, when the teacher started talking about student-centered education, progressive education, and had us read articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education, I about had a fit.

Student-centered education?!

At that moment, everything I’d been taught about “traditional education” and a “teacher-centered classroom” came screaming into my head. Not to seem melodramatic, but it was instantly and intensely overwhelming– I honestly thought I might pass out the longer my instructor kept talking. That class was almost unendurable, and by the time he finished, I felt exhausted. I’d had to fight with my own brain for two hours just to take notes. It was literally like fighting a battle inside my head. I could hear nearly all my instructors, all at once, telling me exactly why that professor in the front of that room was wrong and was going to be the ruination of Western society.

While I was a student at PCC, I had to take a class called Philosophy of Christian Education. We learned the public education had “always” been about Christian evangelism, and it was people like John Dewey, who had signed The Humanist Manifesto, that had ripped religion out of education and, therefore, ruined it. In Educational Psychology, the only textbook was Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology and the only project was a paper on what my “Classroom Discipline Method” was going to be. For General Teaching Methods, we spent the bulk of our time writing critiques on articles from education magazines and journals, looking for why all those articles were progressive, and therefore unethical and unsuitable for a Christian educator. For Teaching Reading, I was taught that the “look-say” method and the Dick and Jane books were designed by progressives so that children wouldn’t be able to read and could be more easily deceived by socialism and other liberal political agendas. In Teaching English, I was taught that all literature should be taught strictly for its moral, and that any approach to grammar that even hinted at linguistics was evil.

Every education major is required to have an internship at a Christian school. Some of us fulfill this requirement at a school of our choosing, but that process is so hair-raisingly difficult that most of us decide to do our internship at Pensacola Christian Academy, the K-12 school associated with the college.

This internship can only be described as nightmarish.

In kindergarten, children are required to have a “nap time,” where they are forced to lay on their stomach with the hands by their side, their heads turned away from the person lying next to them. If they move in their sleep, a teacher comes and re-arranges them. If they talk in their sleep, they are punished.

In elementary school, children line up in perfectly straight lines to go to the bathroom, which they do in absolute silence. Walking around The Academy during the day is eerie because there is no noise anywhere, except on the high school side of the building between classes. A school that has 2,500+ students. With no noise.

In high school, students are required to sit up completely straight at all times, keep both feet flat on the floor, and keep their eyes on the front of the room. Making eye contact with another student in the room is considered “communication,” which is punishable. One of the many principles and staff routinely make their way through every single class of the day to make sure that all teachers are enforcing all the rules.

I could go on and on and on.

It’s scary, and frightening, that this is how they treat children. It’s worse than what I’ve seen enforced in military academies.

And, to be brutally honest, this is only what’s on the surface. What they believe about the nature and purpose of education is even more horrifying.

To the Hortons and the people who espouse a “traditional” model for education, repetition is the key to learning. This may seem like common sense, but it is anything but. This reduces education to nothing more than endless drills and rote memorization. There are constant review drills in every single class from kindergarten to physics. English class is composed of students memorizing spellings, vocabulary lists, poems, and grammar rules. That’s it. It’s the only thing I taught for four months to eighth graders.

Students can stand up and participate in speed drills like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else– it is mind boggling and impressive. And disturbing. Because, in this educational environment, students are machines. Teachers deposit information, and students regurgitate it. And this isn’t seen as the only way to “teach to the test,” something that teachers would avoid if they could. This is seen as the only responsible way to educate.

In all my classes and during my time at The Academy, students were presented to me as The Enemy.

“If you don’t have a plan for every single second of every single day, trust me, your students will have a plan for you.”

“Never, ever smile before Thanksgiving. Your students are not your friends.”

“It is not your responsibility to care about them. You are there to teach them, nothing else.”

“Never reveal anything personal about yourself. Students will take advantage of any information you give them.”

“The primary focus of any educator should be classroom discipline.”

“For the first month of school, be as ruthless as possible. The only thing students respect are boundaries.”

Again, I could go on.

If you are considering placing your child in a school that relies exclusively on A Beka material, or you’ve heard of them sending teachers to The Academy for “teaching training,” please, please, run screaming for the hills. This isn’t about what the content of the curriculum is– which is abysmal– it’s about how they will view your child. To those who believe in “traditional education,” your child is not a person. He’s a depository, and nothing more.

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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 26, 2013, in Christianity, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Yeah, people could learn that christianity is not the truth…. Or that their version of christianity is not the “right” one…. Only lies has to be protected against criticism.

  2. I’m interested in how this effects those children when they grow up. It sounds like North Korean education, with Jesus instead of the ‘Dear Leader’. Which is ironic considering how terrified they are of communism. I would imagine that firstly, the children leave school knowing virtually nothing and at a huge disadvantage on the job market, and that secondly, they are emotionally damaged and vulnerable from never having to make their own decisions. But then, I expect that’s what the church leaders want: gullible, ill-educated individuals, psychologically stuck at the level of a 4 year old.

    And then there are people like you, who somehow keep yourself intact and go on into the world with a hunger for knowledge and a desperate desire to change things. I’m not a psychologist, but I wonder what the difference is between those who go under and those who survive?

