The Unfundamental Conversion

I remember: ATIA

January 25th, 2013 | Posted by Lana Hope in Homeschool | Patriarchy

I remember, ATIA – Advance Training Institute of America – now called ATI – Advance Training Institute.

I remember our first taste of the legalism. We went to a local IBLP (Institute of Basic Life Principles) conference that had a Children’s Institute program. I, age 6, and my younger sister, age 5, showed up in pants. That was the last night we showed up in pants.

Soon after we applied to join their homeschool program called ATI ran by Bill Gothard. We learned that we could not watch TV to be in the program. One of our friends was blunt that they did watch TV, and they were not accepted.

The next summer when I was 7, we went to our first ATI conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. This movement was not small. And it attempted to brainwash an entire generation. We sang songs such as The Umbrella Song that you can listen to on youtube. Its a cute little song about staying underneath our umbrella of authority. The song seems harmless (after all, kids need to obey their parents, right?), but keep in mind, that was the watered down children’s version of authorian headship that was stressed over and over in the Christiany Patriarchy movement. See Gothard’s personal webpage on the umbrella.

At the ATI conference, we had to wear blue skirts and white shirts; my little sister was so skinny and so tiny at age 6, that the blue jean skirt would actually fall off at times. Also, in the summer heat, the churchy white shirts made for a lot of sweat.

We would line up in alphabetical order each morning, and then were taken off in school buses (of all irony) to our appropriate groups. Girls went to one building, and did girl crafts and had girl lessons. Boys went to a different building and did cool activities like rock climb.

My friend and I were both tomboys and wanted badly to rock climb. So my friend suggested that we all put a pair of pants into our bags (not tell our parents about it) and ask our leaders if we could join up with the boys. That backfired. Our cell group leader reported our request, and a man took us all outside on a bench and told us we were not boys, and we needed to be thankful that they were teaching us to sew. Then he said if we even mentioned what the boys were doing, or even looked at the boys, he would call our fathers.

A piece of me died that day.

And the now famous Duggar family was at that conference. I remember meeting them.

One night at a local Children’s Institute we studied attentiveness, learned the attentive song, listened attentive stories, and then at the end had to promise that we would always be attentive. There were 100 kids or more there, and we were supposed to put our right hand in the air and promise. I knew I was dingy, I knew I would fail.

My elementary education was not normal to say the least. We went through what we called wisdom booklets, an all encompassing one-age fits all homeschool curriculum. I studied the Bible, memorized character traits and Matthew 5-7, studied Greek and law, and read missionary stories. Weird, I know. When my family left ATI when I was in 10th grade, I had lost a whole year of high school credits because I had never studied select courses other than math and grammar. (I don’t think this was a huge problem because my family was naturally curious and read a lot, but it would have been a problem if we had not.)

At home, Bill Gothard gave us rules to set ourselves apart though not all families listened. No TV. No Pork. No rock or even contemporary Christian music. (We were told a beat would bring in demonic influence.) No pants for girls.No going to the movie theater (might ruin our witness, all about the outside). I remember when my friend threw away Rebecca Saint James CD she received for her birthday because any drum beat is evil.

Adults had rules too. My mother was forbidden to work outside the home, and if she had a home business, she had to submit her schedule to ATI (my mom runs a business today). Sexual intercourse on the Sabbath, during a woman’s cycle, and 40 days after giving birth was strictly warned against.

Bill Gothard told parents that Cabbage Patch dolls could bring demons into the house, and trolls were evil. For my 7th birthday, I had a troll party I loved them that much, and my sister’s doll was her life. But our dolls and trolls went in the garbage, a regret my father will probably take to his death bed.

We had local ATI get togethers, which were mostly Quiverfull families. We wore weird swimsuits (see mine below), played games, mostly fun times.


And then there was the teen programs at different places, called EXCEL for girls. We went to a mini EXCEL camp, were told to put our heads down when the boys went by, etc. The girls didn’t listen, but smiled and pretended like they did when the adults were around. I hated the hypocrisy. My mother mentioned to our group leader that her daughters had come home upset. Then the leader met with us (when she was in our area) and quizzed us about what happened. My gut literally hurt over the whole thing, and I still don’t know why she cared a hoot. ATI is a legalistic program that encourages people to fake it on the outside.

Thankfully my family got out. And I did get a college education that Gothard warned against.

So that, my friends, is my memory of the homeschool world of ATI. Fun?

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  • My family never did any of that but we were influenced by the ideas, for sure. Troll dolls and barbies thrown out, no TV at first and then only “educational” TV, no music but hymns, having to have “a good attitude” all the time, very domestic/sedentary activities for girls, being ambivalent towards/kinda sorta against college. I would have loved the socialization of being able to go to camp and play with other kids. We didn’t, being very “sheltered” from peers, but I’m ultimately glad I didn’t. Ultimately sounds pretty icky.

