Jonny Scaramanga was educated in England with Accelerated Christian Education from ages 11-14. He now teaches music at the undergraduate level. He is researching Accelerated Christian Education and writing about fundamentalism in Britain at his blog, Leaving Fundamentalism. As is the tradition at Virtual School Meandering, this will be the only entry today.
This blog recently asked what Accelerated Christian Education is, and what evidence there is of student achievement (see Questions About The School Of Tomorrow). Accelerated Christian Education is a pre-packaged programmed learning curriculum, which teaches fundamentalist Christianity. It has attracted controversy from Christian and secular academics alike. Criticisms centre on the teaching of Creationism, political propaganda, and an emphasis on rote recall at the expense of higher-order thinking skills.
Learning and assessment methodologies
There are several factors that cause students to take a surface learning approach.1 From teachers, these include testing for independent facts (inevitably the case when using short answer and multiple-choice tests), and the use of extrinsic motivation. From students, factors include a cynical view of education, and thinking that factual recall is adequate. All of these are found extensively within Accelerated Christian Education.
ACE tests almost exclusively consist of multiple choice, matching, or fill-in-the-blank questions. These means only test factual recall, not understanding. Even if the students are trying to take a deep learning approach, they are not given the opportunity. A surface approach is even more likely when students are tested exessively; ACE students are expected to engage in two summative tests per week.2
At the end of each PACE section, students mark their own work. They obtain permission to leave their seats before going to a score station, where they check their answers against provided answer keys.3 It is difficult to envision a system which rewards cheating, or encourages cynicism, more effectively.
ACE prescribes a system of rewards and punishments for students.4 Those who achieve academic and behavioural goals are awarded privileges such as extended break times and the freedom to move without permission. All the rewards offered are forms of extrinsic motivation, emphasising that learning itself is not the thing of value.
ACE assessments do not provide evidence that deep learning has taken place. Options on the multiple choice tests are frequently meaningless, such as “Jesus died on the (cross, toss, chrome)”.5
ACE vice president Ronald Johnson writes,6
“Our material is not written with conventional viewpoints in mind. We do not believe that education should be non-directive or speculative, or that the final interpretation of facts and events should be left up to immature, inexperienced minds, as minline secular curricula do.”
ACE rejects virtually all modern educational theory.7 It is not aiming to teach children how to think, but rather, how to see life from God’s point of view.8 Asking questions is seen as a rejection of the divine authority invested in the school’s supervisors. As a result, the curriculum is systematically purged of methods of inquiry. Inevitably, higher order thinking skills are neglected; this is intentional.9
The ACE curriculum includes no practical science and accordingly no investigation. This would be troublesome for any ACE student embarking on a science higher education course.
“The PACEs are based on the reading comprehension mode of learning… There is no room within this method of learning for the negotiation of topics, for whole class problem solving, for the generation of ideas, for the formulating and testing of hypotheses, discussion of results and social application.”10
ACE science teaches Creationism. Leaving aside whether Creationism is true, ACE’s approach is unscientific. Rather than weighing evidence objectively, the ACE system rejects any science that contradicts the Bible, stating:
“True science will never contradict the Bible because God created both the universe and Scripture…If a scientific theory contradicts the Bible, then the theory is wrong and must be discarded.”11
The system also takes an intellectually dishonest approach to discrediting evolution. ACE claims12 evolutionists use the “hopeful monster” theory to save the “sinking ship” of evolution. In fact, this theory was put forward by one scientist, Richard Goldschmidt, whose ideas were dismissed by his colleagues. Another PACE claims that the Loch Ness Monster exists and is evidence for a young earth.13
Elsewhere, PACEs ridicule the theory of evolution:
“No branch of true science would make these kind of impossible claims without proof. Because evolutionists do not want to believe the only alternative – that the universe was created by God – they declare evolution is a fact and believe its impossible claims without any scientific proof!”14
They also claim that Young-Earth Creationism has “unquestionable proofs” and “unarguable evidences,”15 both deeply unscientific claims. The result is not just that ACE students learn incorrect facts, but that they are taught incorrect methods of reasoning, and gain a distorted view of the scientific method.
