Recovering from ACE

Lisa Kelly first commented on this blog mentioning that her bad experience of ACE had pushed her into the education business. “It was one of the driving things that made me seek to become an educator – so that I could encourage children and people of all ages to think for themselves and explore their *own* reasons for being and doing.”

Lisa and I have forged similar paths. I’m doing a PhD in education; she’s an Ed.D. I thought it might be nice for you to hear from someone else in the profession just why educators don’t think much of ACE. So here we go. 

Before I answer your questions, let me tell you a bit about me and how I came to be exposed to ACE.  

I was raised in a conservative, fundamentalist Christian family in Portland, Oregon, USA. My parents were ‘born again’ when I was a small child. They gravitated toward Pentecostal fundamentalism and denominations such as Assemblies of God and Foursquare Gospel. For some reason, my mother believed public schools to be ‘evil’ without regard to the broad spectrum of free education that was available.  She felt very strongly about instilling strong Christian values and thought that the best way to do that was with a private Christian education.  Consequently, my younger sister and I were enrolled from Kindergarten onward in different private schools.  The one that used ACE curriculum was Assemblies of God in doctrine.  I was enrolled for 4ththrough part of 6th grade, my younger sister for first through part of third.  We were then withdrawn from that school during the Christmas holidays and homeschooled for a few years (with PACEs for a year or so), then returned to a private school for high school.  I continued my education in private universities.

I do hope this has answered your queries, albeit in a personal fashion.  You will note that I did add in some qualifying definitions and did not endorse or harshly critique ACE. I would enjoy doing a critical analysis and review of their curriculum now against what is considered to be acceptable for State and National standards and see how it matches. Such a project that would be!

Lisa M. Kelly, Ed.D. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What are the particularly memorable aspects of your time in ACE?

To answer your question regarding what memorable aspects of ACE I recall, there are two primary things that still permeate my brain: their curriculum design and methodology,  and strictly Scripture-based pedagogy.

During the mid-1980’s, when I experienced the ACE curriculum, I distinctly recall their SQ3R method (known affectionately as a variety of ‘drill and kill’.)  While ACE postulates the idea of self-driven curriculum, it does so by removing the need interpersonal interactions with other students and guidance from a teacher entirely. The tests were designed so if a student read or memorized the packet, they would pass the tests.  Nothing less than 80% was encouraged for acceptance.  Should a student pull a low test score for whatever reason, you were allowed to ‘re-take’ the test, but couldn’t get above an 80% which was a ‘B’.  The memorization techniques also were linked to copious amounts of Scripture memorization that were chosen at the principal’s discretion.  Rather than a few verses a month, there were multiple verses a week that we needed to recite.  Should you be able to recite the entire text or chapter by the end of the month or term, there was some sort of special reward for shaping your Christian character.

I recall ACE methodology was work packet-based; each subject was comprised of a dozen packets, exploring a topic in-depth.  These were called PACEs, Packets of Accelerated Christian Education.  For example, the Social Studies packets for 4thgrade were numbered 1-12, you were to complete a packet every few weeks and move onto the next packet and thus on through the curriculum by the end of the year. This packet format was minimized an individual’s need to interact with others, learn project management skills, partnered learning, and the development of higher thinking skills, including critical thinking, was simply suppressed.  Teachers were more like babysitters who encouraged kids to move through the booklets as fast as possible and the only supplemental sources for information were encyclopedias – one set for 25 students.  Whether or not this was normative, I was not challenged academically and was bored out of my mind – for years.

It did not help that we were structured into wee cubicles barely large enough to work in, let alone spread out to do work. If we needed help, we had a red or green flag to raise.  Green meant we needed help, red meant we had come to a quiz or test and needed an adult to pull it from the file.  We had to wait for a teacher or aide to approach us – we could not go get help.  If we left our desks without permission – even to use the restroom, there was a ‘demerit’ issued for bad behavior.  You accumulated demerits and could be sent to the principal’s office; for three or more, a student could warrant suspension for a day or more. Whenever we had to test, we had to leave our cubicles and sit in the middle of the room at a ‘testing table’ also used for ‘research’ when we needed to use the encyclopedia. This was done for most days of the week; we did have PE (physical education) and perhaps other after-school sports if you wanted to pay for them and participate.

