How Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) denies science and cheats students
New research highlights how the ACE curriculum leaves students with no real understanding of science, including evolution and climate change
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It’s hardly surprising that one of the most popular programs geared at the Christian homeschooling crowd is tragically failing students when it comes to evolution and climate change. Now two researchers have now documented just how egregious the problem is. Even more frightening is that this misinformation may be used at taxpayer-funded schools.
According to a new paper published in the Cultural Studies of Science Education by Dr. Jenna Scaramanga and Professor Michael Reiss of University College London, “both the teaching methods and content… place students at an educational disadvantage.”
The culprit here is Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), said to be “possibly the largest global supplier of creationist education” and “used in schools in more than 140 countries.” (Scaramanga, especially, is known for her criticism of the ACE curriculum.)
ACE is used quite a bit in the UK, according to a press release from the researchers:
There are currently 11 schools in England and Northern Ireland officially affiliated with ACE, although experts expect there to be many more as the schools are notoriously isolationist, conservative and don’t advertise themselves widely.
That should be of concern, they say, since the government requires students in primary school to be “exposed to a broad and balanced science education.” One key takeaway from this paper is that students aren’t even exposed to scientific thinking (as opposed to literal interpretations of the Bible) until they’re about 13 years old.
Scaramanga referenced the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) in a statement:
Questions need to be asked about how these schools and those which rely heavily on ACE publications pass Ofsted checks when their curricula and materials clearly fail to provide a broad and balanced science education and fail in the requirement of teaching respect for different beliefs.
On Sunday, Sky News published an article that included a conversation with a student who relied on ACE material growing up… only to realize later that she never got a thorough education:
Tanya, who did not want to disclose her real name, was homeschooled with ACE between the ages of six and 18.
She described the science education she got as "really poor" with "lots of wrong information".
"ACE promises that its qualifications will get you into university. They didn't," she said.
Tanya took the International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE), an ACE-specific qualification. The ICCE website calls it an "educationally robust" qualification and says graduates have gone on to a "wide range of institutions of higher education".
But that was not Tanya's experience. She had to spend an extra year doing a university access course to gain the qualifications she needed to start a degree.
“Tanya” is 31 years old now. She’s still trying to make up for lost time in part because she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. Use of the ACE curriculum was also mentioned in a massive lawsuit last year filed by former Canadian students in Saskatchewan who said the “heavy fundamentalist religious emphasis came at the expense of basic learning such as math and spelling.” (The school had plenty of additional problems, too.)
In the United States, ACE isn’t as popular as BJU Press and Abeka, the two other major Christian textbook publishers, but several years ago, reporter Rebecca Klein of the Huffington Post found that about a third of all “non-Catholic Christian schools… were using Abeka, Bob Jones or ACE textbooks in at least one subject or grade.” Many of those schools participate in “school choice” voucher programs, meaning taxpayers are footing the bill for what they teach.
All the more reason to know what, exactly, they’re teaching when it comes to science education. And since ACE is currently releasing the fourth edition of its curriculum (with new, updated content released to different grade levels at different times), Scaramanga and Reiss dove into how the science curriculum has changed for all grades over all the editions.
They looked at the content provided for grades 2, 4, 8, and 9 specifically as they pertained to creationism, evolution and climate change. (This limitation was partly due to their ability to access the material.)
In grade 2, for example, students must memorize “what God made on each of the 6 days of creation” with repeated references to how God caused all biological processes.
Fish are able to hear because sounds travel to them through water. God gave fish a way to hear sounds in the water. Fish can hear the sound of my footsteps and quickly swim away. God helps fish hear and feel sounds in the water.
You would never know from reading this material, the researchers say, that Creationism is disputed or that there’s an alternative explanation.
In grade 4, it gets worse. When famed scientists like Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle are mentioned, students are told their discoveries are the result of God helping them. The researchers say, “One might reasonably conclude from the text that successful scientific endeavour is dependent on conservative Christian faith.”
The curriculum also “lays the groundwork for the rejection of evolution,” like in this passage wrongly suggesting that a scientific “theory” isn’t valid:
An idea is not a scientific fact if it cannot be observed and proven to be correct by experiments ... If a man says that something is true, but no one has seen it happen, then it is only an idea. It is not a scientific fact. The only things that do not have to be proven by experiments are the things God tells us in His Word, the Holy Bible.
… If a person says something that does not agree with what God has said in the Holy Bible, then we know the person is wrong. Though others may agree with the person, that does not make his idea true.
Scientists can and do make mistakes. Some science books have mistakes because people have written them, and people make mistakes. However, there are no mistakes in God’s Book, the Holy Bible.
It’s very convenient for Creationists that the claims in the Bible never have to “be proven by experiments”…
Besides all that, the multiple choice questions students have to answer are just plain thoughtless. The options are often obvious to the point of parody.
Sister means (a) a daughter of one’s parents (b) a pretty pony
Deck means (a) an angry elephant (b) a floor of a boat
By grade 8, you’d think students would be ready for a little more nuance and critical thinking, but you knew that wasn’t going to happen here. Instead, students get pitched hard on Creationism and climate denial. The latest version of the text admits that the climate is changing but dismisses scientific conclusions for why it’s changing—and tells kids they don’t need to worry about it:
Scientific data also shows a rise in carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere, but attempts to show a connection between rising global temperatures and rising carbon dioxide levels have failed.
