ATI: Designed Around a False Education “Principle”

The Advanced Training Institute (ATI) curriculum was promoted and sold to pastors and homeschool parents as the best homeschool curriculum in the world. Instead of being the best, it has failed horribly in many ways. The ATI curriculum was produced by Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles and was designed around a false education “principle” that produces results that are opposite of what Bill Gothard stated that they would be.

I am writing this so that you or your family do not make the same mistakes that we did, and so that, if you have been affected by this false education “principle”, you might recognize its error and the effect that it has had on you or your family’s thinking. It is important that we fully understand the error of the false education “principle” so that we can make the necessary changes in our thought processes and the necessary changes in our lives. Even for those of you who were not part of the ATI program, the false education principle that Bill Gothard used has probably also had a negative effect on you as well because it has been used by many pastors, salesmen, and educators.

The education concept that was supposed to make ATI curriculum “advanced” is that of teaching by using analogies and training young people to think in analogies. Basing the curriculum on Scripture was part of the analogy process and made the curriculum unique. Using Scripture also made the ATI curriculum appear to be a very godly program. Bill Gothard used the fact that it was uniquely based around the Sermon on the Mount as a powerful selling feature that got many of us parents to want to be part of his faulty education program.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online gives a simplified definition of what an analogy is:

  • a comparison of two things based on their being alike in some way
  • the act of comparing two things that are alike in some way

I bought into the concept of the ATI curriculum back in the mid 1980’s because I thought it would by far be the best homeschool education curriculum available for my family. I did not realize at the time that Bill Gothard was a false teacher and did not always tell the truth. I did not realize that he was lying to us about what the curriculum could do in an effort to sell his new homeschool program. Gothard appeared very godly with his many insights and answers into life’s problems at a time when it seemed most pastors and teachers did not have real answers and insights. By stressing the importance of character he gained our trust that he was exhibiting one of the most basic character qualities – honesty.

When he first started ATI, Bill Gothard said that the ATI curriculum was far superior to other education materials because it taught using analogies and integrated Scripture with academic subjects. He stated that teaching individual subjects (Math, English, science, history, etc.) separately from each of the others, as is done in traditional education, prevented children from being able to have a broader scope of reasoning and thinking. The ATI curriculum was supposed to be an advanced training system because it integrated the academic subjects. However, it was soon discovered that the Wisdom Booklets (the ATI curriculum) were not adequate for teaching math and English. Traditional education curriculums had to be used to supplement the ATI curriculum and those and some other subjects were taught separately.

Gothard told us that with the content and design of the Wisdom Booklets, in 12 years the ATI program would not only give a child a high school equivalent training, but would also give the equivalent of four years of college, a pre-law, a pre-med, and a business education. The Wisdom Booklets, in reality, could not achieve even close to any of that. They were mere booklets that had to be supplemented with other textbooks. Many mothers felt frustrated, not knowing how to implement the curriculum to achieve the results that Gothard had promised (lied about). Because they thought Bill Gothard was such a Godly and honest man, they felt that their own inability was the reason why the curriculum seemed incomplete and why their children were not succeeding like others in the ATI program appeared to be succeeding.

In 1985, at his Minister’s Seminar in Washington, DC, Bill Gothard told us about the new ATI program and that it was based on the use of analogies. I have written in my notes that he said:

“We remember best by relating new ideas to what we already know.”

“People can be taught to think by learning to make analogies. The Bible is full of analogies.”

The following year, 1986, at his Minister’s Seminar in Washington, DC, Bill Gothard made the following statements:

“The ATI program – the Federal Education Board does not have tests to give the achievement! The students are acing the tests!”

“By the 12th year [a young person will have the equivalent of] a pre-med, a pre-law, and a business [degree].”

“The way to teach children wisdom is to speak in analogies.”