The ACE curriculum shows insensitivity towards blacks, Jews, and natives.16 Cartoon strips used for the teaching of “Godly character” in the PACEs depict students attending racially segregated schools.17 ACE materials about Aborigines are unacceptable to the Aboriginal people.18 ACE’s stance on apartheid is also of concern. During apartheid, ACE claimed that if blacks were given the vote, it would destroy the South African economy.19 Subsequently, they have written about apartheid in terms that are equivocal at best:
“For many years, the four racial groups were separated politically and socially by law. This policy of racial separation is called ‘apartheid’. South Africa’s apartheid policy encouraged whites, Blacks, Coloureds, and Asians to develop their own independent ways of life. Separate living area and schools made it possible for each group to maintain and pass on their culture and heritage to their children.
“For many years, Blacks were not allowed to vote in national elections and had no voice in the national government. Reporters and broadcasters from all parts of the world stirred up feelings against the white South African government. These factors contributed to unrest within South Africa. In addition, there are at least ten separate, distinct tribal groups in the nation. Because these tribes are not a cohesive group but are often in conflict with each other, much of the violence in South Africa has been between different groups of Blacks. In spite of apartheid and the unrest in recent years, South Africa is the most developed country in Africa, and Blacks in South Africa earn more money and have higher standards of living than Blacks in other African countries.”20
ACE materials do not allow the consideration of any opposing point of view. This fails to develop skills required for degree-level study such as forming an argument, considering different opinions, and analysing the validity of claims. Rather than engaging with differing points of view, ACE derides them.21 ACE’s approach to politics borders on propaganda, with opinions presented as fact.22 An ACE Wisdom supplement (1987) claims that God’s values are those of right-wing politics. The further left a person moves on the political spectrum, the further they move from God’s absolutes: “Men on the left cannot walk in wisdom.”
ACE promotes coverage over depth, virtually ruling out deep engagement with the subject.23 World History, from Creation to the present, is covered in a series of 12 PACEs, each of about 40 pages. Because all the answers are contained within the PACE, the student will not learn how to conduct research or evaluate sources.
Evidence for Success
There is little research into the performance of ACE graduates in higher education, but the data available is negative. ACE used to claim that standardised test results showed their students performing up to 1.7 years above their expected grade level, but this was misleading. Speck & Prideaux explain:24
“What is less well known is the testing procedure ACE uses to arrive at these results. ACE developers use the 1957 California Achievement Test (CAT) with 1963 North American norms (Hunter, 1984, p. 59). The tests do not rely on problem-solving approaches to learning which are now current in most curricula are not useful in making reliable comparisons between ACE and other students.”
There have been just three studies comparing the performance of ACE graduates with either nearby public schools, or national averages, on standardised tests, from 1985,25 2005, and 2007. In all three cases, ACE students performed below average. This data is highly limited, but it’s all that’s available.
The only positive academic literature on ACE is from Jacqui Baumgardt, an ACE employee in South Africa. Her qualitative data (a self-selecting sample of 77 – 9% of ACE’s South African graduates in that period) indicated that South African ACE graduates in higher education were generally satisfied with their own performance. Even this, however, was not without criticism for ACE. It indicated that many ACE students struggled to get their qualifications recognised by universities, and some were refused entry entirely. One parent was told by a university, “We’re not taking any more ACE students because their performance has been unacceptable.” Baumgardt dismisses the suggestion that this is due to any weakness with ACE, arguing that it is down to a lack of awareness of the system on the part of the admissions officers.
The most telling aspect about ACE is that criticism comes from both Christian and secular educators, but support for it comes only from fellow fundamentalists. Even if the biased nature of its history, politics, and science education is ignored, the system can be dismissed on academic grounds. Fundamentalists are unlikely to see this, because the primary goal of Accelerated Christian Education is not education – it is religious conversion.
