Boston Globe ~ A new word in literacy — Scientology

October 22, 2006 under Boston HELP

By Adrienne P. Samuels

Church-run charities abound by the dozens in Roxbury, but they are not usually operated by the oft-controversial Church of Scientology, which last month kick-started classes at its Washington Street literacy center with a grand opening that offered free food and sidewalk chalk for children.

The church members who staff the literacy center, in a storefront marked with bright-yellow “Boston Scientology Ministry” signs, say they wanted to do something about the increase in violence in Boston, which they attribute in part to poor education.

The ministry used to be in Dorchester’s Codman Square, but moved in May to Roxbury to be closer to the main church and to share space with another Scientology organization, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, focusing on antipsychiatry efforts.

“My goal is to infuse the community with tools they can use,” said Robert Castagna , a Scientology minister who heads up the literacy program. “I’m not here to save your soul, but if you can’t read, you have a major handicap spiritually.”

Scientology, founded in the 1950s by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, is a religion that has often drawn the suspicion of the American public. Billing itself as an “applied religious philosophy” that believes humans live many lives and can achieve higher states of awareness, the church teaches that psychiatry is a hoax. It also has been criticized as a cult that extracts money from its followers.

A number of parents who use the literacy services say they enjoy the tutoring as long as proselytizing is left out.

“I’m not really into the ministry because I’m a Christian, but they’re good as far as helping your child,” said Tycia Feagin , 28, of Roxbury, whose 6 -year-old son attends the program. “They helped me to help him. I like what they’re doing.” The program runs from 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Yet, Feagin, like many who work and live nearby, remains cautious about getting too close to the group’s teachings.

“It seems the way they go about it, you trick your mind,” she said. “It’s interesting, but I’ve tried many religions and I feel God is my way.”

Somalia native Ruqiya Bule , 23, of Roxbury, said her 7 -year-old son likes the program.

“I think it’s helpful for the kids,” said Bule, who is a Muslim and didn’t learn until recently that Scientology is a religion. “They give you one-on-one attention.”

Not everyone in the neighborhood appreciates the church’s activities, which include free handouts of a main Hubbard book, “Dianetics.”

“What they preach, I don’t think I have the same belief,” said Patricia Doely of Lynn, who works in a hair salon on Washington Street and worships at the 12th Baptist Church in Roxbury. She didn’t read the pamphlets that Scientology ministers left in the shop. “If I had kids, I wouldn’t let them go there. They bring their books by and try to bring people in.”

Salon owner Helen Roy said people on the block have noticed the Scientology center but many won’t walk inside.

“People talk about it. They talk about how crazy Tom Cruise is,” citing the actor’s well-publicized statements backing Scientology.

Yet the program appears to meet a community need.

“I’ve contacted other places, but they said I had to sign up in January,” said South End resident Brenda Powell, 55 , who is working on a general equivalency diploma, or GED. “And that’s why I’m here.”

Most of the volunteer ministers, like Castagna, are graduates of a Scientology program that they say qualifies them to teach Hubbard’s study techniques. They say they don’t intend to bring people into the religious fold.

“Yes, we’re proud of our founder, but I don’t have a plan of action to recruit anyone here,” said the Rev. Gerard Renna , leader of the church’s Back Bay congregation. “I have a plan to help the mayor and the police.”

To that end, the Washington Street church collected nearly 100 guns in the buy-back program launched this summer by the city.

Northeastern University professor Susan Setta said Scientology, like the Boston-based Church of Christ, Scientist, and the Church of Latter Day Saints before it, is now the nation’s preferred anti religion. Their Roxbury outpost is no different than any other religious program, she said.

“Some religions help by example,” said Setta, department chair for religion and philosophy. “The Scientologists believe they have the answer and they believe they can help people. They think that if you’re a Scientologist, it would be better, but I think they think they can help you even if you’re not.”

***

LETTERS The Boston Globe

What controversy?

October 29, 2006

Thank you for your article on the Scientology literacy program in Roxbury (“New word in literacy — Scientology,” Oct. 22, City Weekly).

The truth is that Scientology really does help people, the program is free to the community, the volunteers at the ministry are civic minded, generous of their time and resources, and effective in using L. Ron Hubbard’s very workable technology to the benefit of others.

Now really, what’s so controversial about that?

Fran Mackay Randolph

© 2006 Globe Newspaper Company

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Guardian UK ~ German Police Told To Target Scientologists

October 1, 2006 under Other Issues

Germans are being warned of the ‘danger’ of Scientology amid growing concerns over the numbers of after-school tutoring programmes springing up across the country.

The government has told internal security forces to step up their scrutiny of the movement, claiming that the Scientologists, which they label a cult, are seeking to take advantage of Germany’s ailing education system as a means to recruit children. It has prompted US embassy officials to lobby the German government on the sect’s behalf.