    It must be particularly difficult being taught in a ‘black-and-white’ manner, given that the world is so full of ‘greys’. In the 1960s, a joke history book was published in the UK taking the micky out of such rote learning called ‘1066 and All That’, in which every historical character was categorised as either good of bad eg. “King John was a BAD king” with ridiculously flimsy reasons for that characterisation. This was a style of education in much of the world in the first half of the 20th century, and some psychologists believe it contributed to WWII and the Cold War.

    These people are trying to turn the clock back as well as control their children. It will backfire because it always does. Well done for getting out

    P.S. We left our evangelical church largely over a spat over psychology: our son is autistic and as we tried to get him help, they undermined us at every turn, suggesting that instead he needed ‘discipline’. We instead decided to listen to the autism experts. They basically ostracised us, but when that didn’t work, they went the next step and reported us to Child Protection. This backfired from their point of view as child protection realised we needed help with our son, and got us an urgent appointment with the special needs children services. We left the church. So much for “Suffer the little children to come unto me”.

    • For me, I think it had to do with the intense, unbridled curiosity I’ve always had. I eventually began chafing at all the pat answers and went looking for more information. Initially, getting information I’d never had before was… rough. Horribly rough. But it got better.

    • Hi. I grew up with ABB, at least until 8th grade. The idea of questioning anything I’d been taught, or doubting anything that any authority figure, was made to seem so ridiculous from the very early grades, that questioning anything at all never once occurred to me. For example, I LOVED dinosaurs as a kid. I read every dinosaur book I could get my hands on. Then in 4th grade, my teachers introduced me to YEC, and suddenly, dinosaurs went from being really cool creatures that actually existed into fairy-tale monsters. All those dinosaur books I’d read couldn’t be true, because they contradicted what I was learning in school, which must be right because I was learning it in school. Public high school was MAJOR culture shock, because so many things I “knew” were true turned out to be wrong. By college, I felt wounded and betrayed by ABB.

  3. Wow! What Athena describes sounds like indoctrination, not education. I’m tempted to call it “brain washing”.

    I’m inclined to say that I had a traditional education, mostly because I’m old enough that I was in school during a time of traditional education. But it was not anything like what Athena describes. Yes, there was memorization and rote learning, but only where it concerned particular skills. For the most part, my education was oriented toward mind opening, toward providing an awareness of what was happening in the world around us. I’m inclined to say that what Athena describes follows the form of traditional education, but without the substance.

    Thanks, Athena, for describing this, and my best wishes as you attempt to get past this experience. And thanks to Jonny for bringing your story to his blog.

  4. This is so disturbing!

  5. From an educational point of view – educating meaning teaching children how to think critically and creatively – Athena’s story is one of child abuse not just by denying her of this opportunity but replacing it with religious indoctrination. Parents who subject their children to this kind of educational abuse are complicit in it, and they are not acting in the best interests of the child but against them. This can be demonstrated and requires outright condemnation by anyone remotely concerned with the welfare of children and interested in supporting best practices in education. That should be all of us. What Athena experienced is a travesty and we need to recognize that such detrimental experiences rob real children in real life of an important part of their childhood, namely, learning how to become a reasonable, responsible, healthy and autonomous individual who can then be a good citizen. This is a harm done in the name of piety, and parents who do this harm, who support this harm, who advocate for this harm, should be held to account for their complicity.

    I have long suspected that such parents would benefit from my home-schooling agenda for them: putting their heads in a paint-shaking machine and allowing me to turn it on and off at my discretion and according to whether or not I determine if they achieve reaching my curriculum goals of good sense. I suspect the failure rate would be very high. But hey, if it’s done in the name of my ‘faith’, it must be good, right?

    • My mother is an educator but didn’t realize what toxic ideas were entering my head until they were already in there. She’d helped me with my work in primary school, and everything looked perfectly normal, just with more Biblical references thrown in. ABB does a chillingly good job of not really getting into the crazy until 6th or 7th grade, and by that point the student is already conditioned to accept every word of the textbooks as the absolute truth, without question.

      • I find that excuse of not being aware highly unlikely. Perhaps there are significant differences in professional standards between the Canadian model and others, but I find it hard to believe anyone could graduate with an education degree and be unaware and uninformed of just how antithetical to best practices are these religious production model curriculums versus achieving provincial and state standards. In other words, I don’t for a moment think a good argument can be made that an educator enrolls a child in ABB for years and is surprised at a later date to find it is based on religious indoctrination rather than education. If anything, enrolling a child in such a program and allowing it to continue for years while being unaware of its goals is very damning to any claim to even be an educator worthy of the name; one has to be either uneducated in education, willfully blind to the damage being done in the name of piety, or to put it bluntly, a naive moron. There is no excuse for any parent worthy of the name to subject their kids to this kind of indoctrination; there is only selfish parental reasons elevated to be more important to be met than the obvious harm being done to a dependent child in one’s care. I don;t know about you, but I find this level of selfishness unforgivable, but, hey, I’m not religious; I have never empowered a sense of piety to warp my perceptions enough to classify what is obviously harmful to those I claim to love to be confused for what is good. I think it takes religion to do that.

      • When the middle-school weirdness started seeping in, Mom honestly thought I’d know better than to accept it without question. She thought that I would come to her if I had questions (I didn’t).

