Latest posts by Alexis Record (see all)
- Are You Tired of People Asking You if You’re Tired? - April 26, 2017
- Womanhood Isn’t Just About Our “Cis”ters - March 15, 2017
- The Hellish System: Trans Woman Vs. The Powers That Be - February 25, 2017
A Reddit user, Trinaaz, recently posted an image from his niece’s school textbook. It says marriage should be a heterosexual union between a leader of the household and his obedient wife. Trinaaz’s niece is not a Christian, yet he says these Fundamentalist Christian textbooks are offered by her county for less than half the cost of other textbooks.
This is not my first time writing about Accelerated Christian Education or ACE, and it’s also not the first time ACE has been in the spotlight for sexism. In 2001, Norway banned the curriculum for violating their Gender Equality Act. ACE teaches that:
Girl’s bodies are sinful.
Women should submit in marriage.
A woman’s place is being a homemaker.
And it’s all God’s will or plan so it must be obeyed without question.
The above lessons have directly lead to countless abuses of girls and women who learned under this system. It’s been talked and talked about.
Indoctrination tells a child what to think instead of how to think. These materials do not say “some Christian denominations believe” or “these Bible verses indicate,” but instead appeal to the highest authority which cannot be questioned. Why? Because God. Don’t question God!
Having beliefs stated as facts is not honest.
I can tell you from personal experience this kind of curriculum hinders a child’s ability to gather data and make informed decisions and discoveries. It leaves children vulnerable to being taken advantage of by others. I did not have the skills necessary to examine evidence after doing this program from the preschool materials all the way through high school. I fell victim to a lot of scams, false claims, and pseudoscience parading as medical advice.
Religious teachings and sexism aside (and racism, extreme patriotism, science denial, child physical abuse, and homophobia aside as well), ACE is simply a bad system for learning. And no one has fought to expose this system longer and harder than Jonny Scaramanga.
I sat down with Scaramanga–him at his computer in the UK and me at mine in California–to discuss the last several years of his work exposing ACE, and his in-depth interviews with ACE students. After some initial pleasantries, and establishing limitations on the scope of the interview, we dove right in.
Alexis Record: Tell me about your PhD work.
Jonny Scaramanga: I did my PhD at the University College London (UCL) Institute of Education, which has been ranked the #1 university in the world for education three years in a row. I did a qualitative study of the experiences of students who attended Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) schools in England.
The aim was more to discover what experiences former ACE students have had. It’s a totally under-researched area. I couldn’t find another study like it that’s been done anywhere in the world. So it was a little like early feminist research, a lot of which consisted of interviewing women about their experiences and taking them seriously. I’ve done that with ACE students.
Record: How many years did it take to complete your work? How many interviews did you do?
Scaramanga: It’s taken me four years. The first two and a half years were spent on a literature review, learning how to do research, and analyzing PACEs, the workbooks used in ACE schools. Then I interviewed 23 adults who went to 10 different ACE schools between about 1985 and 2010.
Record: How did a US-based curriculum end up in the UK?
Scaramanga: ACE has quite aggressively promoted itself around the world. Although it is a very US-biased system, it is used in (they claim) more than 130 countries worldwide.
Record: What is something you would like parents to know who are considering this curriculum?
Scaramanga: Every independent academic study that has ever been conducted on ACE has concluded that it provides an inadequate or unacceptable education. And that’s not based on an anti-religious position. The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) conducted an investigation and came to the same conclusion. The Canadian province of British Columbia commissioned an evaluation of ACE in 1992, and they employed a very conservative Christian, James W. Beeke, to do it. He concluded that the curriculum was inadequate on academic grounds.
Record: Okay, time to talk about sexism. I still feel guilty for calling out ACE on sexism because I was taught that a girl should not be loud or complain, but submit to authority. This interview would be considered a sin. Even all these years removed from it, I still experience that fear.
With that said, let’s tear into the charges of sexism against the curriculum. What about ACE helps women? What about it hurts women?
Scaramanga: I can’t think of anything about ACE that specifically helps women. I mean, it is a system of education, and education definitely helps women, but ACE offers quite a poor education. The public schools in your area would have to be awful before ACE became a superior alternative.
There is some explicit sexism in the PACEs. For example, in seventh grade English, students have to select the correct verb in the sentence “A woman should (teach, learn) at home from her husband”. There’s a fair bit of teaching about traditional gender roles, lots of “wives obey your husbands” stuff.
The sexism is just a constant hum in the background of the curriculum. It never goes away. The curriculum writers just refuse to use gender-neutral pronouns, even where it would make more sense to do so. For example, their seventh-grade Social Studies curriculum teaches children about possible careers. The section on dentistry says:
“The student who successfully completes all requirements will be awarded either the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) or the Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.). After graduating, he must obtain a license allowing him to practice dentistry.”
It’s always ‘he’, for every career, apart from ‘homemaking’, where the writers switch to ‘she’. There have been numerous studies, dating back to the 70s, that indicate this use of language contributes to gender discrimination (eg this one).
There’s sexism in the science curriculum too. Up to and including 8th grade, all the science lessons are told in story form. A bunch of characters from the ACE universe will go somewhere to learn about science, so the science lesson is part of the story. In these lessons, it’s always men who are knowledgeable about science. The women in the stories almost never pass on any scientific information. In one 8th grade science book (Science 1087), a character called Ace is learning from his Dad. His Mom shows up once:
“Just then, Dad and Ace arrived back home. Mom met them at the door and said, ‘You two must be tired and hungry. Come into the kitchen, and I’ll fix your breakfast.'”
