In July 1997, the Los Angeles Unified School District considered an application by public school teacher Linda Smith to establish a new charter school. When questioned, Smith admitted that she and her two partners were Scientologists, and that the plans for their school included some unusual educational materials called “Study Technology.” This attracted the attention of the press and the story was broken by Duke Helfand of the Los Angeles Times in an article on July 27, 1997.
Also that month, the California state Department of Education gave preliminary approval for five volumes in the Study Technology series to be used as supplemental textbooks, meaning they could be purchased with taxpayer funds and used by schools throughout the state. (See second Helfand article, LA Times, July 29, 1997.) The LA Times articles sparked an immediate controversy, as a result of which Linda Smith’s application was turned down and permission to use the Study Technology books as supplemental textbooks was withdrawn. A previous attempt to insinuate Study Tech into California’s public schools had been rebuffed 17 years ago for similar reasons (Myslinksi, 1980): public funds may not be used for religious instruction.
The Californian controvery centered around the key issues of what Study Technology is and what it does. It is based on the teachings of the late L. Ron Hubbard, sometime science fiction writer and founder of the Church of Scientology, a reincarnation/psychotherapy group that many see as a cult. Its curious name reflects one of Hubbard’s most frequent quirks or marketing gimmicks: he would customarily label his religious doctrines as “technologies”. Study Technology, often abbreviated as “Study Tech”, forms part of a much larger body of Scientology scripture that members simply call “the tech”.
The Study Tech books fall into two groups. The first three, the Basic Study Manual, Study Skills for Life, and Learning How to Learn, cover Study Technology proper, but are targeted at different grade levels. These three books are the primary focus of this essay. The remaining two titles, How to Use a Dictionary, and Grammar and Communication for Children, are unremarkable introductions to grammar and punctuation that show only a few tiny traces of Hubbard’s influence. The Study Technology is also used in other Scientology-related “social reform” programs, notably the Narconon and Criminon drug and criminal rehabilitation programs. There, it is delivered in the form of a “Learning Improvement Course” utilizing a very similar set of course materials.
All five books (plus their Narconon and Criminon variants) are published by Bridge Publications, the in-house publishing arm of the Church of Scientology. They are distributed by a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization called Applied Scholastics International (ASI). ASI is a subordinate organization of the Association for Better Living and Education International (ABLE). This is in turn a subordinate, and an integral part, of the Church of Scientology, which exercises direct overall control of all of the aforementioned organizations. (Recently Scientology also began distributing the books through another front organization, Effective Education Publishing.) This complicated set of relationships, examined elsewhere on StudyTech.org, is seemingly designed to obscure the central role of the Church of Scientology in the promotion and implementation of Study Technology.
This raises the question of whether the proponents of Study Technology are attempting to use public funds for covert religious instruction. The Study Technology’s supporters insist that the books are non-religious in nature.When the issue was raised in California, the Department of Education said that a committee that examined the Study Tech books could find no references to Scientology (Helfand, 1997b). It’s true that the word “Scientology” does not occur in any of these volumes. But Scientology jargon and religious beliefs appear throughout the three study skills books; they are inseparable from Study Tech.
a. THE THREE PRINCIPLES OF STUDY TECH
Study Tech is founded on three principles: (1) use pictures and diagrams to illustrate the concepts being taught, (2) break down complex concepts so they can be mastered in a series of simple steps, and (3) always seek definitions for unfamiliar terms. These rules make sense and are harmless enough when phrased in plain English. But the Study Tech books present them in a different manner. The three principles are called “mass”, “gradients”, and “misunderstoods”: terms that were invented or redefined by Hubbard and loaded with significance in the Scientology religion. These concepts are presented in a doctrinaire manner that is also characteristic of Scientology religious instruction. Study Tech actually helps lay the groundwork for introducing Scientology doctrines into secular education.
These three principles of Study Tech are laid out in a document known as HCO Bulletin of 25 June 1971 (revised 25 November 1974), “Barriers to Study”. The HCO, or Hubbard Communications Office, was a division of the Church of Scientology which for many years served as the personal secretariat of L. Ron Hubbard. Its main output was a constant stream of Policy Letters (Scientology management policy) and Bulletins (religious doctrines, commonly referred to as “the tech[nology]” of Scientology). Study Tech is laid out in a series of HCO Bulletins mostly issued during the 1970s, which are today collected in a set of volumes entitled The Technical Bulletins of Dianetics and Scientology, known informally as the “tech volumes” or the “red volumes” since they are printed in red ink. According to the Church of Scientology, these works comprise a major element of Scientology’s religious scripture. The source of the Study Tech doctrines is discussed in greater detail later in this essay, under “Where Does Study Tech Come From?”
