The Truth About Sheltering Your Kids: Ralph’s Story

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 11.06.07 PM

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Ralph” is a pseudonym.

I was raised in a family where homeschooling wasn’t just the preferred method of education, but the only right one. Homeschooling was a way of life or a lifestyle if you will and everything revolved around my parents’ opinion of what God’s will was.  Other than AYSO soccer, I had no social contact outside of church, family, and the homeschool umbrella group until I went to community college. This was when I discovered that I was socially retarded (yes that’s a technical term).

The religious sheltering of my childhood was only made more extreme and miserable by the international homeschool conglomerate cult ATI (Advanced Training Institute) aka IBLP (Institute of Basic Life Principles) run by ‘his eminence’ Bill Gothard. I won’t go into too many details of how involved my family was with this group or how many times we went to the IBLP seminars or the national conference in Knoxville Tennessee. But even at a young age I can remember wondering what the point was of all the putting on of shows, the mass gatherings, and the ridiculous dress code which looks nearly identical to that of the Mormons.

Besides the endless hypocrisy of Mr. Gothard’s teachings, the suppression of children’s natural instinct to ask questions of things that don’t make sense, and the plain and simply false teachings that go against recorded history and scientific fact — the most damaging moment of my experience with this group and quite possibly of my childhood (ironic that at the age of 20 both my parents and I still considered me a child) was when I attended the ALERT Academy. ALERT stands for Air Land Emergency Resource Team, but is really nothing more than a glorified boy scout troop; often referred to by some as ‘Gothard’s boy scouts’.

The main point they tried to drive home to their ‘trainees’ (typically 16-18 years old) was that no matter what adversity or difficulty you are facing, either physical, mental, or spiritual, all you need to do is cry out to God and he will get you through it. The way they taught us to do this with the physical aspect was by hiking with 60-80 pound back packs at nothing short of a speed-walk pace which often turned into a jog for miles on end without ever disclosing how far or long we were going.

Again, I won’t go into too many details but the ‘physical training’ done at ALERT made Basic Combat Training feel like a summer camp when I joined the Army years later. During this abusive level of physical training I ended up spraining my back which caused horrible pain during these hikes, but as I was told, “just ask God to make the pain go away and you will make it through.” Needless to say this was not a satisfactory answer to me and I ‘developed an attitude’ according to the leadership there.

I eventually was kicked out with them citing a ‘prideful spirit’ as the root cause of my problems.

This explanation is truly only scratching the surface of my experience at ALERT, but I don’t really want to turn this into an book. A few years later I found myself thinking that being a youth pastor might be a good path for me to take. So I attended a Christian college to begin studying for this purpose. However it didn’t take long from being out of my parents immediate control and having even a tiny taste of independence and freedom to begin rethinking everything I had ever been taught. Of course this did not happen without some outside influence.

After years of hearing my mother rail against psychology as nothing but excuses and philosophy as a way of opening your mind to Satan, I decided to take some classes and ended up majoring in both. She was partially right about something, philosophy does open your mind, but not to an imaginary evil gremlin whose ultimate goal is to enslave humanity. It simply opens the mind to new ideas and not being close minded.

To this day my parents curse my philosophy professor for ‘leading me astray’.

Some may say I’m just another typical example of how the devil can take possesion of people through exposure to worldly things. The truth is if you shelter your kids from ‘the real world’ they are going to wonder what you are keeping from them and many will run at the first chance they get. If philosophy, being the love of knowledge by definition, is so evil, then what are you saying by telling people to stay away from it?

I’m pretty sure there is a word to describe the rejection of knowledge; it is called ignorance.

After years of rebuilding my beliefs and life I have come to clarity. I realize my parents were raising children, and while this is typically what people say, I believe the mentality of child rearing needs to change.

Stop ‘raising children’, start raising responsible and educated adults who will not only be beneficial to society, but understand how to be a part of it.

74 thoughts on “The Truth About Sheltering Your Kids: Ralph’s Story

  1. Julie Anne March 17, 2013 / 7:06 pm

    Ralph – Thank you so much for being transparent with your story. I believe the homeschool movement is somewhat like a cult even though there are no defined leaders as in a typical cult environment. I suppose you could say that the parents became unknowing cult leaders in their own homes – – – and I’m realizing as I’m typing this, I feel a stabbing sensation in my gut.

    Ever since realizing what we got involved in and especially after seeing what my daughter has gone through, along with so many other homeschoolers, I want to offer my apologies to you as a homeschool mom who contributed to this movement. I am now committed to bring awareness to this problem. Thank you for speaking out, Ralph.

    Liked by 1 person

    • shadowspring March 20, 2013 / 12:00 pm

      I am right there with you, Julie Ann. I started out just wanting to have a more creative, open learning environment. For my part, it’s the religion, all day, every day that I regret, not the home schooling. But even though I thought I was “balanced” never slipping over to QF or ATI, it was still way too much.

      Ralph, I have so much respect for you. Way to grow and learn and accomplish! Kudos!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Liz Highley March 7, 2014 / 9:58 am

      Please be careful not to lump all homeschoolers in a “movement” stained by fundamentalist Christians following someone like Bill Gothard. There are plenty of us in a homeschool community that are thriving and normal, just different than public or private school.