I was impressed with how superior the ATI curriculum was. I did not realize that the ATI program had only started in 1984. No students had completely gone through the ATI curriculum for Bill Gothard to be able to know what the true outcome of the program was. It was an outright lie to state that the Federal Education board did not have a test to show the achievement of ATI students. It was also a lie to state that in twelve years a student would have the equivalent of a pre-med, a pre-law, and a business degree. The little Wisdom Booklets do not even have enough content in their small number of pages to be able to give a child a high school level of training, let alone the equivalent of a triple college degree. There was basically nothing in the Wisdom Booklets on business. This lack of content was a frustration for many mothers because they had to pull in other resources to complete the curriculum. The success of ATI students is the credit of the moms who poured time and effort into supplementing the sketchy curriculum to give their children a more complete education.

The ATI Wisdom Booklets do not give systematic and comprehensive training in the various subjects. Because of the training with analogies and trying to integrate the various subjects around a verse in scripture, the training in science, medicine, history, English, etc. is hodge-podge and piecemeal instead of systematic and logical. Students are not trained to think in a logical progression and to be able to analyze things in a logical and analytical way. Logical thinking is vital for advanced reasoning processes.

Not only does the ATI program not have enough content to give a high school level of training, it is only a seven year curriculum. It is not a complete 12 year curriculum. From eighth grade to twelfth grade, when a person should be learning higher level subjects, the ATI student repeats the content that they had in their elementary grades. It is not possible to get the equivalent of a pre-med, a pre-law, and a business degree by using the textbooks one had in elementary school! Gothard was counting on the false education principle of training of children to think in analogies to achieve the high levels of achievements that he was claiming. We will see why the use of analogies is a false education principle for giving an advanced education.

The use of analogies hinders people from true understanding and fails in training people to think

God started showing me the problems with analogies after reading an article that was based around what I thought was a poor analogy. Shortly thereafter, my 25-year-old son (who had gone through 11 years of the ATI program) told me that I used too many analogies in trying to explain things to him and it was confusing to him. I was surprised that analogies confused him rather than helped him understand. So I went to the Bible to see what God had to say about using analogies. Jesus used a lot of analogies. He would start out by saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto…” Jesus explained that the reason he used analogies was in essence to confuse people and prevent them from fully understanding what He said. The analogies were not used to make it easier to understand what He was saying, but to hide the true concepts from his hearers, including those who were the most highly educated in His day; the Pharisees, scribes, doctors and lawyers. Teaching using analogies often produces the opposite results of what Bill Gothard told us that they do! Analogies tend to hinder people from truly understanding what is being said, and hide the truth from them. The core of the ATI program was based upon a wrong education principle.

Analogies appear to help people to understand a concept because they understand what it is being compared to. Analogies can help a person to understand a new concept on an elementary level. However, all analogies stop in their similarities at some point because it is a comparison between two dissimilar things. The more dissimilar the two things being compared, the fewer the number of true similarities exist between the two. Unless a person has God-given wisdom and also fully understands both of the subjects in the analogy, they do not fully know when the analogy no longer applies to what it is being compared to. False conclusions and assumptions can often result from the use of analogies by assuming a similarity in the subjects of the analogy when the similarity does not exist. For years, salesmen have used deceptive analogies to get people to buy their products. The product could not achieve what the purchaser thought it would, because the analogy led them to the wrong conclusions.

Analogies can also convey a different concept or thought to another person than what the teacher intended because the other person is coming from a different perspective and a different knowledge/understanding base. When analogies are used, people’s minds tend to switch subjects from the original subject to the illustration that is used as an analogy. Their mind is then on the illustration because that is what they understand best and they tend to quickly forget what the analogy was originally referencing. Instead of training young people to think, it trains them to be distracted in their thinking and to allow their mind to go to other aspects of the analogy or to new analogies that have nothing to do with the original subject. Analogies train people to have short attention spans and not to stay focused on everything that is being said. Instead of training them how to think, it trains them to have an attention deficit disorder. My children have stated that often when I used analogies, their minds went to the analogy rather than what I was trying to teach them about. In the process of their minds being distracted to the analogy, they missed important details of what I was telling them.