        She believes (and did then!) that YEC isn’t necessary to be a Christian, but she didn’t know that I didn’t know that. She also didn’t expect me to be so trusting of my textbooks, because I’d been infamous for correcting people when I was in the early grades. (I was the sort of person who insisted on writing the words in the spelling test in the order we’d been given them, instead of the randomized order the teacher used on test day. I also changed the instructions on math tests to make them harder. As a result, I was in detention pretty much every day of first and second grades.)

      • The_L, I understand you don’t want to see your Mom in less than flattering light but as an educator I know what your Mom did; she made up excuses. And you seem to have taken on some of that blame, which is noble of you but entirely misguided and counterproductive to becoming an advocate for other powerless and dependent children forced to undergo the same ordeal.

        My earlier point started with the fact that all educators concerned with teaching kids how to think critically and creatively know that such curriculums are not just junk but harmful to helping children attain this goal… the same curriculum goal laid out by every state in the Union. On that basis alone, I question what professional standards your Mom may claim to have when she willfully acts contrary to those ethical standards.

        Here in Canada, if I were to introduce such a curriculum in the public system, I would be professionally sanctioned. and either have my license revoked or have to upgrade my educational standards to best practices before I would be allowed back into a classroom, and even then I would be under a significant period of probation and ongoing evaluations. What your Mom did to enroll you in such a program was equivalent to gross negligence. In the medical world this is called malpractice; in the educational world, it’s called faith-based instruction and its results have nothing to do with the personalities or attributed of each and every child subjected to it. Such instruction is antithetical in principle to achieving critical and creative fluency and every professional educator KNOWS this. There is no excuse. Period. End of sentence.

        Your Mom knew better, yet she enrolled you anyway. That meant that there must have been a motive she held to be more important than your education! And I suspect that motive was called ‘religious faith’… either to suit her or to suit someone she held in greater esteem than you and your welfare. (This is difficult to hear, I know, but the act speaks for itself.) Either way, she prostituted not just her professional ethics but her duty and responsibility as a good parent. She, not you, is entirely responsible for this choice and she, not you, is responsible for acting on it. Your detentions under such a curriculum are a clear sign of resiliency and character, which are good qualities to have when trying to develop and function in an environment that impedes this, and a red flag to even the most obtuse and selfish parent that she, not you, has made a very poor decision about the kind of education that causes this kind of ongoing conflict. Beating your character and resiliency into submission by various kinds of punitive discipline (like detentions) is a sure sign that those with authority are failing you and not the other way around as most authority figures insist in order to excuse their own failings. I wish more parents would understand this principle and learn how to be better advocates for those in their charge. And that especially includes those who claim the title of educators.

  6. tildeb, first of all, the comment policy on this blog demands a standard of politeness that I don’t think you’re adhering to. You don’t have to agree with it but if you don’t follow it I’ll start editing your comments.

    Secondly, it’s arrogant to claim you know what The_L’s mother did. Especially when, if anyone here is qualified to comment on that, it’s The_L.

    • JS, the_L says “My mother is an educator but didn’t realize what toxic ideas were entering my head until they were already in there.”

      If the mother is an educator – and this was emphasized by italics by The_L to counter my point that the parent has to be ignorant of educational goals and state-sanctioned curriculum to think enrolling a child until 8th grade isn’t toxic to developing critical and creative thinking – then I do know as an educator what the mother has done. This has nothing to do with politeness. By comparison, if a doctor was treating a patient with a discredited medicine that was known to cause a toxic reaction, and that patient showed signs of toxicity, then you – as a doctor and aware of the professional ethical standards being disregarded – have the professional platform to criticize this other doctor for malpractice. That is what I’ve done here.

      No educator worth the name or aware of professional ethical teaching standards would support ABB because it is known to be toxic to the development of critical and creative thinking mandated by state and provincial curriculum. Many studies back this up and not one peer reviewed journal study supports it. These are the educational facts.

      The_L’s assertion that her mother enrolled her daughter as an educator must be challenged in the strongest possible professional terms and this is what I’ve done. As an educator, one must turn a blind eye to the known lack of educational support, the known toxic effects on academic socializing from ABB, the known ineffective discipline regimen they use. As a parent, one must turn a blind eye to all the signs and signals coming from the child that he or she is being indoctrinated in a religious curriculum. To suggest that an educator could be unaware of all of this after having a child enrolled for many years in ABB (until 8th grade, for crying out loud) is to suggest ABB offers some educational merit that miraculously fooled another educator. This is unmitigated bunk. It doesn’t, plain and simple. But it does cause damage, plain and simple. And I base this opinion on my professional training. If that’s a problem for you, I’ll not comment further.

      • I think your tone does come off as slightly bullying. If you can’t see how suggesting someone’s mother deserves to have their head put in a paint mixer might be offensive (even as a joke), you need to think more about other people’s feelings. These things are always riskier on anonymous internet forums.

        I think The_L raises the important point that many parents aren’t choosing programmes like ACE and ABB for the crazy aspects. You’re right that they’re religiously motivated, but it’s to provide what they see as a generally good, “Christian” education with moral values. They do overlook the crazy and harmful stuff. Sometimes they don’t know about it (my parents), sometimes they assume the children will question it (The_L’s parents), and sometimes they believe the positive aspects are significant enough to outweigh the bad.

        The reason it’s important to keep a respectful tone on sites like this is that these Christian parents are not like the force 10 YEC crazies; they can have their minds changed. If they realise the harm caused by education like this, they won’t send their children there.