      • Julie Anne March 7, 2014 / 11:18 am

        Liz: When I use “Homeschool Movement” I am meaning a specific movement connected with Reconstructionism/Patriarchy/Courtship/Quiverfull. Homeschooling in general does not look like that. It’s just a way of educating children.


      • Kari May 28, 2015 / 4:31 pm

        Just curious, how do homeschooled students gain the “street smarts” that is typically gained from daily public social interaction?

        Liked by 1 person

    • timsarmywifey March 8, 2014 / 7:39 am

      The homeschooling movement itself is not a cult … but there are those within it who can be cult like or who have been involved with cults such as Bill Gothard. To lump everyone in that group because of the actions of a few is ignorance as well. Our children are well adjusted great adults who have not had any issues attending college, getting jobs or working with others. HOWEVER we made a concerted effort to raise adults and to make sure they were well socialized not just with other homeschoolers.


      • meemopp May 9, 2021 / 5:09 am

        True. I applaud you for not taking the homeschool philosophy ‘over the edge’ as I did. Maybe it’s because of my addictive personality, but I raised 7 kids in a too-strict, always striving to ‘do better’ mentality. I remember every time the Pearls’ newsletter came in the mail, I’d eagerly read it, decide I was being too ‘lax’ with my parenting, and immediately double down on the strictness. It was a never ending cycle. One issue that got me thinking, though, was the one where the Pearls wrote about taking their young son up on the roof to help repair it, and for one reason or another, chose to nail him to the roof through his clothes, letting him hang there to ‘think about’ whatever infraction he committed. This was abhorrent to me, and never would I condone this action. Sadly, I did not reject the entire philosophy of the Pearls right then, but it got me thinking.Today, I wish I had never heard of them.


  2. kickingtheplastic March 18, 2013 / 2:54 am

    Great post, I think I’m going to follow this blog *religiously!* The more stories I read the last few years of fellow HS grads, the more proud I am of our generation. Our parents wanted to raise us to think for ourselves and not just follow the dominant culture around us, and many of us ARE doing that. We are examining the homeschooling culture we were raised in and not just continuing mindlessly.


  3. Jenny March 17, 2013 / 8:24 pm

    Ralph, I also offer my thanks for your post and my apologies for having at one time contributed to the advancement of isolationist Christian homeschooling. We managed to see the light before our kids were too old, and we’ve done exactly what you advise in your conclusion. You sound like you’re in a happier and healthier place. God bless you for your courage and honesty.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Seth March 18, 2013 / 3:59 am

    Thanks for your story Ralph. I was home schooled for several years in ATI, but my parents didn’t get to deep into it. I’m not sure why they pulled out, but as a kid the weekly limit of 1 1/2 football games seemed unbearable, :). So do you still identify as a Christian? Or have you left your faith?


    • Ralph April 20, 2013 / 3:04 am

      Seth, my discovery was that it was never my faith or beliefs to begin with. It was my parents faith. No I do not Identify as a Christian anymore for many reasons; but I am not on this forum to discuss or debate those reasons. What I will say is that my resolution has made getting along with my family quite interesting and very superficial for the most part.


      • winsomewife October 8, 2015 / 3:42 am

        We are a homeschool family who used to send the first two of four to public school. I tried volunteering to be involved. But we noticed that the homework didn’t allow the kids to spend time with their Daddy, or enough time with projects they enjoyed. So we tried homeschooling, and discovered many more benefits. We did not homeschool for religious reasons. But I became A Christian and it saved my marriage, because God promised love never fails, so I realized I had dictionary “love” that all people are born with, and I wanted to give my husband this unconditional love & respect that the Bible says comes from Jesus. I don’t follow any preacher, I follow Jesus. He has made me a better mother and wife and now I do teach the kids the difference between dictionary “love” (like) and God’s love, so they can at least be aware there is a choice.

        I am for the parts of psychology that help us understand how the brain works, but it does not seem to include unconditional love. I came from a religious broken home, and from a child I wanted to know why people divorce. Now I know… Dictionary love, which is all people can do on their own.

        I’m sorry that screwy preachers get ahold of some families, but that will never happen here. I’m too skeptical of them because of my parents failed love that their Catholic Church could not save their marriage.

        I’m with you on going against messed up religious leaders, but the Jesus of the Bible, KJV, is perfect and made the universe and love, and evolution could not have produced that first accidental cell with a fully functioning reproductive system.

        Love never fails… 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

        This puts the world’s pursuits in perspective. A top priority is seeking love, it’s everywhere. So much suffering, from temporary love. We are nothing like what you experienced in homeschooling. Please don’t give up on God. It’s parent’s job to teach kids about life and how it got started and how to really love others, especially spouse and children. Public school no longer supports unconditional love & respect like it used to. Even the public schoo booklet from No Child Left Behind said that the number one cause of alcohol, drug, and sex in youth is excessive peer influence, unavoidable for public school. Dads need time with their kids. Homework ruins that. Our kids are in 4-H, people of all kinds.

        We teach them how to evaluate things for their true overall value, either mostly beneficial or mostly harmful, and not to be arrogant, and to be able to be friends with everyone, and not to join in on things that eventually cause unnecessary suffering. We try to watch the DVD Picture Proverbs everyday, from They look forward to being wiser than most adults. We have a lot of extended family & friends that are suffering terribly from going against the advice in Proverbs.

