“Accelerated” “Christian” “Education”

“other schools saw us as targets for abuse as we walked to and from school, conveniently proving the evilness of these other schools, and further isolating us from the outside world”

Accelerated_Christian_Education logoAccelerated Christian Education, normally known as ACE, is a Christian Fundamentalist system of learning and curriculum established in 1970 by Dr Donald R Howard in Tennessee. ACE describes its curriculum as “back-to-basics education … individualized to meet a student’s specific learning needs and capabilities … incorporating Scripture, Godly character building, and wisdom principles.” ACE offers the International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE) to successful students, although some schools in the UK also offer GCSE and A-Level qualifications.

There are currently around thirty ACE schools in the Britain, and an unknown number of parents use it as a home-schooling curriculum. Worldwide, there are more six thousand ACE schools in more than 140 countries. Until the mid-nineties, I attended a school in the Home Counties which has since closed.

So, what is Accelerated Christian Education? As a question it’s both very easy to answer and very difficult: easy because facts and figures can describe it to anyone, but difficult because it’s difficult to convey the impact of the education, particularly to people for who the concepts are so alien.

Religion pervades the ACE environment. Our school was typical: run as a private school by the church, allowing them to be exclusive by only accepting the children of church members.

The day started with morning devotions or assembly, which included recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Bible and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Christian Flag, a short homily or a longer-form lecture/sermon based on a Bible passage, prayer, collective recitation of a passage of Scripture, and the singing of hymns and worship songs.

Prayer was then further incorporated into the day in the form of grace at lunch, at the end of the day, and by the promotion of prayer before studying or taking a test.

We were required to memorise and recite a passage of Scripture each month, (for example, 1 Corinthians 13, or Psalm 121, which was a requirement for accession to Honour Roll (an elite group of students who got extra privileges) with failure to be able to recite the passage resulting in the student being required to stay behind after school for “Remedial Scripture” during which they are required to memorise the new month’s passage, typically through verbal or written repetition.

Needless to say, religious doctrines and beliefs were also incorporated into the school rules and discipline system, which were codified into a handbook, of which every student had a copy. For example, beliefs around modesty were key to the girl’s dress code (including the requirement that they wear uniform underwear, which would be inspected), and ideas of Christian sexual morality were enforced through the gross misconduct rules.

This strict disciplinary approach was central to the way in which we were taught, too. The emphasis was very much on self-teaching and rote learning, delivered through workbooks known as Packets of Accelerated Christian Learning (PACEs), and classrooms consisted of individual cubicles known as ‘offices’, designed to prevent pupils from interacting with one another and to promote silence and intense, completely unsustainable concentration at all times. Even when calling over members of staff (to get permission to complete a test, or mark work, or in the event that a student needed academic assistance), we had to place a small flag on a shelf on top of their office.

It’s important to know, too, that our school of around sixty students was exclusively made up of children of members of the church, who were overwhelmingly white, exclusively cisgender and heterosexual, and male-dominated. Within that context, the content of PACEs was fairly predictable.

The educational comic strips feature a number of black and minority ethnic (BAME) characters, each group of whom occupy separate schools and churches. As a result, BAME characters rarely interact with white characters, and the majority of the strips focus on the white church and school. In addition, even when teaching about different cultures in social studies, the cultures are portrayed as unsophisticated, ungodly and even demonic, sometimes to the level of the idea of the noble savage.

PACEs promote women’s subservience to the male head of the household, with rigidly defined gender roles and jobs. Women are expected to undertake housework, cooking and, if they have a career, caring professions, whilst men are expected to be career-focussed, to undertake DIY tasks and to lead the household. There is a strict code of appearance for women which is promoted in PACEs (the men’s code is restricted to hair style and requirement to wear “men’s” clothing); this code is reinforced within the school environment, with girls and women required to wear skirts and/or dresses.

PACEs state that homosexuality is a perversion of God’s plan, and that HIV can be avoided by adhering to a rigid moral code. This was also reflected in school rules, in which identifying as gay can typically result in (at best) punishment and (at worst) expulsion and/or public shaming and prayer.