Permeating the curriculum and ethos was the overwhelming concept of Scripture as the ultimate authority. When I would inquire about something I saw in National Geographic, or human anatomy, I was shushed and told that if it wasn’t part of the curriculum, it wasn’t necessary. Should I continue to question, corporeal punishment was threatened, for adult authority was equated with God-like power.


Did you accept ACE’s ideas when you were learning them? Assuming you did, how did you get from there to thinking the way you do now?


Part of my personality has always been to question everything.  Since I was not taught critical thinking skills or logic, I asked a lot questions.   was told a number of times:“This is just the way we do it,” or “Just be quiet and do your work. Good children get rewarded,” or, “It’s disrespectful to question your elders.  Just be obedient.”

As a child who had a thirst to question, learn, and make the world fit together, this was not satisfactory. I constantly read at home but always knew I was missing something, somewhere. Although I haunted the local library, the librarians were instructed by my mother to only let us check out books in certain categories.  If I were to take home ‘unacceptable works of literature’ (i.e. anything not on the school-approved reading list), the librarian was to call my mother to clear it.  Often, I would read a book there in the library and not check it out.  It wasn’t until I was an adult and became a teacher that I began to see chasmic holes in my education, particularly with regard to history, world politics, geography, science, economics, and math skills; moreover academic process and learning skills.

As a side note, I recall some of the assignments being really vague, and in my logical but young mind, rather stupid.  As an adult who is now an educator, I see now that they held no sort of academic reasoning or interdisciplinary pattern, let alone scientific validity.  In my opinion, ACE/ PACE barely qualified  as instruction; their methodology did not teach project preparedness, organizational management, or a host of other skills.  Rather, their lack of communication and planning resulted in recurring apprehensions of projects that needed completion with no tangible boundaries or expectations.  If anything, I’d say ACE curriculum was more responsible for instilling text anxiety and poor academic skills rather than encouraging the formation of learning habits that would last a lifetime.

On a more personal note, it was not until I was in high school and college that I was able to actively question and examine why my family had the beliefs it did in Christianity and why I was raised with the beliefs I was, particularly with regard to the spirituality which permeated our daily living.  I thank a wonderful theology professor for helping me examine the history of Christianity and encouraging my mind to question and see things with new eyes.  As I did research with a critical mind, I began to see flaws in logic that had structured my reality for my entire life.  When I realized that I could out-argue my parents’ minister easily, that my parents’ authoritarian views were simply indoctrination without grounding truths, I quickly saw there was no real logic to believing or behaving a certain way except for fear and manipulation so I set out on my own journey of self-discovery and learning.


In what aspects is your brain still recovering (from ACE)?

When I began college, I realized how much I truly didn’t know and I felt as if I was constantly behind on subject matter.  When people would comment, “Oh, this is a middle school concept, haven’t you ever seen this before?” I would turn red and change the topic.  Rather than drop out of my private university and take classes from a community college to strengthen my general academic skills, I dealt with undiagnosed test anxiety and slogged through.

When I went on to graduate school, I realized there were different types of thinking and academic standards. What was unacceptable at one school was embraced at another.  It didn’t matter that my grades weren’t stellar – what mattered was the journey and that I reached goals I had set.

At that time, I realized I would likely spend a lifetime recovering (and not just intellectually) from the inadequate scholarship and pedagogy from the ACE program and other forms of deficient and one-sided ‘Christian’ curriculum I had been exposed to in Christian primary and secondary schools.  I firmly believe this was due to exposure of said systems in lower elementary, when many concepts and ideas are introduced and reinforced during key points of neurological and brain development. Furthermore, as a result of exposure at those specific stages of development, I missed a very valuable window of learning.  I see this in my difficulty with math, languages, and abstract concepts such as scientific theory and some forms of music.  While I have struggled to account for my lack of learning in these areas, I feel it will always be something I struggle with.


In your view as an educator, what should a good education be? How is ACE different from that?