 Biggs & Tang 2007: 23, 35
 Speck and Prideaux 1993: 286
 Fleming and Hunt 1987: 523; Speck and Prideaux 1993: 283; Alberta 1985: 18
 Speck & Prideaux 1993: 290
 Speck and Prideaux 1993: 285
 Dent 1993; ACE 1990: 29
 Paterson 2003: 14; Speck & Prideaux 1993: 283
 Biggs & Tang 2007: 40
 Speck & Prideaux 1993: 283
 Cited in Gehrman 1989: 89
Accelerated Christian Education (1990) Social Studies 1086. Lewisville: Author.
Accelerated Christian Education (1995) Science 1099. Lewisville, TX: Author.
Accelerated Christian Education (1996a) Science 1096. Lewisville, TX: Author.
Accelerated Christian Education (1996b) Science 1107. Lewisville, TX: Author.
Accelerated Christian Education (1996c) Social Studies 1099. Lewisville: Author.
Accelerated Christian Education (1999) The Great Commandment and the Great Commission: God’s Mandate for Christian Education. Nashville: Author. Available online from http://aceministries.com/aboutus/pdf/Great_Commandment_Commission.pdf. Accessed 25/5/12
Accelerated Christian Education (2010) Procedures Manual I: Learning Center Essentials. Unknown: Author.
Accelerated Christian Education (2012) ‘A.C.E. Curriculum’ [Online]. Available from http://www.aceministries.com/curriculum/?content=fourthEd. Accessed 14/5/12.
Alberta Dept. of Education, Edmonton (1985) An Audit of Selected Private School Programs: Accelerated Christian Education, Alpha Omega, Mennonite Schools, Seventh-Day Adventist Schools, and A BEKA Instructional Resources. Edmonton: Author. ED 256 022
Berliner, D. (1997) ‘Educational Pyschology Meets the Christian Right: Differing Views of Children, Schooling, Teaching, and Learning’. Teachers College Record, 98 (3), pp. 381-416.
Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2007) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Third Edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Dent, D. J. (1993) ‘A Mixed Message in Blacks Schools’. New York Times, 4/4/93, Education Supplement p. 28.
Fleming, D.B. and Hunt, T.C. (1987) ‘The World as Seen by Students in Accelerated Christian Education Schools.’ Phi Delta Kappan, 68 (7), pp. 518-523.
Gehrman, M.B. (1989) ‘Reading, Writing, and Religion’. In: Basil, R., Gehrman, M.B., and Madigan, T. eds. On the Barricades: Religion and Free Inquiry in Conflict. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, pp. 81-90.
Johnson, R.E. (1987) ‘Ace Responds’. Phi Delta Kappan, 68 (7), pp. 520-521.
Kelley, L.J.L. (2005) An Analysis of Accelerated Christian Education and College Preparedness Based on ACT Scores. Ed.S. Thesis. Huntington, WV: Marshall University.
Laats, A. (2010) ‘Forging a Fundamentalist “One Best System”: Struggles Over Curriculum and Educational Philosophy for Christian Day Schools, 1970-1989’. History of Education Quarterly, 49 (1), pp. 55-83.
Paterson, F.R.A. (2003) Democracy and Intolerance: Christian School Curriciula, School Choice, and Public Policy. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation
Speck, C. and Prideaux, D. (1993) ‘Fundamentalist Education and Creation Science’. Australian Journal of Education, 37 (3), pp. 279-295.
UK Naric (2012). ‘Benchmarking ICCE Qualifications’ [Online] ECCTIS. Available from: http://naric.org.uk/article.asp?article=106. Retrieved 14/5/12.
Jonny Scaramanga was educated in England with Accelerated Christian Education from ages 11-14. He now teaches music at the undergraduate level. He is researching Accelerated Christian Education and writing about fundamentalism in Britain at his blog, Leaving Fundamentalism.