Remember the amazing story on Uncommon Descent a few days ago, about the private school science textbook which teaches that the Loch Ness Monster is real? Believe it or not, the story is true. It’s also three years old: way back in 2009, an article exposing the school program that publishes the textbook, Accelerated Christian Education (A.C.E.) (a publisher of home schooling texts, founded in Texas in 1970), appeared in an article by Michael Shaw (31 July 2009) in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), a British publication for teachers. Shaw was alerted to the deficiencies in the A.C.E. curriculum by one Jonny Scaramanga (more about him below). In fact, it turns out that the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum has been attracting criticism for over 25 years.
A quote from “Biology 1099”, an Accelerated Christian Education students’ workbook published in 1995 which claims the Loch Ness monster is probably a living plesiosaur, can be found in a recent article (25 June 2012) by Claire McKin in The Scotsman. Here’s what it says about Nessie:
“Some scientists speculate that Noah took small or baby dinosaurs on the Ark…. are dinosaurs still alive today? With some recent photographs and testimonies of those who claimed to have seen one, scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence…
“Have you heard of the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”
It gets worse. On the same page, the same students’ workbook published an artist’s impression of this photo, claiming that it was “the decomposing body of a dinosaurlike sea creature off the coast of New Zealand” by “a Japanese fishing vessel” in 1977. The students’ workbook added: “The animal could not be matched with any living species but certainly resembles a supposedly extinct species of dinosaur.” Trouble is, the creature wasn’t a plesiosaur. It was a decaying basking shark. Scientific evidence that it was a shark had been presented back in 1978. So when did A.C.E. write its PACE [Packages of Accelerated Christian Education] workbook, strongly implying that this was a dinosaur (and saying it couldn’t be matched with any living species)? In 1989. And they kept it in subsequent revisions.
And here’s another, even more ridiculous quote:
“Biblical and scientific evidence seems to indicate that men and dinosaurs lived at the same time…. Fossilized tracks in the bed of the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas, also give evidence that men and dinosaurs existed simultaneously. Fossilized human footprints and three-toed dinosaur tracks occur in the same rock stratum…. That dinosaurs existed with humans is an important discovery disproving the evolutionists’ theory that dinosaurs lived 70 million years before man. God created dinosaurs on the sixth day. He created man later the same day.” (ACE, Science 1099, p. 29.)
As far back as 1986, the Institute for Creation Research had acknowledged that the Paluxy River footprints weren’t human (see here). The PACE cited above went into print in 1989, three years after this acknowledgement. The Paluxy River tracks are also mentioned in “Science 1096”, copyright 1986.
Where did the latest Nessie story come from?
The story about Nessie being in a creationist school curriculum appeared a few days ago on 18 June 2012 in an article by Bruce Wilson on www.alternet.org (a left-wing alternative news Website), and quickly went viral.
Wilson has been researching the curricula at private religious schools (which he evidently opposes) for quite some time, and last year, he made a 35-minute documentary with Rachel Tabachnick on private schools using textbooks published by A Beka Book, Bob Jones University Press and Accelerated Christian Education (ACE). Some of these texts contain statements that can only be described as off the wall. For example, one history text states that the Klu Klux Klan fed on “racism and bigotry”, but then states that “the Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross to target bootleggers, wife beaters and immoral movies.” (Timothy Keesee and Mark Sidwell, United States History for Christian Schools, 2nd ed., Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1991, p. 219.) Readers can find out more here. Full references for the quotes are provided, in the article.
The original source of Wilson’s story: Jonny Scaramanga
The original source for Wilson’s story on the private school science textbook claiming that the Loch Ness Monster is real is one Jonny Scaramanga, 27, a British music lecturer living in Bristol who attended an Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) school in Bath, England, for four years as a child and who is now a crusader against fundamentalist schools. He appeared recently in a podcast with P. Z. Myers, on June 21, 2012 (see here ). For those who are interested, here’s Scaramanga’s testimony on P. Z. Myers’ blog, narrating his life story and explaining why he’s now an atheist.
