4. STUDY TECH ASSESSED
Much of this essay has addressed methodological concerns about Study Tech — its unsound theories, its basis in religious dogma, its undisclosed ties to Scientology. But in the end, the most fundamental concern of all is the simplest: does it work?
It is difficult to find objective assessments of Study Tech. Its promoters are remarkably vague about its results. Applied Scholastics and its related organizations have publicized some claimed successes, but have provided no specifics, corroboration or even details of where the results were obtained. Some representative claims made by Applied Scholastic’s parent organization, ABLE:
- In New Zealand, students in a girls school showed an increase of twelve IQ points on the Otis Lennon Mental Ability Test after completing a course based on Mr. Hubbard’s learning methods.
- Another study conducted in England showed that students shot ahead 1.29 years in their reading levels after just ten hours of study using Mr. Hubbard’s study technology. Comparatively, no gain in reading levels was found in a control group of students not instructed in study technology.
- In a separate project in Los Angeles, high-school students tested after a forty-hour period of classroom instruction in study technology showed a remarkable average gain of over two years per student. In a similar project in South Africa, the average gain in reading age was two years and three months.
- In Mexico City, the study technology was introduced into a private school. High-school students in one class had failed 95 percent of their materials. After application of L. Ron Hubbard’s study technology, the class passed 90 percent of the materials the following year.
(Solutions issue #5, Association for Better Living & Education, 1997)
Note how unspecific the attributions are: “a girls school”, “students in England”, “a private school”. More specific claims are occasionally made. However, when statistics that can be checked independently have been provided, they have been shown to be dubious.
Steve Keller is the father of a daughter who attended one of the Californian branches of the Delphi Academy, which uses Hubbard’s Study Tech. In 1997, he became concerned about the claims being made about Delphi and decided to try to corroborate them. Delphi claimed that 96% of its students applied for admission to college and provided him with a “Partial List of Colleges and Universities that have Accepted Delphi Graduates.” He contacted each of the 35 schools named. Of the 27 that replied, only three acknowledged having received applications from Delphi students in recent years. Another sixteen said either they had not received such applications or they could not consider them. For example, U.C. Santa Barbara said it “…does not accept students applying from Delphi Academy…because Delphi is not an accredited institution.” Keller cross-checked with California’s Accrediting Commission for Schools, which replied that it had not accredited Delphi. American College Testing told him, “Few if any Delphi students have taken the ACT test.” It was not surprising that he concluded, in a letter to the Los Angeles Times, that “Whether or not they have success in these endeavors, we need to ask: do Hubbard’s methods work? If Delphi is a good example, they obviously do not.”
Applied Scholastics has a section on its website dedicated to the results of Study Technology. It provides little more than a number of “success stories” from teachers, parents and children, as well as a poorly presented set of statistics. The “success stories” are almost all anonymized: for instance, “J.M.” of “Lower Basic School” is quoted as saying that “When I finally succeeded in the first part of the Learning How to Learn Course for Teachers I shed tears of joy.” This kind of anonymization is standard practice in all Scientology-related organizations. It is not entirely clear why it is done, but one consequence is to make it impossible for outsiders to verify the claims, as no usable personal or locational information is provided. It also makes it impossible to check whether those quoted have any vested interests. Very often, quoted individuals turn out to be Scientologists with a potentially strongly biased view on the matter.
Another standard Scientology practice is to provide lots of impressive-looking but vague statistics which are not explained in any detail. Applied Scholastics does this in spades. Its web page on statistics offers a set of bar graphs and pie charts purporting to show spectacular increases in educational achievements following the introduction of Study Tech. The data are hopelessly vague and not explained at all. The first two graphs claim to show results achieved in “Brixton, England” and “Midlands, Zimbabwe.” The rest relate to “Lindbergh Elementary School,” “Ball Elementary School”, “teachers in Zimbabwe” and “Bell Elementary School”. Nowhere is it explained where any of these studies were conducted. Nor does Applied Scholastics say when they were conducted, how many students were involved, who conducted the studies, or how they were conducted. This is basic, fundamental information which any serious researcher would present. Applied Scholastics is not alone in its apparent sloppiness: similar figures are presented similarly vaguely on the websites of its parent organization, ABLE, and on the Church of Scientology’s official Study Technology website.