Analogies are not sin. They are not wrong. Jesus used analogies and Proverbs has many analogies. But analogies do not make teachings easier to understand. Instead, contrary to popular thought, they tend to hide the truth from the learner unless the student asks questions to clarify in their minds exactly what was meant like the disciples did with Jesus.

This is what Jesus said about His use of analogies—that it was to hide what He was saying from those whom He did not want to understand:

“And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (Matthew 13:10-15)

  • Jesus used analogies to hide the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven from the Pharisees, the scribes and others. These people were proud, highly educated, and thought that they understood what the kingdom of God was. Their perspective was wrong. They thought God was going to set up an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem with the Messiah ruling as king. Therefore, when Jesus used analogies, stating “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”, they did not understand what He was saying because they came from a totally different perspective of what they thought the kingdom of heaven was.

“And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.” (Mark 4:10-12)

  • When we evaluate the parables that Jesus taught we quickly realize that they are not obscure analogies that are complicated or difficult for a common person to understand. They are analogies that make sense once we understand what Jesus was saying. But Jesus said that He used analogies because analogies would make the Pharisees think that they were understanding but that they would not really understand what He was saying.

“And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it. But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.” (Mark 4:33-34)

  • An analogy alone does not give understanding. It requires that it be fully explained so that the student can correctly understand. Therefore, it would be simpler in teaching to skip the analogy and give a clear explanation and training rather than use an analogy which has a great likelihood of being incorrectly understood from a wrong perspective and causing the student’s mind to be distracted to other subjects.

“And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” (Luke 8:9-10)

  • To correctly understand an analogy, the student needs to ask the teacher questions to fully clarify what they are saying. Otherwise they will think that they understand when in reality they are understanding a wrong concept (“Seeing they might not see”).

We need to beware when people use analogies, because Satan could be using them to deceive us and to teach us error under the guise of spiritual truth. We need to beware when people draw analogies from Scripture and apply them to modern concepts or practices and teach them as spiritual truth. It is not unusual for people to draw opposite analogies from what the truth really is.

Proverbs, too, is full of analogies, and Bill Gothard thought that the reading of Proverbs on a daily basis would give ATI students wisdom and understanding. But the analogies in Proverbs did not help Bill Gothard or many ATI families to get wisdom in spite of reading in Psalms and Proverbs every day in “Wisdom Searches”. Instead, the analogies in Proverbs prevented some people from fully understanding and having wisdom.

We are told right at the beginning of Proverbs that a person has to have wisdom to understand a proverb or analogy. “To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.” (Proverbs 1:6) Analogies in Proverbs are dark or hidden sayings. Wisdom is a gift from God. Wisdom is not acquired by reading Proverbs or studying ATI “Wisdom Booklets”. The analogies in Proverbs are code language for those to whom God has given wisdom so that they are able to expand their knowledge base to know how to understand or act with wisdom in situations in which they have not yet had experience.

The Dangers of Analogies

Donald Simanek, physics professor at Lock Haven University, wrote and an excellent article on the dangers of analogies. His perspective is from the field of physics, in which there are many concepts that are in the abstract and can’t be visualized. Some of his observations are helpful in understanding the danger of using analogies because many spiritual concepts also cannot be visualized in concrete form. His perspective helps us understand why analogies can be more harmful than helpful in giving people true understanding of a concept. The following are some excerpts from the article with my comments following:

“The notion is widespread among teachers, especially at the introductory levels of physics, that use of analogies to get across concepts is a “good thing.” Actually, I (who have taught both introductory and advanced courses) think that it’s a very risky practice, which usually leads to concepts, ideas and thinking habits that must later be painfully unlearned…”

My observation too is that the use of analogies in teaching results in concepts, ideas, and thinking habits that must later be painfully unlearned. For years I did not understand that it was analogies that were causing the problem in my children of not being able to think through things properly, and so I tried to correct the problem by using more analogies. Now to change the thinking process of using analogies is a difficult process.

