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Christianity without faith

Can the graduates of ACE schools even be called Christians?

This is an important issue, because the spiritual content of the curriculum frequently seems to be the sole justification for its existence. I’ve lost count of the number of ACE apologists who have started by saying, “It’s not perfect, but…” In the view of the people who run ACE schools, particularly the chronically under-funded ones in the UK, the lack of resources, poor educational materials, lack of extra-curricular activities, and stifling of social opportunities are justified by the benefits to the child’s spiritual condition.

So it had better be good at saving souls.

And, well, it isn’t. Christianity is a faith. Children in ACE schools don’t need faith. They’re not even capable of giving informed consent. They have a combination of gross misinformation and indoctrination which produces a type of Christianity based on manipulation, not faith.

Donald Howard, founder of the ACE curriculum, said that ACE materials are “designed for programming the mind to enable the child to see life from God’s point of view.” [Your Church Can Have a Christian School, 1979, emphasis mine].

According to their own literature, ACE uses programmed learning. This doesn’t just mean that ACE has a programme of education. It is a specific educational technique first proposed by BF Skinner, and it is based on flawed assumptions about human psychology.

The psychological foundation for this approach is the ‘operant conditioning’ theory of B.F. Skinner. The human organism is determined by his environment, and susceptible to behavioural conditioning. Skinner has no respect for the supposed faculties of critical reasoning. ACE stands in direct line of succession to those who sought, by emotional manipulation, to obtain decisions for Christ which by-pass the individual’s rational autonomy, but it cashes in also on the improved manipulative techniques discovered by modern behavioural psychology.

Christian Perspectives for Education

Students at ACE schools say two pledges of allegiance every morning (three if you’re American and also have to pledge allegiance to the flag). Regardless of age, saying these pledges is compulsory (my school had simplified versions for the really little kids). And here they are:

I pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, crucified, risen, and coming again as king with life and liberty for all who believe.

I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word. I will make it a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. I will hide it in my heart, that I might not sin against God.

Kids who are too young to have any idea what this means, let alone to consider the truth of it, grow up saying this every day. In what meaningful sense can they be said to have chosen Christianity?

Fundamentalists are quick to claim that it’s a matter of faith whenever they are asked for proof of their beliefs. But when they think there might actually be some evidence, they show themselves to be as proof-hungry as anyone. The PACEs are rammed with “proofs” for Christianity, and they’re all lies.

“We have a risen Christ, unquestionable proofs, and, as if we needed it, God has thrown in a host of unarguable evidences all around us [of creation]!”

“For the Creationist, little faith is required to believe in a young Creation or a great, world-wide Flood… As far as I’m concerned, enough scientific evidence has been found to convince anyone of the truth of God’s Word.”

“Scientific evidence proved the Darwinian theory of evolution was false”

“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!”

Those are all quotes from ACE science textbooks. The ACE Basic New Testament Survey and Basic Old Testament Survey – when not lambasting followers of other religions and even other Christian denominations – make the usual, now discredited claims about the authorship of the Bible. Moses wrote the law. The disciples wrote the Gospels. Those things simply aren’t true, but they’re taught in ACE’s courses not as a matter of religious belief, but as historical fact. ACE also misrepresent history to make out that the good guys were always devout Christians, and the bad guys were always anti-Christian. In ACE geography we learn that Christian countries are richer and better off than non-Christian countries, and that’s because of their faith. It’s relentless.

David Modell quotes an ACE teacher telling her class: “Before Jesus came, people who disobeyed God got turned to a pillar of salt. So thank God for Jesus because we can say ‘Jesus, I’m sorry’ and we don’t have to fear getting turned into a pillar of salt, which really happened in the Old Testament.” My school once ran a class where the teacher claimed that as Christians, we did not have “blind faith”, but there were reasons to back up our belief. We were invited to supply evidence that Christianity is true. I can’t remember what we thought of, but we came up with plenty.

Look at this from the point of view of a child in an ACE school. They’re in an education system that is designed to manipulate them, and this is supported by a bunch of falsehoods that the child “knows” to be true. They don’t have a chance. They don’t have faith either.

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  1. Aidan
    October 8, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    I’m impressed by your depth of knowledge on this subject but to some extent you will always be fighting a losing battle; there will always be people willing to use the vessel of religion as a means for control. The methods have changed somewhat over the ages and I’m glad to say that we at live in a society where we are allowed to call these people liars but it’s impossible, in my opinion, to eradicate all together. I do however agree with you on the central point of this blog that the government and its related bodies should not be accrediting this kind of educational system that borders on child-abuse (psychological not physical).

    Good luck.

    • October 8, 2009 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks for the comment Aidan. I know that I will need to widen the scope of this blog, partly to broaden its appeal and partly because I can’t just bang on about one thing forever.

      I agree with you fully. I also think that the majority of Christians would be appalled by this curriculum, because it’s so extreme.

  2. Aidan
    October 8, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Just a heads-up. At the bottom of this blog post I get offered this link:

    http://nurturingfaith.wordpress.com/2008/04/28/it-just-cant-happen-in-public-schools/

    It’s about a teacher who feels frustrated that he can’t spend all day every day preaching Christianity to his students, shame.