This peculiar omission points to only one conclusion. Applied Scholastics is not serious about researching Study Tech’s effectiveness. (And from its point of view, why should it be? Devotees of L. Ron Hubbard “know” as a matter of faith that his “technology” is flawless and produces perfect results. Scientologists have no more interest in proving Hubbard wrong than fundamentalist Christians have in proving theories of evolution.) The organization’s use of statistics evidently is little more than window dressing, intended to impress the faithful and promote the program to the general public. Applied Scholastics constantly empathizes quantity rather than quality. For instance, its 1995 annual report boasts of a training program in Mexico for 1,200 teachers under whom “more than 30,000 students benefited from the application of this study technology in the classroom,” and one in Zimbabwe where 7,500 children are being taught with “outstanding results.” But it does not say exactly what these results were or provide objective data on them.
This is very much a common outcome of Scientology management methods. Hubbard continually emphasized outputs rather than results, directing his organizations to get as many individuals through the system as possible but placing little importance on the qualitative outcomes of courses. Unfortunately for Applied Scholastics, some of its claimed statistics and studies have been exposed as questionable at best. This may be why Applied Scholastics provides so little detail of its claimed results. For instance, the Brixton study mentioned earlier turns out to be nearly 30 years old, conducted with a sample of 24 pupils (of whom only 12 actually undertook Study Tech) given just 8-10 hours of instruction over two weeks in June 1975. This tiny sample is statistically insignificant — far too small to justify the inferences drawn from it. The students were given a 30-year-old version of Study Tech, taught in its original Scientology form rather than the “child-friendly” version presented today in the Basic Study Manual and related books. Yet Applied Scholastics still presents this flawed, antiquated set of results as being somehow representative of Study Tech as taught in 2003. It is no wonder that Applied Scholastics and its sister organizations have shied away from giving any further details of the study.
Nor is this the only example of Applied Scholastics publicizing dubious statistics. LA Weekly found that the group’s claims were misleading in at least once instance:
[Applied Scholastics] cites St. Antoine, a public elementary school in Lafayette, Louisiana. It claims that after the school’s three second-grade teachers were trained in the study technology techniques outlined in Applied Scholastics’ Basic Study Manual, their students’ California Achievement Test composite scores in reading, English and math rose from the 29th percentile to the 46th percentile. The report also claims that this was the first time St. Antoine “ever achieved a rating higher than the 30th percentile,” which school principal Helen Magee says is false.
Magee confirms the increase in overall scores, but says that just one of the second-grade teachers received the study technology training. The scores of the students in that class did go up 17 percent, while in the other two classes the scores went up 13 percent and 2 percent. Magee says she was initially enthusiastic about expanding the use of study technology, but when several other teachers at the school were later trained, the outcome was disappointing. “I did not see the same results,” she says. “I think you have to have a certain kind of teacher to make it work.”
In a similar vein, Applied Scholastics claims to have educated 1.5 million poor black schoolchildren in South Africa through its “Education Alive” initiative. This attracted the interest of Australian Scientology critic Tony McClelland, who asked the South African government about the claim. A South African foreign service official wrote back to explain:
The matter has been taken up with the Department of Education and Culture as well as the Department of Education and Training who are responsible for school education in South Africa.
Both denied any knowledge of the Church’s involvement in formal education in South Africa.
According to the Department of Education and Training, the Church of Scientology tried to use a front organization in 1989, the so called “Education Alive” but was not allowed to get involved in the Department’s schools.
I am afraid their claim of teaching 1.5 million children in South Africa to read is just another fabrication.
(Letter from Johan Klopper, Second Secretary, South African Embassy Canberra, April 7, 1992)
There is certainly no shortage of purely subjective assessments of the Study Tech, in the form of “success stories” from people who have undergone or delivered the course. It is a striking illustration of Applied Scholastics’ priorities that its web site provides far more success stories than hard data. But their prevalence is hardly surprising. In Applied Scholastics’ sister organization Narconon, clients are required to write success stories on a standardized form at the end of each course, in order to “attest” to a successful completion. This is a standard feature of Scientology management practices. Hubbard stated that the key statistic for measuring the success of an organization is “PAID COMPLETIONS ACCOMPANIED BY AN ACCEPTABLE SUCCESS STORY” (“Org Condition Stat Change”, LRH Executive Directive 153 Int of 30 August 1971). They are not simply a method of surveying customer satisfaction. If a Narconon client does not submit a success story, he or she is deemed not to have completed the course and may have to redo it, with possible adverse financial implications. This gives clients a motive for submitting as positive a success story as possible. It is not clear whether precisely the same arrangement is in place in Applied Scholastics, but given Scientology’s penchant for standardization it would not be surprising.