        My husband used to be agnostic, very wary of Christianity because of his childhood, but after our marriage was saved by me getting unconditional love & respect from my God to pass on to him, HE is the one making the kids get ready on time for church and teaching them to be nice like Jesus. We have no dress code besides basic decency that isn’t even religious, just common sense most of humanity would agree with.

        We teach the kids too make their own decision about God, teach them that truth CAN be known, and that truth is as real as gravity, water, food & oxygen and they need it as much to have the most fun & safe life, now & forever, because of this life is all there is, nothing matters, they’re no more important than a fly or germ and they’ll never see list loved ones again,… depressing.

        I don’t like the idea of the devil & demons, but if God is real, then free will makes sense & can see how disembodiment is a punishment, and their added temptations of us a greater test of our character, more exercise to get stronger to become even more loving if that is our main goal in life besides survival. Who can argue that Jesus was the greatest example of love & taught the highest level of love? He even taught no divorce for those that God joined into one. Whoever teaches divorce for adultery is not reading the verse right and plucking it out of it’s chapter & book context. Love never fails. That phrase was in our wedding, and 14 years later I demanded that God explain that claim to me. He told me to look up love in the dictionary. AHA!

        You can reject Jesus if you want, but I think you’d be better off just rejecting Bill Gothard & other Bible twisters that teach you can lose your salvation. I’ve been studying the Bible twisting charismatic denomination. I hear they have the highest divorce rate. One of our kids friends was raised by them, parents now separated, screams at him nearly daily, because “Jesus got angry.” Bible twisters.

        Love never fails. My favorite 3 words, can’t say it enough. Hard to find a good non denominational church these days, but they’re out there.

        Love never fails


      • winsomewife October 8, 2015 / 4:12 am

        Oh, and I was raised in public school with no restrictions from parents, no sheltering whatsoever. I learned about life mainly from trial and error, and concluded from the results of my life and others, that Jesus’ teachings and the Proverbs & other Bible examples of smart loving people, and by studying biology, that God has to be real, and His ways get me the most fun, overall, though sin IS usually fun in the moment, overall, all evidence considered, it’s less fun & more trouble than advertised.

        I teach the kids to examine the results of all beliefs, to really observe & study all the evidence, not just some of it. You can’t be isolated and gain enough wisdom from observation & interaction with all kinds of people. I grew up with zero isolation, ran wild, and came back to God to save my marriage, to fulfill my childhood dream that my kids would never have to deal with their parents’ divorce & dating around.

        They’ve seen the results of a friend’s Catholic parents divorce & the sudden change in their giggly friend now rarely smiles. Her mom remarried a guy she didn’t like, didn’t trust. Dictionary “love “. Statistics show 2nd marriages fail more often, and sooner than first. God hates divorce. Love never fails. Like does. Most people think their like is love, but it’s not, it’s just emotions & hormones, based on if they get their way . Love isn’t selfish. Love gives without limit. Dictionary “love ” wants a fair return on investment. All religions & lack of are based on false love that we are all born with the first time, business deal love. Only Jesus gives and helps us have love that cannot fail.

        John 3:7 KJV
        Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

        John 6:66-68 KJV
        From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. [67] Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? [68] Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

        Our son wants to go to the ALERT Academy. Dad used to be in the army, and boot camp almost killed him. Our son is wise, already dragging mom on endurance hikes to get ready for the crazy hard ALERT endurance hike. He’ll be ready.


  5. Lana March 18, 2013 / 9:34 pm

    Your testimony of alert is exactly like my friends. I am so thankful I was not a guy, or my parents would have likely sent me there as we did ATI for years.


  6. Carrie McMahan March 19, 2013 / 1:21 am

    Awesome. Thank you. I was an original 102 family in ATI. the ALERT program has terrified me thank goodness we were out before that occurred. I am raising four children that would terrify Bill Gothard. They question everything. Keep up the good work, although I do have to admit I know some great homeschoolers that I had to begrudgingly get to know. They have NONE of the issues we had…they do a co-op kind of schooling. Would love to hear more from you. Carrie.


    • The Moon is a Naked Banana August 19, 2014 / 5:59 pm

      ‘I am raising four children that would terrify Bill Gotherd.’
      Ha ha I love it! That should be our aim.


  7. Joy March 22, 2013 / 7:32 am

    I love to read stories from people I can relate to. As a former ATI-er, I also went to college and had professors that challenged things in my mind that were originally black and white to me. I changed my major from nursing to psychology and never regretted it, although my father has let me know that he is disappointed with the “brainwashing of liberal thinking” that I’ve been injected with. I’ve finally developed my own moral compass. It feels good.

    In other news, it’s taking me much longer to learn and appreciate all that 80s pop culture that I missed… I was playing Cranium with a bunch of friends and got a “Humdinger” : Billy Jean by Michael Jackson. I had NO idea what that song was and no one believed it… 🙂


    • Jessica December 18, 2013 / 8:31 pm

      I was home-schooled as a child and I experienced minimal education, tyrannical religious indoctrinations and abuse, and no socialization. I am currently almost finished with a doctorate in psychology and I was told that psychology is from the devil. It has taken many years to learn to deal with the trauma I experienced as child and I still regularly struggle with daily life experiences causing PTSD reactions, despite being out of my parents home for over 12 years. I also have a huge deficit concerning popular culture and sometimes struggle with feeling out of place because of this.


