Fundamental errors with evangelist schooling

7th August 2009 at 01:00

Visitors to Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) schools see how quiet classrooms are and how polite pupils are. You would be polite too if you attended a school where anything less than vigorous, smiling agreement with the teachers was seen as an act of rebellion. Rules were enforced with, if not a rod of iron, then a hefty paddle.

In the 1990s, I attended an ACE school in Bath that has since closed. Like all pupils, I taught myself from ACE textbooks containing information on core subjects interspersed with comic strips in which pupils with side-partings reminded me how good Christians behave. I sat in my "office", a small desk with high partitions separating me from my neighbours. Talking wasn't allowed, but staff were not taking chances. I went to the school as someone who loved learning, and left it seeing education as a necessary evil.

Supposedly, we worked from the textbooks for half the day, then did group work, but often this didn't happen. Extra-curricular activities involved going to town to sing Christian songs and try to convert strangers. Once, we were taken out of lessons so a teacher could lecture us: someone had been heard singing pop songs. This, the supervisor said, was the same as picking up dog dirt and rubbing it in your friends' faces.

Fundamentalist teachers cannot be argued with: they do not acknowledge the validity of reason. "Man should never trust his own reasoning," my schoolbooks said. "His reasoning may be incorrect because man's reasoning is not God's reasoning."

Education should be about learning how to think, asking questions, and finding answers. But ACE shuts down critical thinking. Mr Gradgrind would approve of its focus on "facts". Not that students would know who he is since the syllabus is purged of all books that are not explicitly evangelical.

The ACE curriculum frames the terms "liberal", "socialist" and "humanist" negatively, so when they want to criticise anything they do not have to explain why. (A typical line in a history book is: "Although (JFK's) New Frontier sounds good, it was as socialistic as the New Deal and the Fair Deal had been.")

ACE's advocates in Britain say teachers here would challenge ideas in the American texts. Yet I was taught in 1997, from an out-of-date book, that if apartheid fell in South Africa, it "would not improve" things. None of my supervisors seemed racist, but they did not criticise that statement. My parents had no idea they were signing up for political propaganda when they chose a curriculum promoted for building "Godly character".

It shocked me when Ofsted inspectors gave the school glowing reports. They could not possibly see what was happening. I am against legislation that restricts religious freedom, but the debate changes when parents' religion interferes with the right to a good education. There have to be tight stipulations about content in alternative curricula.

It took me years to readjust after I left the school in 1999, aged 14. I later wrote in my diary that I had been living at the bottom of the ocean; the day I left was when I began swimming for the surface.

Jonny Scaramanga, Music teacher in Bristol and former pupil at an ACE school.

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