by Joseph Mallia
The Church of Scientology has targeted black families in Massachusetts with a learn-to-read program that critics say is just a rehash of old methods that leans heavily on the church’s religious teachings.
The learn-to-read program – the World Literacy Crusade – is part of a nationwide effort by the church to entice blacks into Scientology and then convince them to take other, expensive programs, according to critics and former members of the church.
A Herald review has found that Scientologists have:
Targeted a literacy campaign at inner-city Boston programs for minority children, including Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn’s Youth Development Program, the Roxbury YMCA and the Roxbury Youth Works.
Attracted dozens of middle class and professional black families to Delphi Academy in Milton. This Scientology-run school uses E-Meters – devices akin to lie detectors – on children, according to a former Delphi student.
Taught Scientology methods to ninth-grade teachers at Randolph High School – which has many black students – after persuading headmaster James E. Watson that their techniques work.
Taught Scientology’s study techniques to Boston Public Schools students at Brighton High School through teacher Gerald Mazzarella, who is also a church member.
Created 26 World Literacy Crusade programs – in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Miami, Memphis, Tenn., and a host of other U.S. cities in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Gained the endorsements of prominent local blacks such as Georgette Watson, co-founder of Drop-A-Dime and former anti-drug aide to Gov. William F. Weld.
Scientologists say the literacy campaign is nonreligious, and thereforedoesn’t violate laws separating church and state.
But critics say the church plays fast and loose with definitions, calling identical programs “religious” in one context and “secular” in another.
Church documents and books show that Scientology clearly identifies Study Technology as a religious practice. It is taught at the church’s local headquarters on Beacon Street in Boston in the $600 Student Hat program, as a first step into church membership.
This learn-to-read “technology” – or Study Tech as the church calls it – teaches children to distrust their own intelligence and rely passively on what the church teaches, said high-ranking church defector Robert Vaughn Young.
“Study Tech is an extremely dangerous technique,” Young said. “Critical thinking? There is no critical thinking. Criticism is the part that is not allowed,” said Young, who once directed Scientology’s worldwide public relations effort.
The Rev. Heber C. Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International, denied that black children or families are being recruited through the literacy program.
“We’ve found that African-American families are as interested as everyone else in what works . . .. They might not necessarily join the church but the quality of their lives has been improved by it,” he said.
Scientologists say the literacy techniques offer the only way to end gang violence, teen pregnancy and other inner-city problems.
“I think parents are being driven to find answers. They want their kids to be educated, for heaven’s sake. God bless the World Literacy Crusade,” Jentzsch said.
He said Scientology’s study techniques are so effective they raised his own IQ by 34 points, and helped his children read far above their grade levels.
The Herald asked Harvard University literacy expert Victoria Purcell-Gates to assess the World Literacy Crusade’s learn-to-read book, the “Basic Study Manual,” written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
“This is all `old stuff,’ and has been taught in the schools for at least 30 years (probably more) now,” the Harvard professor wrote in an assessment for the Herald.
“Basically, there is nothing new in this text that is not known by reading/study specialists at a very basic level,” she added. “The only thing really `different’ is that Mr. Hubbard has renamed basic concepts to fit into his overall scheme of things.”
Steve Hassan of Cambridge, a cult deprogrammer, warned that the way Scientologists use the book, in one-on-one tutorials, is a first step toward hypnotic mind control.
And the literacy materials are the same as church scriptures – except the schoolbooks leave out the word “Scientology,” Hassan said.
For example, the “Basic Study Manual” teaches children about the Scientology practice of “disconnecting” – used to separate new recruits from non-Scientologists, including parents. ” `Experts,’ `advisers,’ `friends,’ `families’ . . . indulge in all manner of interpretations and even outright lies to seem wise or expert,” the manual says.
The manual also promotes Scientology’s anti-psychology agenda, linking psychology to German fascism and saying psychotherapists reduce humans to the level of animals.
Scientology spokesman Bernard Percy, however, defended the World Literacy Crusade, saying it has no harmful agenda, and that its study principles can turn a child’s life around. For example, Percy said, the program requires children to look up in a dictionary each and every unfamiliar word – and that becomes a lifelong habit with tremendous benefits.
Scientologists also claim the literacy campaign is not controlled by the Church of Scientology – so they are not breaking the laws prohibiting religion in the schools.