The HCO Bulletins on Study Technology are also reprinted in various Scientology course packs, such as The Student Hat, that are sold as entry-level “religious services” (courses offered for a fee). A disclaimer at the front of each volume and each course pack, including those containing the Study Tech bulletins, states: “This book is part of the religious literature and works of the Scientology Founder, L. Ron Hubbard.” The Student Hat course is compulsory for all Scientologists. Before they can cross the Scientology “Bridge to Total Freedom”, they are required to “learn how to learn”. The same rule applies to all, no matter how literate they may be — a sign that something more is going on than mere learning. A summary of the “Barriers to Study” is also included in the Scientology Handbook.
The first principle of Study Tech states that when introducing a new concept, it is important to have an example physically present to “get its mass” (a uniquely Scientological phrase). If it’s not possible to present a physical example, then a picture or diagram should be provided. This is not bad advice; educational psychologists have long known that a large component of human learning is visually based. But a picture is worth even more than a thousand words in Study Tech, because according to Hubbard, ONLY pictures can provide the “mass” required to understand a concept. Nothing else will do:
If one is studying about tractors, the printed page and the spoken word are no substitute for having an actual tractor there. Photographs or motion pictures are helpful because they represent a promise or hope of the mass of a tractor.
(Basic Study Manual, p. 31)
If you are studying about tractors, words on a page or someone telling you about tractors is no substitute for having an actual tractor there. Photographs or motion pictures are helpful because they at least give the hope of the mass of a tractor.
(Study Skills for Life, p. 21.)
But reading books or listening to someone talk does not give you mass.
(Learning How to Learn, p. 70).
And what is “mass”? The definition offered in Study Tech is:
The mass of a subject refers to the parts of that subject which are composed of matter and energy and which exist in the material universe.
(Basic Study Manual, p. 24)
In other words, mass is what can be visualized. But Hubbard’s pronouncement that learning cannot take place without visual aids goes too far. Must every sentence of every book be accompanied by a picture? Does a book on political theory, quantum physics, or the life of Shakespeare require a picture to illustrate each concept? Of course not.
Hubbard’s Study Tech books claim that several “nonoptimum physical reactions” are associated with “absence of mass”.
Such an absence of mass can actually make a student feel squashed. It can make him feel bent, sort of spinny, sort of dead, bored, and exasperated.
(Basic Study Manual, pp. 25-30)
When students experience these symptoms, they are immediately interpreted by Scientologist teachers as being the result of learning difficulties — a most dubious proposition. Hubbard was fond of making this sort of bold assertion, wholly unsupported or even opposed by hard evidence. We will return to the issue of Study Tech’s dubious physiological claims later.
Gradient: a gradual approach to something, taken step by step, level by level, each step or level being, of itself, easily surmountable — so that, finally, quite complicated and difficult activities or high states of being can be achieved with relative ease. This principle is applied to both Scientology processing and training.
(From a glossary provided by the Church of Scientology International. The same definition is provided in the Basic Study Manual but for some reason it omits the sentence mentioning Scientology.)
There is nothing objectionable in the notion that complex ideas should be mastered by breaking them down into simpler steps done in a logical order. But Study Tech turns this sensible advice into rigid dogma, with a warning that violations can have unpleasant consequences. “If you have skipped a gradient you may feel a sort of confusion or reeling” (Learning How to Learn, p. 84.) The illustrations of this idea on pp. 84-85 show a boy who was trying to build a doghouse “seeing stars” as if he just got whacked in the head with one of the boards he was hammering.
Within Scientology, the gradient doctrine is an important tool for controlling the flow of information. It discourages beginning students from looking too closely into Scientology’s claims. Students are told to accept things on trust and to wait until they are deemed ready for the facts. This is the bait used to attract many a new member. Scientology evidently takes the view — probably correctly — that its more esoteric beliefs, centering on hostile space aliens, would frighten off new members if mentioned early on. Adherents are instead inducted slowly into the secrets of Scientology, learning stage by stage through the use of Study Tech, following the “gradient” laid out for them by the Church. As was demonstrated by Monsieur Mangetout, the Frenchman who ate a bicycle, even a large indigestible mass can be consumed if it is eaten in bite-sized chunks.