Police and intelligence agencies have been closely following the activities of the group. State security and educational officials have issued warnings to schools and parents that seemingly innocuous tutoring programmes may be fronts to recruit children and their families.

Scientology-affiliated tutoring programmes have more than tripled in the past 12 months, and there are now estimated to be at least 30 nationwide. ‘We know that Scientology is trying to approach students to gain followers,’ said Bavarian Interior Minister Gunther Beckstein, who said there were at least eight tutoring programmes connected to Scientology in Bavaria.

Scientology has the legal right to operate as a religion in Germany, though the government has refused it tax-exempt status. ‘Scientology is not a religion. It is a business and its aim is to gain power over individuals and try to brainwash them,’ Beckstein added. ‘We see it as the duty of the state to inform students and parents about the danger of these schools.’

Scientology spokeswoman Sabine Weber said the group was a religious one being persecuted and that fears about tutoring and brainwashing were ‘pure invention’. She said she was aware of only one case of a teacher using tutoring as a means to conversion. ‘This goes against Scientology doctrine,’ she added.

The Church of Scientology, founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, has celebrity adherents including Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Isaac Hayes. It has a reputation for being secretive, wealthy and extremely aggressive in repelling critics. While it claims to have 10 million members worldwide, independent experts estimate the number as closer to 100,000.

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Riverfront Times ~ Applied Pressure: Should St. Louis County grant tax breaks to Scientology-linked tutoring programs?

December 7, 2005 under St. Louis Schools

By Kristen Hinman

Every year in St. Louis County, on the fourth Monday in August, more than one thousand properties are placed on the auction block. County revenue officials and eager bidders converge on council chambers to divvy up land on which owners have not paid property taxes for three years.

The tax-delinquent citizenry are warned in advance that their real estate will go to the highest bidder if they haven’t paid at least one year’s worth of back taxes. The deadline is auction day.

“We have a flurry of activity right before the tax sale: people coming in and paying the oldest year due, just to get their property out of the sale,” says Richard Robison, manager of revenue services.

One prominent plot that escaped auction this year was the $3.8 million, 55-acre Spanish Lake spread belonging to Applied Scholastics International, the Church of Scientology-associated nonprofit tutoring program that is trying to gain a foothold in St. Louis public schools.

Since purchasing the property in 2001 for $2.9 million, Applied Scholastics has paid just one year’s worth of property taxes. Now, the organization owes St. Louis County nearly $350,000 and has until next August to make good on at least some of that debt.

The organization has been fighting to obtain a tax break for more than a year, saying its educational mission led the federal government to grant it a charitable status back in 1972.

But the county’s not convinced. First, the St. Louis County Board of Equalization turned Applied Scholastics down, saying its tutoring programs operate like a business by charging fees for so-called moral-improvement classes. And now the county council sees no reason to overturn the board’s decision.

“Most of what we heard was about their programs in Belize and other countries. And that was really a concern of mine,” says St. Louis County Councilman Kurt Odenwald. “I want to know what they’re doing in the county. Are their teachers certified? Do people get degrees? Are county residents taking their classes?”

Applied Scholastics spokeswoman Mary Adams suggests that the latest scrutiny of her group amounts to a witch hunt.

“Somebody is trying to insinuate we’re something other than what we are,” Adams says. “The real question is why the county is trying to tax an organization recognized for 30 years as a charitable, educational and tax-exempt organization by the IRS.”

Counters Odenwald: “We really have to make sure we’re exempting for an educational purpose.”

Adds Rita Casey, supervisor of the Board of Equalization: “Otherwise, I could say I’m teaching kids in my basement and get an exemption.”

Odenwald asked Applied Scholastics in September to furnish the council with more detailed information about the organization’s effectiveness and its county-centered educational efforts.

“If we find out it really isn’t a school, and what’s being used is just for the internal religion [of Scientology], that would affect our underlying decision,” he says. Odenwald expects the council’s revenue committee to forward its recommendation to the full body for passage within the next few weeks.

Municipal land-use and tax lawyers say the conflict amounts to differing interpretations of a broad state law.

According to that statute, property-tax exemptions are reserved for parcels “actually and regularly used exclusively for religious worship, for schools and colleges, or for purposes purely charitable and not held for private or corporate profit.”

Between 250 and 300 charitable groups apply every year for exemptions, and only about half are granted, county officials say.

“If you’re the county, you don’t go: ‘Bang, that’s it, you’re 501(c)(3) and federally tax-exempt, so you can have the tax status locally, too’,” says Jerome Pratter, a St. Louis attorney who has fought the county over this issue before.

Case law has left the burden on anyone seeking tax breaks to prove that their organization provides direct benefits to society, Pratter adds.

“I wouldn’t bet a dollar on either side in this case,” he concludes. “But so far everybody is doing what they’re supposed to, which is dig for the facts. And my guess is the loser will end up in court, because there’s a substantial amount of money involved.”

It would not be the first time a Scientology-associated group and St. Louis County have sparred in the halls of justice.