As an educator, I believe we have the responsibility to provide a well-rounded education to children which addresses not only academic needs and challenges them beyond complacency to excellence.  Children and young people need exposure to different types of learning styles, different classes, subjects, hands-on manipulatives, and activities ranging from mundane to intricate.  They need involved parents, a caring community, and tangible ways to shape their character within their world.  A wide variety of subjects is essential so children can be exposed to different ways of being, doing, and thinking.  Furthermore, education must be challenging, culturally relevant, encouraging, and transformative in pedagogy and rhetoric.

Allow me to clearly state that I do not have an axe to grind with the people who have created and continue to publish the ACE/ PACE curriculum.  While it has evolved in various ways over the past 40 years, I have not done a comprehensive review and analysis of their current works to warrant a critical analysis or critique. As a child, I was exposed to it and for me, it was not a good fit and affected both my sister and I quite adversely on a number of levels.

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 November 11, 2013, in Accelerated Christian Education, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Allow me to clearly state that I do not have an axe to grind with the people who have created and continue to publish the ACE/ PACE curriculum. While it has evolved in various ways over the past 40 years, I have not done a comprehensive review and analysis of their current works to warrant a critical analysis or critique.

    True, but there are others warrants that can be considered in place of a comprehensive review and analysis (in whatever form that may take). For example, is the ACE setting compatible with what you know are best teaching practices? No. Is the lack of a social interaction environment conducive to a good education? No. Is the curriculum a good match for teaching current knowledge? No. Dos it contain the bones of how to compare and contrast different positions? No. Does the curriculum contain guidelines and measurement rubrics for developing critical and creative thinking? No.

    Come on. To insist that one cannot be highly critical of ACE/PACE programs without a ‘comprehensive review and analysis is a complete cop-out for any responsible and professional educator. Sure, you may not have ‘an axe to grind’ against the people who have created this religiously oriented pseudo-education/indoctrination tool, as a professional educator you have the knowledge and expertise to hold this product in the lowest possible pedagogical esteem for compelling and conclusive reasons.

    • The purpose of this blog post was NOT to critique ACE, nor was it a cop out. It was, as Jonny asked, to share my *personal* experience with ACE curriculum and how it affected my life.

      Should you want my opinion and critique on this, something that I believe would be quite educational as well as valuable, perhaps approach Jonny and ask for me to share it. I would view it as separate post where these aspects can and should be addressed, not as a part of a personal reflection.

      However, you have brought up a valuable point and a harsh lesson I have learned over the years – that of tempering responsa. Part of existing in a professional capacity is to learn to disagree politely and respectfully with your colleagues – that a battle of ethics, morality, as well as wits can still be waged within boundaries and without starting a flame war.

      Would this mean that because I don’t like the ACE curriculum, I wouldn’t sit down and have coffee with the authors, publishers, or even a past teacher or administrator? Not at all. I would welcome it. 🙂

      Enjoy the day. 🙂

      • Well, I guess one has to decide for one’s self if one wishes to advocate more for the tone of professional intercourse than the straight-up educational welfare of children. Obviously, I choose the educational health of children I hope in the same way a medical doctor will choose to advocate for a patient’s health over the tone taken in professional intercourse with naturopaths.

        By treating all those involved with promoting ACE/PACE with politeness and professional courtesy tone as if they were of equivalent professional consideration in educational terms serves only to grant to ACE/PACE supporters what they fail to provide to their students. And if you find that tone too uncompromising to be of any value, well… show me evidence where accommodating ACE/PACE with professional courtesy brings about meaningful change away from promoting religious indoctrination towards an equivalent critical and creative pedagogy.

      • Tildeb, please stop trolling people on the blog, especially ones who fundamentally agree with you. I appreciate your presence here; you’re one of my most vocal supporters. But I’ve said before that I want this to be a place with polite discussion, where anyone can feel free to voice their opinion without fear of being flamed. Please stick to that.

      • Okay, Jonny; I’ll play nice(r). But since when is a legitimate and accurate criticism ‘trolling’?