  8. Karen Loethen March 27, 2013 / 5:40 am

    Thank you for telling your story and CONGRATS for making it “OUT”.


  9. CJ April 9, 2013 / 1:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing your ALERT story. I’ve been looking around to see if anyone one has addressed the “just cry out to God/prove your faith by your works (i.e. by passing basic training)/Some flaw in your character or relationship with God is why you’re not passing inspection” spiritually abusive theology taught at Big Sandy. Thanks for mentioning. Have you thought about writing a article for P.S. I was kicked out of ALERT too after being told I didn’t know God personally.


    • Ralph April 20, 2013 / 3:30 am

      CJ, You should share more of your ALERT story. What year did you go? I heard they revamped the whole program around 2006 when my parents got an apology letter from the institute saying they realized they were pushing too hard and were sorry for any misunderstandings… or something like that. All I could wonder was where’s my apology was for your misunderstandings causing permanent damage to my back?
      “Don’t know God personally”? I heard something like that after the 3rd time they caught me writing U2 song lyrics and such in my devotional journal during morning “quiet time.” The way I looked at it they didn’t give us enough time to sleep at night, then they wanted us to stay awake and read the Bible, pray, and write at least a paragraph of substantial spiritual revelation every morning? Sorry, I never got past stay awake because reading puts me to sleep. So I found a was to get placed

      Liked by 1 person

      • CJ February 20, 2014 / 8:25 pm

        Since you asked, 2006 was when I went. Below is a portion of an article I was was going to post with RG but decided not to. Another note about ALERT is I’ve met guys who’ve said they know several former ALERT men who are now involved in drugs and alcohol. I’ve also met several ALERT graduates who have disrespectful attitudes toward authority, rules, work, others, and have very prideful and complaining attitudes. Basically the opposite of what ALERT claims to produce.

        Thinking going through ALERT would help my confidence, I went and failed miserably, which was a cause of shame for me for a long time. That’s just half of it. I was spiritually abused by a cadre who asked why I hadn’t prayed during a very rushed, stressful situation. I told the truth, it didn’t cross my mind. He pronounced to my face that I didn’t know God. The whole atmosphere was one of spiritual and verbal abuse, with staff and cadre telling us that they were testing our faith and if we failed at something, then God wasn’t pleased with our faith, that God’s answer to our prayers was dependent upon our actions and amount of humility. Phrases such as “Faith without works is dead” and “prove your faith by your works” were tossed out meaning that regulations and manual tasks command by the cadre were the works, thus making the cadre the judge of your faith. The guys who were held up as examples for following all the Pharisaic rules often displayed few fruits of the Spirit and were skilled at deceiving and braking rules behind the cadre’s back. The whole “no excuse, sir” rule broke down honesty and communication. There was even dishonesty at the graduation ceremony, when the captain said that the recruits had memorized the entire book of 1 Peter: they left out the last five verses. So much for attention to detail.


    • Warbler September 6, 2013 / 5:07 pm

      There is a “sister moms” series and a “TeenPact” series.
      Why not an Alert series?

      As a female, I only went to Journey to the Heart, but that was a mixed experience for me. My family was borderline ATI (bought some stuff and went to seminars but never joined) thanks to my dad attending a seminar in the 80s and my grandparents support of it till this day.


  10. Lois Brown Loar April 17, 2013 / 4:23 pm

    CJ, I’m sure God was not amused by that. What did He say when they dissed your relationship with Him?

    The more I read, the more glad I am that we never got into that. We could have….I was the problem….parenting out of fear instead of faith backed up by grace.

    Thank you, Ralph, for sharing your experience.


  11. Regal Swan (@AlexIsAwake) April 24, 2013 / 10:16 am

    I would really like to read more details about what ATI is like from those who attended the program. Also, would love to know more about Journey to the Heart. I feel like there is no way to get a true understanding of what it is like without hearing from those who have been through it. It sounds absolutely awful and definitely emotionally, if not physically, abusive. Does anyone know what kind of improvements they’ve done since 2006 to make the program “better”?


  12. Michelle September 6, 2013 / 4:20 pm

    Ralph, thanks for your story. Some people don’t understand what this homeschooling culture is like. Homeschooling is one thing, if you kids has special needs and you’ve decided it’s best for a period of time…. but for us it is a way of life, THE way of life. It’s obsessive, abusive, and so many other things. I’m so glad that these stories are getting out there so that kids who are being raised in it can know that they are not alone.


  13. Heidi Underhill September 6, 2013 / 5:50 pm

    For our family homeschooling has been a way of life. I am a mom with 3 children and right now 1 foster child. I do see homeschooling as a way of life. My husband and I both grew up in the public school system. My husband went to the Bill Gothard things a lot in the 0’s with his family. When we got married – I looked through the books and threw them away. I think that there are many ways and method to home school. We never use use ATI. We use Charlotte Mason with Sonlight. Both these methods are a lot different then what you describe. I fear that all homeschoolers get lumped together.