Being “out-gradient” is actually considered an ethical violation in Scientology, because it is “out-tech”, or contrary to Hubbard’s teachings about how one should study. But if a beginning student does encounter some of Hubbard’s more outlandish writings, the gradient concept offers a way for them to avoid acknowledging the absurdity. Consider two remarkable claims in Hubbard’s 1953 book Scientology: A History of Man: that human beings evolved from clams who were preyed upon by birds (p. 53), and that the spirits of most humans go to Mars for reprogramming when their bodies die (p. 116). Rather than trying to defend such improbable ideas when low-level Scientologists or members of the public ask about them, the response of Scientology officials is that History of Man is an “advanced” text — too steep a gradient for non-believers or beginning Scientologists to deal with — which conveniently rules out any possibility of debating the book on its merits. The questioner is then directed toward entry-level courses so that he or she can learn be properly conditioned before being exposed to this “advanced” material.
An even more troubling application of the gradient principle is Scientology’s belief that truth itself must be approached on a gradient. In Hubbard’s eyes, there was no such thing as objective truth — truth is whatever is true for you. This provides the rationale for the Church of Scientology misleading the public about its most controversial teachings, because according to Hubbard, when dealing with “raw public” one must be careful to give them an “acceptable truth” (both are Hubbard’s terms.)
For example, Scientology professes its compatability with and respect for other belief systems. The general public and novice Scientologists are told that Scientology is compatible with all other religions (see What is Scientology?, 1992 edition, p. 545), and the Church of Scientology often professes mutual respect when campaigning alongside faith groups. The picture from the far side of “The Bridge” is very different. Scientologists who have completed the Church’s highest-level and most secret courses will have learned from Hubbard that God was essentially an evil “Big Thetan” presiding over a deserted and run-down heaven, that Christianity was “implanted” by a race of alien invaders 2,000 years ago, that the Ka’aba in Mecca was the unconscious imitation by the Prophet Mohammed of an alien implant mechanism called the “Emanator”, and that Hinduism’s doctrines are “very treacherous” (Hubbard, “Heaven,” HCO Bulletin of 11 May 1963; “Assists,” Class VIII Course lecture #10; “Philadelphia Doctorate Course lecture #14”).
As these views would antagonize something like half the world’s population, it is scarcely surprising that they are not publicized by Scientology. That does not mean that Scientology is ashamed of such views — far from it. The problem, as Scientologists would see it, is not that Hubbard’s views would be offensive to many but merely that people need to have adequate preparation before being confronted with them. Revealing this truth too early would would result in “too steep a gradient” for the potential recruit. Hence, deception and economy with the truth is the “ethical” course. Indeed, it is deemed to be positively unethical to present the naked truth to an insufficiently prepared individual. Hubbard’s code of “Scientology Ethics” provides for disciplinary sanctions for those found guilty of “issuing data or information to wrong grades or unauthorized persons or groups” (Hubbard, Introduction to Scientology Ethics.)
The third principle of Study Tech centers on the concept of misunderstood words. They’re called “misunderstoods” in the books, and abbreviated as M/U or Mis-U in Scientology. Misunderstoods can be “cleared” by looking up the word in a dictionary. This is fine as far as it goes; students should certainly learn to use a dictionary. But according to Hubbard, misunderstood words are not a minor problem; they are in fact “the most important barrier to study” (Learning How to Learn, p. 101; Basic Study Manual, p. 49), and “the only reason a person would stop studying or get confused or not be able to learn” (Learning How to Learn, p. 114; Basic Study Manual, preface). In fact, “THE ONLY REASON A PERSON GIVES UP A STUDY OR BECOMES CONFUSED OR UNABLE TO LEARN IS BECAUSE HE HAS GONE PAST A WORD THAT WAS NOT UNDERSTOOD” (How to Use a Dictionary, p. 282; capitalization as in the original.) This sentence also appears in the frontmatter of all Scientology religious volumes.
This emphasis on the misunderstood word, in isolation, turns common sense into irrational dogma. Students are told explicitly that when they have a problem with understanding, “It’s not a misunderstood phrase or idea or concept, but a misunderstood WORD” (Basic Study Manual, p. 153, emphasis as in the original.)
