Accelerated Christian Education

by admin on August 18, 2010

in Education

ACE Accelerated Christian EducationAs a teacher for going on twelve years now, much of my writing focus for Tyler TX Directory has to do with that subject. It’s just what I know so naturally, it’s a topic that is often in the forefront of my mind. Recently I discovered that there is a new private school opening in our area, but I will refrain from mentioning it by name as I cannot endorse the curriculum the school is using. I feel I must be careful about critiquing this form of education because I realize that it’s very popular in religious circles.

For going on forty years now Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) has been a force in American Christian Education. In a time when Americans were waking up to the need for private religious schools, the publisher offered a curriculum that was easy to apply, not labor intensive for either students or parents, and required very little faculty or staff to implement. The timing couldn’t have been better, as church schools began to spring up around the country supplied by ACE.

In 1977 another curriculum company started. It borrowed the same methodology and (I can only presume) drew from ACE’s rich target market. Honestly I suspect the number of schools using it has dropped off a bit in recent years, but I may be wrong. The system worked essentially like this; the classrooms were quiet and nontraditional. Each student had his or her own work space or cubicle. The students set goals for themselves and in each subject and worked to complete those goals. If they finished early they could either press on in order to “get ahead,” or they could take a break. Each subject had its own series of booklets, called Paces or Lifepacs depending on the curriculum. At the end of each was a test. Tests and questions are often graded by the student, but (I assume) would also be corrected by the teacher present. The system allowed the student to work at the pace they chose, or necessary to “master” or memorize the material. As an elementary student I was briefly enrolled in an Alpha Omega school before my parents wisely withdrew me.

Of the two, the ACE program appears more popular with most homeschoolers. In practice they are virtually identical, if not in content. Eventually I was enrolled in a school with a more classical approach, but as a student I pined for the days when I could work at my own pace, (which meant painfully slow). I also lost a year (or something like that) due to the fact that I didn’t learn anything. My new classical private school came like a slap. I was back in a world that pushed me, required me to learn, and that didn’t allow me list away at my desk passively reading through a workbook. My new school taught me to think!

And it is actually the methodology that I’m taking issue with. I would probably find much to debate in the programs content and theology as well, but there is no perfect curriculum in that regard. Our preferences generally tend to depend on our denomination. But (in my opinion), the approach to education offered by these program is far too rote. As an educator it is my job to teach my students reason critically. The methods mentioned above do talk a lot about God, but they fail to reason with him. Plugging a student into a cubby hole with a Pace or a Lifepac while an “instructor” walks around the room is not helping them to think. In my experience these systems merely teach the student to perform the minimum requirements necessary to complete a given task. There is no excellence. There is no discussion. There is no mentoring.

The ACE literature suggests that most curriculums focus on how to teach, but should focus on how to learn. However learning is itself a skill to be learned. This brings us back to the original question of how best to teach. Another problem I have with this model is that it greatly devalues the role of the teacher, and quite frankly the parent by proxy. Students merely read from the booklet and plug their answers into the blanks. Yes as a parent or teacher, you may be sitting next to your child, but he or she is not learning from the wisdom or experience that you have to offer, he’s learning from his Lifepac. The fact is the parent / teacher should be irreplaceable in the classroom. Good teachers guide the students through a subject far more complicated than what booklet can present. And let’s face it many or most students would rather not be in school in the first place. The teacher’s role is partially to inspire in their students a love of learning, to get more out of them than they realized they could do, or to introduce them to new concepts they never expected to understand.

I realize the each student is unique, and not everyone has the opportunity to benefit from the education my brothers and I did. Some students (like my sister in law) have grown up in an ACE or Alpha Omega program and come out with a tremendous education. But I would suggest that those were students who would have prospered in nearly any environment because they are excellent students who love learning. I’d venture to guess that most are more like me. I was more inspired to chase my classmates on the playground with a sharp stick in some mock battle than sit quietly in my cubby filling in blanks.

I can appreciate the goal of these publishers. It is not my desire to impugn the religious nature of their mission, only to examine their methods. To read more about my philosophy of education (if that interests you) look for my recent article entitled Guadalupe Radio Network located elsewhere on this site. To read more about Accelerated Christian Education visit their webpage at http://www.aceministries.com. To learn more about Alpha Omega check out their site at http://www.aop.com.

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