  3. Amanda
    December 1, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    All institutional schools indoctrinate something. Why just bash something that while did not work for you may indeed work for others. Why not make it better? Saying a child is too young to understand about Jesus is like saying they are too young to understand about love. I hear your point about this but then you say they are unable to consent. You can’t have it both ways either they are old enough to consent and do not understand or they are too young to consent and do understand as you have it. I am a bit confused.
    Since when is being to faithful to ones beliefs a crime of being too extreme as you say? Jesus was a radical in his time too. Parents have responsiblity to raise their children to their belief system just because you do not believe the same things does not make it wrong. Of course some things are wrong obviously but this is not one of them (raising a little murderer or rapist or thief for instance would be wrong).
    The whole UN Children’s Rights thing is coming through in your blog. Children must be led not pushed out on their own with no parents to guide them. No wonder kids are increasingly more and more lost, confused, and warped.

    • January 19, 2012 at 11:29 am

      Thanks Amanda. I disagree with you entirely, but I’m glad to have your comment on my blog. Dissent or disagreement of this kind was simply not allowed at my ACE school, and I want to show that it’s a good thing. Having our ideas challenged is essential. If something has never been challenged, how do you know it’s true?

      Perhaps all schools do indoctrinate something. But this is not a desirable outcome, and something like ACE, which intentionally sets out to indoctrinate, is the worst of all worlds. And it does this while supplying, in my professional opinion (I am now a qualified teacher), an abysmal education.

  4. January 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    You are perhaps unaware that your “quote” on Skinner came not from an ACE source but is from Christian profs. Leslie J Francis & Adrian Thatcher’s “Christian perspectives for education: a reader in the theology of education”, p130. This book also documents that the illusion of neutrality often touted by State education is aka indoctrination (139). It argues both sectors should do better. Be fair in attribution & read well.
    When you quote hearsay (eg David Modell) you quote the unverifiable (A J Ayer) & unfalsifiable (Karl Popper). Did Modell really believe his testimony, and was it accurate even if he did? Are you spreading groundless gossip? Ad fontes: documentary evidence is more reliable than oral reports, as the C16 humanists rightly taught.
    Your position of Moses is I fear based on C19 Wellhausenism and has raised smiles for decades. Try the “Reliability Of The OT” by Prof. K A Kitchen (2003) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Kitchen . There is no prima facie case against Moses having written the substantial bulk of the scrolls attributed to him.
    I appreciate you wish Christianity to be wrong, and therefore perhaps believe it is. It might irritate, but scratching by twisting evidence is not the solution. I see such in the likes of Gail A Riplinger who touted her book as “God And Riplinger” to assure her readers that only the KJV of the Bible was valid! Oh ye gods & little fishes, the travesty of the woman! In my teens I struggled against the rationale of there being God and ultimate accountability: I wished to be as normal as any Aspie could. Decades on the relationship has become sweeter – still bitter sweet – as one reluctantly married can grow to love their spouse, howbeit feeling circumscribed at times.
    The ACE pledge makes me cringe too; so does the American Pledge Of Allegiance on which I guess it’s built. I’d chuck both. Each individual should weigh the evidence and decide without fear or favour to others or indeed to their inner wishes. And they should be slow to make promises. Faramir, in The Lord Of The Rings said to Frodo, that once made one should be prepared to die to honour a promise. Well, perhaps a higher ethical claim may override, but certainly promises ought not be lightly made, and should not be forced by others.
    If you read books like Logan’s “Responding To The Challenge Of Evolution” (2002) and atheist cum deist Anthony Flew’s “There Is A God”, you will see that actually there is quite a scientific justification for the idea of God being ultimate creator, even if ACE can make it seem indisputable.
    Incidentally have you read “The Abolition Of Man” (C S Lewis) or Don A Carson’s “The Gagging Of God” critique of post-modernism & relativism? Non-theism as logically self-defeating & self-destructive is a sobering thought.

  5. January 19, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Dr Hakes,

    Thank you for your comment. It’s good to see someone as obviously educated as you engaging with this. However, you have misunderstood me.

    I have no wish for Christianity to be false. I was brought up believing the Gospel is Good News, and I still think it is. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s true. This is all a tangent, though, because this blog is not an argument about that.

    If I have quoted inaccurate sources, or quoted sources inaccurately, I will remedy that in future. Thank you for bringing those things to my attention. I have no desire to be like the education system I am criticising.

    Now, this is not about whether there is a God or not, or whether Christianity is true. This is about an education system that lies to children. Whether Moses wrote the Old Testament is of little consequence to me. What matters is that ACE will distort facts, misrepresent evidence, and include selective information to make sure that its students are left believing the “right” thing. This even on subjects, like the authorship of the Bible where educated Christians disagree, in good faith. ACE would not even allow a mention that there is any debate, other than to call those who disagree with them heretics.

    This is not education. It is child abuse. And I can remove any secondary quotations from my blog, and have sufficient evidence just from my own first-hand account, and the PACEs I have available.

  6. Scott
    August 19, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    I enjoyed reading your ignorance. Obviously you have an ax to grind. Some of us have been very successful with ACE curriculum and have a track record. Disappointing that you had an unpleasant experience. You “seem” to know more than your teachers, including the Bible itself which you don’t take literally nor use as the standard for your conduct and world view. Naturally you would be antagonistic toward curriculum that holds both of these views. If you are going to make it your life mission to grind your ax on ACE schools, I would like to be the first to thank you for helping me sharpen my skills in defending both the curriculum of ACE and the Bible. By-the-way, even Jesus told us the Law came by Moses. You do not believe the Bible, sir, so if not, how about you just leave us alone and go start your own educational system that makes you happy. Since you don’t believe Bible truth, just move on to something that makes you happy.

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