A Brief History of ATI and HSLDA’s Relationship

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Numerous discussions have arisen online about the relationship between HSLDA and IBLP/ATI. The following is a detailed account of what can be publicly confirmed about that relationship.

Originally called the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts (IBYC), The Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) was founded in 1961 by Bill Gothard for the purpose of “introducing people to the Lord Jesus Christ.” IBLP’s headquarters are in Oak Brook, Illinois. IBLP has a number of educational programs, one of which is the Advanced Training Institute (ATI, previously ATIA). ATI — which HA covered during our “Inside ATI: A Homeschooling Cult” series — is IBLP’s homeschooling program, the core curriculum of which are the “Wisdom Booklets,” described by IBLP as “a 3,000-page amplification of the Sermon on the Mount.”

According to the Advanced Training Institute, “In the scope of the ATI curriculum, the Bible is the main textbook, the Wisdom Booklets are the core curriculum.” That “core curriculum” began development in 1984 by a team that worked under the direction of 3 individuals: Bill Gothard, Dr. Larry Guthrie, and Inge Cannon.

Bill Gothard and Michael Farris

Bill Gothard, as previously stated, is IBLP’s founder.

Less known, however, is that Michael Farris and his wife Vickie embraced the Quiverfull lifestyle specifically because of him.

As documented in Kathryn Joyce’s Quiverfull, Michael Farris “came to his Quiverfull beliefs through the ministry of Bill Gothard.” In the 1980s, Gothard preached that God should determine family size. And “one of Gothard’s early converts was [HSLDA’s Michael] Farris, who was already primed for the message of letting God control Vickie’s fertility by early anti-contraception literature and his immersion, in the late 70’s, in a conservative Christian movement in Washington State.”

Vickie Farris herself explains this in her book A Mom Just Like You, saying,

Mike had recently been ordained through our local church in preparation for his new job in Washington, DC. He was invited to a pastors’ seminar taught by Bill Gothard, and one of the things Bill discussed that day was the fact that children are always mentioned in the Bible as unqualified blessings… He encouraged the men at the seminar to have as many  children as their faith could handle! When Mike came home and told me the things Bill had said, we decided then and there, with some trepidation, to trust God and stop using birth control. (page 68)

This influence led Vickie to pass on the message and “encourage other women to reject birth control methods and embrace motherhood.”

Inge Cannon and HSLDA

A graduate of Bob Jones University, Inge Cannon was truly the overseer of launching ATI’s Wisdom Booklets in 1984. According to HSLDA’s accounting, it was while working at Maranatha Baptist Bible College that “she was first introduced to the concept of home education. Bill Gothard, founder and president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, invited Inge to attend a special conference to plan the foundation of the Institute’s home education curriculum, the Advanced Training Institute of America.” In 1985, Cannon moved to Oak Brook specifically “to direct the ATIA program.” She then continued to develop ATI — both the program itself and the curriculum — until 1990. In 1990, after 6 years of working with Gothard and directing ATI, Michael Farris himself sought her out to find a Director of HSLDA’s new division, the National Center for Home Education. She filled the position herself, becoming “the first executive director of the National Center.”

It ought to be stressed that Inge Cannon is responsible for the ATI curriculum — especially the Wisdom Booklets. More than that, as documented by Jeri Lofland, Cannon discouraged young people from going to college during ATI conferences in Knoxville. As Lofland notes,

I was just one of thousands of young people who were told that we didn’t need college credits, that college would corrupt our minds with “vain philosophies” and threaten our faith, that there are some things “God doesn’t want us to know”, and that employers would come looking for us because of our diligence, obedience, and virtue. So, many of us dutifully eschewed degrees in favor of home-based study.

Cannon being recruited by HSLDA’s Michael Farris was not mere coincidence. Cannon herself points out that she and her work is officially “endorsed” by not only Bill Gothard, but Michael Farris (as well as Bob Jones, III).

Larry Guthrie, Inspiring Speaker

The third person overseeing the development of the Wisdom Booklets in the 1980s was Larry Guthrie. In addition to writing “science and medical curriculum materials” for ATI, Guthrie is “the former director of the Children’s Institute”. The Children’s Institute, as discussed by Lana Hope, was where children “started learning about the umbrella of authority from the age of 5.” He also wrote some of the Character Sketches sold by Gothard’s ALERT program.