        If, as The_L says, ABB conditions students from the earliest grades to accept what the textbooks say unquestioningly, then I would say that harm is being done regardless of what else the textbooks teach. I would have hoped that parents would see that immediately. That’s why this blog is consciousness-raising exercise.

      • Yes, I understand my tone is blunt, which is often criticized for not being soft enough to effectively and gently convince the prevaricating. But when it comes to the welfare of children, I find my passion leads me to be so.


        There are those who gently suggest to parents who regularly utilize physical punishment and battery and inflict these on a child to their obvious detriment to be a method of teaching that is not as effective as other methods. Although this appears to be a nice way of opposing child abuse with great concern shown to the parents, from the child’s point of view this approach is more concerned about the how the parents receive criticism than it is about any honest concern for the welfare of the child. When it comes to tolerating this kind of child abuse in the name of hoping that gentle persuasion will eventually be effective, the child’s welfare is not being served. In fact, such gentle persuasion continues to support the parent’s right to continue to be child abusers while the convincing takes its sweet time in the name of tone. Fortunately, there are now laws in place that mandate a particular response to any such abuse. Concerns of tone are set aside while the law enforcement officers must lay charges whenever and wherever domestic violence occurs. Such violence is met by legal intolerance and this works. Nobody suggests that such violence is tolerable or is due to having been ‘earned’ for some perceived deserving act.

        This is what I find is similar in education where we tolerate educational child abuse (for that is what it IS when we enroll children in schools for religious indoctrination and the data is unequivocal) in the name of respecting parental rights. This too requires the same kind of legal intolerance to take it out of the domain of parental rights to abuse and put it towards advocating for child welfare.

        Let’s be very clear here: children deserve better from us than tolerating their abuse in the name of tone.

        Because I am an educator, I see the damage done to kids by parents empowered to continue abusive behaviors while others feel they are doing their part by tsk tsking these incredibly bad choices made by parents… but keep their tone gentle and nice. Because I specialize in teaching kids who have been so damaged, I see and have to deal with the fallout. Things are not getting better; they are getting worse. This trend is well documented as succeeding governments continue to kow tow to the relativistic victories that have successfully inverted what ‘academic freedom’ and ‘choice’ really means and substituted their opposite in practice, duping all-too-willing parents into falsely believing they are being responsible and loving when all the evidence stands contrary to this belief.

        A solution that works is a mandatory educational public system with one set public curriculum. Should parents for whatever reasons choose any other kind of educational delivery system, then they still have to legally meet these curriculum outcomes not on a yearly basis but on a unit-by-unit basis. It should be more difficult and moreexpensive for parents to do this outside of the public system and not made easier and cheaper, but that is a discussion for another time.

        For this one, let me be absolutely clear: no child can be subject to years of ABB or ACE and still produce grade/age equivalent curriculum outcomes. At the risk of being too blunt, any educator familiar with state and provincial curriculum who suggests differently is not being honest or truthful. Because we know that ACE and ABB do not – cannot – produce mandatory curriculum outcomes (because they are contrary to and incompatible with them) but directly impede attaining many of them them, why do we tolerate them in law any more than we once tolerated domestic violence? Because it’s impolite to question religious indoctrination? Is that a good enough reason to damage real people in real life with real harm?

        Perhaps it is high time we need less gentle tone (while publicly funding more religious schools and more home programs that facilitate this harm) and a lot more strenuous and confrontational and loud and strident advocacy on behalf of children who have no voice in their abuse so that the parent who chooses such a route will be subject to at least some public disapproval… in the same way that a known wife-beater now gains a negative reputation in the community. This would be a good start.

      • My parents believe very strongly that children should be exposed to a variety of perspectives, and to them ABB was just one of many. They honestly believed that I was more crazy-proof than I was. It wasn’t a case of “I don’t think this will stump the development of my child’s critical-thinking skills;” it was a case of “I think my child’s critical-thinking skills are already developed enough that things will be OK.”

        Children’s bullshit detectors just plain aren’t as strong as adults’. I had no real basis for whether my dinosaur books or my textbooks were right about the age of the earth–so I fell back on “If it’s taught in school, it must be true.” My mother quite honestly did not anticipate this happening because I was gifted. Even educators don’t always understand how academic giftedness works–a lot of people (wrongly) assume it also means that your Piagetian cognitive development is also more advanced. I’d also indicated an understanding of how commercials work (i.e., that the things they’re advertising aren’t always as wonderful as advertised), and ads are arguably another method people use to try to keep you from thinking critically. They thought I was at a different stage than I was, and it wasn’t until a failed attempt to take IB 10th-grade courses at the age of 12 that they realized that some aspects of my brain really do work exactly the same as anybody else’s my age.

        “the known lack of educational support, the known toxic effects on academic socializing from ABB, the known ineffective discipline regimen they use”

        You are assuming that all schools which use ABB are exactly the same, and they’re not. I’m quite sure some of them are more horrible than others. I’m also not sure what “academic socializing” means, exactly. I certainly had recess and played with the other children (when I wasn’t being mocked for being immature as an accelerated student). If, on the other hand, you mean skills in collaborative learning and group projects, then you’re absolutely right. As for discipline–if you’re referring to corporal punishment, our school required parents to sign an authorization form if they wanted corporal punishment administered, and my parents declined.

        “As a parent, one must turn a blind eye to all the signs and signals coming from the child that he or she is being indoctrinated in a religious curriculum.”