According to the Study Tech materials, a single misunderstood word can cause a person to not remember anything on the page they just read, or make them want to stop studying the subject altogether (Learning How to Learn, p. 116; Basic Study Manual, pp. 58-59). The books also teach that misunderstood words cause physical symptoms: feeling blank, tired, worried, upset, “like you are not there”, or suffering “a sort of nervous hysteria” (Learning How to Learn, pp. 110-112; Basic Study Manual, pp. 50-52.) The reason for these symptoms is not explained but the answer lies in other Scientology doctrines not included in the “secularized” version of Study Tech (more on this later).
Hubbard’s obsession with misunderstood words leads to a number of uniquely Scientological practices, such as a fondness for dictionaries. Several large dictionaries are found in all Scientology churches. Hubbard’s religious writings forbid the use of pocket dictionaries, which he dubbed “dinky dictionaries”, because of the inferior quality of their definitions (HCO Bulletin of 19 June 1972 revised 3 June 1986, “Dinky Dictionaries”, and HCO Bulletin of 13 February 1981, revised 25 July 1987, “Dictionaries”.) Scientology also publishes several dictionaries of its own extensive jargon, including the Basic Dictionary of Dianetics and Scientology, the much more comprehensive Dianetics and Scientology Technical Dictionary (known as the “tech dictionary”), and Modern Management Technology Defined: Hubbard Dictionary of Administration and Management (the “admin dictionary”). As many as 3,000 terms, many of them being neologisms coined by Hubbard himself, are said to be defined in the Scientology dictionaries.
Another strange practice associated with “misunderstoods” is the treatment of yawning. Since misunderstoods are supposed to make one feel tired, anyone caught yawning in a courseroom run under Hubbard’s rules is thought to have overlooked a misunderstood word and thus be in dire danger of failing in their studies. They are ordered to go back over what they were reading until they find the misunderstood word and review its definition in the dictionary (Wakefield, 1991, ch. 4). This treatment for yawning is also mentioned in the Basic Study Manual (p. 154) and Learning How to Learn (p. 136), both of which include pictures of a yawning boy. Beverly Rice, a former Scientologist who once taught at a school run by Applied Scholastics, reported that her students learned to “… NEVER yawn if you were tired. A yawn would bring the supervisor running and meant having to go backwards on your course in the great MU hunt” (message posted to the alt.religion.scientology newgroup on August 17, 1997.)
Yawning may occur for reasons quite unrelated to the task at hand. Even now, scientists do not know for certain why humans and animals yawn, demonstrating the arbitrary and unscientific nature of Hubbard’s insistence that “misunderstoods” are the root cause. And there are many other factors besides misunderstood words that can cause lack of comprehension. The material itself could have problems. Bad grammar, faulty logic, disorganized exposition, and obviously false factual statements are examples. Why place all the emphasis on just one possible source of confusion? Study Tech thus provides a convenient blame mechanism. If a concept is not understood, it is always the fault of the student, never the fault of the teacher or source material.
Study Tech’s focus on misunderstood words is not just some arbitrary bit of educational dogma. It is an intentional and effective device for suppressing critical thought. In effect, it atomizes language, divorcing words from concepts. The same words might appear in a Shakespearean sonnet or an L. Ron Hubbard bulletin but their collective meaning might be very different. The words themselves may be perfectly comprehensible but their meaning may not be. The context is stripped away, leaving the words to be studied in isolation. But a student cannot ascertain context from isolated words, any more than she could ascertain the design of a house from individual bricks. The most outlandish concepts can thereby be presented in a way that compels word-by-word acceptance.
Study Tech is also an effective method of social control in the classroom. If one expresses disagreement with the material one is studying in Scientology, that’s taken as evidence of a misunderstood word. And each M/U must be located and cleared before moving on to other material. Hence, unless a student of Scientology wants to be stuck reading the same page over and over again, looking up definitions in a dictionary ad nauseam, he must keep any negative feelings about the content to himself. If he expresses dislike for a subject and a desire to stop studying it, that is taken as further evidence that he has a misunderstood word. The idea that one can have a legitimate disagreement with something written by “Source”, as L. Ron Hubbard is referred to in Scientology, is simply not on the table. All disagreement is dismissed as misunderstanding — a dangerous attitude for an educational system to promote. Joe Harrington, who was active in Scientology for 24 years, wrote the following in a posting to the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup:
The fundamental tenet of Hubbard’s “study tech” is that ANY disagreement with the subject matter being studied, ANY inability to apply the materials, and any non-comprehension of the materials stems ONLY from “misunderstood words” in the “Source” materials. With this mechanism, Hubbard made his “source” materials infalliable. In the Scientology “study tech” mindset, there can be NO dissent with Hubbard’s utterances and ANY difficulty the student is having with the subject or the organization stems ONLY from misunderstood words he went past.
