A Personal Plea, Part 4

CC image courtesy of Flickr, duffyemma92

Edited by Wende Benner, HA Editorial Staff

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kit’s blog, Dauntless in Denver. Kit is a homeschool and ATI survivor. It was originally published on November 16, 2016. Not every part of the series explicitly mentions homeschool, but each part ties to her homeschool experience. 

I know a lot of you will read this and ask, “What does this have to do with Donald Trump?” Well, this particular post has no obvious correlations, but it is absolutely necessary background information in order for you to be able to understand the posts to come. So please, bear with me through this one.

In August of 1996, my parents enrolled our family (which by this time consisted of the three of us), in the Advanced Training Institute International (ATI), a fundamentalist Christian cult founded and led (at the time) by Bill Gothard. Up until then, life at home had been pretty rough. As I said in earlier posts, I already had PTSD when I reached the 6th grade. Two sibling-related traumas had caused it at the age of 3, and again at age 6. Based on that, it shouldn’t be a surprise that by the time I was 13, my older siblings had driven my parents to the point of desperation. As any good parents would, they thought they were to blame. They thought they were bad parents. They weren’t- my siblings each had unusually heavy issues to bear from the beginning, due to their adoptions, that I, as a biological child, simply didn’t have. But my parents didn’t realize that. So even though I was not at risk to go off the deep end as my siblings had, my parents thought I was, and took it upon themselves to become better parents.

There was a family at our church who had 4 happy, well-behaved kids, all older than I. Since they had turned out two wonderful adult children, and two wonderful nearly adult children, my parents asked them what their secret was.

They introduced my parents to ATI, Bill Gothard, and homeschooling.

And my parents completely went for it. Of course, they didn’t realize it was a cult at the time. It wasn’t secret (though it definitely was exclusive), people weren’t forced to live in a communal compound (though they had several throughout the country, referred to as “training centers”), they weren’t forced to shave their heads (though men did have to shave their beards- including my dad), etc. They just thought it was a good resource for godly living and raising godly children. As they looked into it, what they saw was family after family with a dozen happy, smiling, obedient kids.

My parents went for a week long introductory seminar for the parents of newly enrolled families at the Indianapolis Training Center, and came back talking about so many different things. Imagine being 13 years old, raised in a fairly “normal” Catholic/Evangelical hybrid home (I know, I know, it doesn’t sound normal, but it was a lot more normal than you’d think), and suddenly your parents come home from a week away and tell you that all the rules had suddenly changes. You’d been promised your whole life that when you turned 13, you could start wearing light makeup and get your ears pierced, but suddenly, makeup became vanity, and pierced ears became body mutilation. You’d been promised your whole life that you could start dating at 16, and could go to all the school dances throughout high school, except now, dating led to depravity, and father-led courtship was the only way to go, and only once you were an adult and ready to get married. Your parents had stopped spanking you at the age of 8, only to take you out to eat (I still remember the exact booth at the Frisch’s on Spring Grove Avenue we were in) and tell you that they suddenly had been shown God’s way to discipline, and that they were going to start spanking you again, but more often, and this time, with a tree limb, and imagine that continuing until you were nearly 20 years old.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.

The point is, my life got turned upside down by well-meaning parents trying to save a kid who didn’t even need saving.

I remember fighting over homeschooling. I didn’t want that. I wanted to be in band (which, I was in for the Christmas concert at my old school the one year after I left, due to an awesome band teacher (you’re reading this, and you know who you are) and an utter dearth of decent French Horn players in the 7th and 8th grade bands). I wanted to be able to be in school plays. I wanted to be able to swim in high school. I didn’t want to be removed from the things that most gave me life. I remember fighting over the “courtship covenant” my parents wanted me to sign when I was 13. That was going to be just one more way I was different from all of my friends, and everyone I had grown up with. I remember being told that I wouldn’t be allowed to go to college. I had dreamed about college since before I started preschool. I’m not even kidding.

Other than those things, the first year in ATI wasn’t horrible. I still went to youth group, I still listened to my contemporary Christian music (CCM), and I still was on swim team. But by the summer of 1997, my parents had so deeply bought into the lies of ATI, that the real trauma started. And that’s a story for Part 5.

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