But that is a false claim, because the campaign is funded and directed by the Church of Scientology, Hassan said.
Although local Scientologists deny that the World Literacy Crusade is directed by the Church of Scientology, anyone who uses L. Ron Hubbard’s name, or his trademarked Study Technology techniques, is strictly controlled by licensing contracts with Scientology groups in Los Angeles, in particular the Religious Technology Center, according to Young and church materials obtained by the Herald.
The World Literacy Crusade’s independence from Scientology is a “fiction,” Young said.
A World Literacy Crusade videotape, viewed by the Herald, clearly states that it has a licensing agreement with RTC – Scientology’s most powerful organization – allowing it to use L. Ron Hubbard’s name.
Also, Scientologists get a 10 percent to 35 percent commission on any church course bought by someone they recruit through the literacy programs, according to Church of Scientology documents dated last month.
Once Scientology attracts a new recruit, its staff applies skillful, high-pressure sales tactics, Hassan said. Members must pay more than $300,000 in “fixed donations” – or barter their full-time labor – to achieve complete salvation.
When the Mo Vaughn group or another agency buys Scientology’s literacy books – which cost about $35 each – most of the money goes to several Scientology organizations in Los Angeles: Bridge Publications, the church’s in-house publisher; Author Services Inc., Scientology’s literary agency; and RTC, which owns the rights to the trademarked name L. Ron Hubbard.
Also, church members sometimes get government funding.
Scientologists got a federal grant for the literacy program in Memphis, former church spokeswoman Kit Finn said.
Federal money was also spent in Boston on Scientology materials, said Gerald Mazzarella, a Scientologist who teaches at Brighton High School. Mazzarella told the Herald he used part of a $5,000 federal grant to buy Scientology textbooks and checklists during the 1980s, which he then used at Brighton High.
Boston’s kickoff of Scientology’s literacy program was an April 22, 1995, reception at Roxbury Community College.
The guest of honor was Isaac Hayes, the first black musician ever to win an Academy Award.
The “Shaft” composer impressed a few prominent local blacks – including James E. Watson, the Randolph Junior/Senior High School headmaster.
“It obviously helps kids improve their learning. It seemed to be a positive,” Watson said.
Watson toured Delphi Academy in Milton about three years ago, then asked the school’s headmistress, Ellen Garrison, to begin teaching Study Technology to his ninth-grade teachers at the Randolph school in December.
“It’s at its infancy stage, and what it would cost isn’t clear yet,” the headmaster said at the time. Watson, who has been praised for easing racial tensions in Randolph, recently said there is no longer any connection between the two schools.
The head of a youth program founded by one of Boston’s most-admired black athletes was also interested.
“I think they’re right on when they say illiteracy is a problem that leads to other problems,” said Roosevelt Smith, executive director of the Mo Vaughn Youth Development Program.
“We contracted with the World Literacy Crusade to bring seven kids up to speed,” Smith said. Five of the children, who were 13-16 years old, improved their reading ability using the “Basic Study Manual,” he said.
“Most of the stuff is free. They only asked us to pay for books and materials,” Smith said.
Mo Vaughn himself knew about the Scientologists’ program, but “he hasn’t met with them directly,” Smith said.
But the Scientology religion “is not a part of what we’re doing,” Smith said. “I don’t think the kids even know what Scientology is.”
Roxbury Youth Works, however, allowed World Literacy Crusade workers to tutor teenagers there three years ago, but had second thoughts after learning more about the group’s links to Scientology, said Roxbury Youth Works administrator Dave Wideman.
“We as an organization were a little apprehensive. It seems like they were trying to recruit people,” Wideman said. “The target group was the particular population we serve, predominantly young black men and women.”
But if the Randolph High School literacy program succeeds, Scientologists hope to teach the same “tech” in Boston classrooms, said Finn, the Scientologist.
“That’s definitely the plan,” Finn said. “It’s like Mr. Watson. Somebody has to be bright enough to want it.”
Virtually every top Scientology official is white, according to ex-members and photographs of church leaders. But the new literacy campaign shows Scientology wants to attract blacks and Hispanics, said Priscilla Coates, formerly of the Cult Awareness Network in Los Angeles – an anti-cult group that was bankrupted by Scientology lawsuits and then taken over by the church.