    I am deeply sad for the kids that had to live through this and be abused that way. My kids and I talk about everything. They always ask question. The most recent that shocked me but I answered calmly was for my 11 year old daughter, “Mom – whats pole dancing” UGGGG. just saying not all families are the same.


  14. shade ardent September 7, 2013 / 12:36 am

    i wasn’t homeschooled, but ATI and iblp instructed so many of my years at private christian schools. the same levels of social isolation and physical pushing from authority are now what i see as part of a pattern. it’s designed to break children until they’ve no more strength to ask any questions.

    i agree – raise adults instead of children.


  15. Christine October 15, 2013 / 9:10 pm

    We are a homeschooling family and I’m a little alarmed by this story. Since when has homeschooling been about isolating and abusing children? My four kids are very mainstream, choose their own music to listen to, their own friends, their own fashion, etc. My husband and I are Reformed Christians but my oldest considers himself agnostic and as his mother I respect his curiosity about other faiths and whole heartedly encourage him to explore faith on his own. We read and use many secular textbooks, classic literature and yes…teach both Sociology and Psychology. We homeschool so that our children actually learn about the world so that they will be educated, productive, compassionate citizens. My kids work outside of the home and take college courses at a Big Ten school. Homeschooling is not the problem. Extreme fundamentalism is the problem and it exists everywhere, including government institutions. Personally, I enjoy my freedom to engage my kids in educational pursuits and I think while I am sorry your experience was so terrible, demonizing homeschooling based on your narrow perspective is closed minded and “rejecting knowledge”.
    Never stop growing. Peace.


    • Jane, A Female Deer November 4, 2013 / 7:25 pm

      Christine, he is not demonizing homeschooling, so I really didn’t think it was fair for you to call him narrow, close minded, or “rejecting knowledge.” He is just telling his story.

      Ralph, you kind of lost me when you referred to the ridiculous dress code nearly identical to Mormons… I have been a member of the LDS church and I love the church dearly even though I am no longer religious. I’m not sure what dress code you’re referring to 🙂 I guess you’re talking about missionaries? I hope you’re not indirectly comparing our beloved missionaries and the MTC to your experiences?


      • Another Halocene Human November 17, 2013 / 1:56 pm

        There are fundamentalist Mormons in some pockets of the West but I’m wondering if he meant Mennonites? Dress codes vary but they’re kind of famous for it.


      • Nathan Straub February 3, 2014 / 5:55 pm

        Just goes to show that a culture (and its dress) looks different from the inside than from the outside. For those who really wanted to belong in ATI events, the blue and white wasn’t so bad… for those who didn’t want to conform, it was embarrassing. I didn’t like wearing the blue and white at conferences, but I didn’t mind at all wearing business casual while teaching in Taiwan under Institute sponsorship.


    • Another Halocene Human November 17, 2013 / 1:54 pm

      If you want a real answer to that question (I’m sure it was rhetorical) it was when many states pulled back on truancy, child protection, and regulation of home schooling because of budget cuts or ideology. That made it a fertile ground for misogynists, child abusers, child molesters, and abusive pastors who push marginal parents over the edge to enhance their control over their “flock”.

      If homeschoolers had to submit approved lesson plans to authorities, as in California, submit to regular inhome checks (a la HeadStart) and annual wellcare medical checkups (as in Germany), if children were required to be assessed for learning disabilities and those with learning disabilities required to be accommodated with cooperation by parents (rather than beaten for having a “demon inside”)–again, HeadStart sends PTs to the home for some disabled children, home schooling would not be such a breeding ground for this stuff.

      Also, homeschooling looks like an answer to the very existential question for holy rollers about what to do about losing control over schools and control (illusory) over those young minds. The US courts have taken a dim view towards white evangelicals attempting to bully, forcibly convert, and otherwise marginalize adherents to minority religions within public schools. The courts also mandated desegregation, religious neutrality, and even (gasp) have repeatedly upheld the notion that sectarian religious dogma cannot be taught in science class. The notion is if you can’t win, change the game. Of course, no outside influence is pure enough and these families and communities collapse into themselves. The structure of these communities seems to enable, even make worse, abusive, cruel, violence, and sexually coercive behavior. Often families are afraid of other families and so on.

      Very similar behavior occurs in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in the US and Israel. They speak Yiddish and don’t teach their children English or spoken modern Hebrew to avoid outside influence. Their leaders have been implicated in child rape and have been caught ordering the murder of dissidents in their communities. So it isn’t the religion, it’s the closed nature of the community, the authoritarianism, the families who have too many kids and too little means of support who are utterly dependent upon the religious leaders.

      It’s very sad. And the kids emerge very damaged.