        I was a very quiet child with a fiercely independent streak. My mother naively assumed that if I was ever confused or had questions, I would come to her first instead of trying to puzzle them out. She knew that there were things in the textbooks that weren’t true (like that horrible evolution chapter in Observing God’s Word) but figured that if the teachers weren’t actively discussing those “lessons” (which they didn’t) that I wouldn’t be taken in by it.

        “is to suggest ABB offers some educational merit that miraculously fooled another educator. This is unmitigated bunk. It doesn’t, plain and simple.”

        My mother says (and I agree) that the spelling, vocabulary, and reading books ABB provides are all more advanced than other readers at that grade level. Having seen other elementary-school reading books (my grandmother is also an educator) I have no reason to disagree with this statement. However, because of how the other subjects are handled, I wouldn’t suggest ABB to my worst enemy. Mom, OTOH, would recommend it in the early grades solely on the strength of the reading books (because without language skills, it’s harder to learn much in the other subjects).

        Basically, Mom focused on the few decent things about the curriculum, and didn’t realize that having dissenting books in the home doesn’t inoculate you against indoctrination. It helps, but it’s hardly reliable as a method of prevention.

        There’s also the fact that Mom wasn’t taught using these books herself. IMO, it’s harder to see the effects of subtle brainwashing when you’re not the child involved. My own cousin (a die-hard Southern Baptist) honestly doesn’t understand how my emotional picture of Christianity is so tied into harmful, false beliefs that were taught to me in school–because she went to public schools and was thus not indoctrinated.

      • Thank you for your thoughtful response, The_L.

        In lieu of a direct response, let me offer an analogy.

        When asked about the effects of corporal punishment on them, children – and later, as adults – most often (except in extreme cases) will usually excuse the adult behaviour by way of asserting that the intention was good, that it was done in a loving way, that no permanent damage was sustained, and that the child had done something (or hadn’t done something) to deserve it. Often we’ll hear of how receiving such punishment was necessary, that it really ‘straightened out’ some wayward behaviour, that without such intervention, the child would have gone on to worse behaviour, and so on. All of this, of course, is anecdotal… and flatly incorrect.

        Let me explain why.

        The first question is about harm and was lasting harm done? The children – and later, as adults, – insist not. But what we find when we move away from the personal involvement and beliefs associated with them is that children who were subject to this form of punishment are first in line to practice it later. In other words, the harm is insidious and not at all obvious. But it’s real. This propensity to use violence by these children against others manifests itself in the form of a first response – an uncritical urge to behave in ways familiar and then rationalized to be justified. This is a real harm that continues to give! That there is compelling and overwhelming evidence that such punishment is the least effective method to achieve the goal for which it was originally used gets relegated to be some kind some ivory tower philosophical exercise of little practical value. And the next generation is taught to hit first and think second, to excuse violence rather than confront it straight up and honestly. (Parents hit, for example, because they are frustrated or angry or have no other tool in the parenting chest to alter a child’s behaviour except through physical dominance of violence and stopping the behaviour immediately without addressing its underlying causes nor any concern about long term effects. A quick way of assessing the value of such a tool is to see if does alter the child’s behaviour in the long term. It does, but exactly opposite to a parent’s original goal!)

        The same is true for the kinds of schooling that is outside of curriculum goals: enroll the unruly or challenging child first (for reasons other than a good education) and think about its effectiveness (and only later justify it) second. Like parental hitting, it is exactly backwards to achieving the long term educational goals a gifted child requires. Like corporal punishment, we know it doesn’t work to achieve these goals and we know it works only in the opposite direction. That those, subject to it for a period of years, later justify the motives of those who acted to enroll them in these failed programs – for the ‘best of reasons’ they insist – is the same as those who were hit as children: to later justify the motives of those who hit them that puts their motives in the best possible light.

        But this personal approach fails on several counts to address the real issue of evaluating the lasting impact of this kind of early childhood education: does it hold people responsible for their actions on the basis of meeting or failing to meet these educational goals? Or does the personal accounting switch the conversation away from better understanding how and why real acts actually do cause real harm to real people and into one about wonderful motives and praise-worthy intentions that somehow and mysteriously have gone awry from attaining the goals used to justify these acts… in spite of knowing that the connection between them is severed. In other words, there is a severance between the act of hitting that causes pain and suffering and the justification of love and caring for it. Simply put, causing someone intentional pain and suffering is not a loving act regardless of the intentions rationalized for it… unless you can prove that the intention reaches the goal set for it. If this were true should we all be so much more violent towards one another than we are, to advocate or excuse or justify why all of us should be swimming in love and affection while we bleed out? Of course this claim is ludicrous. Real love and real affection require real acts of what constitute these emotional states. Violence is not among them, any more than religious indoctrination is among what constitutes a good education. To claim that educational goals were a part of enrolling a child in ACE or ABB is wholly and fully a later rationalization that is knowingly contrary to what constitutes a good education. And the harm is caused by adversely affecting the foundation of how children learn, the neural pathways created early in development. Memorizing spelling words does not rank as a mitigating feature to this lasting damage that must be overcome later in life when the brain is far less plastic.