Any non-Scientologist youth who is taught Study Technology is ripe for recruitment, Coates said. “The child has a possibility of becoming a Scientologist,” she said.
Elsewhere in the United States, the World Literacy Crusade has installed its programs at a New York City police athletic league, a Los Angeles probation department, and the Tampa (Fla.) Housing Authority. Other programs are in Washington, D.C., Denver, and throughout California.
In Memphis, Tenn., public officials were angered to learn that the World Literacy Crusade had run a pilot program – with federal grant money – for 75 students in a public school building, without getting a needed permit and without disclosing its ties to Scientology. The church was not allowed to use the school facilities again.
In the inner-city Los Angeles neighborhood of Compton, more than 700 black children, including gang members, participated in the World Literacy Crusade and the program saved their lives by giving them an alternative to street life, Jentzsch said.
“If you know what the statistics are in Compton, (it is) just miraculous,” Jentzsch said. “I’ve seen kids from the Crips and the Bloods sitting there working with other kids to get them educated.”
Larry Campbell brought his daughter to the Scientologists at the Roxbury YMCA because she was having reading problems in a public school outside Boston, which he would not name.
“I brought my daughter here because these guys help,” Campbell said. The father acknowledged that he also enrolled himself in the literacy program, to improve his reading skills.
“This is what the public schools should be doing,” the father said. “It should be attended to not next year but now.”
So for two hours on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and each Saturday morning, Campbell, a deacon at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Roxbury, brought his elementary school aged daughter to a neon-lit YMCA room furnished with an old sofa, two foldout tables and a stack of plastic chairs.
There, she and other black children were coached in Scientology’s study methods by church members Simaen Skolfield and Cliff Dufresne.
During one session observed by a Herald reporter, neither tutor had a spontaneous conversation with a child, but read from a script.
Dufresne, who dropped out of Boston College Law School to work on the literacy program, helped Doug Walker, a pupil at the William Monroe Trotter Elementary School in Dorchester.
Doug Walker’s mother said the school wanted to solve her son’s problems by giving him medication such as Ritalin, Dufresne said. But, he added, the mother wanted to try drug-free Scientology lessons first.
Meanwhile Skolfield, a bearded British emigre, helped Tanzania Campbell – whose ambition is to be a schoolteacher in Atlantic City, N.J. – with a Study Technology lesson.
Campbell and others at the Roxbury YMCA literacy program were expected to pay nothing at first. “Not yet,” Dufresne said.
But Dufresne hopes his students will, in turn, teach their friends the Scientology techniques. “That’s the whole idea. They learn this and then they circle back and teach somebody else. Because there’s not enough of us,” he said.
Scientology literacy sessions are no longer allowed at the Roxbury YMCA, after officials there learned that the program is associated with the church.
But, an official at Dennison House in Dorchester said Dufresne met with house representatives last year and Dennison House invited World Literacy Crusade workers to come in as tutors. The tutoring has not yet started.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Not about manipulation
It’s appalling that the Herald has chosen to attack the World Literary Crusade, which is helping families and children lead a better life. Your paper has tried to lessen the work that we do by questioning the motives of the staff and volunteers of this program. Good people in many cities, including Boston, have given their time and energy to help others. You make their good work seem like an act of manipulation.
Mr. Mallia did not take the time to really look at the positive results created by these programs; instead he manufactured hidden motives and implied that African-Americans involved in the WLC are being duped. Since 1992, thousands of lives have come through the WLC and literally been saved from the world of street violence and possible death, a success attributable to L. Ron Hubbard’s Study Technology.
The Rev. Alfreddie Johnson, Founder, World Literacy Crusade, Compton, Calif.
Literacy is power
I first became aware of Delphi Academy and the World Literacy Crusade more than five years ago. I found Delphi to be an excellent school that was dedicated to empowering its students by giving them educational tools that encouraged them to develop good learning habits and to think for themselves. I proudly wear the hat that founder the Rev. Alfreddie Johnson gave me – a symbol of his commitment to provide the freedom and power that comes with access to written word.
The article on Delphi and the WLC has hints of “only whites know what is best for black people.” I am most disturbed that you don’t believe that people have the capacity to think for themselves. These programs are helping young people. We need to support them, not put them down.
Mel King, Boston