Harmful curriculum being taught in schools, government funded

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An alligator-duck dinosaur roams around on a purple background.
They won’t let you wear a hat inside, but they will teach you science denialism. Clker-Free-Vector-Images via Pixabay, manipulated by Lee Lim

ACE? More like rACE-ism…

“If parents want their children to obtain a very limited and sometimes inaccurate view of the world – one that ignores thinking above the level of rote recall – then the ACE materials would do this job very well.” This comment was written in 1987 by education professors Dr. Dan Fleming and Thomas Hunt in response to a new curriculum called Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) which was being adopted by schools across the United States at the time.  

What few may know, however, is that ACE made it to Canada, and in 2023 is still being taught in Saskatchewan schools that receive public funding. It has only been since 2012 that schools have received public funds to teach ACE. That’s because, in 2012, the Saskatchewan government created a new category of independent schools called ‘qualified independent schools’ which receive half the funding of public schools.  

When the new QIS category was created, 20 schools in Saskatchewan who had previously not received any guaranteed funding as registered independent schools became qualified independent schools. Many carried over the teaching materials they had used prior to attaining government funding, in some cases including ACE materials.  

One of these schools, Legacy Christian Academy, has become infamous in Saskatchewan for the alleged mistreatment of its students. Several other schools in the province use the same teaching materials which teach students creationism, sexism, homophobia – and which Fleming and Hunt have said “ignores thinking above the level of rote recall.” 

In 2017, Ph.D. student Jenna Scaramanga from University College London, who studied the ACE curriculum, released a 300-page analysis of it as her thesis, titled Systems of Indoctrination. Her conclusions are scathing.  

Scaramanga said the social studies and English curriculum “show unrestrained admiration for colonialism.” While the science curriculum said “if evolution were true, dogs should give birth to cats.” 

Beyond the ideas taught in ACE, it is also criticized for hampering students’ understanding and critical thinking. In the words of Scaramanga, ACE relies on “rote regurgitation at the expense of critical thought, creative expression, problem solving, inquiry, or group interaction.” 

John Macdonald, who teaches secondary science in the education program at the University of Regina, and who is also a former high school biology teacher himself, said the research points to rote memorization being a “waste of time” and would like to see schools have “other ways to assess learning.” 

Scaramanga sees an additional link between the lack of critical thinking and the fundamentalism of ACE schools, pointing out that “if you want students to hold their beliefs steadfastly, depriving them 

of the skills to question those beliefs is an effective way to go about it.” 

These materials are used by an association of eight schools in the province known as the Saskatchewan Association of Independent Church Schools (SAICS). SAICS has ACE materials available for its schools as well as recommended textbooks from Bob Jones University (BJU).  

Bob Jones University is an Evangelical Christian university in the US with a troubled past. After affirmative action in the 1960s, BJU refused to change their policies. By the 1970s, they received a lawsuit, which gave the school the option to revoke their racially discriminatory policies or pay millions in back-taxes. BJU paid the back-taxes. It wasn’t until 2000 that BJU revoked its final anti-miscegenation policy, allowing it to gain non-profit status again in 2017.  

During the 2012-2017 period when BJU still had its non-profit status denied due to racist policies, schools in Saskatchewan were using BJU literature while receiving government funding. Some of the textbooks that continue to be recommended by SAICS were published from BJU prior to regaining its status in 2017. BJU is currently under investigation by the US federal government, again, for violating sex discrimination laws. 

The history of BJU would seem to reflect the literature it publishes. A peer-reviewed article by Dr. Agiro published in 2012 in the Journal of Research on Christian Education reviewed an English textbook published by BJU in 2010. It found that for every one person of colour portrayed there were over five White people portrayed. Similarly, there were more than 3:1 portrayals of men over women and no portrayals of people with disabilities.  

The same analysis also reports how the BJU textbook uses slurs to refer to Indigenous peoples throughout. The textbook analyzed draws primarily from early American literature, though only includes one author who portrayed Indigenous peoples in a positive light, while leaving many literary texts uncommented on which portrayed Indigenous people as violent. While drawing from the early American period, it only mentions slavery twice; one of the incidents portraying slavery as a gift to those enslaved. 

The biology department at BJU also continues to be staffed entirely by creationists who believe the Earth is 6000-14,000 years old, and deny the modern theory of evolution. This is similarly reflected in their science textbooks which take a creationist stance.  

In many other jurisdictions, ACE and textbooks from BJU would not be allowed in publicly funded schools. For example, a 2005 Supreme Court case in the US, Kitzmiller v. Dover, was decided over a similar dispute. In the Dover case, a school district had a policy of teaching a form of creationism called ‘intelligent design’ and used a textbook that touted it.   

The judge in the Dover case ruled that teaching creationism violated the First Amendment rights of the constituents. No similar case has been tried in Canada to establish case law, and this scenario has the additional complication of only having partial public funding. In the 2021-2022 budgetary year, schools with SAICS received over $2 million in funding from the province.  

While it is an American decision, John Macdonald says “the provincial government should really have that decision [Kitzmiller v. Dover] in mind.” Macdonald thinks “spending government public money on it [teaching creationism] could create problems.” 

While Scaramanga was talking about ACE in the United Kingdom, the guiding question of her thesis is one that remains relevant to the current situation in Saskatchewan: “How could these schools operate for so long without critique or public scrutiny when they flew in the face of current thinking about educational best practice?” 

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