Using Hubbard’s notion of the “misunderstood word”, one could introduce a “Source” textbook on geology, written by the President of the Flat Earth Society and have every student who disagreed with the materials look up all the “misunderstood words” they went past, until harmony with the Source material was in place.
Harrington’s characterization seems accurate. When one of us (DST) asked Heidrun Beer, at the time a devoted Scientologist, what she would do if she found a Hubbard policy she could not agree with, her reply was: “I’d go back and find my misunderstood word.” Beer has since broken with the Church.
Worse still, it is implied that misunderstanding (and by extension, disagreement) is the root cause of anti-social behavior and illness. The Basic Study Manual claims that a student trapped in an M/U will go out and “commit harmful acts against the more general area.” (This is accompanied by a picture of a student vandalizing a restroom). “This is followed by various mental and physical conditions and by various complaints, faultfinding and look-what-you-did-to-me” (Basic Study Manual). Disagreement and incomprehension is thus equated with anti-social behavior.
This equation is not unique to Scientology or indeed to religion; it is a common aspect of many authoritarian societies, where failure to conform to the approved ideology is commonly attributed to the dissident being “anti-social”. Scientology is an unusually authoritarian belief system. Hubbard prohibited absolutely any deviation from his ideological standards and severely punished any attempts to alter or build on his work. Much of the extensive list of disciplinary offences listed in his rigorous system of “Scientology Ethics” relates to ideological deviation or dissension, banning both completely. This means that, unlike mainstream belief systems, Scientology has an absolute prohibition on critical interpretation (exegesis) of its core texts; it calls such expression “verbal tech”. There are no Scientology theologians save the now deceased Hubbard, nor can there be — it is an authoritarian, ideologically rigid and ultimately intellectually sterile philosophy.
Study Tech reinforces Hubbard’s demand that his idea not be re-interpreted, or even debated. He explicitly puts the emphasis on rote learning — or “duplication” in Scientology jargon — rather than critical interpretation: “A misunderstood word keeps a person from duplicating what the written materials actually say” (Hubbard, “Method 9 Word Clearing The Right Way,” HCO Bulletin of 30 January 1973 revised 19 December 1979).
Hubbard considered it axiomatic that the source material — in this case, his own writings — was the only true and accurate source of information on Scientology. Indeed, he called himself “Source” to make just this point, in much the same way as authoritarian rulers often like to call themselves the Leader or the Commander, so as to emphasize their claim to be the only legitimate source of power. Critical or interpretrative material was worthless in his view and should be discarded. This dogma of “false data stripping” appears in the Basic Study Manual under a section labeled “False Data,” where the book states:
There is no field in all the society where false data is not rampant. “Experts,” “advisers,” “friends,” “families,” seldom go and look at the basic texts on subjects, even when these are known to exist, but indulge in all manner of interpretations and even outright lies to seem wise or expert.
Where a subject, such as art, contains innumerable authorities and voluminous opinions you may find that any and all textbooks under that heading reek with false data. The validity of texts is an important factor in study. Therefore it is important that any Supervisor or teacher seeking to strip off false data must utilize basic workable texts. These are most often found to have been written by the original discoverer of the subject and when in doubt, avoid texts which are interpretations of somebody else’s work. In short, choose only textual material which is closest to the basic facts of the subject and avoid those which embroider upon them.
(Basic Study Manual, p. 256-8)
“False data stripping” was Hubbard’s way of telling Scientologists to disregard any sources of information of which he himself disapproved. The passage quoted above was his riposte to Scientology’s critics, who very often include the concerned family and friends of Scientologists. In effect, he is saying, “Ignore these people — they don’t know anything about Scientology and they are probably lying anyway.” Hubbard also used this doctrine to identify what he saw as more general sources of “false data,” such as particular books, journals or authors. The original HCO Bulletin from which this passage of the Basic Study Manual originates goes on to say:
It can happen, if you do False Data Stripping well and expertly without enforcing your own data on the person, that he can find a whole textbook false — much to his amazement. In such a case, locate a more fundamental text on the subject. (Examples of false texts: Eastman Kodak; Lord Keynes’ treatises on economics; John Dewey’s texts on education; Sigmund Freud’s texts on the mind; the texts derived from the “work” of Wundt (Leipzig 1879 — Father of Modern Psychology); and (joke) a textbook on “Proper Conduct for Sheep” written by A. Wolf) …
Man’s texts and education systems are strewn with false data. These false data effectively block someone’s understanding of the true data. The handling given in this HCOB/PL makes it possible to remove that block and enable people to learn data so they can apply it.