In 2003 the Church of Scientology, which has local headquarters in University City, filed a lawsuit against the Board of Equalization for declaring the church taxable. That case is still pending.

A 1977 Missouri Supreme Court ruling denying the Church any property-tax exemptions was the basis for the board’s and council’s actions, Councilman Odenwald says. The high court held that Scientologists were not religious because they didn’t worship the Supreme Being. But Odenwald recognizes that other states, such as Florida, have in recent years cut the Church a tax break. “Might the court apply a different standard today? It might.”

The county, meanwhile, has shown little inclination to aggressively pursue the back taxes owed by Applied Scholastics.

“We’ll send out a delinquent notice just before the tax sale,” explains Nancy Key, coordinator for the county’s collector of revenue. “But we’re not like a collection agency that keeps calling and calling.”

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St. Pete Times ~ Editorial: A Curious Alliance

November 9, 2005 under Study Technology

Two Tampa churches say they have formed an alliance with Scientology as a vehicle to provide helpful programs to their needy communities. The pastors of Glorious Church of God in Christ in east Tampa and Joy Tabernacle Cathedral in Ybor City are enthusiastic supporters of programs inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and are encouraging their members to utilize the programs and help others discover their benefits.

Members of both churches are learning Hubbard’s so-called “study tech,” which is a method of studying that Hubbard designed and which he claimed improved learning. The church members hope to teach “study tech” to children in the churches’ neighborhoods.

Glorious Church also will host, and its members will help teach, an after-school, phonics-based reading program operated by Bright Sky Learning, a Clearwater-based company run by Scientologists. Public money, as much as $1,300 per child, will be paid to Bright Sky through the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

What’s in all of this for the two churches? Both ministers say their mostly low-income, minority neighborhoods need these kinds of programs. Pastor Charles Kennedy of Glorious Church also wants something more material: He hopes that Scientologists will help pay for construction of a community center on the church grounds – where Kennedy wants to teach Hubbard techniques to more people.

Neither minister seems troubled by linking their Christian churches to Scientology. They say the Church of Scientology doesn’t push its religious practices through the programs and “they don’t recruit people.”

That statement is naive at best. The Church of Scientology does recruit – in fact, it has an extremely active recruitment center in Ybor City. It has missions in towns all over America whose purpose is to market Scientology and recruit new members. However, the church has scored perhaps its biggest gains with a more subtle approach: weaving itself into the fabric of communities through programs that may offer benefits but also familiarize enrollees with the concepts and unique lingo of Scientology while sharing little of the controversial history of the church.

Scientology is getting something very valuable out of its alliance with Glorious Church and Joy Tabernacle: public acceptance in an area the church is targeting for recruitment. If the two churches really want to be helpful to their communities, they will avoid becoming mere mission outposts for Scientology, and they will explore the whole range of public and private programs that could provide valuable services to their neighborhoods.

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Chicago Daily Herald ~ Hubbard-inspired school opens

November 4, 2005 under Delphi Schools

by Catherine Edman

The Delphi Academy, a national network of schools using methods created by Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, is opening its doors in Lombard.

Though the school operated in the village for five years as the Chicagoland Academy, and already used Hubbard’s methods and books, joining with Delphi gives it greater resources, said Char Miller, the Lombard school’s director.

“There’s other groups, other teachers, directors,” she said. “It’s just having a bigger family.”

And while Hubbard’s name is on the books published by Applied Scholastics International, the school doesn’t teach Scientology, Miller said.

“I am a Scientologist, but none of my teachers are,” she said.

The Delphi school, the first in the Midwest, is holding its grand opening today. Nationally, there are eight other schools, primarily based in California and the East Coast.

There are just under 100 schools nationwide using the Applied Scholastics books and methods, though Delphi is the largest network of schools in the United States, said Mary Adams, president of Applied Scholastics.

When asked whether the St. Louis-based Applied Scholastics was related to the religious organization ” perhaps best known recently for the actor Tom Cruise’s endorsement ” the business faxed a copy of a letter indicating that its tax-exempt status is separate from that of the church and “religious mission.”

“We just use the (educational methods) licensed to us,” Adams said.

Those methods, known as Study Technology, focus on removing barriers that prevent children from learning, giving individualized attention and working with students until they understand all concepts fully, Miller said.

But a Carnegie Mellon University professor, and long-time critic of Applied Scholastics, says some of the education methods overlap with the religion, making it impossible to separate the two.

David Touretzky, a computer science researcher, pointed to the first study barrier, “absence of mass,” which means a child must have a picture of something ” or the object itself ” to understand what it is, for example. Scientology highlights “mental image pictures which have mass and energy” and change when people have a thought, look at the mental picture, or experience a feeling, according to the official church Web site.

“Study Technology is Scientology,” Touretzky said. “It’s a little piece of the whole religion, but it’s a piece.”

Miller emphasizes that the school does not teach Scientology. The school emphasizes achievement, she said.