A few years ago, Johnny Scaramanga pointed out the objectionable nature of the curricular material in some ACE textbooks to the National Recognition Information Centre (Naric), a UK government agency which ruled in 2008 that exams for the ACE curriculum were equivalent to international A-levels (see here). However, Tim Buttress, Naric’s spokesman, told the Times Educational Supplement that the agency’s role was to guide universities and employers on the “rigour” of qualifications, but that investigating curriculum content was outside its remit. (The article also mentions that Professor Richard Dawkins visited a London school which used the ACE curriculum in 2006.)
Johnny Scaramanga’s Website has quite a few articles on Accelerated Christian Education, which he seems bent on exposing to the world. I shall pass them on without further comment and invite readers form their own judgments:
What Is Accelerated Christian Education?
Top 5 Lies Taught By Accelerated Christian Education (In this one, Scaramanga takes credit for having alerted TES about ACE.)
5 Even Worse Lies from Accelerated Christian Education.
ACE and apartheid
It gets worse. Until 1996, ACE schoolbooks legitimized South Africa’s apartheid system. See here.
What’s it like at an ACE school?
Some online comments from people who attended ACE schools can be found here. Some of the stories of violence inflicted by instructors on children are frankly appalling. Students who misbehave are disciplined with heavy paddles. Scaramanga himself suffered a breakdown at the age of 14, after attending an ACE school for four years, and had to be transferred to a normal school. For students, learning is a very solitary experience: each student sits in an isolated cubicle all day long and does rote and fill-in-the-blank exercises. Students are not allowed to turn around, talk, or move without permission, which they gain by raising a flag to get a supervisor’s attention. Critical thinking is not taught as part of the curriculum. (See here for details.)
The ACE curriculum: not up to scratch?
Scarmanga has highlighted several shortcomings of the ACE curriculum in this post, including the following:
(1) ACE PACE tests are laughably easy.
(2) Students know in advance what the questions will be on the tests.
(3) Tests consist solely of short answer or multiple-choice questions.
(4) This makes it possible to learn all the answers by rote, or “parrot fashion.”
(5) Some questions in the tests aren’t even relevant to the subject.
Apparently the ACE curriculum has been attracting criticism for at least 25 years. Scaramanga also had another recent post (see here) in which he pointed out that two academics had criticized ACE’s curriculum as far back as 1987, in a magazine called Phi Delta Kappan. The article is not available online, but readers can view the first page here. For those who are interested, the full reference is: Dan B. Fleming and Thomas C. Hunt, “The Phi Delta Kappan”, Vol. 68, No. 7 (March 1987), pp. 518-523. The vice-president of ACE, Ronald Johnson, published a response to the article in the same issue (pp. 520-521). Unfortunately, it cannot be viewed online.
How academically proficient are ACE students, anyway?
A 2005 Marshall University thesis by Lisa Kelley on the ACE curriculum and the academic proficiency of students from ACE schools is available online here. What Kelley found, in a nutshell, was that kids who learn from this curriculum actually do worse than kids at public schools, with ACT scores consistently lower than those of public school students.
According to Kelley, Accelerated Christian Education, also known as the School of Tomorrow, was developed in 1970 by a minister named Donald Howard and his wife, Esther. The first school to utilize this material was founded and staffed by the Howards in Garland, Texas – the same year the first edition of ACE material was published, in 1973.
About 200,000 children in the USA and 2,000 in the UK are currently schooled using the ACE curriculum.
For my part, I have to say I regard the ACE curriculum as seriously deficient. Its academic content appears to be sub-standard in many respects, it fails to cater to the learning needs of a large number of students, it makes no attempt to teach critical thinking skills, and it stunts students socially. I find it very odd that any school with a curriculum like that could get public funds (vouchers).