My experience with Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) stretches all the way back to 1981, when, on our honeymoon, my wife and I visited the Christian Life Community Centre in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia. We were introduced, at that time, to the school that was associated with the church, and which was using the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum and mode of educational delivery (the school is now called Toowoomba Christian College (TCC), and has not used the ACE material for a long time). We were told that the program enabled Christian parents to provide a Christian education for their children. The program had been brought to Toowoomba from Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, where it had been introduced into Australia in late 1976, and was being used by Mountains Christian Academy. My wife and I joined Christian Life Community in 1982, shortly after I was discharged from the Army on 11th May, of that year.
From early 1984 to late 1986 I studied at the Darling Downs Institute of Advance Education (in Toowoomba) the units that led to my obtaining a Diploma of Teaching (Primary). I did very well in my studies, achieving 17 Distinctions (A’s), 10 Credits (B’s), 2 Pass (C’s) and 1 Ungraded Pass (P). I then went, in 1987, to Bible College in the Blue Mountains and obtained a Diploma of Biblical Studies with Honours (subsequently I have obtained a Bachelor of Education, a Master of Education (Leadership,) a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, and am in the latter stages of a Doctor of Philosophy (Education) degree). It was my hope that I would be employed by the Christian Life Community Centre School. However, I was not. So, I never got to work in an ACE School, but I did get to see, at close hand, how an ACE school functioned. I read through many of the PACEs, witnessed the children seated in their cubicles with star charts, flags, no communication, waiting, independent scoring (after getting permission), and everything else that characterized an ACE school in those days.
Whilst working on my Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology and Teaching Methodology units for my Diploma of Teaching (Primary) I came across the work of B. F. Skinner and his Behaviourism School. I was particularly interested in his teaching machines, which reminded me so much of the ACE way of educational delivery.
My first teaching appointment was at the Christian Outreach College (COC) in Toowoomba, which also started as an ACE school, but which very early on in its history dropped the ACE curriculum and embraced the Queensland state curriculum. By the time I was teaching at COC Toowoomba, it was like a regular school, with age-segregated classes, using traditional didactic approaches to educational delivery. TCC was still an ACE school at that time.
As I taught at COC it became clearer and clearer to me that the ACE system, delivered in a school context (as originally conceived) was a defective mode of educational delivery. Sentences are important in the development of complete thought. Writing sentences is an important part of the process of creating a multi-sensory connection between the knowledge that is to be engaged, learning, long-term memory, and the practical usefulness of the knowledge. By getting children to simply fill in spaces with words was getting them to focus on isolated incidents in the text, and not drawing them into the complete thoughts being communicated. I came to the conclusion that ACE was not teaching children to think, it was indoctrinating them and brainwashing them into a set worldview. The set worldview was Dispensational Fundamentalism. It became my opinion that ACE PACEs could only be useful, if after filling in the spaces, the children were required to engage with the text by writing summaries in full sentences, or at the least, copying some of the sentences completely in another exercise book, so that the thoughts in the sentences could be considered in their entirety, not just key words being memorization so that they can be written into the spaces of the tests.
I went to Canberra in 1998 and worked with Light Educational Ministries. In Canberra I was trained in Intensive Phonics, both in Spalding Phonics and LEM Phonics. It was that training that convinced me that a multi-sensory, multi-modal approach to education was essential for solid learning (this was explored in my Master of Education (Leadership) final dissertation**). ACE was neither multi-sensory, nor was it multi-modal. By this time, also, I had become a Biblical Christian, rather than a New Testament Christian (as exemplified in Dispensational, Fundamentalism). ACE was now further down in my consideration of educational approaches: it was defective in its pedagogy, in its curriculum content and in the worldview that it was seeking to imbed into young minds. I wanted to be generous, so I thought that it might be a useful way for Christian parents to bridge into homeschooling. ACE, by 1993, was the largest provider of resources for Christian homeschoolers in Australia*. However, whenever I spoke to parents who were considering the use of ACE material, I always advised them to get the children to interact with other materials outside of the ACE provided PACEs, and to get the children to summarize the PACEs into a separate notebook, or at least copy some of the sentences in their entirety into the notebook, so that the children were engaging in complete thoughts.
Amongst my research respondents, I received a range of comments, in regards to the ACE program. They ranged from: “It was done very badly, … fruitloops were using ACE … ACE was a crappy progam; it was childish … We cheated all the way through our home schooling … focused on academics more than the social elements of education … I was so lonely … I hated schooling” through to: “It (ACE) is a brilliant curriculum … a curriculum that builds on itself … the curriculum enables the child to take pauses, and when they are ready again, to continue their progression through the curriculum. … there are no gaps, and there is no wasted time having to go back over things–minimize gaps”. One respondent reported that the ACE material was: “boring material … there were entire books of time tables, and I had to work for 45 minutes at a time through the books … I remember there were sentences and I had to fill in gaps with words. It was all writing stuff. There was not much talking. … I was mostly expected to finish a certain number of pages.”
The family that reported the worst experiences with ACE material, was a family that employed the material in a home school context that followed the ACE Procedures Manual implicitly. By bringing an ACE School into the home, the worst elements of ACE were concentrated and the result was a hatred for education and learning, which spilled over into fractured family relationships.
The family that reported the best experiences with ACE material threw the Procedures Manual out the window (metaphorically), and used the PACEs as resources to explore ideas,rather than as an end in themselves. They were used as a jump-off point to pursue other lines of thought, and there were many other educational aspects to their home-based education than simply being schooled by the Manual.
I am still of the opinion that an ACE education is defective pedagogically, in academic content, and in its brand of Christian world and life view. However, I do concede that some people may be able to use the ACE resources to good effect, if they use the PACEs as a jumping-off point to then go and do lots of other pedagogically sound activities. I would never try to stop families using ACE material, but I would always counsel them to use the material interactively and creatively, and never use it as a tool to keep their children in isolation from others. At its best, this is cruel, and at its worst it is abusive. Children need socialization – not in schools, but in the context of learning alongside significant others with a range of ages and life experiences. ACE, as it was originally conceived, militates against this.
For a more detailed critique of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), refer to: http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com/