Christian Fundamentalism: Not Just An American Phenomenon
As a blog that looks at the United States from a British point of view, I feel that this is a good place for a minor confession. There are many of us in Britain who tend to look upon the American relationship with fundamentalist Christianity with a slightly superior air, pitched somewhere between horror and amusement.
We see politicians like Rick Santorum being touted as realistic candidates for the presidency; we see Congressional Science Committee members who believe the earth is 9,000 years old; and we see that there has been a grand total of one admitted atheist ever elected to Congress. And we condemn it, but we do so with a disbelieving laugh, and pat ourselves on the back for not being taken in by the dogma.
We realise that Christian fundamentalists are in the minority, but it is such a vocal minority that the many more moderate believers are obscured. So we look on in a patronising manner, ignoring our own lack of proper separation of church and state; the bishops sitting in the House of Lords; and the constitutional ban on our ever having a Catholic monarch. And we remain smug about our emphasis on rationality and reason.
This is why it is so disquieting to read about the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum that is currently being taught in more than 50 schools in the United Kingdom today. While faith schools are well established and broadly accepted in Britain, these ACE schools are an entirely different prospect altogether. Originating in Tennessee and now being used in ‘hundreds of countries worldwide’, the ACE curriculum teaches Bible literalism, young-Earth creationism and the virtues of far-right capitalism as incontrovertible fact.
Students sit in isolation, facing the wall, and learn from workbooks known as ‘PACEs’. These PACEs cover all subjects, from English to Maths to Sciences, all viewed through the lens of Christian fundamentalism. Amongst the objectives of the Biology PACE, alongside more standard aims such as being able to explain mitosis, are the ability to ‘refute the theory of evolution’ and to ‘tell why abortion is wrong’. Sex education is covered in the ACE curriculum without any mention of the words ‘penis’, ‘vagina’, ‘intercourse’ or ‘period’, although they do explain that STDs are ‘the natural result of violating God’s principles’ and imply that the cure for AIDS can be found in the Bible.
The History PACE teaches that Israel’s victory in the Six Day War demonstrates how ‘the hand of God is on His chosen people even to this day‘, while in Geography, students learn that, ‘because of the Biblical foundation of its government and laws, God blessed the United States; and it became the strongest and most prosperous nation on Earth’. Despite this blessing, children are taught that the year 1933 was a ‘dark one in American history‘, because of the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which signalled the moment that ‘America began shifting from a nation whose philosophy was a conservative, God-fearing one to a nation whose philosophy was a liberal and socialistic one’.
The economic elements of the curriculum teach that socialism increases wealth disparities, that governments should not provide welfare programmes and that non-taxpayers should not be allowed to vote. The ACE view on taxation extends to this multiple choice question from an English PACE, that asks whether ‘responsible citizens’ should vote for political candidates who:
(a) Promise to provide good paying jobs for all those who are out of work.
(b) Promise to cut back on both government services and spending and cut taxes.
(c) Promise to raise taxes on “big business” and use the money to help the poor.
(d) Promise to provide child-care services for all mothers who need to work.
The ‘correct answer’, according to the answer booklet, is (b).
Up until 1998, the ACE curriculum even saw fit to justify apartheid in South Africa, claiming:
Although apartheid appears to allow the unfair treatment of blacks, the system has worked well in South Africa…. Although white businessmen and developers are guilty of some unfair treatment of blacks, they turned South Africa into a modern industrialized nation, which the poor, uneducated blacks couldn’t have accomplished in several more decades.
Although this has now been replaced, the new passage appears to imply that segregation was a good idea that simply got out of hand. While the passage praising apartheid has been changed, other bizarre sections remain and are still being used to teach children today, such as one that asserts the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, and uses it as evidence to disprove evolution.
In twenty-first century Britain.
It is all too easy for liberal, modern Britons to hear stories of this sort of fundamentalism happening in the southern United States and to disregard it as the type of strange anachronism that divides our two nations, but they can be found all over the United Kingdom; in Manchester, in Birmingham, in London. To add to this, the National Recognition Information Centre (Naric), which evaluates the validity of various qualifications, has rated the ACE curriculum’s International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE) as comparable to an international A-Level. While Naric justify themselves by claiming their remit ‘did not cover the curriculum’s content‘, this legitimation means that ACE graduates ‘need never return to state schools to gain college and university entrance qualifications’.
What all this means is that in Britain in 2013, a child can be educated up to the point of entry into university in unscientific, intolerant, misleading and downright false fundamentalist Christian dogma. The ACE curriculum’s biased political slant violates the government’s new regulations for independent schools, which came into force at the start of this year, but as Jonny Scaramanga, a former student at an Accelerated Christian Education school in Britain has written, the sheer volume of PACEs makes Ofsted inspection ‘a near-impossible task‘. Since the new regulations came into effect, only one ACE school has been inspected, with no mention made of its political teachings in Ofsted’s report.
So for now at least, these schools will remain. And they stand as a reminder that here in Britain, while we may sit and tweet from on high about schools in the USA teaching that evolution is a lie, homosexuality is learned behaviour and solar fusion is a myth, there are children from Hackney to Hull right now, learning exactly that.