      • Hugh Gaston March 3, 2014 / 11:05 am

        To point out a few extreme situations of sexual abuse, and say the entire system needs to be regulated to the nth degree isn’t just laughable.. it’s outright ludicrous. In making such a statement you are inferring a great many things, not the least of which being that you believe there is a complete lack of sexual abuse in government programs. Not to mention the endless myriad of perils involved with attending any program today. There is no corner of our society that evil has not touched, even the Amish community has been victimized by gun violence. I’m not even going to go into test scores, sexting, bullying, etc.
        Any teacher will tell you, a concerned and involved parent is 100% better than a disinterested government employee when it comes to child rearing. A parent should have the right to raise their kids with minimal interference from government. To suppose some government worker does not have an agenda is to deny that they have a soul, and are only arbitrary robots and arms of the body politic. Either way I think I would rather raise my child and leave all the high-minded ideas on child rearing to the intellectuals and not to the agents with guns.
        Incidentally, I attended ALERT and had a varied educational upbringing which included ATI, public schooling, and private school. I can say I agree with most everything the author stated. That being said, my child will be attending private school or, if we can’t afford it, will be in public school with a large part of his education supplemented by his parents.
        I do not choose to homeschool my child, however I enjoy having the freedom to change that decision if I feel the need to. I can tell you one thing, prior to going into combat in Iraq I never once thought about how willing I am to sacrifice my life so that all the children of this great nation can have someone they’ve never met check into their welfare, and have the power to completely supplant them from their family.


      • Patricia August 1, 2014 / 5:08 pm

        A correction…California exercises very little oversight of homeschoolers. There is no requirement to submit lesson plans to anyone. You may be thinking of families who educate their children within the framework of a virtual charter school or ISP, and are required to follow the guidelines of those public schools. Independent homeschoolers are only required to keep attendance records.


      • Marie August 27, 2014 / 6:38 am

        Hugh’s point is well taken. How much freedom do we want to give up for a few? But I also have to say, it’s not just fundamentalists in the homeschooling sphere who are the problem. I met a woman this winter who was homeschooling her children out of fear of the public schools–she was not religious. She had made them out to be the big bogey man. It was sad to see how far behind her children were compared to my public school deviants. Her kids had no friends, and behaved inappropriately–they were violent–either they had undiagnosed mental learning disabilities or their lack of contact with the outside world had seriously stunted them. She just “didn’t have time for homeschool groups”. She did have money though, and kept inviting us on outings we could not afford.


      • Marie August 27, 2014 / 6:41 am

        FWIW I have a homeschool friend whose kids are great. She is very Christian, but doesn’t insist her kids friends be Christian, and they are active in the neighborhood community. She participates in a homeschool co-op, and her kids are great. I think if you homeschool out of fear, problems emerge.


    • lmanningok August 16, 2014 / 6:40 am

      Christine, What government institutions are extreme and in what way? If they’re out there, as Americans we have a right to check them out and challenge or even eliminate them through the proper legal processes if needed.


  16. Greg McPhearson February 4, 2014 / 1:21 pm

    My father used to BRAG that I was “socially retarded” to people we met, that he had “made sure I was raised that way” because it would make sure I was not “corrupted” by the “outside world”. Guess what Dad? It worked. Still can’t socialize well at 30 years of age.


    • Dee June 21, 2014 / 8:37 pm

      I homeschooled/homeschool my children. I wanted them to have more freedom to learn and to play and just be children. Most parents do not want their children to get hurt (especially life altering hurts like sexual abuse, or drug use that leads to permanent effects.) I am sorry you are having trouble socializing right now. I ask you to consider forgiving your folks (b/c EVERYONE makes mistakes, everyone sins and everyone has issues/troubles) and find something you enjoy, then find others who are doing the same. I am 45 and had some social anxieties, but over the years I have discovered even the folks I thought were the coolest, all had some social issues. We all just want to be accepted and loved. I bet you are coolier than you know!


      • Jeremiah August 24, 2014 / 2:02 pm

        Forgiving someone who openly brags about what he did to you is iffy at best. It wasnt a mistake-the man did it intentionally. “Everyone sins”: I feel the need to bring up the fact that this horrible platitude has the frightening effect of lumping victims with their tormentors. I have the right to have any issues/troubles imaginable, I do not have the right to FORCE those issues/troubles on someone else. When you have been permanently. maliciously. harmed. by someone that you depended on for food, shelter,educationetc. it is natural to feel a certain amount of resentment. I am gratefull for the fact that you seem to want to give this man some helpfull advice-however-“forgiving” someone who has damaged you in this way requires the forebearance of either a saint or a coward.
        I apoligise profusley for the snappiness(if not outright meaness) of this comment-its just-that his comment struck a nerve and I… im sorry its
        wow tommorrow morning im really going to regret haveing posted this:)


  17. CB February 15, 2014 / 6:09 pm

    Homeschooling is as limiting or enriching as parents choose to make it. I’m sorry yours chose the narrow route. Our daughter had the opposite experience – being encouraged to spread her wings and soar wherever her interests led. Subsequent paths in college, internships and exciting adventures here and abroad have all helped her to become the independent woman she is today. It’s not about “homeschooling” but the approach taken.


  18. BC February 20, 2014 / 7:08 pm

    My brother went to ALERT in the summer of 2000. During that time he ended up crushing his knee to the point that the orthopedic surgeon was afraid he would have to give a 19 year old a total knee replacement. When my brother complained of serious knee pain during the long trek (and he is known for having a high pain tolerance), instead of getting an x-ray like they would have done in the military, they said he was lazy and wouldn’t cut it. They called my parents multiple times DAILY to tell them that my brother was lazy. The thing is that he was and is known for his work ethic. When the orthopedic surgeon took an x-ray of his knee (and subsequent CT and MRI). We were told that Mr. Gothard would call to personally apologize to my brother, but that never happened. Neither were there any changes for several years.