Still a keynote speaker at homeschool conferences, Guthrie has been promoted by HSLDA as “inspiring.” In 2011, HSLDA promoted the Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators Annual Conference and Curriculum Fair, featuring Guthrie. Similarly in 2013, Peter Kamakawiwoole, HSLDA Staff Attorney, encouraged HSLDA members to attend a conference with Guthrie as keynote speaker.

Beyond Curriculum Developers

The warm camaraderie and partnerships between ATI and HSLDA extend beyond the direct relationships between ATI’s Wisdom Booklet developers (Gothard, Cannon, and Guthrie) and HSLDA. Dianne Hurst, ATI’s grammar curriculum developer, was featured on HSLDA’s Home School Heartbeat for a week. Hurst is also married to HSLDA’s Membership and Human Resources Director, Chuck Hurst. Steve Wells, who worked with Gothard and ATI to develop an online distance learning engineering program (the parent to IBLP’s Telos Institute and Verity College), also appeared on Home School Heartbeat for a week. Inge Cannon was similarly featured on Home School Heartbeat — and more than once.

Vicki Bentley, HSLDA’s coordinator for Toddlers to Tweens and Group Services, recommends ATI for “Bible/Character Training” in the Virginia Homeschool Manual she compiled.

In the 2008 edition of HSLDA’s Court Report, HSLDA featured a history of “The Early Days of Homeschooling.” HSLDA highlights Bill Gothard and Inge Cannon, saying ATI “helped many families get started.” Additionally, ATI is featured on HSLDA’s official curriculum list. ATI is also an HSLDA Discount Group, and just last summer HSLDA promoted an ATI “success story” in Court Report.

In 1989, prior to Inge Cannon joining HSLDA, she helped support a memorandum in Ohio written by HSLDA’s Michael Smith. This memorandum explained “that there is no legal requirement in Ohio that a homeschooling instructor possess a college degree.” According to HSLDA,

Mrs. Inge Pohl [Cannon], Director of Education for the Advanced Training Institute of America (a nationwide homeschool program), testified at trial in North Dakota that in testing 5,000 youngsters pursuant to their program, they found no significant correlation between the parents’ education and their children’s success in testing.

ATI and Patrick Henry College (started and initially funded by HSLDA) also share a rich donor. Dr. James Leininger, a Texas physician, homeschooling parent, and part-owner of the San Antonio Spurs, has long bankrolled conservative Christian projects. He was a founding director of Vision Forum. He served on the Advisory Board for IBLP. And not only was he “one of the first and most significant contributors” to HSLDA’s Patrick Henry College, he also is currently on that college’s Board of Trustees.

Jordan Lorence, ATI, and HSLDA

More than anyone, Jordan Lorence represents the working relationship between ATI and HSLDA. (You might recognize Lorence most recently as the lawyer representing the New Mexico photographer who refused to photograph a same-sex ceremony.)

In the late Christopher Klicka’s book Home School Heroes: The Struggle & Triumph of Home Schooling in America (a book endorsed by Lorence himself, which you can see on the book’s back cover), Klicka points out that Lorence worked with HSLDA from the very beginning. Starting in 1984, Lorence worked part-time for HSLDA and handled legal contacts with homeschoolers. It was Lorence, along with Michael Farris, that interviewed Klicka when he was hired by HSLDA.

In 1985, Lorence served as HSLDA’s Director.

In 1991, Lorence became a full-time staff attorney for HSLDA, focusing on HSLDA’s presence in Canada.

During this time, Lorence also worked with Bill Gothard and IBLP/ATI. Lorence spoke for several years at ATI conferences held in Knoxville and Oklahoma; he was a welcome and well-known guest. There is an online record of his presentation at a 1994 ATI conference in Knoxville. In 1996, Lorence represented IBLP in the court case Institute in Basic Life Principles, Inc. v. Watersmeet TP.

Jordan Lorence  also played an instrumental role in Oak Brook College of Law, as discussed next.

Oak Brook College of Law and HSLDA

The final and most significant relationship between ATI and HSLDA involves Oak Brook College of Law.

Oak Brook College of Law (based in Fresno, California but sharing the same name as IBLP’s geographical location — namely, Oak Brook, Illinois) was launched by ATI itself. In fact, OBCL is still listed on IBLP’s website as one of IBLP’s educational programs and their graduation ceremonies were held at IBLP Training Centers. Not only that, but law students at OBCL study Bill Gothard’s Basic Seminar material.

