This is a guest post by Pastor David Wilson of the Grant Avenue Baptist Church in Redondo Beach, CA. He contacted me with these thoughts after reading either Questions About The School Of Tomorrow and/or Guest Blogger: Examining Accelerated Christian Education. I want to thank Paster Wilson for allowing me to post these comments, as the use of distance education and online learning materials in Christian schooling is a story that isn’t told as often in the field.
Dear Mr. Barbour,
I worked with the A.C.E. (now School of Tomorrow) curriculum for many years. During this period, I ran into several conflicts with some of the materials and I wanted to share with you how some change
was effected in them.
We had a very intelligent young man (now a doctor) who was the first graduate who attended from preschool through High School and graduated with honors. He also was African-American, and much more sensitive to issues which related to African Americans as depicted in the material.
He had some good questions.
First, he pointed out that the character “cartoons” in the material in the younger grades were all white. Second, when African American characters were added they were always presented separately, as if they all had their own churches and fellowships. I don’t recall a single occurrence of such a teaching strip presenting mixed fellowships. To the people at School of Tomorrow all such relationships were separate as presented in the teaching strips.
Later, in High School material, an English Pace used an old poem about “Tracks.” The reference was to gospel tracts, but the dialogue used was old Southern ignorant Black speech and dialect, even using the word “Massa” (as I recall, but that’s been a lot of years)… I personally wrote a letter to A.C.E. and received no answer. Later, I spoke on the phone to Mrs. Howard’s assistant. (the story then was that the founder, Dr. Donald Howard, was overworked and gravely ill and others were taking leadership responsibilities, including his son. I was assured that Mrs. Howard has seen the material and decided that indeed it was inappropriate.
In your blog, you quoted a section from High School Social Studies, American History, that spoke derogatorily of South African Blacks. The discussion was used as an example to illustrate a point I have forgotten, but had no place in a history of the United States and its founding. Once again, I wrote a letter. The pastor of the church wrote a letter as well. The student wrote a letter as well. I received a phone call from the author of the material, who defended it. I continued putting the pressure on until I reached Donald Howard, Jr. (I think that was his name, but he was the son of the founder– the founder being ousted after allegations of sinful conduct came to light that created a breach in his family and the organization).. The young man was at the time taking the lead for the publication and had actually spent two years in South Africa and completely disagreed with the statement. In fact, the statement was alluded to in later materials relating to World History, as I recall. He refused to RECALL and REPRINT the materials, but did tell me that the next printing would remove that statement because of my strong opposition. He was very gracious and kind and when the next printing of those materials came out, that section had been edited out. I was informed that the author of the material, who taught at their Institute (i.e. college) was retiring and would have no further input. He also advised me that the old school founders who had some “Southern ideas” were all being phased out, making room for younger people with a better understanding of such issues.
As a school administrator, I worked diligently to see a number of edits and changes made to the material, as our school was a mixture of all races.
ACE material had some weak areas. I quickly learned that almost every student coming into our school would have to do a number of low level Packets explaining some simple English concepts (adjectives and adverbs)… I took the material and established a remedial English class for those who had that failing, that met two times… Whereupon, students were able to retake the diagnostic test and understanding those simple concepts grow.
The major lack with School of Tomorrow was their challenge for our students to excel, while their people were allowed to continue with major fails in writing materials and distributing the materials. Materials were constantly on back order, or left out of a shipment, or the wrong materials shipped. Their consultants would come and “inspect” our school, and insist on excellence, but they themselves did not hold those same standards.
When the ACE system was taken seriously by staff and students, students excelled. We had many students who came to us who had missed very important concepts in public school experiences. When the system was applied, suddenly the tools to learn were put in their hands. The system broke down when students and staff sought shortcuts. There were several math packets that were so poorly written that every student who completed the packet would have to repeat it, sometimes more than once. Special tutoring sessions for those packets had to be created as the material was so poorly organized or explained that students could not grasp the material. As I recall, Math PACE # 71 was a critical failure that 99% of students failed the test. There were several others like that.
Other problems with the material (which gradually were corrected, thanks to input from our school and others) was that multiple choice questions were asked and of the three potential answers two of them made no sense. A section of reading was immediately followed by a page of questions that were presented in the same order as they appeared in the material. Students quickly learned that they didn’t need to read all the material, but simply go to the questions and scan the reading for answers. To my knowledge, this was never changed,.
In comparison, when the church I pastored started a school, we mixed Alpha-Omega material for some classes, and the students and staff both found it to be well-written, but found that answering questions was much more difficult though I felt much more preparatory for college level work, as the questions were not presented in order from the reading material, were more in-depth questions, and required more critical thinking and response. However, since students scored their own work, it was difficult for them to ascertain that they had articulated a correct or wrong answer since their wording was always
Every breakdown in learning stemmed from students cheating, poor supervision to prevent cheating, or staff members failing to see a student struggling with an area and failing to provide assistance.
Finally, the problem we had in running Christian Schools (our church disbanded theirs about six years ago) was that the students who came to us claimed to come from Christian homes that were committed to Christ, but the students turned out to be refugees from public school. Either they had been in trouble or were avoiding trouble. Therefore, it was difficult to prevent our Christian Schools from becoming REFORM schools with a Christian theme. Sometimes, it worked. Sometimes, it didn’t. Our church established a rule that no student who had been suspended or expelled from another school could be received, unless a reasonable doubt of the fairness of that action was provided. For example, the school I worked in for nineteen years had several incidents of temperamental staff expelling students without just cause. One administrator actually challenged a student to a fight over a comment made towards the administrator’s step-daughter and the student was the one expelled. Another time, a student was told he could not do something (I forget the detail) and when he asked “Why?” the administrator threw a full soda into a trash can and told him he was expelled for challenging authority. Since I knew the student, he attended and graduated in our church’s new school.
My problem was struggling too long with students who were not acting appropriately. When they did not respond to discipline, I had no choice but to dismiss them. Often, in efforts to love and reach them, I waited too long to do so. In one case, because the students came from the church of a fellow pastor, I kept two brothers in our school for far too long, not wanting to offend the other pastor. When their actions became so grievous that I had no choice, I dismissed them. Later, he thanked me for ministering to them, but advised me that they both were in serious trouble with the law.
There is also the problem of the Pastor’s oversight of the school distracting him from other work within the church.
Well, I’ve gone on and on, and your post was written six years ago… I just wanted you to know some of my experiences, and also, how some of that offensive material got changed.
God’s blessings upon you,
Pastor David Wilson
Grant Avenue Baptist Church
Redondo Beach, CA
This is a guest post by Pastor David Wilson of the Grant Avenue Baptist Church in Redondo Beach, CA. I want to thank Pastor Wilson for his unsolicited comments. As is the practice here at Virtual School Meanderings, this guest post will be the only blog entry posted today.