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Why ordinary moms should know about the Bill Gothard Scandal

Have you ever heard of Bill Gothard? If you answer “No” to that question, don’t feel bad. I had never heard of him either, until recently. I’m just an ordinary SAHM, sending my kids to public school and taking them to my nice, friendly United Methodist church on Sunday.

But how about this… Have you heard of the Duggar family from TLC’s popular show “19 Kids and Counting”? You have? Good! Now we’re getting somewhere. You know all about Bill Gothard only you didn’t know it. Gothard is/was good friends with the Duggars.

What we’re really talking about is a group of fundamentalist Christians (some people would say cult), who have a huge impact in the American homeschooling movement today. The name of their organization is the Advanced Training Institute, or ATI, for short. Part of their message is that good Christians don’t send their children to public schools.

Right now ATI is going through a major scandal. Bill Gothard, the former leader, has been accused by over 34 women of sexual harassment of minors. The allegations include fetishes, grooming, and in one case, groping. These stories are being shared on a website called Recovering Grace. Here are some examples:

The trouble is, most public school families like mine haven’t heard about any of this. Why should we? Hmmm… Maybe because the Duggar girls are on a book tour right now, promoting their ATI lifestyle. We know all about the Duggars; we just don’t know the whole story.

Let’s start with something really horrible: Blanket Training.

Never heard of blanket training? Me neither! Apparently, it’s when you put a young infant on a blanket and then hit the baby every time she puts her hand off the blanket. You train the baby through physical discipline to stay on the blanket. More about blanket training.

If smacking babies isn’t enough, here’s something else to make your blood boil: Stay-at-home-daughters.

That’s when parents give their daughter such a horrible education (or no education), that she’s unprepared to get a GED, go to college, land a paying job, or even move out of the house. She’s stuck at home forever, doing housework and taking care of her siblings, until her father allows her to enter “courtship” with a man he selects. More about stay-at-home-daughters here.

FYI, some of these links are from a website called Homeschoolers Anonymous, where former homeschoolers are sharing their stories. A lot of the accounts come from growing up ATI, but not all of them. Also, some of the people share really positive views of growing up homeschooled, including one of the website founders, RL Stollar.

Homeschoolers Anonymous is also related to two other websites: Homeschooling’s Invisible Children and the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. Their goal is to make sure that America doesn’t forget about children like Hana Grace-Rose Williams, and to help create simple laws that would protect homeschooled children in the future.

The Coalition is suggesting regulations for homeschooling that include:

  • Parents homeschooling their children should have a GED or high school diploma.
  • Homeschooling parents should not be sex offenders.
  • Parents should teach the same subjects as public schools, but be free to use any materials they would like.
  • Children should not be forced to be at grade level.
  • Parents should be required to maintain academic records for the homeschooled children (so they could later go to college.)
  • Parents should be required to submit birth certificates to the state. (Btw, in the case of Hana Grace-Rose Williams, nobody was certain when she died how old she was, and her body had to be exhumed during her parents’ murder trial.)
  • Progress should be assessed each year with an exam of the parents choosing.
  • There should be a yearly portfolio review.

To me as a public school person, these ideas seem like no-brainers. But to the homeschooling community, this is a big deal. Check out this thread on The Well Trained Mind message board to read the vitriol.

My understanding is that some homeschoolers view any regulations as a potential threat to their rights to homeschool, and therefore are against any oversight whatsoever. There’s also a libertarian vibe running through all of this, that is hard for me (personally) to understand.

It’s really important to note that not all homeschoolers in America are religious. Also, many families who are religious, choose to homeschool for primarily academic reasons.

When it comes to schooling, I am Pro Choice. I’ve taught at a really horrible public school before. If my children were living in that district, I would want to be able to homeschool too. So I fully support the right to homeschool and want that option to be protected.

But whoa! How are we as a society to protect kids from people who are so brainwashed that they would hit young babies and burn their daughters’ birth certificates? How do we protect the next Hana Grace-Rose?

I think the people running Homeschoolers AnonymousHomeschooling’s Invisible Children and the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, are really brave for speaking out. That’s why I’m adding them to my blogroll.

So the next time you see the Duggars on television, pay close attention. Those smiles you are seeing? They might be forced.

P.S. Interested in finding out more? Check out Free Jinger.


  1. This is part of why we started Sandbox to Socrates last year. Certain people (two of whom are now embroiled in scandal) want to take over homeschooling, and we don’t want to let them.

