Bill Gothard on Education: Jeri Lofland’s Thoughts

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Jeri’s post was originally published on her blog Heresy in the Heartland  on September 8, 2013. It is reprinted with her permission. Also by Jeri on HA: “Generational Observations”, “Of Isolation and Community”“His Quiver Full of Them”, “David Noebel, Summit Ministries, and the Evil of Rock”, and “The Political Reach of Bill Gothard”.

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.

Inge Cannon (pictured here with her husband) helped Gothard develop the ATI curriculum in the early 1980's. She later directed HSLDA's National Center for Home Education.
Inge Cannon (pictured here with her husband) helped Gothard develop the ATI curriculum in the early 1980’s. She later directed HSLDA’s National Center for Home Education.

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.

The Political Reach of Bill Gothard: Jeri Lofland’s Thoughts

Bill Gothard, Mike Huckabee, and the Leiningers at a 2007 Huckabee for President fundraiser.
Bill Gothard, Mike Huckabee, and the Leiningers at a 2007 Huckabee for President fundraiser.

Jeri’s post was originally published on her blog Heresy in the Heartland  on September 5, 2013. It is reprinted with her permission. Also by Jeri on HA: “Generational Observations”, “Of Isolation and Community”, “His Quiver Full of Them”, and “David Noebel, Summit Ministries, and the Evil of Rock”.

With Bill Gothard’s ceaseless emphasis on authority, obedience, and chain-of-command, it should be no surprise that he is compulsively attracted to men (and more rarely, women) whom he perceives to be in a position of power. He believes without question that his organization has answers that can solve the problems faced by any public official, if they can only work together to promote Gothard’s vision.

This characteristic has resulted in an extensive mycelial network whereby Gothard silently influences public policy across the country.

Its reach is difficult to measure, however. While Gothard loves to privately advertise his latest affiliations, he always exaggerates their scope or significance. And he frequently drops an old project when something shinier comes along.

Below I list some of Gothard’s better-known political alliances*. Since I left the organization in 1999, there are undoubtedly more fibers of connection now than I am able to trace here. As time passes, however, we can also see more clearly whether his “new approach” has yielded “lasting solutions” for those who have advocated them.

*There is no doubt that Gothard favors conservative political causes. I once heard him describe Rush Limbaugh as “our man on the radio”.

INDIANA

During his two terms as mayor of Indianapolis, Stephen Goldsmith partnered with Gothard to create the Indianapolis Training Center, selling a city-owned building to IBLP for a token $1 around 1993. During Goldsmith’s unsuccessful bid for Governor, ITC staff (many of them minors, most from other states, some salaried by the non-profit IBLP and others paying for the educational opportunity of working there) assisted the mayor’s campaign, running a mailing center from the top floor of the hotel and handing out campaign literature at polling places on Election Day. Some even registered to vote in Marion County to support him.

George W. Bush later made Goldsmith his chief domestic policy adviser. 

Goldsmith “helped formulate the president’s ‘faith-based initiatives’, which give tax dollars to churches.” In 2010, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg chose Goldsmith to be his deputy mayor of operations, a position which included oversight of law enforcement agencies.

Goldsmith’s domestic policy came into question when he was arrested for assaulting his wife, Margaret in their home. Though Margaret later recanted her story, Goldsmith was pressured to resign. According to Mr. Bloomberg, “I think that domestic violence is a phenomenally serious scourge on our society. We work very hard to attack the problem of domestic violence and the implication — the accusation — unfortunately made it untenable for him to continue to work for the city.” Stephen Goldsmith filed for divorce earlier this year.

Back in Indianapolis, Margaret Goldsmith had worked for juvenile court judge James Payne, who used his court to send delinquent Marion County youth to the Indianapolis Training Center as an alternative juvenile detention facility. Despite investigations into allegations of child abuse at the ITC, Judge Payne was made Director of Indiana Department of Child Services, a post from which he resigned last year after charges of interference with a DCS neglect case involving his grandchildren.

FLORIDA

With support from followers Rep. Steven Wise (R-Jacksonville) and now-Congressman Dan Webster (R-Orlando), Gothard considered opening a similar youth training center in Jacksonville, Florida in 1997. Though that never materialized, Jacksonville children were sent by the court system to the correctional residential program at ITC.