Law students do not simply study Gothard’s Basic Seminar material, however.

According to Oak Brook’s official college policies as of last year, a “prerequisite for admission” into the school is “attendance at all the sessions of the Seminar in Basic Life Principles sponsored by the Institute in Basic Life Principles.”

When OBCL was launched in 1995, it was done so as a joint effort between ATI and HSLDA stakeholders. Bill Gothard served as the law school’s Chancellor (and he still is the Chancellor), Michael Farris served on the Board of Trustees, and former HSLDA director and staff attorney Jordan Lorence served (and continues to serve) as the school’s Constitutional Law Professor as well as is Chairman of Oak Brook’s Board of Advisors. ***

The relationship continued when graduates of Oak Brook faced difficulties taking the bar in states other than California. In 2005, HSLDA specifically supported Texas House Bill 826 (which ultimately failed to pass) because “homeschoolers who graduate from the distance-learning school Oak Brook College of Law in California are currently prohibited from taking the Texas Bar Exam.” HSLDA highlighted that Oak Brook students “have worked as Legal Assistants for the HSLDA Legal Department” and HSLDA “hired two graduates of the school to work as lawyers in our office.”

Graduates of Bill Gothard’s law school have indeed gone on to work for HSLDA. HSLDA attorney Darren Jones graduated from Oak Brook. Will Estrada, HSLDA’s Director of Federal Relations, graduated from Oak Brook. HSLDA Legal Assistant Elliot Ko graduated from Oak Brook. HSLDA attorney Tj Schmidt graduated from Oak Brook. Former HSLDA legal assistant Daniel Beasley graduated from Oak Brook.

*** Update, February 15, 2014: Jordan Lorence emailed Homeschoolers Anonymous on February 10 and said that, as of February 10, he had “resigned from all of [his] connections with Oak Brook College of Law.” There is no official statement from the college itself on the matter. However, a screenshot from Oak Brook’s website on January 20 shows Lorence listed as faculty; their current faculty page no longer lists him.

13 comments

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Sounds like one big network of “You Scratch My Back And I’ll Scratch Yours”, “One Hand Washes The Other”, and “For The Cause”.

  • Thanks for writing this. I have found that ATI sort of has origins in most of the homeschool stuff, which makes sense given how far they date back.

  • I am learning in my Sociology class at a pagan school (local community college) about “Interlocking directorates” and how those create significant social and political problems when businesses form monopolistic oligarchies.
    I feel like this example is a “textbook case.”
    (pun)

  • What’s your point? ATI is bad therefore HSLDA must be bad too? I read your article because I was hoping to read what Jordan Lorence had to say. Listen, I was an ATI student. Was an intern for HSLDA in 1996. Worked for Oak Brook college in Fresno in 1997. Attended Oak Brook College. Later worked for HSLDA in 2001-2002.

    HSLDA supports and defends the freedom to homeschool. Bill Gothard’s ATI has a lot of home schoolers who also need legal council and protection. HSLDA also has Muslim members. Again what’s your point?

    About the Farris’s: I coached their daughter’s soccer team and was invited to the family dinner table on occasion. They definitely have the faith and love to support all their children. I guess they decided the quiver full message was still a good idea even after they dropped out of the ATI program. My understanding, from one of their daughters is they were only enrolled in ATI for a very short time.

    I can tell you Mike Farris never agreed that home schoolers should not attend college. The obvious proof is Patrick Henry College. But when i was an intern we were polling colleges to collect information about their admission policies for home schooled students.

    Farris’ own children attended college. The daughter I knew the best attended community college classes at age 16.

    I can confirm everything you wrote. Yes, the connections between HSLDA and Bill Gothard are undeniable. I wish I could say the same about the purpose of your article.

    • Thanks for the comment. The “point” is rather simple and limited and is explicitly stated in the first paragraph:

      Numerous discussions have arisen online about the relationship between HSLDA and IBLP/ATI. The following is a detailed account of what can be publicly confirmed about that relationship.

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  • Very good, well researched article.

  • conversationswithkellieJulieCC

    I always knew there was a reason I never liked/trusted/joined HSLDA in the 10 years I was a home educator!

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