    I can tell you why I am leery of state regulation of homeschooling. I live in California. I have no reason to believe that the state can come up with regulations that would be helpful and not harmful to the vast majority of homeschoolers, or that would do anything to actually help the problems. I have many reasons to believe that the state will come up with regulations that will hamper homeschoolers and do nothing for victims. For a long time I have thought that homeschoolers ought to be coming up with a set of regulations for ourselves that we could suggest to legislators. I would, for example, make a set of say 12 ‘training’ videos available for free and produce a little introductory course for prospective homeschoolers, to start.

  2. Heidi says:

    There are many home schoolers that ascribe to these ideas, but I don’t think the majority do. There are so many types of home schools. It is sad that some people follow crazy people then and the whole movement is associated with them.

    I am proud of the people speaking out on the bad parts of home schooling. It can only bring improvement.

    • I wish that average Americans knew more about “the moderate” homeschoolers. I think it would help everyone if we had a more complete picture. That’s why books like The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer are so important.

      In my teacher credentialing program, I learned almost nothing about homeschooling. But homeschooling has a lot that public school families could learn from.

      • Jennifer says:

        That is exactly how I came to know more about homeschooling. Didn’t know much about it as a public school teacher but when I stayed home with my children, I was very curious how homeschoolers manage without all the “special training.” Especially teaching reading. I learned a lot from the homeschooling books in my library and the Well Trained Mind is my favorite book that I just found by luck in the library.

      • So true Jennifer. Public Schoolers can learn a lot from Homeschoolers, and vice versa. It’s too bad there aren’t more opportunities for dialogue without finger pointing.

  3. shade ardent says:

    thank you for speaking about the importance of why people need to know.

    i survived gothard and fundamentalism too.

  4. Carlene Wynn says:

    Thank you for this post. Thank you for shedding light on more than just the sexual scandal, but also the teachings that are so damaging. Thank you also for your objective writings on homeschoolers. I was in ATI, and have had to unlearn a lot of wrong teachings. I now homeschool my children because that’s what works for us, however most people are surprised to learn we homeschool.

  5. Jane says:

    I have about 50 homeschooling mom friends, and I don’t know anyone who follows ATI … at all.

    The girls are right in there with the boys, racking up the science, math, literature and Latin credits. I have also noticed that a lot more Dads are getting flex time at work and work from home and show up at co-ops. Very cool things are afoot.

    • Thanks for sharing, Jane! So many studies in brick and mortar schools have shown that girls do better at math and science with they learn in all-girl environments. So I can definitely understand how homeschooled girls could do great things with STEM. Afterschooling families like mine can learn a lot from their example.

  6. RG says:

    Many thanks for writing this! As a homeschool graduate who had a wonderful experience (and knows many others who did, but also folks who were abused or neglected), I found it particularly upsetting to read that thread on the Well-Trained Mind forum. My own mom was a huge fan of Susan Wise Bauer, incorporating her approach with excellent results, and I generally think of that crowd as “the good ones” — moms who are moderate, caring, and focused on academics. It’s incredibly saddening to see them close ranks, think about reputation more than showing empathy, react to straw men (“they want to ban homeschooling!” “they’re saying all homeschoolers are abusive!”), and fall prey to fear and black-and-white thinking. In fact, those moms (and dads!) are the ones best-positioned to help promote accountability within homeschooling culture and help identify what kind of oversight would protect children while not overly burdening parents. (I absolutely think such a balance is possible, and the input of responsible homeschool parents is crucial to crafting effective legislation.) If any of those parents are reading this, I implore them to be introspective about their defensiveness and obsession with homeschooling’s reputation, and to think hard about what they can do to help vulnerable homeschooled children.

  7. Jennifer says:

    A month ago, I would have said Bill Gothard who? But I stumbled upon this book in my public library called A Year of Living Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling by Quinn Cummings. She explores all these different styles of homeschooling and even goes “undercover” at some homeschooling conferences to learn more. I mention this book in case anyone else is interested in reading this book. Some of Quinn’s topics are serious but it is meant to be a funny memoir-type book just so you know. I thought she was spot on with many of her insights.

    • Jennifer says:

      The living dangerously part is a play on the title of a movie Quinn was in as a child. It’s not meant to be a slur on homeschooling.

  8. […] ← Why ordinary moms should know about the Bill Gothard Scandal Gallery […]

  9. Lori Mom of 11 says:

    Homeschooling should be regulated as soon as public schools have no more pedophiles, bullys, murderous rampages and 100% graduation rate. Until they get their own house in order, they don’t need to worry about the few families that desire to homeschool their children. Of course people will always be a problem, we are all sinful, but I don’t believe the state will ever have the money to regulate what families do in their own homes.