All students must get all answers correct on every test or they fail to progress to the next level. If a student receives a score of 93, “the teacher has to take you through that 7 percent and fix it,” she said.

Because it’s private, the school is not required to be recognized by the state, though it can choose to do so, explained Darlene Ruscitti, DuPage County regional superintendent of schools. She said there’s no indication the school applied for recognition.

Miller said that, unlike in public schools, Delphi teachers don’t need to be certified by the state, though they must be certified in the teaching methods her school uses. That’s a three-month-long process.

In fact, Miller herself had no background in teaching or education when she decided to get involved with Chicagoland Academy, previously known as Chicagoland Achievement Academy when it operated in Arlington Heights and then Des Plaines.

Miller, a former computer programmer and office manager, wanted her own children to use the Hubbard-inspired teaching methods, particularly those that advance children to the next level as they’re ready.

“I would have home-schooled (my children) because that’s my philosophy, that they can move at their own pace,” she said.

Lombard parent Beth Brand enrolled her 4 ?-year-old son in the school last year because she didn’t think he was being pushed to learn enough in another program. Now, he’s already reading books to himself and asking about multiplication problems.

But she admits she felt reason to pause when she saw “L. Ron Hubbard” on book covers and on school literature. She said she specifically asked if Scientology was taught.

It caused me concern because it’s not my background,” said Brand, who described her family as Evangelical Christian.

Her concerns have since faded.

“I’ve never seen the influence. I’ve never seen anything,” she said. “No one’s ever mentioned it.”

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Saint Petersburg Times ~ Spiritual symbiosis: A surprising one

October 30, 2005 under Study Technology

Some area churches are embracing teaching methods devised by the Church of Scientology. Tutoring. Anticrime. Antidrugs. Everyone seems comfortable, as long as it all stays secular.

By ROBERT FARLEY, Times Staff Writer

TAMPA – It’s Monday night, and 13 teenagers gather at the Glorious Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American church in a working class neighborhood of East Tampa.

The teens bow their heads and pray Jesus will make this a productive evening. Then one hands out pamphlets titled The Way to Happiness.

“Be worthy of trust” is the passage the kids read before launching into a discussion of moral issues touching on race, sex and honesty.

The concepts aren’t unusual for a Christian teen group, but the author is. The Way to Happiness is a moral code written by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology.

And the Way to Happiness class is just part of a relationship between the Glorious Church of God in Christ and the Church of Scientology.

About 20 Glorious Church members have been schooled on Hubbard’s study technology at Scientology’s Tampa facility on Habana Avenue. Soon Glorious Church parishioners plan to teach Hubbard’s so-called “study tech” to children in their neighborhood, where one in five live in poverty.

The Glorious Church also hopes to host Narconon and Criminon programs based on the teachings of Hubbard and aimed at drug treatment and criminal rehabilitation.

Both programs have been labeled ineffectual and thinly disguised recruiting tools by Scientology detractors. But the Rev. Charles Kennedy, the pastor at Glorious Church of God in Christ, is convinced they could help his community overcome illiteracy, drug addiction and crime.

“I need what they are doing to fulfill what I’ve been praying about,” he said.

There’s more.

Next month, Glorious Church parishioners will begin tutoring neighborhood kids through an afterschool program known as Bright Sky. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires Hillsborough school officials to use public money for private afterschool programs, which will get up to $1,300 per child.

Although Bright Sky is not connected to the Church of Scientology and does not use Hubbard’s study tech, it was created by Scientologists as a for-profit company.

All of this adds up to an unusual, if not unheard of, alliance between a Christian church in the Tampa Bay area and the Church of Scientology and its members.

* * *

To understand the relationship, one must look first to Pastor Kennedy.

“I’m not your normal pastor,” Kennedy said. “I’m an enigma.”

Kennedy, 63, is a Tampa native. But he left town as a young man and traveled the world as a professional saxophone player before returning to Tampa in 1972. Glorious Church of God in Christ started with a five-person prayer group and was chartered in 1980. Kennedy has been its pastor from the start.

Kennedy said he learned about Scientology while in Clearwater for a business deal unrelated to his church last year. He met Ed Best, a Scientologist and president of Ebony Awakenings, a small chapter of black Scientologists.

Kennedy attended an Ebony Awakenings banquet and learned about various Hubbard-inspired programs. He knew of the church’s often-controversial image, but his brother-in-law got off drugs through Narconon, he said.

So Kennedy and about 20 others from his 154-member church began taking weekly courses at the Church of Scientology in Tampa, located in two renovated cigar factories on Habana Avenue.

Kennedy said he cried when he took one course on learning.

“Where has this been all my life?” he asked.

Kennedy’s wife, Yolanda, calls the basic study tech “one of the most exciting courses I’ve taken.”

But she draws the line when it comes to Scientology’s “auditing” sessions and other religious practices.

“I’m of a different spiritual persuasion,” she said. “I’m very happy with the balance I have between the two of them.”