(Hubbard, HCO Bulletin of 7 August 1979, “False Data Stripping”)
A strict Hubbardian line on “false data stripping” would cut a swathe through learning. Anything that contradicted the theories of L. Ron Hubbard, or was singled out by him for condemnation, would automatically be regarded as “false.” This would include anything to do with psychiatry and psychology, much medical knowledge, anything to do with evolution (“man from mud theory” as Hubbard put it), cosmology, atomic physics, economics, educational methods, aspects of biology and so on. In short, it is very much like the sort of line that a conservative religious fundamentalist concerned with Biblical purity would take; creationists also try to get schools to engage in “false data stripping” by dropping or downplaying evolutionary theory.
In denigrating the usefulness of derivative works, Hubbard overlooks or ignores the fact that knowledge does not simply appear from nowhere. There are surprisingly few completely original discoveries. Virtually every aspect of knowledge is developed over time by re-examining and building on the work of others. As Sir Isaac Newton, himself no slouch at discovery, once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” If Hubbard had been more self-reflective or honest he would have acknowledged that he too owed considerable debts to intellectual predecessors. The Study Tech, for instance, owes much to the ideas of Alfred Korzybyski. In the early days of Scientology, Hubbard credited him along with an eclectic variety of other sages. But by the time the contents of the Basic Study Manual were written, Hubbard had decided that Scientology was entirely the fruit of his own inspiration and owed nothing significant to anyone else. His hostility to critical analysis and development was a notable illustration of his authoritarian and dogmatic approach to knowledge.
The remedy for misunderstood words is “word clearing”. Study Skills for Life (pp. 66-74) includes a simplified treatment of word clearing, using a six-step procedure that begins with looking up the word in a dictionary and using each of its definitions in several example sentences. The student then reviews the derivation of the word, and studies any idioms associated with it. Finally he reviews any additional information provided in the dictionary, such as usage notes or synonyms.
The more comprehensive Basic Study Manual describes three separate techniques for “word clearing”. They are called Method 3, Method 9, and Method 7, in that peculiar order.
Method 3 Word Clearing is to be used when the student is showing a lack of enthusiasm, is yawning, doodling, daydreaming, or otherwise failing to make progress. The student is instructed to go back over the material he’s been reading until he finds the misunderstood word.
There is one always; there are no exceptions. It may be that the misunderstood word is two pages or more back, but it is always earlier in the text than where the student is now
(Basic Study Manual, p. 155).
The word is then looked up in a dictionary, and “cleared” by studying the definition, using the word in several sentences, reviewing the derivation, and so on. The Basic Study Manual admonishes (p. 159):
Good Word Clearing is a system of backtracking. You have to look earlier than the point where the student became dull or confused and you’ll find that there’s a word that he doesn’t understand somewhere before the trouble started. If he doesn’t brighten up when the word is found and cleared, there will be a misunderstood word even before that one.
No doubts about the effectiveness of Hubbard’s methods are permitted. One must simply apply them until they work.
In the second approach, Method 9 Word Clearing, the student reads aloud to a partner, the “word clearer”, who watches for stumbling points. Any hesitation, mispronunciation, or fidgeting is taken as evidence of a misunderstood word. The word clearer must interrupt the student and get him to go back and find this word, which is then cleared by looking it up in a dictionary, verbally paraphrasing each of the definitions to the word clearer, and then using the word in several sentences. In an example given in the Basic Study Manual (pp. 188-195), the student reads “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy fence”, but the last word was supposed to be “dog”. The word clearer points out the error, and the student goes back and discovers that it is the word “lazy” that she does not understand. After reviewing the dictionary definition, she is able to read the sentence correctly. Later, the two persons switch roles, and when the former word clearer (now in the role of student) reads the same sentence, it comes out “The quick brown fox jumpled…” This mispronunciation is caught and discovered to be due to a lack of understanding of the word “quick”, so the dictionary is brought out again.
It’s hard to take these idiotic examples seriously, or imagine anyone wanting to subject themselves to such a tedious procedure every time they yawn or make a slip of the tongue. But this is what Scientology says one must do to overcome “the most important barrier to study”. And this is what the Study Tech books teach.