    • RG says:

      Lori, since public schools will never be perfect, what you’re saying is that homeschooling should never have any oversight, ever. Are you really OK with what that means? Do you really think it’s fine not to stop people who put children in cages, beat and starve them, or deny them a basic education “in their own homes”? If you don’t think those things happen in homeschooling households (or in households abusing lax homeschooling laws), please read Homeschooling’s Invisible Children and Homeschoolers Anonymous (which is currently doing a series on homeschooled children who’ve gone on murderous rampages). This is not simply about the fact that “we all sin”; this is about bad people exploiting absolute power over children and lack of accountability in order to do terrible things. *Especially* if you oppose all legal oversight on principle, I’d urge you to think long and hard about what you can do to help little ones being hurt by those who should protect and nurture them. Will you keep an eye out for abuse in other homeschooling families and report it to authorities when you see it? Will you offer guidance to well-meaning parents who are overwhelmed or struggling? If you know a mom who’s trying her best to homeschool her kids and failing, will you support her decision to pursue an educational option besides homeschooling, or will you ostracize her and tell her homeschooling is the only way? Will you stand by while evil festers?

  10. […] time we put up a Von posting here’s a comment on a wonderful blog posting by a lady named Jennifer Bardsley who blogs at Teaching My Baby To Read – Why ordinary moms should know about …. Thanks R.L. Stollar of Homeschoolers Anonymous for posting this on […]

  11. Lori, Mom of 11 says:

    Wow, you know nothing about homeschooling. I have followed the Homeschooler Anonymous web site for awhile. Having homeschooled for more than 20 years we do self regulate. We are heavily involved with our statewide homeschool group, and help families constantly, as well as make sure they know all their options. How come public schools don’t self regulate? How come unions keep bad teachers in class rooms, and other teachers do nothing? How come when your very handicapped 5 year old is stabbed with a pencil in the classroom, they did nothing, and told me they could not protect my child from the other one? How come they write IEP’s and then at the end of the school year they tell you that the teacher in the classroom had no experience implementing the IEP’s, so they would try again next year. Again, when public schools get their act together, then they have a leg to stand on, but they don’t have the moral authority to usurp parental authority. I not only don’t stand by when evil is occurring, I actively write on blogs to make sure people are not mislead.

    • IEPs cannot be created by just one person. They are created with a team of parents and educators together to help special needs students. If for some reason the IEP process breaks down, parents have legal options. Or, if there is a lack of parental support, teachers on the IEP team can speak up. I know this, because I have been that teacher risking my job to advocate for special needs students (and the union backed me up.)

      Yes, sometimes the systems in place fail. But as a former public school teacher, I welcome rules that protect children. As a public school parent, I work with the people in my community to make our schools even better.

  12. RG says:

    Lori, I myself was homeschooled K-12, so I actually am very familiar with homeschooling. As I mentioned in my earlier comment, I loved my time being homeschooled and got a great education. I spent many years telling others about my positive experience and debunking negative stereotypes, and while I don’t want to go into personal details here, I will say that my family’s successes were frequently used to advertise homeschooling and refute naysayers. Through friends and the wider community of homeschool graduates, I’ve come to realize that while homeschooling is still a fantastic educational option, it has a dark underbelly that needs to be addressed. While communities can self-regulate and provide support networks — and I’m delighted to hear you’re part of those efforts — it’s my experience (and others’ experience) that those don’t always work, especially when families are isolated or purposely using homeschooling as a cover for abuse. That’s why I believe in systemic safeguards. I hope and pray that you’ll come to understand this is not about public schools vs. homeschools, or about public school outsiders trying to attack homeschooling. The push for basic oversight and cultural reform is coming chiefly from homeschool graduates — many of whom, like me, love homeschooling and want to make it better. Unfortunately, when I see vitriol from homeschooling parents, and the idea that all oversight is anathema, and red herrings about public school abuse, I’m tempted to regret the years I spent advertising homeschooling and feel deeply disappointed in the community I loved so much. I also become that much more certain that change within homeschool culture is necessary but not sufficient — that systemic changes are needed.

  13. EL says:

    I think this is a very poorly written article that insinuates and indicts ATI by association. You start out the article mentioning ATI and Mr. Gothard and the first example you use is BLANKET TRAINING. The insinuation is that this is a teaching of ATI and also that the Duggars are promoting this concept. The Duggars may be promoting the concept but in the years that we were associated with ATI this was never discussed. Mentioning this in the same article without disclaimer PRIOR TO enumerating some of the concepts casts a false insinuation that indicts those you mention in the beginning of your article. It is unnecessary and inflammatory to an already explosive set of circumstances. I can tell you with certainty that Mr. Gothard acted in a manner that was reprehensible and full of hypocrisy and he will pay the price. His sins have found him and he will pay. We have a daughter that witnessed first hand and was affected by his antics while working at headquarters.
    While I am glad he has been exposed, the way you twisted the article so as to indict him further by association within the article was very biased and prejudicial.
    I applaud you for writing the article but for you to indict by association within the article throws a shadow that is wrong. This is a tactic used by the mainstream media while trying to cast shadows that do not exist.