        I was a member of the BC Gifted Children’s Association. I understand how gifted children (as well as both ends of the bell curve in learning ability) significantly challenge not just parents but any formal education. I can think of fewer responsible responses than enrolling such a child into the kind of regurgitating ‘academic’ programs offered by ACE and ABB. They are antithetical to how gifted children can intellectually thrive. And I say that not as a parent of a gifted child but as an educator. I cannot fathom how anyone in education could be so unaware of today’s educational literature, so oblivious to all the professional development in the last 30 years, so unable to do even the most basic conceivable research about how to educate gifted children, that I find it difficult to think it is even remotely possible that another educator could enroll such a designated child (and I do 3 days of testing to find such children) and claim to do it for educational purposes. It would be like a peace activist explaining why a rampage of violence was undertaken in its name. It’s just bizarre and absolutely wrong in professional terms.

      • Tildeb: Another response, this time in more depth. Bear in mind that I’m not trying to excuse my parents’ choices, only to explain them. I’m still rather angry and bitter about it all myself.

        I am fully aware that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that people should be taken to account for the damage they have done, even if it was unintended. (And I certainly know that corporal punishment is harmful–one of the main reasons my dad didn’t want the school to spank me is because he wanted to do it himself. I’ve been out of my parents’ house for 2 years, and I still suffer guilt and fear in the presence of my father as a psychological reflex. I also learned all too well how to lie as a result of being spanked! It’s because I’ve read up on the harmful effects of spanking, and they’ve matched up so chillingly well with my own experience, that I refuse to lay a hand on my future children or allow anyone else to do so.)

        However, we should also recognize that such people do not intend to do harm when we address them, because otherwise we will never be able to convince them to make choices that do no (or at least, significantly less) harm. Treating the parents who contribute to the Christian-curriculum problem as all being brainwashed, dominionist zealots will only serve to turn off the well-intentioned ones and put the zealots on the defensive. Neither of those outcomes is going to help in either the short or the long-term.

        The best thing we can do is approach the well-meaning parents with an attitude of “I know you want what’s best for your children, and I applaud you for that. However, this isn’t it. Here’s a list of serious issues with the curriculum, and here are some better, unbiased homeschooling resources if you still choose to homeschool. Please, please change the curriculum you’re using now, while your children still aren’t too far behind the curve.”

        After all, isn’t our shared goal to get people to stop using ACE, ABB, and BJU curricula?

        “The same is true for the kinds of schooling that is outside of curriculum goals: enroll the unruly or challenging child first (for reasons other than a good education) and think about its effectiveness (and only later justify it) second.”

        Er, this wasn’t my parent’s goal. My parents knew that the Alabama public education system was a complete joke, and wanted me to have a good education. My dad had gone to Catholic schools and remembered them fondly as having high academic standards; however, I lived in a rural area where there were no Catholic schools. From the beginning, their purposes were educational; they wanted me to become a “well-rounded” adult, with a strong and diverse educational background. They saw private schooling as an opportunity to provide just that. I even asked my mother recently about the evolution thing. She honestly did not know that my other (saner) schools had never mentioned evolution, nor that I was struggling with it internally for years. She’d found ABB’s discussion of the subject off-putting, and decided that she’d set me straight as soon as I asked (as I said before, however, I never asked).

        I am not trying to justify my parents’ decision to keep me in ABB, nor their decision to wait for me to take the initiative before discussing any of this with me. (I’m justifiably peeved about this; however, talking to my parents about it at this point is only going to succeed at making us very angry at each other.) I am simply trying to get the point across that people have many different reasons for enrolling their children in these programs, and that they are often blind to the harm that is being done until it is explicitly pointed out. Their reasons for using ABB et al. make sense to them at the time, and we need to persuade them otherwise. The zealots are pretty much a lost cause; we need to focus on the well-intentioned parents, because they at least may be willing to change their minds.

        “To claim that educational goals were a part of enrolling a child in ACE or ABB is wholly and fully a later rationalization that is knowingly contrary to what constitutes a good education.”

        Not in this case. I remember my mother praising ABB’s reading system back when I was in 1st grade (which is a point at which the brainwashing is subtle enough that you won’t see it unless you’re REALLY looking for it). Both of my parents were Boomers; both of them were educated using traditional lectures. When an education in the form touted by ABB is the kind you’re used to, you’re not likely to question it. After all, “I was taught that way, and I turned out just fine!” My mother also received her educational degree not long after the unsuccessful testing of the open classroom during the 70’s; Alabama especially underwent a pedagogical backlash against new teaching methods after that, and it lasted for years. My cousin’s public schools focused almost entirely on memorization of common words, rather than incorporating phonics; ABB included daily phonics lessons as part of primary-grade reading classes, and this would also have appealed very strongly to my parents. Knowing their backgrounds, my parents’ decision makes sense. I still firmly believe that they were wrong, but I can at least see what their motives were and where they might have come from.

        “They are antithetical to how gifted children can intellectually thrive.”

        So are the public schools in southeastern Alabama. There was no good choice in the area at the time. The only other organization that offered private schooling within a reasonable drive (defining this as 30 miles or so; driving that distance in rural AL takes about 45 min each way) was Kaplan. I bombed out of testing to determine whether I was ready for kindergarten there, because the wording of their questions didn’t make sense to my extremely literal 3-year-old mind. (What do you mean, “Who is this?” I’ve never seen this man before; I don’t know his name. But if you asked me what he does, I could certainly tell you that he’s a firefighter because he’s got a big red fire hat on.) It was public school (which wouldn’t take me on at that age and didn’t have any real system set up locally for gifted students) or ABB (which was at least willing to teach me as long as my parents were willing to pay). I was begging on a near-daily basis to go to school, because I knew from Sesame Street and other shows that school is a place where the “big kids” go to learn things, and I wanted to learn those things too. I was already reading at probably about a 1st- or 2nd-grade level. I firmly believe that for me to have not gone to any school yet would have been a waste.