    • Yea homeschool elitist. Never cared for those kind of social events. We don’t follow all the rules. I didn’t always where dresses, but did for a while.

  • Sounds like great fun! I did a few Gothard seminars in my past–the only thing I got from it was a heaping load of guilt. (I still remember vowing to read the Bible for 30 minutes a day. I must have been 14 or 15, so needless to say the vow wasn’t kept.) These ideas die hard. We did the no TV, no rock music, no secular reading thing. (I wish I still had some of my old recordings that I threw away during one of the Purges!) I figured if this is what it took to get close to the Lord, then by God I’d be the strictest fundy the world had ever witnessed.

    Even after I left fundyism and the Reformed tradition I had a fear of public education, which led my wife and I to homeschool our kids until just a few years ago. I know this isn’t always the case, but my kids suffered for it (especially the older two), even though we used a non-fundy approach. It’s one of my deepest regrets in life–I feel like such a stooge for having fallen for the world-denying, fear-inspiring “instruction” in the ways of God. Thankfully I have some younger kids in public schools who are doing exceptional.

    • I had the fear of public education until about a year ago when I thought about all the people who had been hurt by homeschooling too. A good education has to do with good parents and good teachers more than the medium. I still prefer homeschooling but don’t feel sorry for a kid in public school.

      The seminars are all about principles to help you manage outward behavior. You have it on the nail.

  • BB-Idaho

    In some rare instances, the world-denying, fear-inspiring isolation (in conjunction with a
    handy firearms cache) leads to sad consequences .

    • So true, BB. And those caught up in the “normal” fundamentalist-type of community are blind to how thin the line is between them and the extremists. Lord have mercy.

      • Yeah, I have a blog post in the works about that murder and a few others. It’s been kinda hard to write though, hard to know what to even say. As disturbing as it is to think back on, I thought about killing my Dad as a kid for several years. I just wanted out. I was scared of public school too until my sister’s public school neighbor friend convinced her it wasn’t bad, and she convinced me. I set my mind to going there, and then when I did, with my grandparents’ help, I felt I had a future to work towards. I never thought about killing anyone again. People might act like that kid is a monster for what he did but I feel so bad for him.

        • I feel bad for him, too. He will have to live with this too.

      • Heather, I’m sorry to hear that you had it so rough. My childhood was strict, but not traumatically so. And I suppose I have been strict in my own way toward my kids, but they seem fairly well-adjusted–maybe I eased up just in time. It’s a tough thing–kids don’t come with a set of instructions, and most parents are really doing what they think is best. And kids are naturally going to buck against an overbearing parent, especially if there is little love detected. Hopefully that poor boy will find some peace. And I hope you will continue to grow in love and forgiveness, even for your parents.

        • Hi Nico,
          Yeah, I realize that kids don’t come with instructions and now my parents do stuff differently with my younger siblings. Kids are generally pretty resilient too. I’m glad yours are doing well. :). Sometimes my parents still do things that I see as being on the neglectful/abusive end of the spectrum, but in general I’m not upset at them about the past unless I see them doing something to repeat it. I think forgiveness comes in layers in a situation like this and I have pretty much forgiven the hurt done to me, but it has been harder to forgive the hurt I saw done to my siblings (whose experiences I don’t write about much out of consideration for their privacy). It’s complicated, but I love both my parents and see them as victims of a toxic movement when they were young and vulnerable. Ultimately it hurt them more than it hurt us kids and I get no satisfaction from that. The reason I started writing publicly about my experiences is because journaling helped with the PTSD and then my academic work on homeschooling showed me that there needed to be more voices out there bluntly recounting what things can be like so others could learn from it and go in a different direction.

  • Jo

    Oh gosh, this brought back memories. We did the wisdom booklets and character studies. I remember cabbage patch and troll dolls being “evil.” Someone gave us cabbage patch knock-offs once and mom (after deliberating) allowed to have them. We had a troll doll or two, but mom expressed her displeasure over them. No barbies when we were young, but we had barbie knock-offs (go figure).

    We were too poor to go traveling for all the ATI stuff, which is really good looking back on it. And my mom let us read books that would not have been approved (though she did monitor our reading).

    We didn’t have TV (occasionally borrowed one and a VCR to watch family friendly movies). No rock music at all, just hymns.