  19. nate February 21, 2014 / 11:12 am

    I went to ALERT and loved basic (sortof). But I went when I was 24 & doing it just for the hell of it. We had a night of rain before the 24 and all my gear was soaked. He is right – it’s a 24 hour 55ish mile hike up and down the closest thing to mountains Oklahoma has.

    I get get a hernia that had to be fixed via surgery afterwards. I feel they have eased up significantly from individual borderline abuse. But it is defiantly physically strenuous – and crosses the line into recklessness when people are injured.


    • lmanningok August 16, 2014 / 11:07 am

      Did you mean “definitely” physically strenuous? “Defiantly” means something else.


  20. happilytiffany February 22, 2014 / 12:32 pm

    Hi from another formerly “socially inept” homeschooler. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I totally agree with your conclusion to “stop ‘raising children’, start raising responsible and educated adults who will not only be beneficial to society, but understand how to be a part of it.” Wish all homeschoolers would do something more like this. I’m also encouraged by your choice of area of study; I really enjoy psychology and philosophy, and my major is English writing (took me a while to “settle” on one when there was so much I wanted to learn. Think they call it dilettantism.)

    [HA moderator note: one word changed due to ableist language.]


  21. Kris February 28, 2014 / 5:47 am

    Honesty is so important. Thank you for sharing your story, Ralph. While we homeschool, we have always been leery of the “movement.”


  22. One of the others February 28, 2014 / 11:25 pm

    The pain was tough but the training was real and I still use the skills learned to this day.
    I feel terrible when I hear about the the injuries and uncaring way some of you were treated.
    My experience at ALERT was different. To me it was the single most empowering event of my life.
    My winter boot camp was in MI. After completion, I felt like I could do ANYTHING. Second and third phase were in TX, where I learned HOW to do so much.
    While I have never been a “model” of “Christian” behavior, I never felt insecure in who I was. The good things learned during my home education have served me well in my adult life. The fundamental legalistic ideas seem to shed away with a little testing, as long as you don’t rely on them for your identity.
    Today I am married with two young kids and run a decently successful business.
    I just wish there was a way to take the good I experienced at ALERT and duplicate that experience for every man Ill served in the program.


  23. Dale Switzer March 1, 2014 / 10:21 am

    Children who are raised to “swim upstream” against societal norms often develop the ironic ability to resist the opinions of their parents. Calling a child “prideful” because he has the integrity to insist on honesty is common in certain evangelical circles, but it is a big mistake.


  24. linsjoys March 6, 2014 / 8:07 pm

    I appreciate to hear all sides of the story.My background is Amish.I find myself very hesitant to sent my kids to public school. but quite honestly I would sent them to public if anywhere.All I have ever done was homeschooled.But I do not mix religion with it.We are very open minded and so are our kids.The first two years outside the Amish we attended a church that homeschooled etc. very similiar to what you described.For the past 3 years we are not part of any group.Our kids watch all kinds of shows and do all kinds of games.From reading your post what I gathered was it’s not homeschooling that hurt and damaged you so much as the religion.I have read alot of homeschooled success stories,as well as unschooled kids saying how well they succeed.To say Homeschooling is a cult seems unfair.I think when you mix religion and force your own way above the kids and push your thought and opinions over your kids and force them into programs when it becomes a cult.Even kids attending public school can be in a cultic atmosphere at home.My best of wishes to your journey in life.


    • lauren March 7, 2014 / 5:19 am

      Very well said.


  25. Jonathan March 7, 2014 / 4:02 pm

    I definitely agree with you on a lot of what you had to say Ralph! I don’t think it is a good idea for parents to isolate their children from society. The Bible made it clear that we were to be in the world but not of it. I would like to clear up one issue though. And that is what you had to say about ALERT. I am not calling you a liar but times change. I cannot speak about what ALERT was like when you went through earlier on but I can speak about my experience and what ALERT is now. ALERT became independent of ATI somewhere back in the 2000’s and does not really use their materials anymore. About 70% of all the students coming through are from public schools or circles outside of ATI. The leadership is fantastic and they are striving after God using His Word; not any legalistic teachings. All in all they are a great ministry and it is really cool to see the lives that they are impacting with Christ!


    • sonnylg March 9, 2014 / 10:35 pm

      I think Ralph was spot on with his assessment from his perspective of Basic Training only. However, to see the young men in ALERT at work was to witness a work ethic and care without equal. All of that hard work was put to use, and I will say that I may not have lasted those days in disaster recovery without that stringent physical training. And many people were helped.
      That being said, I was almost kicked out for humming a Creed tune (humming… apparently my squad leader had heard the tune.. and for a joke about someone taking too long in the bathroom, two separate instances and two separate HUGE issues with leadership).