Success stories are also a key tool for promotion and recruitment. A staff member is given responsibility for collating success stories (the post is referred to as the Success Officer) to “help Ron get volume high communication success stories into the hands or notice of the org’s publics, enhancing and increasing desire for the Org’s services” (“Success Officer Duties”, Board Policy Letter of 14 June 1973, Issue II). Hubbard described the tasks to be undertaken:
“Categorizes success stories into types of successes and results. Distributes and posts success stories and makes such available for use in … promotion pieces and also for [recruitment] use. Sees that success stories are used. All these duties adds up to ensuring good word of month.”
(Hubbard, “Big League Registration Series No. 12”, HCO Policy Letter of 14 November 1971)
This is exactly the way in which success stories are used by Applied Scholastics and its subordinate organizations. Its websites and much of its promotional material provide numerous glowing success stories, often described as an “explanation of our program from the only source that matters — our students and their parents.” This claim that subjective accounts are “the only source that matters” says much about Applied Scholastics’ attitude towards objective evaluations.
Study Tech’s supporters even claim that it can raise IQ by large amounts. In a 1998 interview, Heber C. Jentzsch, President of the Church of Scientology International told a Boston Herald reporter that “Scientology’s study techniques are so effective they raised his own IQ by 34 points.” (Mallia, 1998) Such claims are commonplace from Scientologists, as the following examples culled from Scientologists’ Internet home pages illustrate:
I did a course called “The Student Hat” which introduces you to L. Ron Hubbard’s “study technology” and my IQ has gone from 130 to 140.
(Steve Welton — http://www.our-home.org/stevewelton/success.htm)
The main success for me was when I got L. Ron Hubbard’s study technology. I learned how to handle some study problems that I had. My I.Q. got better and I felt more able to achieve anything I want to.
(Emily Hayes — http://scientologist.myhomepage.org/emilyhayes/success.htm)
Then, using Scientology study technology, I learned how to study, so I could improve myself. I got processing and by actual test my IQ went up by forty points.
(Bob Aldrich — http://www.oursites.org/bobaldrich/success.htm)
Applied Scholastics has made similar claims — for instance, that “in New Zealand, students in a girls school showed an increase of twelve IQ points on the Otis Lennon Mental Ability Test after completing a course based on Mr. Hubbard’s learning methods.” No further details are provided and the claim is not corroborated in any way whatsoever. Many experts question whether adult IQ can be raised in the first place. Even if it can, there is no verifiable evidence that Scientology or Study Tech has raised anybody’s intelligence. There are also major methodological concerns about the Hubbard-approved method of taking IQ tests, which relies on repeatedly taking the same test before and after courses to show the “improvement” that has been made. A simple memory effect — learning the test – can artificially inflate the scores. Certainly, outside of Scientology nobody seems to take seriously Hubbard’s claims that his methods could send IQ “skyrocketing.”
During the various controversies over Study Tech, educators have been canvassed for their opinions of Hubbard’s work. The reviews have been mixed at best and often unfavorable.
Applied Scholastics received an unenthusiastic response from Missouri educators when it opened a new facility in the state in July 2003. According to the St Louis Post-Dispatch:
Scot Danforth, who oversees teacher education for the University of Missouri at St. Louis, said he searched a database of four decades of published educational research and could find no study on L. Ron Hubbard’s instructional techniques.
“In my opinion, they are involved in the worst kind of deception. They make grandiose claims about the effectiveness of their methods and materials … with data that has never been published in a legitimate educational research journal,” he said.
Greg Jung, president of the Missouri National Education Association, is cautious.
“We don’t know if the people who are providing training are qualified and if the teachers providing the tutoring are qualified,” Jung said.
During the 1997 controversy over Study Tech in California, reporter Sara Catania interviewed several educators about the Study Tech books for an article that appeared in LA Weekly on November 12, 1997.
Johanna Lemlech, a professor of education at USC specializing in curriculum and teaching, calls the books “awful.” They “violate everything we know about how children learn, and appropriate pedagogy,” she says. “In short, these books should be carefully placed in the cylindrical file.” (Catania, 1997)
Hubbard’s dogmatic doctrine of the “misunderstood word” attracted particular criticism:
“In many cases, lack of comprehension is not because of a misunderstood word,” says Sidnie Myrick, who leads a UCLA research group on early literacy, teaches a master’s course in reading at Cal State L.A., and also teaches a class of first, second and third graders at Thomas Edison Elementary School in Glendale (she was Glendale’s 1993 Teacher of the Year). “In fact,” she says, “in many cases the student won’t get the meaning until the material is presented in a completely different way.”