  14. One of the problems I would have with these regulations is that they aren’t really a good idea for young kids. Sure for high schoolers requiring a certain level of testing may work, but for young kids not so much. See I didn’t really read all that well…until I was about 8-9. From there I took off, programming computers in my spare time by the time I hit 10. My one brother struggled with math quite a bit, another is somewhat like me and had issues reading.

    In all these cases my parents simply waited a bit encouraging me but not requiring me to “be like all the other kids”. I felt accepted and enabled. I’m not sure what my parents would have done if I was failing every reading test I was required pass by state rules.

    • That’s a really good point Timothy. In many states, standardized testing for public school kids doesn’t begin until 3rd grade. That’s right when you mention your reading taking off. I personally don’t like the idea of requiring any child under 8 to undergo standardized tests. But third grade is critical. That’s when educators usually agree you need to make sure a kid able to read.

  15. tbcpp says:

    And yes this article lumps a ton of teachings together, Blanket Training comes from the Pearls teachings and they are completely unrelated to Gothard. And I have never heard of Blanket Training in the many years I was part of ATI.

    I have many many problems with Gothard and the Pearls, but lest try to at least be accurate in our blogs.

    • Thank you for the clarification. My understanding (after reading first-hand accounts from women who had been through ATI training classes), was that some of the seminars they attended included instruction in blanket training. Similarly, in The Assembly, which Elizabeth Esther writes about in her book, “Girl at the End of the World”, her church also instructed members in how to use the Pearl’s methods. So even though the methods originated from the Pearls, they get perpetuated in certain religious circles.

      If I am misunderstanding, please correct me.

  16. Sherry Sabo says:

    The Ezzos and their ministry was also dropped by their originally supporting denomination because of their controversial teachings.

  17. Jason Benner says:

    Sherry that’s a great point, it’s sad that even their own denomination dropped them and yet they are still widely accepted in the Gothard and general homeschooling community. It’s sad their books and the Pearls are passed around homeschooling families like a bad disease and are even sold on Amazon.com. As others have stated they did teach blanket training as well as tips to get the most pain out of a beating. It’s stuff like that that gives homeschooling a bad name.

  18. Nina says:

    I was homeschooled throughout my life, as were my 6 brothers and sisters for most of their lives. The youngest two were placed in a public school when my mom’s cancer prevented her from being able to teach anymore. They older of the two youngest was placed a grade ahead of where he should be, proving that he had a firm understanding of the concepts being taught. He is now in college. The younger had a harder time because of my mom’s inability to consistently teach him during the previous school year. He has since caught up. We did not follow the ATI teachings, although we had friends who did. We were not antisocial, were not told that we couldn’t do things based on gender, were not taught boundaries through the “blanket method”, and were encouraged to pursue a higher education. People are very surprised to find out I was a homeschooler. I remember sitting in classes at college hearing the professors saying horrible and narrow minded things about people who are not public schooled- how stupid we are, how unprepared for social situations, etc. They were completely unaware that the girl who participated openly in class, who had a 3.9 GPA, was produced by the very practice they condemned. I face this all the time.

    May I just point out a few things? Public schoolers have been sexually assaulted by people who should be considered trustworthy just as much as homeschoolers have. It is something that should never happen, but it does. And it doesn’t happen simply because a parent has decided to homeschool their child. It happens because someone in a position of power abuses the trust of a parent and child, regardless of the educational situation, and most of these cases will unfortunately never be reported. Bill Gothard used his teachings as his method of abusing that power, Jerry Sandusky used his connections to the sports industry to do the same thing. Unfortunately, anyone who sexually abuses a child in any way uses whatever leverage he or she can to get away with it. The hypocrisy of religious leaders who do these things make the action seem so much worse, but in all honesty, it would be awful even if Bill Gothard hadn’t been religious or a leader of a home school organization.