ACE is an exclusively Christian system, and PACEs describe people of other faiths as worshipping demons or false gods. In addition, atheists are described as rebelling against God and seeking to undermine God’s plan for the world.

PACEs espouse political views which align themselves with right-wing conservative values, and explicitly criticise anything which is seen as left-wing or socialistic, including systems of social welfare.

Disabled characters are all-but invisible in PACEs, and when they are mentioned it tends to be in the context of the results of sin (for example, when one character injures another in a road traffic incident). The training given to Supervisors and Monitors on the subject of learning disabilities is limited at best, and promotes un-evidenced, anti-scientific and counter-productive policies which may cause harm to students.

Lastly, and there’s plenty more I could say, ACE schools are isolationist to their core. First, the church considered themselves to be the only true Christians in the area, which is why members of other churches were excluded from attendance at the school. Second, the school didn’t participate in intermural activities, and, since the students were all children of members of the same church, all socialisation was with the same limited group of young people, whether at school, youth group, Sunday school or church.

The isolation was further enhanced by the uniform, which was markedly different to that worn by pupils at all other schools in the area. This meant that the other schools saw us as targets for abuse as we walked to and from school, conveniently proving the evilness of other schools, and further isolating us from the outside world.


Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, I was left totally unprepared for the real world

“The disregard for education that is espoused by JW doctrines encourages parents to willingly overlook the importance of teaching and socialising their children”

watchtowerSchool was very confusing for me. I was not allowed to develop friendships with my classmates outside of school-time and going on to further education was discouraged. For these reasons, I was glad to be removed from school at age 14 in order to receive elective home education. It meant that I could avoid the confusing situation that was “school” and concentrate on matters of greater importance, which, at that time, meant preaching the good news, house-to-house, with fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs). My education stopped there, pretty much. I remember receiving one solitary visit from the Local Education Authority Officer and took only 1 GCSE (Maths), which I paid for myself.

Not all children of JWs have the same experience when it comes to schooling. Some parents are stricter than others. However, in the area where I grew up, there were several other children in the same situation as me: home-schooled, with no qualifications. It was not uncommon, in fact, for us to be out knocking on people’s doors on a weekday, when most people our age were in school. That such a situation could occur is an indictment, not only against the views of JWs but also against society. And yet, it’s also hard to know how to feel, or what to do, about it. I think back to my school-days and still feel confused.

I remember once, aged around 7 years old, going home with a school-friend to play (this school-friend was not a JW). After being there for 20 minutes or so, there was a knock at the door… my mother had come to take me away. Immediately after leaving the school-friend’s house, I got a telling off – a telling off which I didn’t understand then and which I still don’t now. However nice this boy may seem, I was told, he was not a JW and therefore not a good influence. As time went on, I learned to conform to expectations, taking JW literature into school and sharing it with my classmates, hoping that they would become JWs too. I did not participate in morning assemblies as a prayer was given in those assemblies. Likewise, I did not engage with Christmas or Easter celebrations, or indeed any sort of religious celebration. I did not join in with extra-curricular activities. I think, all in all, it constituted a failure to be socialised in a healthy way. As mentioned earlier, I was glad to be out of the situation when, at aged 14, I was removed from the school system entirely.

I don’t doubt that my parents thought they had my best interests at heart throughout all of this but the sad fact is that their whole world was about serving God and was not based in reality. Both of my parents had no experience of further education and this played a role. But, more than this, the disregard for education that is espoused by JW doctrines encourages parents to willingly overlook the importance of teaching and socialising their children according to normative standards. When I did finally decide to cease being a JW (aged 18), I was left totally unprepared for the real world. I was cut off from the JW community and my choices were severely limited due to my having never finished school. To mould a child in such a way robs that child of their full potential. Drifting around in my late-teens and early-20s, I felt like there was no hope for me.