Pastor Kennedy said he doesn’t worry that some of his flock may decide to become Scientologists.

“One thing I appreciate” about Scientologists is “they don’t care what your faith is,” he said. “They don’t recruit people.”

* * *

In its three decades in the Tampa Bay area, the Church of Scientology has never before enjoyed such a level of acceptance and cooperative interplay with another local church.

Lynn Irons of the Church of Scientology Tampa said his first conversations with Kennedy touched on religion only briefly.

“We made an agreement,” Irons said. “When we help with literacy and crime and drug addiction, then you and I are going to talk really seriously. How about that?”

Study tech concepts are purely secular, Irons said. There’s “word clearing,” which means not passing over a word you don’t understand. Another core concept is “mass.” Or, as Irons said, “if you are studying about a tractor, it’s good to have a tractor in front of you.”

The program also stresses progressing from simple ideas to more complex ones. Trying to learn too fast on “too steep a gradient” impedes learning, he said.

Kennedy isn’t the only local pastor planning to use the study tech.

Archbishop Clarence Davis of Joy Tabernacle Cathedral in Tampa’s Ybor City heard about the Hubbard programs from Kennedy and also is a fan.

Davis said he thought Scientologists were “kooks” before he took a course on learning how to learn. Despite holding three graduate degrees, Davis said the program taught him a lot. The religion of Scientology has been a non-issue, he said.

“I’m happy because they don’t push the religious aspects,” he said. “If they did, I wouldn’t be involved.”

Eight members of his church are training to become instructors in the Hubbard methods, Davis said.

But church critics say the study tech is simply a Scientology recruiting tool to introduce people to terms and concepts used in the Scientology religion.

In Missouri, a school district superintendent has taken on the Applied Scholastics program, which distributes the study tech materials.

Such materials reflect Scientology church doctrine, said Hazelwood School District superintendent Chris L. Wright. “Because of this association, we have elected not to participate or be associated with their programs,” she said.

Some educators also question Hubbard’s study program.

“I just think it’s a lot of (garbage),” said Johanna Lemlech, a University of Southern California professor emeritus of education. In a review of the program in 1997, Lemlech said Hubbard has a confusing, unclear writing style and his study tech books belong “in the cylindrical file.”

* * *

Along with learning about study tech, Glorious Church of God in Christ members have been trained as tutors for Bright Sky Learning, a Clearwater-based reading program that is branching into afterschool tutoring this year.

This year, the Hillsborough School district will funnel more than $8-million to private afterschool programs.

The Bright Sky program – to be taught in a building behind Kennedy’s church – will not employ Hubbard’s study technology, he said. Rather, it is a phonics-based program devised by Scientologists.

“It so happens they are Scientologists,” Kennedy said. “But Bright Sky is not Scientology. It’s just education.”

Brendan Haggerty, CEO of Bright Sky Learning, said his company’s program does not include any study tech. Glorious Church members were certified to teach the Bright Sky program at the Church of Scientology in Tampa only because they were taking other courses there and they asked to do it there, he said.

But there is potential for confusion. Asked whether Glorious Church tutors would incorporate Hubbard study tech concepts like “word clearing” into the Bright Sky program, Yolanda Kennedy said they would. Haggerty said she was mistaken.

This year the state certified the Bright Sky program to provide afterschool tutoring. The company said in its application that students who took its program in other states improved one to 21/2 grade levels.

In addition, in a Bright Sky tutoring program at the Boys & Girls Club of Jasmine Courts in Clearwater, teachers noticed significant improvement in the students’ reading, writing and comprehension skills, the application stated.

“It wasn’t bad,” said Carl Lavender, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast. “There were a couple parents who saw it as very helpful.”

The program, paid for through private fundraisers, specifically targeted some students in danger of being held back a grade, he said, and “it was effective.”

At Glorious Church, Kennedy said he hopes to use some of the proceeds from the afterschool program to go toward a new community center behind his church.

Nancy Sardinas Lambert, who supervises the No Child Left Behind programs for the Hillsborough school district, said there are no restrictions on how programs spend the money as long as they provide the required services.

But the afterschool tutoring program will not bring as much as hoped. As of Friday, only nine eligible students had selected the Bright Sky program at Glorious Church. Haggerty said Glorious Church’s take will be about $900 per student, out of which it must pay the tutors. The church had hoped for as many as 100 students, so the enrollment is disappointing, Haggerty said, but he noted it is an off-campus program in its first year.

Kennedy said he anticipates Scientologists will help donate money to build his church’s new community center. Once built, the center will be a place where neighborhood kids can experience the Hubbard learning methods, he said.

It’s unclear the degree to which the secular Hubbard programs such as study tech are evangelical, said University of South Florida religious studies professor Dell deChant.

“Do people join because of them? Well, of course, they must,” he said. “Is it a self-conscious missionary tool? I don’t know.”