    And my mom made my sis an old-fashioned swimsuit to wear on a youth group trip. My sis hated it and managed to “forget it” when they came back. lol

    • seriously? I never knew that about you! So you didn’t grow up in Tennessee then. I actually have some fun memories of the Children’s institute. When I got older, and was denied doing what I wanted to do, that’s when it began to feel more stiff.

      • Jo

        No, we grew up in Nebraska. I think my folks went to one conference, and we kids stayed with my grandparents while they were gone. We did go to the IBLP seminar a couple times.

        And we girls were allowed to be tomboys – we played outside, climbed trees, etc. We weren’t allowed to have guns or swords, but we made our own. lol

        • oooh, I always was a tomboy. except when I was with certain homeschoolers, LOL.

  • Hi ๐Ÿ™‚ you left a comment on my blog a few weeks back, asking about my background – reading through these has really made me stop and think.

    I barely homeschooled – I am not sure it was long enough to count. My parents were trying to go ABEKA and pulled me and my younger siblings out of public school. There was a significant age gap between us – my closest sibling was seven years behind me in school. They had no choice and knew no different – I was a “rebellious” teenager, reacted badly, ran away to my grandparents and finished “high school.”

    I didn’t experience what my siblings then went through. I “homeschooled” maybe a year – and it was an all out battle the whole time. I barely consider it “schooling” because I did nothing but fight with my father…….

    My dad went hardcore after I left. My siblings have major issues now. Yet, I am pretty normal for the most part. Did I “cause” (not that I was responsible) but do you think he went harder on them because of what I did? I don’t regret it, but it is something that I wonder about a lot. There has been a lot of built up resentment…..I am just wondering.

    • wow, that’s tough. I tend to think he got bad advice about how to parent the younger siblings. My mom once kept me in my room with just bread and water — at the advice of a friend. It was so out of character. I often wonder what how she would have parented without the outside influence, you know?

  • Yeah he got deep into Gothard for a while. I think in some ways I have survivors guilt – I walked out the door at 16 came back briefly and left for good at 17 – I missed most of the bad years. Things had been headed in that direction for a while, he started reading those goofy “character packets” or whatever they were for “Family Devos” and I was constantly in trouble through high school for questioning them. But they had some crazy stuff in them! Every year freedom seemed more restricted (I ran track in Middle School, but by freshmen year in high school that was somehow “bad”) but by Sophomore year when he decided to homeschool life was getting really stifling. I guess it was a progression.

    I guess I just wonder sometimes – I think my siblings do too, which makes things awkward – if I was the catalyst – because he didn’t want (he was a pastor) another rebellious teenager, if they got slammed much harder after that. But maybe that was a progression that would have happened no matter what I did? Who knows?

    • Fern

      I’ve been reading some about the psychology of family dynamics and how parents use kids to compensate for the sick parts of their marriage. I have had survivors guilt as the oldest, and best educated, homeschooled child. My parents got into more fundie and neglect culture after I left. I used to think they cracked down more on my siblings because they didn’t like my choices (public university, I cut my hair, I wore tank tops). My behavior was an excuse for them to refuse to let me talk to my siblings without supervision. However, I realize now that there was always something in my that my parents didn’t like. They wanted me to have an education and get out of the house. Then they cracked down on my siblings because they wanted them to fail and stay at home. Reading about triangulation between parents and children has been really helpful in processing my survivors guilt.

      It is really hard when you don’t know what your siblings are thinking or blaming you for. I’m sorry that it’s like that for you.

      • Wow – that is really close to the same story I have. I know my youngest siblings resent me – I don’t know what to do about t if anything. I think the freedom when I was younger definitely goes a long the same timeline as when things job, marriage, money, health etc. were just better for them. So that would go along with your thoughts on compensating by using the kids. My brother is still deep into that stuff, but my sisters to varying degrees have mostly left. My sister closest to me and I are better friends, she’s also the one who is better off and who has left more than the other two. It’s sad, but maybe someday they’ll see I guess!

  • Pingback: Homeschoolers Respond to Socialization Question « Wide Open Ground()

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  • Susan

    There’s an entire generation of ex-ATI students beginning to speak out against this program! If you haven’t visited this site before, I invite you to give it a look-see. It’s not as personal as your blog – each blog has its niche. ๐Ÿ™‚ I find RG to be comforting in the same way your blog is – reassuring that I’m not alone! It’s also nice – sometimes ๐Ÿ™‚ – to be reminded of what things were like back then, so I can process through things, some that I’d forgotten.

    Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with RG in any way other than being an ex-ATI’er myself, who is VERY GLAD to be out of that lifestyle! I have friends who help write for the site, but I’m not involved in any way. Yet… I might write up & submit my story someday.

    • Lana

      Thanks. Perhaps I should write and submit my story there too.


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