Ex-pupils at fundamentalist Christian schools break their silence

alcatraz (2)

By Jonny Scaramanga

Two former Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) students who have never before spoken publicly have made new allegations about sexist and creationist teaching in the schools.

In an article titled “Christian fundamentalist schools teaching girls they must obey men”, one of the new whistle-blowers, Cheryl Povey, says:

I came across a lot of sexism. I remember as a girl finding it quite shocking. We were taught that if you’re a woman, you should be subservient to men; your husband, your pastor and other male figures.

There was a strong culture of men being revered and women being dangerously sexual and having to cover up. It made me self-conscious of being a woman.

Another, pseudonymously known as Peter, adds:

A huge amount of time and effort was given over to arguing against evolution and for creation, it’s a fundamental building block of the curriculum. The curriculum is stuck in the past like the rest of the fundamentalist southern Baptist churches it was born out of.

The same article also includes quotes from me and Matthew Pocock (who has previously written about ACE here). Dr Pocock comments:

It taught me men were superior to, and should be in charge of, weak women, that the various different ethnic and social groups were ordained by God to have different roles and positions.

He also describes the classroom layout, typical of ACE schools:

We sat at our desks which were arranged around the outside of the room, with boards that slid in called ‘dividers’ that sectioned us off from the pupil either side. We were not allowed to talk or interact with each other.

To interact with staff, we had two flags. We would raise one flag for run-of-the-mill queries like asking for help with a question or a toilet break, and other one to signal that we were ready to take a test or needed input from the class teacher. If we put our flags up too often we would be told off.

There’s also a photo (see above) from inside an ACE school, which I reproduce here with permission from its owner (who sent it to me with the filename ‘Alcatraz’).

The article repeats points that will be familiar to readers of this blog but news to most UK citizens: the workbooks used in ACE schools include condemnations of homosexuality, encourage unquestioning obedience, teach the role of a wife is to obey her husband, and describe the theory of evolution as “absurd”.

I know that the journalist, Siobhan Fenton, spoke to at least five other former ACE students, some of whom have never spoken out before, so from my point of view it’s a shame more of what they said was not included. Still, it is an encouraging sign that more ACE ex-students have broken their silence, and that stories about ACE no longer rely on me as a sole critical voice. Hopefully this will be the start of former ACE students speaking out in larger numbers—including those with positive views. There needs to be public debate about these schools, and every voice should be heard.

I commented:

I have read numerous Ofsted reports in the course of my research, and the issues most commonly raised by former ACE students are almost never mentioned, let alone satisfactorily addressed. In allowing ACE schools’ failings to go unchecked for decades, the government has failed in its duty of care to students in ACE schools. In future, inspectors should be specially briefed on the issues frequently found in ACE schools.

Since 2014, the Advertising Standards Authority has upheld three complaints against ACE schools for exaggerating the acceptability of the certificates [International Certificate of Christian Education] they offer. I have met numerous former ACE students who have had to return to college as adults to gain qualifications that they would have earned as a matter of course in mainstream schools. All English secondary schools should be required by law to prepare and enter students for qualifications recognised by Ofqual, the exam watchdog.”

Read the full Independent article here.

Jonny Scaramanga blogs at Leaving Fundamentalism.

“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.