Scientology is a unique religion, deChant said. Its members claim you can continue to practice another faith and still be a faithful Scientologist. And many non-Scientology groups hand out The Way to Happiness, which never mentions the word Scientology.

Pastor Kennedy is comfortable with it. He said he can find a Biblical source for all of the morals in the booklet.

And just before the Monday night meeting ended with a prayer, Yolanda Kennedy made sure each student had a second Way to Happiness booklet.

“Make sure,” she said, “you give that book to someone tomorrow.”

© Copyright 2003 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved

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Riverfront Times ~ L Is for L. Ron

October 26, 2005 under Applied Scholastics, St. Louis Schools

By Kristen Hinman

In July 2003, a nonprofit called Applied Scholastics International opened a spanking-new headquarters on 55 acres in Spanish Lake. Among those who attended the festivities were U.S. Congressman William “Lacy” Clay and actors Tom Cruise and Anne Archer. Newspapers from coast to coast published stories heralding the group’s move from LA to the great Midwest.

After the initial fanfare, Applied Scholastics quietly went about its business: pitching tutoring services to local groups with after-school programs and looking to ally with prominent urban-education researchers, Washington University’s Garrett Duncan among them.

Fast-forward two years to the fall of 2005. Applied Scholastics makes headlines once again, but this time the occasion is no celebration: Two local school districts, St. Louis and Hazelwood, say the group isn’t welcome in their classrooms.

As reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Public Schools superintendent Creg Williams last month told area principals to quit sending teachers to professional-development workshops at Applied Scholastics. And in early October, Hazelwood School District superintendent Chris Wright penned a letter to the nonprofit’s CEO, Bennetta Slaughter, admonishing the organization to stop claiming a “partnership” with Hazelwood.

What’s so repugnant about Applied Scholastics?

“We know that some of their learning strategies are specifically referred to in the Scientology doctrine,” Wright sums up.

This is by no means the first time Scientologists have been accused of attempting to infiltrate public-school classrooms. In 1997 officials in California fended off a bid to allow Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s teaching materials into classrooms. Just last week came reports that a school district in San Antonio, Texas, was under fire for purchasing textbooks written by Hubbard.

The fuss isn’t so much a church-state issue as it is skepticism regarding Scientology itself. Followers of Hubbard, a science-fiction writer who founded the church in 1954, see themselves as immortal spirits hindered by numerous mental blocks, or “engrams.” “Clearing” the blocks can lead to spiritual awakening and a happy life, free of addiction. Scientologists eschew psychiatry and traditional counseling in favor of “auditing” sessions in which one church member questions another about painful memories and helps to “clear” him.

Despite the limelight afforded by adherents like Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley, some have called Scientology a cult. In a 1984 opinion, a judge in Los Angeles wrote that “[Scientology] is nothing in reality but a vast enterprise to extract the maximum amount of money from its adepts by pseudo-scientific theories.” More recently television viewers saw an emotional Cruise decry psychiatry on the Today show and tell Larry King that Hubbard’s study methods cured his dyslexia.

Enter Applied Scholastics, which uses texts authored by Hubbard. Though the books don’t overtly make the link between the writer and the religion, St. Louis Board of Education member Bill Purdy points out that titles like Learning How to Learn and How to Use a Dictionary prominently feature Hubbard’s name on their covers. And each contains a directory of Scientology churches in the U.S. Walk into one of the churches, and a congregant will tell you the books are used in classes there. “Clearly the books are based on L. Ron Hubbard’s belief system,” says Purdy.

Applied Scholastics’ methodology (which Hubbard calls “Study Technology”) holds that students have trouble in school because they never learn how to learn. Hubbard’s books identify three main barriers: “lack of mass” (a paucity of visual aids and diagrams); “skipped gradient” (failing to allow students to master simple steps in a complex lesson); and the “misunderstood word” (a weak vocabulary).

Chris Wright says Applied Scholastics personnel “aggressively” began trying to partner with her district almost as soon as the group took up residence in Spanish Lake. “They wanted to provide us with materials and training for our teachers,” says the Hazelwood superintendent. “They wanted to come into our schools and do tutoring, a number of activities.”

In response, Wright asked her staff to look into the program. She says they searched in vain for independent academic research that supports the method. Instead they found critics like David Touretzky, a computer-science professor at Carnegie Mellon University who operates a Web site called www.studytech.org.

“Applied Scholastics is Scientology. They’re no different,” asserts Touretzky, who has spent a decade probing Scientology and Applied Scholastics and posting his findings on studytech.org along with links to pertinent news stories. He says “learning how to learn” and overcoming the three barriers to learning comprise fundamental Scientology principles.

“Applied Scholastics teaches you nine different methods of ‘word clearing,’ or looking up words in dictionaries, for example. These same methods are laid out in Scientology scripture,” Touretzky points out.