        “I cannot fathom how anyone in education could be so unaware of today’s educational literature, so oblivious to all the professional development in the last 30 years, so unable to do even the most basic conceivable research about how to educate gifted children”

        Most of those last 30 years hadn’t taken place yet. I went to that school from fall of 1989 (kindergarten) to spring of 1996 (8th grade; I skipped a couple grades). Any study of gifted children after those years simply did not exist yet for my parents to read up on. Furthermore, my mother’s concentration was not in exceptional ed, so she would have only learned the basic amount necessary for the average math teacher (as perceived by Southern professionals in the 1970’s). And when exceptional ed isn’t a common topic in your day-to-day work, you forget a lot!

        Also, at the time, my father was working on post all day and my mother was teaching high school while also trying to tend to me and my younger brother (and both of us were a real handful during the early-childhood “gets into everything” phase). Dad hadn’t taken any educational courses, so he had no idea what gifted children could and could not do. (I remember my brother and me being punished on a regular basis for doing things that were perfectly developmentally appropriate behaviors.) And Mom’s such a “don’t rock the boat”-type personality that–well, she was definitely an enabler of psychological abuse, though she would never admit that’s what was going on.

      • Thank you for your comment, The_L. I’m glad you understand that it is okay to be bitter and angry at this kind of schooling because you’ve earned every right to feel this way. That alone should be warning enough to other parents to be very wary and leery of these private ‘schools’.

        I also understand that you can appreciate many of the pressures your parents were under to provide you with a good education. Believe me, I get it. I have been advocating for kids a very long time and have faced the same response: “Sounds good in theory, put just wait until you have a child!” The practicalities of providing good parenting to kids is challenging and it especially involves a commitment to achieving certain goals. What is rarely done, however, is assessing how well those goals are being reached. And this is where I find fault with your mother because the evaluation year by year would not show you reaching critical and creative thinking in your school work. If she wasn’t looking at that, then what was she looking for? A good speller?

        For three decades I have been arguing with other teachers about the stupidity of phonics programs by pointing out that the very word ‘phonics’ doesn’t even start with an ‘f’ but with the same letter that begins the word pneumonia. Phonetics must be learned within a context of the whole language – written as well as spoken. Teaching kids rule-based language and clever little rhymes is like trying to learn to walk by first reciting and then using every muscle in the order in which they are to be activated. It would be a wonder if any kids could walk at all. (Oh well, this is another pet peeve of mine.)

        I’ve been upgrading my education my whole life. Back in the early 80s, developmental psychology (child psych) was already very clear about children at either end of the learning spectrum and how best to serve their needs. A regimented curriculum for young kids who liked to learn and were good at it was already well known to be the least effective method and the most likely to turn kids off school. And this makes sense… common sense. Why force a child who can read complex sentences, for example, have to read material suitable to an earlier developmental time? For how long will that child continue to make an effort (to please parents and teachers) that yields no self-meaningful advancement? Multiply that by many factors and you have the results of what happens when you regiment learning to kids who have their own learning boundaries significantly out of synch with the program. And my point here is that educators are trained to look for these kinds of discrepancies and trained on how to deal with them in meaningful ways. Skipping a grade level, for example, is one such strategy (that also has significant social effects) out of many. It’s almost impossible for an educator to respond effectively if the program itself is inflexible. And there will be signs impossible to miss if this kind of disconnect exists. One obvious sign of internal conflict is by external behavioral conflict that leads to disciplinary problems like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a lot of detentions for a kid who has a history of liking to learn? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on, but it does take someone concerned enough to look into what is actually going on at school and looking at the teacher’s daily, weekly, and monthly plans. Again, assessment is key (by asking teachers those dreaded questions of professional grade: What’s your goal, and how are you going to achieve it?). Parents need to assess their child’s schooling in the same way and you don’t put it off for years hoping things will somehow turn out okay when the signs and symptoms tell you they’re not..This is why I’m annoyed at your mother for not doing what I think is not only a parent’s duty very well but a professional one in regards to helping you achieve a good education. Yes, mistakes can be made, but I think a year is a generous amount of time for anyone – parent or teacher – to realize that any kind of ACE is not the way to get there. I just feel bad for you that you had to stay in that kind of program for years and years and can’t help but hold anyone who thinks otherwise with a certain degree of contempt… most of all toward another teachers who should know better if not from their own training then from their upgrading. And what better reason to upgrade than to have a child who challenges your preconceived notions? It’s an opportunity to learn anew.

      • Agreed, but one teensy correction: ABB has a lot of the same kinds of indoctrination as ACE, but they are not in any way affiliated with each other. My school did use both (thankfully, ACE was used very little before high school, so I didn’t get too much of its soul-killing tedium), but this wasn’t because either curriculum is related to the other in any way beyond having the same indoctrination trajectory.