  26. timsarmywifey March 8, 2014 / 7:40 am

    Thank you for sharing your story! I am so grateful that while we have homeschooled since 97 we were never part of ATI … I hope others will listen and know that you can homeschool and raise well adjusted, socially adept, intellegent children/adults! BLessings to you


    • Julia Wood May 8, 2014 / 4:14 pm

      @ timsarmywife,
      I was always considered “well-adapted” and adults and children alike were BAFFLED at how well I got along with EVERYONE of all ages. ATI or not, please consider if homeschooling is truly the best option for your children’s education and their future. College was HARD for me. Very, VERY hard. Is this the best for THEIR future, or is it the best because of YOUR beliefs? Additionally, if you want to have a better impact on your children’s belief system, allow them to be “exposed” to “secular” education and the students in it. Let them be exposed to it while your opinion still matters.

      Don’t wait for their first exposure to a room with 30+++ adults who ALL have a different life story, different belief system, different upbringings be as “adults.” Because no matter how well equipped you think you are at educating your children, all the homeschooling groups in the world, all the youth group conventions, or sports teams cannot provide that experience that a classroom provides.


  27. anon April 12, 2014 / 3:40 am

    Right on. these groups hurt people so much.


  28. Julia Wood May 8, 2014 / 4:03 pm

    I read the first paragraph and said to my little sister that it’s as if someone crawled into my heart and wrote my exact thoughts on homeschooling. Down to the finishing paragraph. Thank you for sharing your story. It is so very similar to mine. However, I will say that it seems ATI was much kinder to men, than to women.Perhaps not physically, but it certainly intended to beat women down so that they knew their place. After all, the men are “God’s chosen” and women and children are secondary in God’s plan. “Scripture proves this.” …Their curriculum taught. My family thankfully wasn’t part of ATI for very long. But even *a* day spent as part of ATI is a day too long. My parents also believe I’ve been “lead astray” in my education (Psychology).

    I hope you receive these comments. Thank you so much for your openness and honesty. I’d hug you if I met you.


  29. The Moon is a Naked Banana August 19, 2014 / 6:04 pm

    When I was 13 I wrote and ‘published’ (sending out via email to all the homeschoolers we knew) a newsletter on ‘natural learning’ and education. (I believe unschooling is the more common term). Nearly all of our friends were ACE users, and they were very offended by what I wrote in the newsletter. My mum was very proud she had a thinking daughter, and didn’t care what others thought. However, one day another mum told her that she had heard from another parent that it was ‘disgraceful that she was allowing her daughter to be so forward when she was only 13’. I was thrilled when my mum told me about this. It meant my writing must be good if I made someone mad 🙂 I still get a strange kind of kick when I make people mad with what I say.
    I guess some things never change.


  30. Kimberlynn70 October 30, 2014 / 2:09 pm

    I stumbled up on this website from an article on Facebook about the Purity movement and an article on the Duggars. Never knew about any of this, coming from your typical suburban liberal household. I cant believe TLC is ok with the Duggars, with all this info about the things they are involved in. This is very informative. Everyone telling their stories is very courageous. I wish the best for everyone.


  31. joem789567 January 10, 2015 / 12:07 pm

    Your parents had the best of intentions. But they fell for the same pitfalls as most other people who choose to follow churches and their religious ideologies. Christ never told us to follow men. Who told us to follow Him. That means to live with the Spirit of GOD in your life. A big distinction from the typical churchgoing Christian. Because churchgoers of “of the world”. True followers of Christ live in purpose. They carry the Spirit and they do not fall away. My wife and I live in a camper with three kids. We homeschool. And we do shelter them. But we are in touch with their needs. And we make sure they are fulfilled. That includes “some” socializing. But it is regulated and monitored. Because society is very corrupt and goes against moral principles.

    You’re parents tried to do what was best. And clearly they failed because you do not follow Christ. And for the record, I could care less what kind of terminology society makes up. There is no such thing as “socially retarded”.


  32. Notthepersonjustthemind March 21, 2015 / 12:50 am

    This spoke to me. Thank You for sharing this. We need more
    People like you to tell the world the truth


  33. Icy dice April 10, 2015 / 3:32 pm

    OMG i litterly cried for you. I cant even imagine having parents like that. My parents are the exact opposite. When I was 5 my parents always taught me with the “hard way” because my dad said I was alway stubborn and I didn’t belive it till I saw it. And when I turn 12 my parents nearly cried tears of joy they could finally leave me alone in the house without getting in trouble. I always got in trouble with babysitters.
    And when I turned 15 my parents took it as their cue to start cursing like the sailors they are. (They are both in the navy)


    • lauren April 12, 2015 / 5:07 am



  34. Ashley May 8, 2015 / 8:52 pm

    Thanks for sharing I’m a 20 year old female and I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in this my grandmother raised me since i was a baby and i feel like im in a prison she lives with me now but she still likes to run things she’s a Christian so am i but she gossips or judge people i don’t wanna end up like her if i don’t do something her way she says i don’t know what to do with you you better ask God to help you all i can do is pray for you or if a guy likes me or i like a guy something wrong with it her excuse is i don’t think God will send you a man on the bus or the store things she say makes me feel like ima big time sinner and i don’t know how to really speak up for myself to her she says im defending myself lol so that social retarded yes i am socially retarded and i don’t think a Christian should act like that or try to shelter a grown person still looking at them and treating them like a child I’ve thought about kicking her out my place as well but i don’t know if i should


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s