I was walking back from my village shop with a loaf of bread. Like always, I was staring at the ground, so I didn’t see the group of girls coming the otherway. I jumped when one of them spoke.
“Jonny, do you know Esther?”
A girl was speaking to me. I almost convulsed with the adrenalin. Then a voice completely alien to mine escaped my lips, at once threatened and aggressive.
“Yeeeaahh,” I grunted. The girls burst into laughter and walked off. One did an impression of my voice as they went. I returned to staring at the floor and walking home.
This was the result studying alone, in silence, being constantly told how evil the outside world is, for four of my most formative years. I could talk to grown-ups, of course, “Yes, Mrs. Johnson”, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Johnson”, “You’re right, Mrs. Johnson”. But people my own age? Those ones who were trying to drag me to hell with them? They were terrifying.
I went to an Accelerated Christian Education school. If you read any account of ACE, you’ll learn that students spend the majority of their time working in silence, isolated in individual carrels. In these workbooks, the Bible is threaded through every subject. Learning maths? Then we’ll calculate the dimensions of Noah’s Ark. English? Underline the subject and predicate in these sentences: “Jesus is my Savior”. “Do you know Jesus as your Savior?”
Put like that, this sounds like a quiet and conservative way for parents to raise their children in the Christian faith. Since democratic nations value parents’ right to do this, it’s hard to see what’s wrong with ACE. But there are two big problems.
The first of these is that, on ACE’s priority list, quality of education is secondary to making sure children know Jesus. ACE is based on B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist ideas about education. This is weird, partly because Skinner was an atheist, and partly because his ideas are now discredited as a theory of human cognitive functioning. Simply put, children don’t learn the way Skinner thought they do (by putting them in boxes, giving them a stimulus, and then reinforcing with a system of rewards and punishments). So a system of education based on that is more or less doomed at the outset.
For reasons I can only guess at, ACE thought this was a good way to raise children to be Christians. I think it’s because the system affords total control over everything the child sees and hears. And that’s the second problem with ACE: they don’t want children to think, and they definitely don’t want them to ask questions.
In ACE, children don’t need to ask questions, because ACE already has access to all of life’s answers, courtesy of the Bible, God’s absolute Word. Thus all the questions are fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, or otherwise short-answer questions. There are two problems with this: One is that you don’t need to understand the material to pass; you can just memorise it parrot-fashion. So despite ACE’s claims of mastery learning, children can wind up with massive learning gaps. The other problem is that the children never learn to think for themselves.
ACE don’t see that second part as a particular problem. “Man should never trust his own reasoning – his reasoning may be incorrect because man’s reasoning is not God’s reasoning”, they tell students in one science book, later adding, “the Bible, God’s Word, is infallible. If a scientific theory contradicts the Bible, then the theory is wrong and must be discarded”.
Looking back on my time in ACE, it seemed like the entire syllabus was written by someone who just didn’t give a flying fuck about factual accuracy, as long as the overall effect was to make children believe in God. There’s a word for this, and it isn’t education. It’s propaganda.
Over at my blog, I’ve done a couple of posts on lies I was taught as fact in school, and I could have done plenty more. Here’s a good example: Science 1099 tells children that, if dinosaur species were found alive today, that would disprove evolution but would fit with the Genesis Flood creationist model. “Are dinosaurs alive today?” asks the text. “Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence”.
That’s bad enough, but the text goes on to say this:
A Japanese fishing vessel brought up the decomposing body of a dinosaurlike [sic] sea creature off the coast of New Zealand. Caught at a depth of 900 feet, the creature weight 4,000 pounds, measured 32 feet in length, and was seen and photographed by the crew members. The animal could not be matched with any living species but certainly resembles a supposedly extinct species of dinosaur.
It's accompanied by an artist's impression of this picture:
Looks, superficially, a lot like a dinosaur, doesn't it? But it wasn't. It was a basking shark. It was caught in 1977. The scientific analysis that pointed to it being a basking shark was released by 1978. So ACE's science book, first copyright 1989 and still in print today, is either a) lying, or b) written by someone who just didn't care about checking facts. Either way, that's inexcusable. And the same page contains ACE's infamous claims about the Lock Ness Monster, which went viral on the internet earlier this year.
Because I was told that human reason is corrupted by sin, and that any evidence which contradicts the Bible is wrong, I refused to believe in evolution even after I left ACE and started getting a decent education. Over time, I was exposed to a huge amount of evidence, but I just wouldn't accept it.
Then, eventually, I realised something. If I believe that I can't trust my reasoning, because the devil might be deceiving me, I shouldn't believe in Christianity either.
I shouldn't believe in anything. How could I know that Christianity wasn't also one of the devil's ploys to trick me? After all, I believed that about every other religion. It seemed to me my options were either a) believe nothing, or b) look at the evidence.
And when you look at the evidence, what ACE teaches is a lot of lies, some ways of thinking that will destroy your intellect, and a way of life that crippled my social skills.
I got out, though. Today I'm a PhD student at London's Institute of Education. Before that, I was a musician, and I played guitar on a top 10 record last year (OK, top ten in Sweden). I don't say that to brag. Just to let you know, if you've been through ACE, that there's no way they can screw you up so badly that you can't recover.
Sheldon's note: Jonny Scaramanga, the author of this guest post is a former fundamentalist and is now a blogger who works to expose the teachings on the ACE curriculum.
He has been interviewed by the Times of London, and BBC radio. Read his blog, Leaving Fundamentalism for more about ACE, his career as a musician, and about his child hood experiences growing up in the church of internationally known "Word of Faith" minister Jesse Duplantis.
I consider it a high honor that he wrote this guest post for my blog, thanks, Jonny!