One of the world’s largest fundamentalist Christian education groups is teaching its students climate change denial as fact, and still presents the theory of evolution as an ’absurd and discredited’ conspiracy theory, finds a report by UCL researchers.
Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) is one of the world’s biggest providers of creationist science materials, consisting of reading programmes and a core curriculum, for thousands of affiliated schools worldwide, including dozens across the UK and Europe.
There are currently 11 schools in England and Northern Ireland officially affiliated with ACE, although experts expect there to be many more as the schools are notoriously isolationist, conservative and don’t advertise themselves widely.
In the report, published in Cultural Studies of Science Education, researchers found that its latest edition, which has been released to year groups from Key stages 1 to 3 gradually over the last few years, now claims to show ’evidence’ that human-caused climate change is not real and still presents evolution as a conspiracy theory. This is despite claims by the curriculum’s developers that its materials allow students to make up their own minds about evolution.
The addition of climate change denial as a proof point for creationism follows on from previous editions which claimed the existence of a ’vapour canopy’ that surrounded Earth until it burst, causing Noah’s flood. Although the most recent edition doesn’t include this and the claim has largely been dropped by the group, space within the material previously given over to the theory now covers climate change, specifically to deny a human link between rising temperatures and to reassure students of God’s plan in preparing a new heaven and Earth with a better climate.
Lead author Dr Jenna Scaramanga (IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society) said: "It is worrying that the most recent edition of this material not only still promotes creationism as a valid scientific theory, but adds climate change denial to its increasingly anti-science agenda. Students studying at ACE schools or using ACE materials move into mainstream further or higher education ill-equipped to study advanced science or to make informed judgements about scientific discoveries.
"Presenting creationism and evolution in this way is a conspiracy theory, as the providers and teachers argue that mainstream scientists are colluding to promote false ideas. Teaching children in this way means they are more likely to easily accept and believe other conspiracy theories."
The authors found through analysing the third and fourth editions of the material that younger primary / elementary school children are not exposed to any ideas contrary to ACE’s literal interpretation of the Bible until Year 9, or the eighth grade in the US, around age 13. Researchers say this is contrary to Ofsted education guidance, which stipulates that primary school children must be exposed to a broad and balanced science education.
The fourth edition of ACE’s material was first released for the youngest age group, fiveto six-year-olds, in 2009, with subsequent grades following gradually. Material for 12- to 14-year-olds was released in 2016 and 2020 respectively.
Overall, the only substantial difference between the third and fourth editions were two new arguments, which have both been widely discredited by scientists. One is the claim of tiny amounts of polonium found in granite rocks as evidence that Earth formed instantaneously, while the other is that traces of blood vessels and soft tissue found in some dinosaur fossils prove they must have died comparatively recently, suggesting that Earth is a young planet.
ACE has previously been criticised for relying on rote memorisation over other learning styles and presenting misleading or distorted information. The curriculum delivered within ACE schools regularly includes creationism within non-science lessons and depicts those who believe in evolution as making an immoral choice.
The material has also been previously criticised for supporting white supremacism and defending South African apartheid. In its first 20 years ACE was involved in over 150 lawsuits, mostly relating to accreditation, with subsequent court cases. The company believes that Christian schools should not be regulated, and schools using its curriculum have defended this belief through litigation.
Dr Scaramanga added: "Questions need to be asked about how these schools and those which rely heavily on ACE publications pass Ofsted checks when their curricula and materials clearly fail to provide a broad and balanced science education and fail in the requirement of teaching respect for different beliefs."
Research paper Evolutionary stasis: creationism, evolution and climate change in the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum in Cultural Studies of Science Education
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