My parents, the JW community and, to a lesser extent, society in general allowed what happened to me to happen. As a child—an indoctrinated child, at that—I didn’t have the capacity to take responsibility for myself. JWs, and other faiths too, need to ensure they provide children with the best start possible by ensuring that they have opportunities to work with, regardless of what faith they may choose further down the line.

Oliver J. Smith

Even moderate Church schools can do real harm

“Being from a Muslim family, Ali was not allowed to attend assemblies…. I have a very clear memory of seeing him peering through the glass into the hall, trying to see if assembly was over. Could there be any clearer image to reinforce my notion that Ali was not fully ‘one of us’?”

I did my first three years of secondary school in a private fundamentalist school that used the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. It was not a pleasant experience. As a result, I hardly ever talk about the school I went to before that, a Church of England primary. I remember being very happy there and I’ve always thought of it as an excellent school, especially in light of what was to follow. Reflecting on it now, though, there are some things that bother me.

I never thought of the school as Christian at the time. I think I’d been there a year or more before I even realised it was a faith school. My family believed that to be a real Christian you must be Born Again. Since the Christianity propagated at this primary was not of the Born Again variety, as far as I was concerned it didn’t count. Yes, we were encouraged to believe in God and go to church, but everyone did that, didn’t they? “Even the devil believes in God”, my dad said.

There was one boy from a Muslim family in my year, Ali. I’m exceptionally glad he was there now. He was the only Muslim I’d ever met (and one of the handful people I knew who weren’t white). He was the lone face I could put to Islam. Without him, Muslims would have been entirely the inhuman Other in my mind. Ali and I were not close friends, but we got on fine.

Well, we got on fine when we didn’t talk about religion. Unfortunately one lunch break we did just that, which ended with me telling him he was going to hell, and Ali in tears. I was kept in at lunchtime the next day while two teachers hauled me over the coals for what I’d said. I was genuinely perplexed, since as far as I was concerned I’d only told Ali the truth.

To be clear, I do not blame my intolerance on the school. I grew up with a poisonous religious ideology that I learned mainly at home and church. I don’t know what the local vicar had to say about hell, but I imagine his response would have involved tea and a biscuit and telling me not to worry. But there was nothing about about the school’s faith status that made reconciliation with Ali easier. The school’s stance just confirmed for me that Christianity was supreme (I just did Christianity better than everyone else). Had the school taken seriously the beliefs of people with other faiths and none, it could have been a much-needed brake on my fanaticism.

Being a faith school, we had religious assemblies, and being from a Muslim family, Ali was not allowed to attend them. He sat in a room adjoining the hall during these gatherings. I have a very clear memory of seeing him peering through the glass into the hall, trying to see if assembly was over. Could there be any clearer image to reinforce my notion that Ali was not fully ‘one of us’?

Despite it being a Christian school, I was pretty sure that some of our teachers really didn’t believe, and that conviction has not dimmed with time. We ended the school day with prayer, and some of these prayers were less than convincing. I remember a teacher taking the opportunity one November to ask God to help us remember that Christmas was still quite a long time away, so we shouldn’t start getting excited yet.

One afternoon the teacher told us we were about to pray. I waited silently for the prayer to begin. “When you’re all ready, we’ll begin”, prompted the teacher, and I wondered which straggler was holding up proceedings. “We’re waiting, Jonny,” she snapped. What? Me? It took me a second to work out what was wrong: I had my eyes open. My family didn’t really believe in closing our eyes to pray. We did sometimes, when it felt right, but we saw Jesus as more of a friend, and I didn’t close my eyes to talk to my friends. I dutifully closed my eyes, indignant at the implication I was ‘doing prayer wrong’ coming from a teacher who, as far as I was concerned, wasn’t even a proper Christian.

What aspect of this farce seemed like a good idea to the architects of my education? The teachers compromising their integrity by pretending to espouse a religion they did not believe? Using this charade to filter children towards a religion they did not choose? Shaming a child whose religious observance was not ‘correct’?

I maintain that my primary was an excellent school. But the things that were excellent about it were not distinctively Christian, and the things that were distinctively Christian were not excellent.

Jonny Scaramanga blogs at Leaving Fundamentalism.