“… there’s the far more sinister “argument by analogy” in which a comparison is invoked in order to derive a conclusion. It takes the form “Because M has properties A, B and C, then if N has properties A and B, it also has C.” Stated in this stark way, its absurdity as a “method of argument” is obvious, for it can be used to conclude things that are patently false. The dangers of thinking by analogy are noted by nearly every book on logic, argument, and debate…”

“But analogies should never be used as arguments to reach a conclusion, and should never substitute for reason and logic. The examples we will discuss are those that are harmful in physics teaching because they encourage lazy and sloppy habits of thought…”

The use of analogies in logic or teaching can be dangerous because analogies can be used by false teachers, such as Bill Gothard, to deceive us into coming to the wrong conclusions. It is important that we study the facts and understand the facts of a subject rather than trying to compare two dissimilar things to arrive at understanding and conclusions.

“Visualization is also an analogy, which students often use as a crutch. Pictures we draw of atoms, wave functions, etc., are always incomplete and potentially misleading. One of the difficulties students have with advanced physics is that they have become dependent on visual models. When they encounter physics that can’t be visualized, and for which pictures can’t be drawn, they experience severe cognitive dissonance. This is when they consider majoring in something simpler and more concrete. Before we draw any picture we should remember that it is another dangerous analogy!…”

Bill Gothard used a lot of drawings to illustrate what he was teaching and led us to the wrong conclusions, such as his concept of the “umbrella of authority”. It is important that we also identify illustrations as potentially dangerous analogies that can be used to deceive us into having the wrong conclusions and thought processes.

“Do analogies permanently harm our students’ understanding of physics? After all, physics is taught as a series of revelations: successive approximations supposedly getting closer and closer to the ever-elusive “truth.” Better students cope with this quite nicely; they have what it takes to become physics majors. Others may learn just enough physics, mostly incorrect, to be dangerous if they actually tried to apply it. Fortunately they usually never have to apply it in a creative manner. They choose “procedure intensive” jobs where they blindly follow established practice without needing genuine understanding. This, I am convinced, is responsible for many technological mistakes, blunders and even disasters, is one reason for so much professional malpractice litigation, and for the high cost of liability and malpractice insurance.” (emphasis added) http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/scenario/analogy.htm

I too have observed that training people to think in analogies often results in them not being able to reason properly. One of the reasons that I wanted to farm was so that I could teach my children how to work, to see what needed to be done, to be able to think through what they were doing, and to be efficient in being able to get much accomplished. I realized that if they knew how to work and how to think through what they were doing they could be successful in whatever career God called them into. But after 14 years of training them on the farm, and daily working side by side with them, I felt like often they were still only able to do “procedure intensive” tasks that they had done repetitively. Jobs that needed understanding and creative thinking usually required my close supervision. I rebuked, disciplined, explained in great detail, all to little avail in helping them to have true understanding and to apply their minds to their task.

When I realized that I had messed up their thinking process by training them in ATI and at home to think in analogies, I had to repent and ask their forgiveness. The mistake of training with analogies has been a great grief to me. Since we have recognized the problem of analogies, I feel like we are finally making real progress. They are applying their minds more to what needs to be done and to creative solutions to projects. This has convinced me even more of the dangers of training using analogies.

Other Failures of the ATI Program

In 2005, God directed our family to leave the ATI program. We were seeing some of the failures of the ATI program, that many of the young people who had completed or almost completed the ATI program did not have the wisdom, education, and character that their parents had tried to instill in them. Not only was the program producing the opposite results of what it was supposed to in understanding, there were many other ways in which the program was producing opposite results of what Bill Gothard had stated. Sure, we saw some families where the children appeared to be turning out well, but there were too many families where we saw and are seeing the following results:

  • Instead of turning the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, the ATI program created division in many families. In a number of families, the parents and adult children were not on speaking terms.
  • Instead of producing ideal happy families, we were seeing and hearing about family conflict and rebellion.
  • Instead of model “five star families” or “noble families”, there was shame because of the way some of the children turned out and the foolish choices that they made when they became adults.
  • Jim Voeller, who was Director of ATI during part of our time in the ATI program, committed one of the most serious failures and sins a father can do to his family. In 2001, he abandoned his wife and large family, and married his young personal ATI secretary with whom he had been having an ongoing affair.
  • Instead of producing men and women who were mighty in spirit and changing the world, many ATI young men and young women were changed by the world.
  • Instead of producing young women who had a bright countenance, many young women had their spirits damaged by sexual abuse and sexual harassment. In addition, they were damaged by emotional and spiritual abuse with false guilt, false blame, and false responsibility being put on them for the immoral sins of men and boys.
  • ATI’s modest, “higher standard” dress standard has been a failure in preventing immorality. Instead of preventing sexual immorality with its conservative modest dress, the ATI program’s dress standards created a safe haven for sexual predators and gave sexual predators opportunities to sexually abuse many boys and girls. The focus on modest dress and “dresses only” does not prevent sexual abuse, but instead seems to be a contributing factor in sexual abuse. This is a pattern that can be seen as we look at a number of other conservative religious groups that have a focus on conservative, modest, and dresses-only standards where the sexual abuse of both boys and girls is much higher than what the leaders would have ever thought possible.From my research, among some conservative Mennonite and Amish groups the sexual abuse rate of both boys and girls appears to be even higher than it is in the rest of society. There is not space in this short article to go into detail explaining why conservative “modest” dress standards promote such gross immorality. That is being explained in a 300+ page book I am writing on The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment. God tells us that conservative, manmade dress standards will not work: “Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in ANY honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23) And yet we were deceived into thinking that conservative dress standards would work in preventing immorality. “Let God be true and every man a liar.” (Romans 3:4)

God tells us: “Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust, and respects not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.” (Psalms 40:4) Bill Gothard spoke vanity. He talked as if he had THE answers that would give a person success if they followed his steps of action. We are realizing now that much of it was vain talk that did not and could not produce success. The Recovering Grace website has exposed how Bill Gothard has had a pattern of lying for many years. These two things alone, vanity and lying, in a teacher, will produce the opposite results in our children of what we desire. In the Bible we are told: “Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood: That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace:’ (Psalms 144:11-12)

With the designer and head of the ATI program exhibiting both vanity and lying, one should not expect that the ATI curriculum and homeschool program can produce many wise young men and women who are mature in their youth and who are trained to be the leaders in their generation.

The following passage also describes Bill Gothard: “Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment.” (Lamentations 2:14)

Unfortunately, “Bill Got-her 2″ (Bill Gothard Jr.) got me and got many others also and taught us the opposite of how to think and how to have wisdom and understanding. We now have to apply more effort to make the necessary corrections, to unlearn the wrong things that we have learned and to learn what we should have learned the first time.

Where do we go from here, knowing that we have trained our children with the false education concept of using analogies, or that you have been trained in ATI to think in analogies? While we may be tempted to curse Bill Gothard and the ATI program and feel in despair over many wasted years, God has given us as human beings a lot of resiliency to be able to make the necessary changes once we have identified our mistake. God also tells us that as Christians, it is not wasted years. He tells us “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Recognizing the error of using analogies is a huge step toward correcting our thinking because now we know what the problem is and what needs to be changed. We as human beings can make changes relatively quickly once we know what needs to be changed. It is important to ask God to show you how He wants you to correct the problem and to correct your thinking or your children’s thinking processes. Each person is a unique individual and some will need more or different help than others. One place to start is to learn to keep your mind focused on the main point and not allow it to be distracted to other subjects, thoughts, or analogies while another person is talking. Learn to ask specific questions to clarify what the other person has said.

Being deceived by Bill Gothard and ATI was not a waste of time. I see it as some very important training and preparation for us and our descendants for the end times. A person who has been deceived by a false teacher and discovers it will be much more wary about being deceived again. There is a saying: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” I would much rather be deceived by Bill Gothard and correct my error than to be deceived by the Antichrist and false prophet of Revelation. Jesus warned us: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (Matthew 24:24) We are also told “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10)

Yes, we were deceived by Bill Gothard, but we are no more! Read just the words in bold first: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit.” (Hebrews 6:1-3)

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