Applied Scholastics spokeswoman Mary Adams dismisses Touretzky as “a little bit loony” and notes that his personal page on Carnegie Mellon’s Web site contains instructions for homemade bombs. (The site is filled with information concerning First Amendment issues, another of Touretzky’s passions.) “L. Ron Hubbard developed the educational materials and gifted them to Applied Scholastics in 1972. They have nothing whatsoever to do with religion,” Adams says. “He happens to be the founder of the Church of Scientology.”

“That’s exactly where the danger is,” counters Judith Cochran, an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and director of the E. Desmond Lee Regional Institute of Tutorial Education. “How does a guy that starts a religion know what’s needed academically?”

Adds Cochran’s UMSL colleague Kathleen Sullivan Brown: “I am aware of research on effective strategies for learning, and this is not one of them.”

Adams blames Purdy and public-schools gadfly Peter Downs for thrusting her organization under the media’s microscope. Last month, after some St. Louis teachers complained to local union officials about being sent to workshops at Applied Scholastics, Purdy and Downs toured the facility, after which the latter wrote a story that was published in the St. Louis Argus.

In his article, Downs reported that Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had recently approved Applied Scholastics as a Supplemental Educational Service. This cleared the way for the group to tutor low-income children in underperforming schools statewide, as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law. The service is funded with federal money.

“The whole point of this tutoring is to get kids back on grade level,” Downs argues. “But there’s nothing in the Applied Scholastics curriculum designed to do that. It teaches kids what L. Ron Hubbard has to say about the barriers to learning and tells them to go back on their own and pick up what they missed. I think that’s a crock.”

Responds Adams: “The gentleman has an agenda, and he’s using our big name to forward it.”

In his Argus article, Downs wrote that Applied Scholastics was “gearing up for a partnership with Hazelwood Public Schools….”

That was news to Chris Wright, who fired off a letter to the nonprofit noting that the school district “has on many occasions declined offers from your organization” and demanding that the group “refrain from any future reference to a ‘partnership’ with Hazelwood School District.”

Downs, who publishes an e-mail newsletter called “St. Louis Schools Watch” and is a regular contributor to the Argus, wrote a follow-up article about Wright’s letter, slated for publication October 13.

At the last minute, Argus publisher Eddie Hasan pulled the story and replaced it with a press release supplied by Applied Scholastics.

“I might have given them free marketing,” Hasan concedes. “But I’m never one to sit on the sidelines and watch people attack somebody based on their religion.” The decision was partly personal, he says, stemming from the “mocking” he suffered 30 years ago when he converted to Islam. Hasan had another beef with Downs’ story. “You read Peter’s articles, and they make it seem like Scientology is the big bad wolf,” says the publisher. “If it is, well, why? I want some facts on the Applied Scholastics program, and is it effective?”

Downs published his story in his newsletter with an “editor’s note” rebuking Hasan.

UMSL’s Judith Cochran reviewed the Supplemental Educational Service application Applied Scholastics submitted to the state of Missouri. “It’s entirely misleading,” Cochran says of the document, noting that the program applied under the name “Spanish Lake Academy Tutoring Center/Applied Scholastics.” Cochran says the application fails to include sources for the data it presents as evidence of the program’s effectiveness. “I can’t tell where any of their tests were administered, how long the children were tutored or who did the testing. They’ve got to document that,” she says.

Missouri only requires that tutoring programs describe their “research and effectiveness”; the state does not stipulate that independent observers must weigh in on a program’s efficacy — a step Cochran says is essential.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education stands by its decision. Dee Beck, the department’s coordinator of federal programs, says the agency did not review Applied Scholastics’ texts before approving the application but has “asked for a set of materials from this particular provider so we can see for ourselves that they are not putting forth any ideology.”

According to www.tutorsforkids.org, a Web site funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Arizona and Missouri are the only states that have approved Applied Scholastics to date. Adams says her organization has applications pending in other states.

Meanwhile, Washington University education professor Garrett Duncan says he plans to continue ignoring Applied Scholastics’ overtures. Says Duncan: “Their literature is rather dogmatic, and their pursuit of me over the last year has shown that same type of zeal. I just don’t feel right about calling them back.”

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WOAI.com San Antonio ~ SA School Used Scientology-Based Curriculum

October 19, 2005 under Other Issues

A San Antonio middle school is under fire for trying to change the curriculum. Zachry Middle School tried to introduce a new way to help get students to learn with a kit called “Learning How To Learn.”

The problem? The kit has a connection to a controversial religion called, scientology.

13-year-old James Anderson is an 8th grader at Zachry Middle School and his mom, Christine, thinks the school dropped the ball with his education. “It makes me mad…I am very angry.”

The learning kit includes grammar books, dictionaries and teaching manuals based on the beliefs of L. Ron Hubbard.

Christine looked him up. “It was the Scientology that knocked me over the head.”

Hubbard is the founder of the Church of Scientology, a controversial religion.

The kit and cost to train the teachers on how to use the curriculum amounts to $13,599 of taxpayer money.

