Schools: State review board says the revised books based on ideas of Scientology founder misrepresent minorities and the disabled. Publisher vows more changes.
By DUKE HELFAND, L.A. Times Staff Writer
State education officials on Monday rejected the latest version of a series of textbooks inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, saying the books failed to properly depict disabled people and minorities.
The publisher, Bridge Publications, is seeking to have five books based on Hubbard’s educational ideas approved for use in California public classrooms as supplemental texts.
But in a two-page letter faxed to the publisher Monday, the state Department of Education said revisions to the original series failed to adequately address concerns raised by a 20-member citizens review panel.
The panel is one of several across the state that review supplemental materials to ensure that the works comply with the state’s social content laws.
The effort to include the books on the state-approved list–allowing, but not obligating, schools to buy them–has raised concerns among some educators and civil libertarians. Critics, including some former Scientologists, contend that Hubbard’s “Study Technology” is actually a means of drawing new adherents into Scientology. Bridge Publications, they note, also publishes literature for the Church of Scientology.
However, the citizens panel concluded that the books met the state’s guidelines on religion, which bar textbooks from encouraging particular religious beliefs.
The books were not approved by the state because they misrepresented the disabled and minorities, state officials said.
For example, disabled characters were shown with canes, representative more of the aging process than of a disability, said Ruth McKenna, the state’s chief deputy superintendent of public instruction.
A disabled character in the texts also was shown in a wheelchair alone, isolated from others. In addition, the books did not depict enough disabled people.
The state asked the publisher to show some of the main characters as being disabled and have them interact with others.
Bridge Publications had originally submitted the texts to the state in May 1996, only to have them rejected later that year. The firm submitted revised versions in August.
“The panel reviewed the final galleys to see if the changes were sufficient and determined that they were not,” McKenna said. “I’ve now looked at the galley proofs and . . . I agree with the panel’s concerns.”
According to the state’s letter, written by McKenna, the citizens panel concluded that the revisions were too weak.
In the case of minorities, for example, the state said the changes were accomplished by shading the faces of existing characters. One character ended up appearing white on certain pages but as an ethnic minority on other pages.
Bridge did meet the review panel’s requests on one point: It showed more female characters in dominant roles.
Bridge officials said they welcomed the state’s critique, saying McKenna’s two-page letter was the first detailed summary of needed changes they had received since they initiated the approval process. They vowed to make the necessary changes and resubmit a new set of books by the end of next month.
“We should easily be able to comply,” said Scott Welch, senior vice president of operations for Bridge.
Supporters say the Hubbard books and methods offer three techniques that help students overcome common barriers: Students use dictionaries to look up words they do not understand, apply their lessons to real life and gain a thorough understanding of a subject through incremental learning.
The books are not about any specific school subjects as such, but about the process of learning. Titles include “Learning How to Learn,” “How to Use a Dictionary” and “Study Skills for Life.”
The publisher thought its books had been given preliminary approval in July. A state official notified it in writing that its proposed revisions met the state’s social content guidelines–a letter that, in hindsight, may have been confusing, McKenna said.
After the state’s customary procedure, the company submitted its final hard copy version in late August for review by the citizens panel.
However, the panel found objections in that copy.
“We never give final approval until we see the book,” McKenna said. “That’s our safety net.”
McKenna said such approval does not mean the state endorses the books, but merely that schools are free to buy them.
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