Delinquent youths were designated “Leaders-In-Training” and spent their days studying the Bible, watching Bill Gothard lecture videos, doing the chores necessary to run a hotel, filling in homeschooling workbooks from Accelerated Christian Education, memorizing character qualities, and dressing up for dinner. Denim, television, and rock music were strictly forbidden. Discipline reportedly included solitary confinement in “prayer rooms” and spanking without parental notification.

According to The Cult Education Institute, former Florida governor Jeb Bush “implemented Gothard’s controversial character education program, Character First!, at his charter school in Liberty City.

The governor also publicly encouraged the Palm Beach County School Board to approve Character First!, which is also listed as a model program in state law.”  (Watch for more on the Character Training Institute in a future post.)

ARKANSAS

Gothard touts former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee‘s name on materials promoting his “Character Cities” initiative. The two were photographed together at a private campaign luncheon in Houston in late 2007.

For years, Gothard cultivated close ties to Huckabee, an alumnus of Gothard’s “Basic Seminar”, and to Jim Dailey, mayor of Little Rock. With encouragement from Mayor Dailey, Gothard opened his Little Rock Training Center in an empty VA hospital purchased by Hobby Lobby and donated to Gothard’s Institute.

Despite Gothard’s grandiose vision, the enormous structure was in poor repair and was never utilized as fully as the Indianapolis facility. Still, it served as a base for the Institute’s prison ministry. Gothard quotes Governor Huckabee’s support for conducting his seminars for Arkansas inmates: “I am confident that these are some of the best programs available for instilling character into the lives of people.”

Having gotten his foot in the door in Arkansas, Gothard combined forces with CCA, the nation’s largest operator of privatized correctional institutions, to promote his intense lecture-based seminars inside more prisons.

Gothard was enthusiastic about character education being made mandatory in Arkansas schools and visualized schools restructured into age-integrated “learning teams” instead of age-segregated classrooms. The Institute also operated a secretive character-building Eagle Springs program for youth in rural Altheimer, Arkansas. (The Eagle Springs program was later moved to Skiatook, Oklahoma. Many allegations of corruption and abuse have been made by girls who participated in the program involuntarily.)

Another Gothard devotee is Jim Bob Duggar, a Springdale Republican who served two terms in the State House, now best known for the reality show “Nineteen Kids & Counting“. Not only are the Duggars enrolled in Gothard’s homeschooling program, the Advanced Training Institute, their family website links to at least twenty Institute programs and calls Gothard’s organization their “#1 Recommended Resource“. Jim Bob and wife Michelle are featured speakers at ATI national conferences.

Though Duggar lost his last two election bids, he hasn’t abandoned politics. During the 2012 presidential primary, Jim Bob and his well-known family campaigned for candidate Rick Santorum. Duggar’s oldest daughter has worked closely with the current IBLP indoctrination program for girls, while his oldest son now directs political lobbying for the conservative Family Research Council.

OKLAHOMA

The Family Research Council was founded by Jerry Regier* in 1983. He was succeeded as president by Gary Bauer and eventually became a versatile member of Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating’s administration. Regier was Keating’s Cabinet Secretary of Health and Human Services as well as Acting Director of the State Department of Health, tasked with reinventing “the scandal-ridden” agency. Like Mayor Goldsmith in Indianapolis, he is a proponent of partnerships between government departments and the faith community. Under his leadership, Oklahoma became inundated with materials from the Institute’s character training program, which was largely created at Gothard’s training center campus in the heart of Oklahoma City.

According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, “Regier brought Character First! management training to the Department of Juvenile Justice [in Oklahoma]. In this program, employees are recognized on their anniversaries and birthdays for certain character traits they exhibit. He encouraged the use of several of Gothard’s programs with juvenile offenders before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 1996, including a “log cabin ministry” that places juvenile offenders in cabins in the wilderness with peers who are trained by Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute.”

Like the Indianapolis Training Center, the Oklahoma building was formerly a hotel. It was purchased by Kimray, Inc. and leased to IBLP for $1 a year. Kimray is run by Tom Hill, who served on Gothard’s Board of Directors for over a decade and piloted the secular adaptation of Gothard’s “character qualities” in his company.

Gothard gathered support from numerous state and local officials prior to establishing operations in Oklahoma. A 1994 news article lists several:

Several local officials wrote letters to Mayor Ron Norick supporting Gothard’s program, including state Rep. Carolyn Coleman, R-Moore, and Sen.Howard Hendrick, R-Bethany. Both joined other local officials in a visit to Gothard’s juvenile education center in a renovated Indianapolis hotel last spring.