The responses to climate change reports vary greatly. Even though no connection has been made, some still fear that as carbon dioxide levels increase, temperatures will also increase, causing polar ice caps and glaciers to melt ... However, as believers ... we need not worry that God will lose control of His Creation. God gave us this wonderful promise, ’While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter and day and night shall not cease.’
It’s no better on the subject of evolution, which is finally addressed by name in this material. The researchers explain:
On its first appearance, evolution is defined as ‘the false theory that assumes that all forms of life developed from lower forms of life’… The fourth edition instead uses the well- worn claim that the odds are like those of a tornado in a junkyard creating a Boeing 747.
Besides the clichéd probability error, evolutionary biologists don’t refer to “lower forms of life,” as if humans represent the pinnacle of evolution.
The same curriculum points to possible counterpoints to the theory of evolution (like the idea that “traces of blood vessels and soft tissues found in some dinosaur fossils prove that they must have died comparatively recently”), but the material ignores all the scientific rebuttals to these claims, including those from at least one Christian “who has rebuffed creationist attempts to appropriate her work.”
The multiple choice questions are just as bizarre:
If science and the Bible both support a young Earth and a great worldwide Flood, why do some people still refuse to believe?
A. They have not seen enough evidence.
B. They have chosen to reject God and His Word.
C. They are true scholars.
D. They have no interest in science.
(The correct answer, we’re told, is (B).)
When it comes to the changes between the third and fourth editions, a lot of the more embarrassing Creationist claims have been removed, but others are merely downplayed. For example, the third edition said of Noah’s Ark, “The Ark has been seen on many occasions!” and included a picture of the supposed timber from the Ark. The newer version just says those are “possible” sightings… before telling kids they don’t need any proof to believe the Ark story is literally true. (That, the researchers point out, “cannot claim to be science.”)
In grade 9, students are finally introduced to certain aspects of biology, but evolution doesn’t even make an appearance. Even when covering topics like genetics, mutations and evolution are somehow ignored. Maybe that’s a step up from a previous edition that cited the Loch Ness monster (!) as definitive proof that evolution was false. Needless to say, teaching biology without evolution is like teaching the alphabet without vowels; you’re never going to get very far.
When it comes to climate change, the denial is in full force:
Objective climate scientists say there is no need to panic about climate change ... scientists do not know for certain what is causing these slight temperature changes.
The irony of all this is that Creationists are often the people demanding that public schools “teach the controversy.” Critics would argue that no serious controversy exists when it comes to the fundamentals of evolution and climate change, but the ACE curriculum doesn’t “teach the controversy” at all! It just implies one side is right while the other side has no argument without getting into any substance.
Even worse, ACE just perpetuates misunderstandings about evolution:
[I]f fish evolved into frogs, fish should no longer exist, but obviously they do.
In evolutionary circles, a bird is considered more complex than an octopus. Yet, the eye of an octopus is much more complex than the eye of a bird. If a bird evolved from the octopus, why does the octopus have a more complex eye?
In order for evolution to take place, the DNA of an organism would have to mutate and pass on a trait that was not contained in its original genetic code, which is impossible.
Those aren’t just mistakes in the Creationist text; they refer to ideas that people who understand evolution encounter in Chapter 1 of any book explaining evolution. That’s how easy these things are to debunk.
Making matters worse, students are told that one reason people reject Creationism is because they have a desire to be immoral:
A person who is not right with God must find reason, or justification, for not believing. So he readily accepts the theory of evolution, even if many of its arguments are indefensible ... In fact, the theory of evolution is a mental justification for unbelief. If unbelievers can accept a theory that leaves God out of the explanation of the origin of the universe, they can live as they please without being morally responsible to their Creator.
Ultimately, even if the fourth edition of the ACE curriculum cleans up some glaring mistakes from the earlier versions, it still promotes ignorance and misinformation, leaving students without a firm grasp of how the world works or what their peers at public schools are learning. The curriculum rewards rote memorization and the ability to regurgitate longstanding Creationist lies.
It’s setting those students up for failure if they choose to enter higher education.
The researchers point out there are other concerns as well:
There may also be a range of costs to wider society. ACE students are likely to need remedial education before pursuing some avenues of academic study or employment. A body of students who have been taught hostility to non-Christians may also threaten a pluralist society… Students who are taught that there is no evidence of human-caused climate change are also unlikely to recognise the severity of the present climate crisis…
… When pressed to explain the overwhelming scientific consensus, both the creationist and the climate denier must resort to an imagined cover-up by scientists. If accepted as true, such conspiracy theories undermine the authority of scientific institutions and bodies which accept scientific findings. When only held by a few people, these beliefs may limit adherents’ ability to participate in wider society. If such conspiracy theories are widely accepted, however, they threaten the basis for the production of shared knowledge and the legitimacy of public institutions.
Even beyond that, if you grow up drenched in science denialism, it makes you less likely to get vaccinated because you don’t understand how vaccines work and you’re more susceptible to misinformation from the right. We’ve all witnessed first-hand how that sort of broken brain thinking can end in tragedy.
Students told to use the ACE curriculum deserve better than this. Their parents owe them better than this. And taxpayer dollars should never be used to fund schools that use this garbage as an excuse for education.
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