Christine thinks it’s waste. “I want to see this taken out of the school and I don’t want to see this in any NISD school.”

The school district was listening.

“We want to use the taxpayers money the best way we can. We don’t think the purchase of these materials is the best way to use those funds” said NISD spokesman Pascual Gonzalez.

The kit doesn’t appear to include any religious material, but what bothers NISD officials most is the fact that the materials are geared toward third graders.

The kits have been returned and the district is working to get all that money back. And from now on, all schools within the district have to get approval to change any part of the curriculum.

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Saint Louis Post Dispatch ~ Hazelwood schools reject firm with ties to Scientology founder

October 18, 2005 under Applied Scholastics, St. Louis Schools

by Carolyn Bower

The Hazelwood School District has rebuffed a private tutoring provider with ties to the founder of Scientology, but parents will have the final say in whether they use the company.

The tutoring company, Applied Scholastics International, has made numerous overtures to the school district, Hazelwood superintendent Chris Wright said.

“We are not interested in your services, not willing to participate in your training programs, do not want your materials, and will not enter into any association with Applied Scholastics,” Wright wrote earlier this month. Her comments were in a letter to Bennetta Slaughter, chief executive officer of Applied Scholastics.

Applied Scholastics is one of 68 tutors on a state list of approved supplemental educational service providers in Missouri. Mary Adams, senior vice president for external affairs for Applied Scholastics, said the company was not faith-based but was based on methods developed by the late L. Ron Hubbard, the developer of the religious philosophy of Scientology.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Law, any high-poverty school that fails to meet standards three years in a row must offer free tutoring. More than 100 schools have been on Missouri’s list of those needing improvement, but not all of those have to offer tutoring.

Most of the approved tutoring providers are private companies. Nationwide, hundreds of new businesses have jumped into the lucrative market of tutoring low-performing students. The influx has concerned some parents and teachers who worry about a lack of state and federal guidelines for evaluating the providers at a time when public schools face strict performance requirements.

Applied Scholastics opened in north St. Louis County in July 2003. On the Missouri education department Web site, Applied Scholastics goes by the name Spanish Lake Academy Tutoring Center/Applied Scholastics International and lists an intention to serve all schools in Missouri.

The Applied Scholastics center also offers teacher training. Two St. Louis public schools – Fanning and Long middle schools – sent teachers to the center this fall to learn about teaching. Some teachers and parents raised concerns about that with union Local 420, said Byron Clemens, the union’s first vice president.

St. Louis Superintendent Creg Williams later said the district would not use the center for training. No one from the St. Louis schools uses Applied Scholastics for tutoring, but parents have the option to choose anyone on the state’s list, said Johnny Little, a district spokesman.

Wright said Hazelwood offered its own tutors and did not use Applied Scholastics or any outside providers. Although many Hazelwood students have tutors for various reasons, only 11 of 334 eligible students get it under the supplemental provider program. Those 11 use district tutors.

Dee Beck, director of federal programs for Missouri’s education department, confirmed that picking a tutor is up to a parent, working with a district from the state list of approved providers.

In a letter sent Oct. 4 to Missouri’s education commissioner, D. Kent King, Wright said Applied Scholastics had “approached the district many, many times to try to get us to send teachers to their training, to get us to use their ‘instructional materials’ or to otherwise connect themselves to our children and families.

“We investigated them thoroughly at the time and found that they were closely connected to the Church of Scientology,” Wright wrote. “We made the decision that this connection was not in the interests of our children ….”

Wright asked that the state tighten its screening of tutoring companies. “I hope that you will evaluate those programs that have already been approved and establish some criteria for their approval,” she wrote.

Adams said she preferred not to comment on Wright’s letters, to avoid continuing what she considers “a miscommunication,” and would like to be neighborly to the Hazelwood district.

Beck said the state reviewed providers once a year, in spring. When a tutoring company applies to be on the list, three people look at the application. The application requires information about fees, when and where tutoring will take place and general qualifications of tutors. She said the state planned to revise applications to ask for more information. State officials also want to begin visiting tutoring sites.

“We are all learning how to do this better,” Beck said.

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The Saint Louis Argus – STLArgus Blog ~ Censorship at the Argus

October 14, 2005 under St. Louis Schools

Peter Downs, publisher of St. Louis Schools Watch and regular contributor to The St. Louis Argus, submitted an article to the Argus this week about controversy surrounding Applied Scholastics, a school vendor with ties to Scientology.

Downs writes in his latest SLS Watch email, “While at the printer, the publisher pulled the article and replaced it with a press release from Applied Scholastics. A senior vice president of Applied Scholastics, Mary Adams, invited the publisher, Eddie Hasan, to visit their headquarters with his daughter [State Rep. Yaphett El-Amin, who is running for state senate] to meet Isaac Hayes [who is also a Scientologist].”

It’s times like this that The Argus Blogger is glad that STLArgus.com is independent.

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