Method 7 Word Clearing is intended for “children, foreign language persons, or semiliterates” (Basic Study Manual, p. 199), and also involves reading aloud. The word clearer follows along in his own copy of the text, and checks for omitted or misread words, hesitations, or frowns. When one of these signs occurs, the word clearer identifies the misunderstood word and looks it up for the student in a dictionary, or simply explains it to him. Method 7 is intended to be used when the student lacks the ability to look up words for himself.
The origin of this peculiar numbering system is revealed in the section of this essay entitled “Word Clearing as Religious Ritual”.
All three Study Tech books also include sections on “demo kits” and “clay tables” as a means of “getting the mass” of the ideas the student is studying. A demo kit is a collection of odds and ends, such as rubber bands, paperclips, corks, pen tops, thumbtacks, erasers, etc. The student is supposed to “demo” a concept by choosing several objects, assigning them significance, and verbalizing or physically demonstrating the relationships between them.
In secular terminology we would call this “making a model”. And while such activities are certainly beneficial at times, the authors of the Study Tech books seem to have no clue about when models are appropriate and when they’re not. The example given in the Basic Study Manual shows a girl looking down at a random collection of objects on the table in front of her, including a key, a rubber band, and a paperclip. The accompanying thought bubble reads:
The key represents the student and he is reading a page which is this rubber band, and he goes past a misunderstood word, shown by a paper clip. When he gets here to the bottom of the page, he will feel blank because of the misunderstood word he didn’t look up. Right! That makes sense!
(Basic Study Manual, p. 140)
If this is the best example they can come up with, then the utility of demo kits is a dubious proposition at best.
The clay table is a more elaborate model-making practice, unique to Scientology. Once again, the instructions for this activity come directly from Scientology scripture, such as HCO Bulletin 11 October 1967, “Clay Table Training”. Students construct a “clay demo” of a concept by modeling its components in clay and assigning a paper label to each. The instructor is supposed to be able to infer the concept by viewing the completed clay demo scene. An example given in the Study Tech books is a clay demo of a pencil: the labeled parts are a thin cylinder with a point on one end labeled “lead”, another cylinder wapped around it labeled “wood”, and a blob at the end opposite the point labeled “rubber”.
Students are cautioned to label each object as they make it, for a rather peculiar reason:
This comes from the data that optimum learning requires an equal balance of mass and significance and that too much of one without the other can make the student feel bad. If a student makes all the masses of his demonstration at once, without labeling them, he is sitting there with all those significances stacking up in his mind instead of putting down each one (in the form of a label) as he goes. (Basic Study Manual. p. 144)
The books go on to show how thoughts can be represented in clay. One makes a human figure (with a label saying “person”), and then makes a sort of clay lariat coming out of its head. The loop of the lariat lies on the table, and within the loop one puts a model of the thing being thought about. For example, a person thinking of a ball would be modeled as a human figure labeled “person”, a lariat labeled “thought” coming out of its head, and a ball of clay labeled “ball” sitting within the loop of the lariat (Basic Study Manual, p. 145; Study Skills for Life, p. 92).
Clay table work is not only used to improve the student’s understanding of ideas. Within Scientology, “clay table processing”, using the same materials and notational conventions, is a type of auditing, or religious counseling. In HCO Bulletin 27 October 1989, “How to Do Clay Table Processing”, Hubbard warns:
Clay Table Processing is an AUDITED action and is done per the rules of auditing and is always done with an auditor or student auditor or Supervisor standing right there running the process on the person.
Whether religious or not, the use of a clay table is a clearly a simple-minded approach to understanding abstract concepts. Rather than promoting understanding, it seems much more likely that clay tables work — assuming that they work at all — as a visual memory aid. For instance, when discussing the composition of a water molecule, one could either describe it verbally as “two hydrogen atoms attached to one oxygen atom” or visually as two similarly-colored blobs of Play-Doh stuck onto one differently-colored blob. Humans are naturally very visually-oriented creatures — we had art long before we had writing — so it is not surprising that we often find images easier to recall than words. That is fine if the only goal is the accurate recitation of rote-learned facts. This is, in fact, the only goal that Hubbard was interested in with his Scientology students. But it is useless in developing the critical skills that are so necessary in the non-Scientology world, and that Hubbard was so conspicuously uninterested in encouraging.