Myrick also finds the books’ illustrations “cutesy and condescending,” the explanations “stilted and manufactured,” and study technology, all in all, “woefully inadequate.”
Ms. Catania also interviewed members of the Los Angeles school board, about which she wrote:
One member of the Los Angeles school board is unimpressed. A former high school history teacher, David Tokofsky calls the books “remedial” and says they would be of little use to any but the lowest-performing students. “If you walked into an eighth-grade class and tried to use these books on kids who are at the proper level, you’d kill them,” says Tokofsky, who coached the Marshall High School Academic Decathlon team to a national championship in 1987. “They’re not even good comic books.” (Catania, ibid)
Journalist Mark Walsh, in a September 17, 1997 article in Education Week, interviewed MaryEllen Vogt, a professor of education at California State University at Long Beach. Professor Vogt expressed concerns about the Study Tech books’ reliance on Word Clearing as the only route to comprehension. Walsh quotes her directly:
“The reading process is so complex,” she said. The principles in Hubbard’s three barriers to learning focus primarily on reading at the word level.
“But there is a whole other aspect of the reading process that is ignored,” added Ms. Vogt, who is a former president of the California Reading Association and a past board member of the International Reading Association.
“For older readers, we sometimes say, ‘Skip a word you don’t understand and try to gain comprehension from the whole context,'” she said. “We don’t say that for young readers. But for older readers, it is extremely cumbersome to try to attend to every word.”
(From Walsh, 1997.)
An earlier attempt to introduce Study Tech to public schools in eastern Canada foundered on the skepticism of local educators. Harvard University literacy professor Victoria Purcell-Gates (now at Michigan State University), who reviewed the Basic Study Manual, told NOW magazine that the merits of study tech are suspect:
“There isn’t anything new. It’s also sort of sketchy. What we know about teaching comprehension skills and study skills is a little more complex.”
Purcell-Gates says the program’s emphasis on use of the dictionary “is probably not the most effective tool for learning word meanings, because dictionary definitions tend to be very decontextualized. Teachers wouldn’t use that as a primary vehicle for teaching vocabulary.”
(Di Matteo, 1992)
When the Boston Herald questioned the use of Study Tech in Massachussetts schools, it asked Purcell-Gates to assess the Basic Study Manual:
“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.”
c. IS STUDY TECH CONSTITUTIONAL?
Many countries have strict rules governing the relationship between church and state. Most famously, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the “establishment of religion” by state agencies. The precise details of what is permissible have been worked out over many years through a series of court cases. One of the most important was a 1947 case before the Supreme Court, Everson v. Board of Education, which involved publicly subsidized transportation for students attending private religious schools in New Jersey. The court’s ruling established a set of crucially important principles, notably the rules subsequently referred to as the no-aid-to-religion rule and the sacred-secular doctrine.
The no-aid-to-religion rule prohibited the state from “pass[ing] laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another” or levying taxes “to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.” The sacred-secular doctrine distinguished between
programs that would contribute “money to the schools” or would “support them” and those, such as the one that was being challenged in that case, “indisputably marked off from the religious function” of schools. [The court] held that bus transportation was clearly separable from the religious mission of the schools and similar to general public services such as police and fire protection and sewage disposal. Thus it could be supported by public funds.
The Supreme Court thereby established a second crucial legal doctrine, namely, that while public money may not go to support religious programs or organizations, it may go to provide services not directly related to the religious mission of religious organizations. This was the beginning of the legal doctrine that separates the sacred and the secular aspects of a religiously based organization, and holds that public money may flow to its secular, but not its sacred aspects.
(Monsma, p. 31-32)
In 1971, the Supreme Court heard another crucial church-and-state case, Lemon v. Kurtzman, concerning state subsidization of teachers in private religious schools in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. The Court built on the principles established in Everson to establish a detailed set of criteria — since referred to as the “Lemon test” — to guide church-state interactions. As articulated by Chief Justice Burger, the test has three parts:
First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.