That is the only thing a woman says in the entire book. It’s the same with the students in the stories. Sometimes the girl characters ask questions, but it’s only ever boys who demonstrate that they already have scientific knowledge. In the cartoons that accompany the text, women are often shown doing domestic chores, while men never are. There’s a constant implied message that science is really for boys, while cooking and cleaning are really for women.
The former ACE students I spoke to agreed that this sexism extended beyond the workbooks and into the schools they attended. The staff expressed similar attitudes and the school rules were biased against women, with emphasis on female modesty.
Record: That was my experience as well. What about the boys? Are you seeing boys getting the skills they need from this system to succeed any better than the girls?
… OK, I guess you want a proper answer. I can’t really say it any more clearly than what I already said: every independent academic review ever has concluded ACE is inadequate. ACE’s idea of learning is that it is almost entirely about memorizing facts. I can’t think of any reputable academics in the field of education who believe that. There are educational conservatives who believe that education is about assimilating a body of knowledge, but even they don’t advocate the kind of robotic, parrot-fashion memorization ACE provides.
Record: What about students with different learning abilities?
Scaramanga: ACE claims this is a strength, but actually what ends up happening is that older students with learning difficulties end up doing work designed for much younger children.
Record: I don’t remember ever learning about sexuality. What was the sexual education like in ACE? Was there any sex ed?
Scaramanga: This is the sex ed in ACE:
I’m serious. That’s as close to an explanation of sexual intercourse as they ever get.
This and dire warnings about STDs, without explaining what sex is, and therefore no explanation of what ‘sexually transmitted’ really means.
Record: In my ACE school there was no concept of consent. I experienced a sexual assault by a student on school property that was witnessed by additional students who had no idea it was wrong. Is that the experience with former students you interviewed?
Scaramanga: Yeah, one of my participants told me about how she was sexually harassed by a staff member over a period of months. When the school found out, they expelled her and retained the staff member. Another participant talked about a creepy situation where girls in the school were chaperoned by much older men in the church, and in several cases these older chaperones ended up marrying the girls in their care.
Record: Let’s move on to the false claims that this education will amount to a public school education. When I graduated from my ACE school, I could not keep up in any discussion on culture, science, or literature with my peers. Community college was my first taste of real education and everyone around me complained how the general ed classes were boring while I struggled like mad to learn the basic concepts.
The diploma I received from ACE felt worthless. I tried to use it years later when applying to become a 911 Operator, and going through a background check with the police department. They told me my diploma “wasn’t real” and asked for proof I even went to school. I had to get some community college credits to transfer to a four year institution because I was afraid to rely on the ACE diploma. Have you met other students with this problem?
Scaramanga: Yeah, several of my participants described how the ‘qualification’ they got from ACE hadn’t been recognized, so they had to do things like Access to Higher Education Courses, which are for adults who lack the necessary skills and credentials to go to university. Actually ACE has been quite successful in persuading universities to accept their graduates (sometimes by providing misleading information about the acceptability of their diplomas). It’s worst for people who don’t go to university, who only have their ACE graduation certificate. Employers have never heard of it, so for those people it’s as though they never went to school.
Record: I also wanted to touch on child abuse. I was beaten several times in my ACE school to the point that the deep bruising affected how I walked. Fear of exposing ACE, and fear of being too loud (writing too much) as a woman can create painful psychosomatic pains in my backside and legs where my body is expecting a beating. What reports of child abuse have you seen during your research? In the survivors group there are a lot of victims of physical beatings in ACE schools in multiple schools.
Scaramanga: The corporal punishment was some of the most horrendous stuff. I can’t even talk about it at the moment. People told me about getting paddled for the most innocuous things. One person said she got the paddle for drawing a cat on her PACE. Another told me about how during a cookery lesson he was asked not to touch the flour. He poked some dots on it with his index finger (he was about five years old). Paddle.
Record: Last question. In my experience with ACE, science was taught from the Bible. Instead of learning about fossils, we learned that humans rode dinosaurs, which only makes sense if you believe they were created the same day as Adam. In fact, since God was invisible and had no physical evidence, in order to make him a tangible fact, we were told that electricity was a mystery as well. God was compared to wind, and I was an adult before I realized God could not be measured or experienced like something as solid as wind. What are some of the most outrageous scientific “facts” told to ACE students?
Scaramanga: I’ve done a couple of blog posts on this.
I’m trying to think if there are any I haven’t blogged about yet. I mean, there are loads obviously. I think it will be hard to top their claims that the sky used to be pink, and that it is possible to generate electricity from snow. Dana Hunter tracked that back to the source, and discovered that it came from a patent application by a pseudoscience crank who claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine.
(Here’s one of Jonny’s posts. ACE teaches that science has disproven evolution, the Loch Ness Monster is real, solar fusion is a myth, and dinosaurs and humans co-existed.)
(I thanked Jonny for his time and reached out to Dana Hunter since her blogging on the ACE science curriculum was mentioned. She’s taking on each PACE, one falsehood at a time.)
Record: I’m writing this piece about ACE for TRN that’s basically an interview with Jonny Scaramanga. I’m doing a bit of research and reading your science critiques. What made you start reviewing the scientific (I use that word loosely) curriculum? What’s your background in science?
Dana Hunter: I did a lot of reading and took a couple of geology classes for my science fiction writing so I could build more realistic worlds. I even moved to Seattle because that’s where I set my stories and ZOMG THESE MOUNTAINS!! Years later, a friend and I took a trip down the Oregon coast, I wrote a series of blog posts about the geology we saw, and the geobloggers found them and declared me a geologist. Many of them have informally trained me. So that’s how that happened.