    Secondly, I would like to bring up the humanity of the families who were raised under ATI. You brought up the Duggars earlier in the post, using them as the poster children for their program. If that is what they are, then so be it, but their image barely scratches the surface of the reality of ATI’s teachings. They are mild compared to the majority of the followers. My husbands family were deeply involved in the programs, some going to the training schools, all wearing matching homemade clothes, raised to ‘court’, not date. They disassociated themselves from the program when they began to see discrepancies between Gothard’s teaching and the Bible’s. Still, though they have not been involved for years, and continued to homeschooling afterwards using less conservative materials, the turmoil they go through in the wake of this scandal is heartbreaking. The followers of ATI are not evil. They were tricked. They were blinded as they attempted to raise God-fearing, good children. Tell me, what parent doesn’t want the best thing for their children? How do you know you aren’t being mislead in your decisions? The ATI followers certainly didn’t think they were, but when this man who claimed to be so concerned for their children’s wellbeing turned out to be a fraud, there is no denying the mistake they made in trusting him. How awful would it be to know your children may have suffered at the hand of your decision! Please do not forget that those folks who devote themselves to programs like this are just parents who are trusting a method that may prove faulty, just as your parenting methods may prove faulty. Don’t dehumanize them simply because their attempts have been discredited. These people are heartbroken, and some are in denial. You would be, too. I hope your parenting role model never puts you through the pain Bill Gothard has put his followers through.

    • Very well said, Nina. I would add (with my limited understanding as an outsider) that the ATI program/lifestyle is very rigorous. So parents who were involved with that, were putting forth tremendous effort to comply. A lot of that must have been coming from a deep love of their children and a commitment to give their kids what was best.

      That is wonderful that you had such a positive experience with homeschooling. Thank you for sharing your story.

  19. Nina says:

    I would also like to point out that the laws for homeschooling in Pa are more strict than in most states and include portfolios examined each school year by a school district employee, as well as a diploma and transcripts from the school district you are homeschooled in, as well as other things. If you want an example of homeschooling laws that are actually quite excellent, check out the Pa laws. I’ve lived in a lot of states, and got the best education under the requirements here.

    • RG says:

      Yes! PA already has in place almost all the measures that Jennifer listed, and which reform advocates are suggesting for other states. It’s working very well for the homeschooling families I know there (both parents and students). They aren’t persecuted and they welcome the structure and accountability. I’d also add that the PA laws were written with heavy input from the state’s homeschool leaders, who don’t hold the extreme beliefs that homeschool leaders in other places sometimes do. It makes a difference when moderate homeschoolers speak up!

      Nina, I resonated to what you said about your experience in college. I was fortunate not to have professors malign homeschooling, but I sometimes met peers who made negative comments about it without knowing I was homeschooled. In those situations, it’s tough to decide whether to speak up or to stay in the homeschool closet. (I’ve done both at different times.) I think we can change this by educating non-homeschoolers, and by helping to ensure there are more homeschool graduates who have positive experiences and are comfortable talking about them.

      • Yes, and I think there also needs to be more opportunities for Homeschool and public school families to learn from each other without yelling. 🙂 That would help break down stereotypes too.

  20. My public school experience shaded from horrific and abusive (for 5 straight years!) to merely annoying for the other years. Homeschooling can have a dark under culture, but so do the public schools! I could tell you horror stories of the things that happen to me, things that the authorities permitted with their full knowledge. I pleaded for help and was rebuffed whenever I did. The people who were entrusted with my very life and education, I would not trust to take care of my cats. Some of the physical effects of their neglect still linger for me. As a result I have a deep mistrust of public schools. All the checks and balances and testing and blah blah blah did not protect me in the least.

    I have been homeschooling my kids for that reason and simply to tailor their education to them and their needs (my eldest is dyslexic and needs specific curriculum). I have never heard of ATI, I had only heard of gothard in passing. I do testing every year, but would do it whether it was required or not just to make sure we were staying on track. I keep records just the same as I did when I was a teacher in a school. Most of the homeschoolers I know either follow charlotte mason methods (literature and curiosity based education) or the well trained mind track.

    Please remember that ATI is a very very small segment of homeschoolers. Most of us have never heard of them and homeschool because we love our children and love true education.

  21. Donna Bowen says:

    Part of their message is that good Christians don’t send their children to public schools.–this is not true

  22. […] Shannon Ethridge, if you’re reading this, I would really hope that you are following the Bill Gothard/ATI homeschooling scandal. You can read firsthand accounts of what happened on the website Recovering Grace or find out more […]

  23. […] are. Nobody mentions the dark side. A while back I wrote an article on my blog called: “What ordinary moms should know about the Bill Gothard Scandal.” Josie Bloss has shared that same information in novel form. Faking Faith is […]

  24. […] are. Nobody mentions the dark side. A while back I wrote an article on my blog called: “What ordinary moms should know about the Bill Gothard Scandal.” Josie Bloss has shared that same information in novel form. Faking Faith is […]

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