With them were Richard DeLaughter, assistant Oklahoma City police chief, and John Foley, director of Oklahoma County’s juvenile division.

DeLaughter said… the facility emphasizes the Bible “so it obviously is not for every kid and every family. ” “I don’t think anybody thought it was the end all and be all answer for every one of our juvenile problems,” he said. “As an option, it was pretty good. “

Rep. Joan Greenwood (R-Moore) was a homeschooling mom who used Gothard’s curriculum. Howard Hendrick later served as Director of Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services. At Hendrick’s retirement, he was replaced by former Oklahoma City prosecutor Wes Lane, who has been a speaker at Gothard’s “Character Cities” conferences. On the DHS Commission, Lane was responsible for investigations into cases of child abuse and neglect.

Congresswoman Mary Fallin (now Governor of Oklahoma) joined Tom Hill and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett in welcoming attendees at a Character First! conference. That 2009 conference was held at the refurbished hotel where I served as an ATI student volunteer in 1999. I remember the character posters on the walls in the lobby, and reciting Bible passages to one of the “adults” (I was in my twenties) before dinner–the only meal offered on Sundays–was served in the dining room.* (Governor Keating later recommended Jerry Regier for a post in Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s administration. When Bush made Regier his Secretary of Children and Families, Regier quickly implemented the CharacterFirst! program within the department. Regier now works in the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.)

GEORGIA

Sonny Perdue, former governor of Georgia, has spoken at national IBLP conferences. The Insurance Commissioner for the State of Georgia, Ralph Hudgens, is not only an ATI homeschooling dad but also sits on the Institute’s mostly harmless Board of Directors.

TEXAS

Another “advisory board” member whose name no longer appears on the IBLP website is San Antonio billionaire Dr. James Leininger, a shrewd investor described as “one of the most powerful people in Texas politics”. Leininger and Rick Perry have had a rewarding symbiotic relationship for many years as Perry rose through Texas state politics. See a photo of Bill Gothard and Mike Huckabee with Dr. Leininger at his Houston home on Flickr.

Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX) formerly chaired the IBLP board and has recognized Gothard’s Institute from the House floor.

Of Isolation and Community: Jeri Lofland’s Story, Part Two

Jeri’s story was originally published on her blog Heresy in the Heartland. It is reprinted with her permission. The first part of Jeri’s contribution to HA is “Generational Observations.”

I took the bus to Willow Hill Elementary for kindergarten and first grade. At recess my friends and I would play hopscotch, jump rope, explore, or make-believe together. Occasionally, they would invite me to their homes to play or for a birthday party. I was active in Sunday School, too. Though I was too shy to say much to them, I knew many adults at church and in my neighborhood. My parents were part of a small fellowship group and the families did lots of things together: picnics, fireworks, a hayride, swimming at the lake.

When my parents became homeschoolers, our social circle tightened. Mom was afraid the state might “take us away” if anyone reported us. One sunny morning she hauled all of us to the grocery store at what seemed like the crack of dawn to get her shopping done before “school hours”. I still played with the kids next door, but only on designated “play days”. We had the same church friends for a while, and I looked up to my Sunday School teachers, but we left our church because some people there were displeasing God. Yes, it was confusing. I rarely attended Sunday School (or youth group) after that, even when we were in churches with other kids my age. Most of my socialization now was with other homeschoolers: sledding parties, picnics, occasional field trips and converging on fields and orchards to glean free produce.

As homeschooling gained popularity, we became less concerned about being put in foster care. But then my parents joined a new group: ATIA. The Advanced Training Institute (of America) was an elite level of membership for followers of Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles (formerly Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts). My parents had attended his seminars for years. Now his homeschooling program offered a way to get the loyal, loving, godly family you always wanted. Financial freedom, stronger character, better health, and fulfilling family relationships included! Plus, all the educational materials, from math to language arts, were based directly on the Bible!

We moved across town that summer, to a farmhouse in the country. My dad started his own business: it was different to have him working from home all day. And we embarked on the new ATI adventure. Our social circled narrowed even more from that point, consisting of church acquaintances (we changed churches every few years) and conservative homeschooling friends. We saw my grandparents twice a year at most; while skeptical of many of our religious quirks, they tried not to rock the boat or criticize my parents to us kids. There were no trusted adults in my life that didn’t defend my parents’ beliefs and lifestyle choices.