According to legal scholars, the fact that a law may have a “religious purpose or be motivated by religion does not mean it is unconstitutional as long as it also has a bona fide secular or civic purpose” (Lynn, Stern & Thomas, p. 3). Similarly, “a law that has a remote or incidental effect of advancing religion is not unconstitutional as long as the effect is not a ‘primary’ effect” (ibid. p. 3). Finally, the Court permitted some entanglement between church and state, as long as this entanglement is not “excessive” (ibid. p. 3).
The latter point has proved particularly significant. Religious organizations can, and do, engage in secular as well as religious activities. But this raises the issue of whether it is always possible to separate the religious from the secular for the purpose of public funding. For instance, if a religious organization engaged in secular welfare activity without proselytizing its clients (or otherwise discriminating on the basis of religion) that would probably pass constitutional muster. On the other hand, if a publicly funded school was to teach religious doctrine in classes, that would certainly be ruled unconstitutional. In the former case, one can receive publicly funded services without being exposed to religious messages. In the latter case of a “pervasively sectarian” environment, those messages are an integral part of what is being taught and exposure cannot be avoided.
It is for precisely this reason that the issue of creationism in public schools has provoked so much legal controversy. It is an issue with considerable parallels to that of Study Tech in public schools. The doctrine of a Supreme Being creating the world is very obviously a religious one, and specifically a Judeo-Christian one. Christian fundamentalists have made strenuous efforts over the years to prevent evolution from being taught in public schools, or at least to mandate “equal time” for the teaching of evolution and creationism. Their attempts have foundered on the principles set out in Everson and Lemon, forcing them to use increasingly obscurantist tactics. After overt creationism was rooted out of schools, so-called “scientific creationism” was adopted in a number of states until ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1987 in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. Since then, creationists have swung behind the equally unscientific but less overtly religious doctrine of “intelligent design.” They have so far failed to introduce it into public schools but will probably succeed at some point — whereupon opponents of religious instruction in the schools will take it to the courts and very likely have it too ruled unconstitutional.
There is thus a considerable body of legal precedent by which Study Technology can be judged. As far as is known, it has never been exposed to a formal legal challenge over its constitutionality. But if it was, would it pass muster? It seems likely that it would not:
- Study Tech’s course materials are taken directly from Scientology scriptures, often word-for-word. Religious materials do not cease to be religious simply by virtue of being given a different cover. L. Ron Hubbard himself declared Study Tech to be “part of the Tech of Scientology.” Study Tech can therefore accurately be described as being “pervasively sectarian.”
- The provision of Study Tech is not “indisputably marked off from the religious function” of the Church of Scientology. Study Tech is an integral part of Scientology doctrine. It is taught in all Scientology Churches, and is compulsory for all Scientologists. No distinction is made in Scientology between Study Tech and any other part of Scientology doctrine, and Scientology policy makes no mention of Study Tech being secular (quite the opposite, in fact). Study Tech cannot be described as being unrelated to “the religious mission of religious organizations.” This, together with the previous concern, would very likely count as “excessive entanglement” between the state and religion.
- Scientology plainly sees Study Tech as a principal weapon in its doctrinally-inspired goal of eliminating psychiatry and psychology from public schools. This does not by itself make Study Tech unconstitutional, as the Lemon test permits a religious purpose as long as it is accompanied by “a bona fide secular or civic purpose.” However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in McLean looked closely at the motives of the supporters of scientific creationism, finding that they were heavily influenced by purely sectarian concerns. If the issue of Study Tech were ever to go before the courts, it is likely that Scientology’s sectarian hatred of psychiatry would be a major issue and would count against Study Tech.
These concerns are not merely theoretical, as questions have already been asked about the constitutionality of Study Tech. When controversy broke out in California in 1997 over the use of Study Tech books in public schools, the American Civil Liberties Union became involved:
“I have some fairly serious questions about the constitutionality and, from a public-policy standpoint, the propriety of using these materials in public schools,” said Douglas Mirell, a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, who has examined some of the study-skills books and compared them with materials from the church. “It seems like the books go out of their way to use terms that have a technical definition within the religion.”
Similar concerns were raised within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Board member David Tokofsky told the Los Angeles Times (Helfand, 1997): “We cannot turn our public school students and monies into a religious institution. It’s a problem on a fundamental constitutional level.”
If Study Tech were to be adopted formally by public authorities, it seems very likely that the ACLU or another public interest group would challenge it in court, at considerable cost to taxpayers. And judging from the issues highlighted above, any such challenge would seem to have a good chance of success.