        Nothing is going to change if all of us who gain professional stature in education (and work on its front lines), those who care deeply enough about the quality of education to enunciate our concerns and criticisms, don’t take a public stand against those who grant such programs as ACE a free get-out-of-jail card in in the name of some other concern (like courtesy).

        I think change (especially in the public domain) is almost always initiated as a response to an identifiable problem. ACE (and pseudo-educational programs like it) is an identifiable problem, does cause students harm, demonstrates awful pedagogy to effect. My criticism was aimed squarely at the reasoning put forth in this regard as if backed by professional considerations: that because someone has “not done a comprehensive review and analysis of their current works” means there is no “warrant (for a) a critical analysis or critique.” This is accommodationism of the worst kind: presenting a personal opinion as if professionally sanctioned when the opposite is indisputably the case. And I stand by the assessment that such a position by any professional educator is at the very least a cop out… not to be a troll but because it’s important to confront professionals with status who suggest that such a position has any professional merit. It doesn’t, and the reading public (who are interested enough to come to a blog like this) should be made keenly aware that it doesn’t.

      • But since when is a legitimate and accurate criticism ‘trolling’?

        Don’t be obtuse. You know that you’re deliberately aggressive sometimes to get a rise from people. I’ve also seen you start arguments where you continue to insist that someone has said X, even while that person repeatedly insists that they meant Y.

        I think in general I manage to keep my blog posts very clear in their opposition to ACE while maintaining the standard of politeness I ask for from my posters. Or do you think my posts are too soft as well?

      • Too soft? Not at all. In fact, some of your articles are far more critical in tone than anything I have added here. I think this is an important contribution so that any parent who thinks ACE might be a good alternative and reads them will find this criticism (especially about science and creationism) very much highlighted.

        I have yet to find some opinion you’ve offered that I think warrants criticism for its content or its reasoning. If you had, I would have commented on it. But the problem is that when I do the same with someone else, you feel you must intervene and try to defend the other not on the merit of my criticism but on its tone. There is a very fine and confusing line between criticism that makes one think and re-evaluate and one that offends. I don’t care if another finds my comment offensive because there’s nothing I can do about that. I care if my criticism is misguided or inaccurate or misplaced. Note that the sentence with which I took exception to starts by talking about having no axe to grind with the people of ACE (I don’t have an axe to grind with almost everyone with whom I’ve had some disagreement; have a problem with presenting vacillation and accommodationism where none is deserved as virtues. In this particular case, the sentence I took exception to ended with a professional opinion that was misguided, inaccurate, and misplaced.

        Just out of curiosity, would you have let that stand unaddressed and, if so, for what reason? You don’t have to answer, but I think you should think about that for a minute before condemning me for ‘flaming’ a guest post.

      • Well, two things. First, it is absolutely possible to be robust in criticism while maintaining a respectful tone.

        But secondly, I don’t think your criticism always is warranted. In this case, it looks like you’ve tried to start an argument with someone who in fact agrees with you.

  2. Well put, Lisa. It’s always a pleasure reading and listening to your thoughts. Also, I appreciate your desire to refrain from snap judgement based on decades-old memories (ending paragraph) and, instead, qualify your remarks for what they realistically represent. Kudos!

  3. “Furthermore, as a result of exposure at those specific stages of development, I missed a very valuable window of learning. I see this in my difficulty with math, languages, and abstract concepts such as scientific theory and some forms of music. While I have struggled to account for my lack of learning in these areas, I feel it will always be something I struggle with.”

    I have the same problem. I was taught with A Beka from kindergarten-8th grade, with some courses in 4th-8th grades “taught” through ACE. It was in 4th grade that I started to hate school–because it had become utter drudgery. It was in 4th grade that I suddenly became an outspoken young-earth creationist, and started to hate dinosaurs (a topic I’d previously loved).

    My parents think I’m overreacting when I say that going to that private evangelical school was bad for my intellectual health, because “We wanted you to see different perspectives and become well-rounded.” No. When you’re exposed for 8 hours every school day to the idea that anyone who contradicts the textbooks (and the warped perspective on the Bible that they represent) is lying to you, you can’t be well-rounded. All the Saturdays watching PBS with your parents or reading about paleontology can’t and won’t make up for that.

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