We joined a larger evangelical church and my parents were admired for their dedication. With six children now, we could really fill up a pew.  Now in my mid-teens, I longed to make friends but had little in common with my peers there. Many of their activities (movies, concerts, parties, sports, even jobs) were forbidden in my family. There were hardly any other homeschoolers.  I looked forward to ATI conferences where I could meet others my age that dressed, behaved, and thought like I did. A few became penpals and are still friends today.

Later, we moved to even more conservative churches where homeschooling was the norm.  At home, there were babies to change, toddlers to feed, and children to educate; my help was sorely needed, and often appreciated. I had a friend at church, and meeting for lunch together was a rare and special treat.  There were no boyfriends, no dates. St. Paul said we should be content with food and clothing. I had a bed and three meals a day and could earn a little spending money from my dad besides. Now in my 20’s, I tried to use my loneliness to push me closer to God. I tried to mentally prepare for a life of singleness if necessary, while yearning for a soulmate of my own.

I was 22 when I moved out of state to work (unpaid) for one of Gothard’s “ministries”. My social network was limited to other cult members (we attended only churches that had been “approved” by the leadership and shopping outings were on an as-needed basis). Chores at the center were mandatory, as was scripture memory and attendance of daily morning Bible studies. Still, I made new friends from all over the country and savored the chance to live and work with peers.

After six months of volunteering for room and board, the law dictated that the Institute put me on the payroll. With only $13 left in my checking account, I was relieved to hear this! I was a minimum-wage employee for one year, moving from the Oklahoma center to the Indianapolis compound to the “Headquarters” campus in Illinois, working in three different departments before I was summarily fired because Gothard felt my 20-year-old brother threatened his authority. My parents called me late one night to tell me that Bill Gothard wanted them to pick me up the next morning and take me home to Michigan. He didn’t tell me himself, nor did my boss. Being ignorant of life “on the outside”, I had no idea how abnormal this was, but it hurt like hell. I started packing my belongings. My dad arrived at noon, I shook hands with the man I would marry two years later, and we headed “home”.

After a year and a half of full-blown work for the cult, this trip was surreal—like going back in time. I sipped my Arby’s Jamocha shake and tried to sort out what was happening.  I felt discarded, displaced, separated from friends without a chance to say goodbye. For weeks, I cried myself to sleep. I was in a place I did not want to be, and I’d had no say in the decision. In my grief, I found comfort in stroking one of the new barn kittens; it died. My mom miscarried what would have been a 12th baby. We heard that another young man who had also been exiled from the cult had drowned on the Fourth of July. The ATI director left his wife for his secretary. The whole world was going crazy and it was taking me with it.

Over the next year, I started taking more responsibility for my own life. I had my first job interview, worked part-time, visited other church groups, began to consider college courses, and applied for short-term placement with an overseas missions organization (Wycliffe Bible Translators). I spent a summer studying linguistics at the University of North Dakota and meeting all kinds of cool people from around the world. I loved college, even the exams! Away from my parents and the cult for the first time in my life, I bought my first pair of jeans, my first pair of shorts. I went to the movie theater with friends! I had my first sip of wine, my first taste of beer. I explored different churches, and enjoyed music that had once been forbidden. I spent time with guys who intrigued me, and turned down a guy who didn’t. I played my heart out on the piano. When my parents tried to exert control over my [male] friendships from hundreds of miles away, I was conflicted. I cried, but I complied.

In the fall, I flew to the Philippines where I spent ten difficult yet glorious months learning from the best mentors I could have asked for. The Wycliffe base at Nasuli was a humming multi-cultural haven set in a natural paradise. Though I assisted the missionary-linguists in their work, mostly I was being healed. From the security of friends and coworkers who loved and accepted me, I began dissecting my past and daring to think for myself. Tentatively, then with greater confidence, I let myself question the cult. I let go of deeply-embedded fears. I allowed myself to grieve over my experience with the Institute. I saw what a respectful, caring community looked like.

Nasuli was so unlike the churches and training centers I’d been part of. Here, individuality was valued; the group drew strength from diversity of opinion and expression. Instead of pasting a smile on the surface, these men and women spoke honestly of their emotional experience, both positive and negative. Rather than demanding perfection and informing on those who failed to measure up, these people tolerated each other, quirks and all, often making excuses for a neighbor’s idiosyncrasies. And nobody ever minded having fun.