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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 (IBLP) 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:
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 hodgepodge 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.
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)
“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)
“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)
“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)
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.
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Editor’s note: For more on this subject, read Don Veinot’s thoughts on this article at Midwest Christian Outreach.
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