“It’s the crapness!” yelled my mother, who almost never says anything more offensive than ‘oh blow’.
In hindsight, leaving three boxes of Packets of Accelerated Christian Education (PACEs) at her house was perhaps not the kindest thing I could have done.
“It’s a bubble!” she continued, warming to her rant. “It’s stuck in a 1950s timewarp and it’s all so twee. Do you know what I read in a science PACE earlier? There was a lesson about the first heart transplant, and then it said have you had your heart transplanted by Jesus?”
Seeing my mum rant about ACE might be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen; if I could capture her on a podcast I’d blast the Pod Delusion into next week. But she’s got a point. What is staggering about ACE is not the creationism or the conservatism – everyone knows fundamentalists believe that. It’s the fact that it’s just so obviously rubbish, and yet, in the UK at least, school inspectors seem to let this pass without comment.
The most obvious way ACE is crap is in its multiple choice questions (of which there are thousands). Here, for your general amusement, are some I found yesterday. I make no claim that these are the best (or worst) of it. They’re just a few I dug up in a cursory jaunt through the PACEs I have. I could go on much, much longer.
This is what happens when you leave education to people for whom religious conversion is everything and learning is a distant afterthought.
This is from the Times Educational Supplement, Scotland, July 2007:
“The modest building is home to the River of Life Christian School, where pupils aged 5 to 18 sit quietly in a network of booths and work through a vast pile of booklets throughout their school days.
Standard grade and Higher are unfamiliar terms here. Individualised learning with a religious thread is preferred, built around the American Accelerated Christian Education system. Testing goes on throughout each child’s time at school, but there is no build-up to pivotal exams at a pre-determined age. Staff liken ACE to the International Baccaleaureate.”
Unlike most press coverage of ACE in this country, the writer, Henry Hepburn, reserves judgement, and is happy to point out what seem like positives. In doing so, he reminds me how wonderful an ACE school appeared to me for my first couple of terms.
“Some River of Life methods will raise eyebrows, but the school’s pupils prove it does some things very well. They are polite and caring, older children often spend spare time playing with younger ones, and bullying and indiscipline are almost non-existent. Some pupils are introspective, others engagingly cheeky. Creativity and intellectual discussion may appear muted, but senior pupils are eloquent and contemplative, aware of the school’s religious basis while open to other ideas.
“Many will see the school’s booths as divisive and the reliance on biblical values as inculcation. Staff believe the booths are liberating and that biblical values provide a moral template. What is certain is that River of Life’s pupils are not scripture-quoting clones. Perhaps they are quieter, perhaps better behaved but, all in all, they are not so different from children in any other school.”
Please do read the whole thing. For my money, it’s not critical enough, but that’s exactly why I’m posting it. I’ve given nothing but criticism of Accelerated Christian Education on this blog. I’m not finished yet, but if you’re not persuaded by now that ACE gives us some genuine cause for concern, I doubt I will ever change your mind. I’ll give you my thoughts on the article after the jump, but if you’ve only got time to read one or the other, go for the TES article.
In his diary for the New Statesman in 2006, Richard Dawkins shared this on Accelerated Christian Education:
“One of my TV locations was a London school that follows the (American) Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) syllabus. The day after watching my show, three colleagues told me they had interviewed, for a place at university, a young woman who had been taught (not at the same school) using ACE. She turned out to be the worst candidate they had ever encountered. She had no idea that thinking was even an option: her job was either to know or guess the “right” answer. Worse, she had no clue how bad she was, having always scored at least 95 per cent in exams – the National Christian Schools Certificate (NCSC). Should my colleagues write to Ofsted about ACE and NCSC? Unfortunately, Ofsted is the organisation that gave a rave review to Tony Blair’s pet city academy in Gateshead: a Christian school whose head of science thinks the entire universe began after the domestication of the dog.”
I realise I am perhaps guilty of confirmation bias here, but that’s exactly what I’d expect to happen to most former ACE students in an Oxbridge interview. The important part is this: She had no idea that thinking was even an option. That’s exactly how ACE teaches. If you come out of an ACE school showing some independent thinking ability, the curriculum cannot be given the credit. Either you’re extraordinarily independent-minded, or you’ve been lucky enough to learn it from somewhere else.
But Dawkins raises an important point: What the hell is Ofsted doing when it gives approving reports to ACE schools?
On Friday, I examined the Alberta Department of Education’s views on Accelerated Christian Education. As part of its report, the Committee on Tolerance and Understanding made recommendations on educational policy to correct the problems it found. I think these make a reasonable skeleton for a public policy that could be implemented to ensure better education, and limiting poisonous systems like ACE. Lets look at their suggestions.
Actually, before we do, I’d like to post this quotation from the Committee’s report, since I agree with it so much I think I could put it on a poster:
“The mission of education must include development of critical thinking skills based on openness, inquiry, imagination, original ideas, dissent, rational thinking, and independence. Scoeity’s best efforts must alwas be open to skepticism and constructive criticism from students themselves. To do otherwise, to ignore their developing autonomy and judgment, would undermine the whole purpose of the enterprise. Respect for authority is essential, but a balance must be kept. History has shown time and again that when respect for authority completely overrides responsible independence, critical thinking is destroyed and society is left open to the evils of apathy, dogmatism and prejudice.”
Alright, so what are their suggestions? Read the rest of this entry