        I think my parents also didn’t see the warning signs because–surprise, surprise!–they also hated school as kids! I think there’s some sort of weird mental damage where people think school has to be an unpleasant place in order to be effective. And…yeah, I was also pretty badly-socialized from acceleration, but at that point, there really wasn’t any pedagogically-effective solution in the local schools. Southern AL is about the worst place for a gifted child to be educated, because of how middle-of-nowhere it is. You can drive along US and state highways from one town to the next and see maybe one car along the way.

        There’s also the fact that I agreed with my parents on major social issues–they assumed that I both knew a lot more than I did about said issues, and didn’t see it as a warning sign because I agreed with them. Complacency is a lot more likely when your child seems to be turning out just like you.

  7. Wow. I am extremely sad to think about what non-believers think we Christians are when they read this. I, too, attended Abeka when I was child, embracing this method of teaching (not questioning the given), but when I was transferred to a public school, I realized how flawed and sick this way is. I remain a devout Christian today, but I am appalled that students are treated and taught this way at this seemingly prestigious academy. Once again, please do not judge all us Christians based on this ridiculous college.

  8. Many of the things that Mrs. Scaramanga said are inaccurate. I cannot speak for PCC as I have never attended, but I was an A Beka Academy video streaming student all through high school and the teachers were anything but the way they were described.

    All the teachers smiled during class, every single one. The teachers shared their lives with the students and would tell stories of their families and by the end of the year I typically knew the names of the teacher’s spouse and child(ren). If you don’t believe me, you can go to their website and see the sample videos. I would suggest viewing Mrs. Schmuck’s videos or Mr. McBride’s videos. I loved Mrs. Schmuck. She would always brighten up my day with her warm smile. It’s absolutely false that the teachers are not allowed to be nice and smile at the students.

    The students would occasionally look at each other during class and would not be punished or reprimanded for doing so. As a matter of fact, the students would laugh at something funny a teacher or classmate said while answering, and the teacher would only tell them to stop if it got out of hand.

    Dinosaurs were not taught as myths in any of my classes. They were discussed as real things and there were even pictures of dinosaur fossils and bones in the textbook (specifically Biology).

    You can hear background noise (movement and talking) coming from the halls of the school, implying that the children are allowed to speak in the hallways. It is not “eerily silent.” You can also hear people reciting or singing occasionally in other classes if you listen closely. Once again, not eerily silent.

    When a student did not do their homework, I remember my English teacher (Mrs. Schmuck) calmly telling the student that for homework they would have to write a half page summary of what they were supposed to have read. This is the kind of discipline they enforce. It is not mean or especially strict and no one was yelled at.

    It was not all “rote memorization.” Yes, there is definitely some memorization, but my question to the author is, “What is wrong with having students memorize and recite poems or Scriptures?” I enjoyed memorizing poems in class. I would sometimes even memorize poems from the Literature book on my own. The teachers would explain to the students the material, not just have them recite a term and its definition or something. And the teachers would even use games in review for the test to help us study and prepare for the test, not just reciting and memorization.

    I just graduated and went to the ceremony at A Beka and was able to meet my video teachers (most of them). They are all very kind and took pictures with us and everything. They joked with me and were very kind. I don’t understand why Ms. Scaramanga would write such things. By the way, I was given a tour of Pensacola Christian Academy and the person recording the videos has signs that she’ll put up to ask the teachers to smile. Smiling is encouraged.

    Now, they are strict in some respects. I don’t deny that, but not to the extent that she said. Male students are required to wear pant and a shirt to school and to have their hair cut short. Female students are required to wear skirts past the knee and modest shirts or blouses or a modest dress that goes past the knee. I’m not saying it’s strict to make people dress modestly, but personally I don’t really like wearing skirts or dresses, so to me it’s a bit much. They also require that a KJV Bible be used in Bible class, and in Bible class, they teach that other versions are inferior due to the Greek texts the other versions use being faulty. I used a KJV Bible in the class, but I do not hold the same views as they do in those regards. They also teach that all rock music is evil, even Christian rock music. I don’t agree with this either, so I just ignored them on that.

    While A Beka has its faults and unnecessary strictness in some regards, Ms. Scaramanga exaggerated in some regards and blatantly lied in others. As I said earlier, I do not know about PCC, but I do know alot about A Beka and it saddens me that she would say these things, especially about the teachers.

  9. I go to a school like this. I have been since I was three years old. Honestly, I’ve been so used to the “communication” demerits and the straight lines. This is all very, very true. Everything from the silence to the insane curriculum, “repetition is the key to learning” (I heard this today by my English teacher btw), and the nap time. It’s all real. A Beka was all I knew but I know that the kids do not deserve this. This must be stopped.

  10. I wish I had found this review BEFORE I had spent $1000 on ABeka DVDs. My dd liked them at first then began to completely rebell. We just could not figure it out. This was our first time to do ABB with her and have always taught her to think through what she is being taught. Now that I read your article I completely understand what she was going through. Now however, I am stuck with books that I need to use, forget the DVDs because she hates them. She especially hated the drills that they do before the tests. She felt they were very juvenile and just could not stomach them. My question to you since you have taught this curriculum is– do you have some suggestions on how I can use the books I have to make it a more interesting and useful curriculum? And I will not be buying it again. Thank you

  1. Pingback: Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education I: In Which First Impressions Are Made » En Tequila Es Verdad

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