Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bill Gothard on Education

My parents began homeschooling me in third grade, and enrolled in Gothard's Advanced Training Institute, a curriculum exclusively for alumni of his Advanced Seminar, before I started seventh grade. Our family was part of ATI until I reached my mid-twenties.

The following statements are the main points from a session of Bill Gothard's Advanced Seminar. They can be found on pages 88-91 of the accompanying workbook and on his website. Looking back, these "principles" explain so much of my educational experience.

Advanced Seminar Session 16: Successful Education

(Bill Gothard)

  • The ultimate goal of education is not to produce a degree, but to produce many godly generations. 
  • God charges parents and grandparents, not teachers, with the responsibility to train their sons and daughters.
  • God established the home, not the school, as the primary learning center; the school and church must be recognized as extensions of it.
  • The most destructive force in school is peer dependence, and parents must constantly work to protect their children from it.
  • God wants the priorities of every family to be built around daily engrafting of Scripture, rather than accumulating man's knowledge.
  • The ability of sons and daughters to stand alone is the result not of rules, but of principles that assure a superior way of life.
  • When knowledge is learned before godly character, it produces pride and arrogance.
  • Parents who teach sons and daughters at home must be accountable to a local church (Christian school and the government).
  • Sons and daughters thrive with appropriate responsibility, and it is God's goal that they be mature in their youth.
  • God gave boys and girls differing aptitudes; when children are taught together, boys are programmed for failure.
  • When schools group children by ages, older examples are cut off and rebels usually rise to leadership.
  • When the Bible is separated from courses, the contents come under the control of human reasoning.
  • True socializing takes place not in the arbitrary groupings of school, but in the real world of children-to-adult relationships.
  • Valuable learning time is lost in school; two hours of home teaching is equivalent to six hours of school teaching.
  • The key to effective education is not just a trained teacher and a professional curriculum, but a concerned parent and a motivated child.
  • God has set a limitation on learning; thus, academic freedom is no justification for studying the details of evil.

As an ATI student, I attended numerous conferences that became pep rallies for volunteerism with the Institute or urged us to study our favorite topics from the safety of our homes. (I even spent eighteen months enrolled in IBLP's unaccredited correspondence law school!)

Inge Cannon was one familiar conference speaker. Cannon holds a master's degree in education and helped Gothard develop the ATI curriculum in the early 1980's. She later directed the National Center for Home Education, a division of HSLDA.

At an opening session of the 1990 ATI training conference held at the University of Tennesee in Knoxville, Inge Cannon warned us against the dangerous "High Places" of education. As she talked, I took careful and enthusiastic notes. I was just fourteen, and excited about this chance to sit with the adults.

In the Bible, God repeatedly told the ancient Israelites to tear down the idolatrous "high places". Cannon thus defined a high place as:
"any goal or objective so commonly accepted that it is validated and esteemed as good, even though it violates the will and word of God".
According to Cannon, the following "high places" are educational myths for home-educating parents to avoid.

The High Places of Education

(Inge Cannon--June 23, 1990)

  • Comparison--i.e., SAT tests and bell-shaped curves, parents should not base their curriculum on these; also pluralism that pressures those with strong beliefs to "give in to those who believe nothing"
  • Grading--earning a teacher's certificate, for example, merely means one has passed the right courses, not that one is "qualified to produce results"
  • Completion--filling in all the blanks or answering all the questions or taking the final exam does not mean the educational task is complete; the object is to "know" the material, not merely to "cover" it
  • Equivalency--"believing that a curriculum is proper and right when it matches the academic sequence and requirements of traditional, formal education"
  • Tangibility--"believing only what I can see or touch is real, thereby de-emphasizing those elements that require faith or minister to the spirit of my child"
  • Self-expression--"believing that the arts are too personal to be governed by absolute standards"; the arts can never be amoral
  • Methodology--"believing there is only one right way to teach a lesson"
  • Socialization--"Children don't learn anything good from one another!"
  • Exposure--exposing children to all kinds of knowledge is unnecessary for a well-rounded education; children should be ignorant of evil, they shouldn't understand dirty jokes, they shouldn't study false religions; "There are some things God doesn't want us to know."
  • Statistical Verification--believing [the Bible] "needs to be verified  by scientific measurements before choosing to obey its instructions"

During my time in ATI, I was just one of thousands of young people who were told that we didn't need college credits, that college would corrupt our minds with "vain philosophies" and threaten our faith, that there are some things "God doesn't want us to know", and that employers would come looking for us because of our diligence, obedience, and virtue. So, many of us dutifully eschewed degrees in favor of home-based study.

Gothard, incidentally, later changed his mind and now even touts the Ph.D. degree Lousiana Baptist University conferred on him in 2004, much to the chagrin of those of us for whom the new dispensation came too late. Hundreds of former ATI students live today with the socioeconomic consequences of what we were taught, even as we struggle to catch up to our college-educated peers.


  1. Thank you for this post. I'm a public school teacher who had several formerly home-schooled students placed into my high school about 2 years ago. I've started reading your blog to help me better understand what caused these students to have such severe gaps in education and socialization.

    As a teacher, these ideas are terrifying and enlightening at the same time. I've had students enter high school believing they are reading at above-grade level when our testing shows them many grades behind. Math skills are largely absent; science is also very rudimentary. Social studies has odd gaps.

  2. I am a former student of Mrs. Cannon's, from private school of course. I am a proud public school teacher with multiple degrees who can't believe my parents paid for me to receive an education that was beneath the one I could have received in a public school. I feel for anyone who was or is trapped in the IFB or IBLP cults. Their training helps groom students into potential victims of physical and sexual abuse. Thank God I attended a public university where I quickly embraced the real world and eventually discovered non-toxic faith for myself.

  3. Ive been reading through your blog to help heal my own trauma. I was homeschooled for my entire grade school experience. I saw so much, and was unable to say anything. Your words are helping me see that I need to speak out against this massive issue. Thank you. It's time for a reform in homeschooling.