By Bedford McIntosh
Would you want your child’s schoolteacher to use teaching techniques invented by someone who had dropped out of college after two years of low grades? Probably not, but Tom Cruise would like to change your mind about that.
Lately Cruise has been in Washington touting the teaching methods created by a George Washington University dropout with exactly that background. The collegiate education of the person Cruise is promoting didn’t end there: he later obtained a “Ph.D.” from Sequoia University, an unaccredited, Los Angeles-based diploma mill.
That academic record of indistinction belongs to L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer who announced Dianetics to the world in the May 1950 issue of “Astounding Science Fiction.” According to its proponents, Dianetics and Hubbard’s next-step development, Scientology, can help you learn to be “at cause” over “MEST,” (that’s Matter, Energy, Space, and Time to us non-Scientologists, or “wogs” in Scientology parlance). That’s just a small part of what Scientologists hope to gain from this self-described “applied religious philosophy.” Furthermore, Scientologists believe L. Ron Hubbard was a man of extraordinary talents — whose legacy reaches far beyond Scientology — and they believe that with the intensity of, well, believers. In such circumstances, scrutiny has to come from others.
Most parents enthusiastically gravitate to promises of a better education for their children, and politicians may debate whether they should follow along as well. In this case, when they hear the connection to Scientology, they will naturally wonder if the teaching methods carry an underpinning of religion. They will be told quickly by the Scientologists that these methods are “secular works” by Hubbard, and have nothing to do with religion. Indeed, a cursory look into Hubbard’s teaching materials will offer no obvious religious message. But it is there, implicit in the methods themselves. To understand this, one must know something of the complicated history of Scientology and the unusual nature of Scientology beliefs. Beliefs that don’t appear religious to the typical person.
Even the IRS has been confused about this issue. For approximately thirty years the IRS scrutinized Scientology to determine whether it deserved the tax-exempt status normally accorded religions and concluded it did not. To the IRS, Scientology’s philosophy, acquired through a series of “fixed donations” for courses, looked more like a business than a religion. So it is hardly surprising that the teaching methods credited to Hubbard, invented as part of his development of Scientology, don’t appear “religious” to those first learning of them.
In an extraordinary move, the IRS reversed its Supreme Court-supported position and granted Scientology tax-exempt status in 1993. So now Scientologists obtain tax-deductible religious training that requires “word clearing,” warns against going past “misunderstood words” (look in the front of the book “Dianetics,” for example) and posits the concept of “mental mass.”
But wait a minute: these are also the key practices of the educational “technology” that Cruise is so excited about. Parents, politicians, and education officials need to realize they simply won’t find obvious religious flags when reviewing Hubbard’s materials, but the practices they demand are in effect part of the “faith” of Scientology followers.
Even if Hubbard’s proponents could surmount the religion question, there remains an even more important issue: whether Hubbard’s ideas on education are sound. If teaching and learning are ultimately about the search for truth, we must allow for the possibility that Hubbard may, in fact, have something to offer in the way of improving education. But the likelihood of that being the case is small. The myriad entities of the greater Scientology world (including their drug rehab program, Narconon, and their prisoner rehab program, Criminon) rely almost exclusively on the “success stories” of believers and have been subjected to little independent review.
If there is an independent review which demonstrates the effectiveness of Hubbard’s educational methods, it is carefully hidden; instead we have the enthusiasm of the Scientologists who are attempting to introduce them to our public education system. Having Tom Cruise’s endorsement — even if John Travolta, Lisa Marie Presley, and Kirstie Alley join in — isn’t enough when the issue is providing our children with a quality education.
In his later years, Hubbard returned to producing science fiction novels. Commenting on the prose of one of these works, The New York Times stated that it presented “…a disregard of conventional grammar so global as to suggest a satire on the possibility of communication through language.” According to The Los Angeles Times, another of these works “…read as if poorly translated from the Japanese. ‘The blastgun barrel was into my stomach with violence!’ goes one entire paragraph, characteristically substituting typographical stridence for the crisp prose and well-visualized action so conspicuously absent from the book.” Hardly recommendations of Hubbard as a source of excellence in education.
Most Scientologists are good, well-intentioned folks – and it is impossible to deny the sincerity of their belief. There is every reason to believe Tom Cruise is like that as well. That Scientologists may accept Hubbard’s ideas that we are immortal Thetans; the “OT-III” story that our bodies are crawling with the spirits of space aliens murdered 75,000,000 years ago by the galactic tyrant Xenu; that we visit a between-lives implant station on either Mars or Venus; that we have clams in our evolutionary history…well, that’s their business. Any religion can look odd to non-believers.
But when Hubbard’s followers try to extend into the public education system his unproven concepts — that a yawn from a student is an indication that he or she has misunderstood a word, for example — we need to tell them to keep those beliefs in their church and their Hubbard-inspired private schools.
Especially if the proponent’s primary qualification is that he or she is a Hollywood star. Remember, Tom Cruise only made it to Princeton in the movies.
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