Los Angeles Times: Scientology and the Schools

Source: Los Angeles Times
Date: June 27, 1990

by Joel Sappell and Robert W. Welkos

The Scientology movement has launched a concerted campaign to gain a foothold in the nation's schools by distributing to children millions of copies of a booklet Hubbard wrote on basic moral values.

The program is designed to win recognition for Hubbard as an educator and moralist and, at the same time, introduce him to the nation's youth.

The pocket-size booklet, entitled "The Way to Happiness," is a compilation of widely agreed upon values that Hubbard put into writing in 1981. Its 96 pages include such admonitions as "take care of yourself," "honor and help your parents," "do not murder" and "be worthy of trust."

The booklet notes in small print that it was written by Hubbard as "an individual and is not part of any religious doctrine."

But Scientology publications have called the campaign "the largest dissemination project in Scientology history" and "the bridge between broad society and Scientology."

Scientologists estimate that 3.5 million copies have been introduced into 4,500 elementary, junior high and senior high schools nationwide. Altogether, more than 28 million copies have been translated into at least 14 languages and distributed throughout the world.

The booklet is distributed by the Concerned Businessmen's Association of America, an organization not officially connected to the church but run by Scientologists.

The Scientology connection is downplayed by the group. Its leader, Barbara Ayash of Marina del Rey, said she launched the association after five of her children became involved with drugs.

Her group runs a nationwide contest encouraging students to stay off drugs by following the precepts in Hubbard's booklet. Participants in the "Set a Good Example" contest must come up with projects using the booklet as their guide. By focusing on the drug issue, the association has won the backing of school officials and political figures unaware of its links to Scientology.

In Louisiana, a junior high school distributed Hubbard's booklet to students and then had them pledge in writing:

"I promise to do my best to learn, practice and use the 21 points of good moral conduct contained in 'The Way to Happiness' book to improve myself, set a good example for my friends, and to help my family, my community and my country."

As an incentive to get campus administrators on board, the association awards $5,000 to the winning elementary, junior high and senior high schools.

At contest awards ceremonies, the winners and Hubbard's book share the spotlight.

For example, during a ceremony at the Charleston, W.Va., civic center, then-Gov. Arch Moore and other dignitaries were each presented a leather-bound copy of "The Way To Happiness."

Scientology critics contend that the contest is being used to enlist new church members, who, as the theory goes, may be so inspired by "The Way to Happiness" that they will reach for Hubbard's other writings. They argue that the booklet's distribution in public schools violates constitutional mandates separating church and state.

But Ayash of the businessmen's association insists that her group has no motive other than to help children lead better lives. "The Way to Happiness," she said, shows them the path in simple, direct language.

For the most part, school officials whose campuses have participated in the contest said they were unaware of Hubbard's Scientology connection or that his followers were directing the contest. They said Scientology was not openly promoted and they did not regret taking part.

But one California public school system recently banned the contest after administrators conducted an investigation and learned that Hubbard was the author of Scientology's doctrine.

For three years, students at El Capitan Middle School in Fresno participated in the nationwide contest. In Spring, 1989, the students won second place for organizing an anti-drug relay in which they passed each other a symbolic "torch" — Hubbard's booklet.

Deluxe leather-bound copies were presented to mayors of the 15 cities along the relay route.

Last fall, the contest's sponsors decided to accelerate their efforts in Fresno County, urging the entire 5,000-student Central Unified School District to participate, instead of just one school. But they ran up against Geoff Garratt, the district's director of educational services and personnel.

Garratt said that, while he was aware of Scientology, he had never heard of Hubbard. He said he learned of the connection at the local library, where he went to investigate Hubbard's background.

"The more I investigated," Garratt said, "I found it (the businessmen's association) represented a very small self-interest group: Scientology." Among other things, he said, he discovered that the association had the same phone number and address as the local Dianetics center.

Garratt said he rejected the association's plea to expand the contest, fearing that the booklet's distribution in the public schools might violate constitutional prohibitions against mixing matters of church and state.

Garratt said the association refused to consider the possibility of holding the contest without Hubbard's booklet. "They said flat out, 'Without the book, there is no contest.' "

Scientologists also are attempting to install a Hubbard tutorial program in public schools, using a church-affiliated organization called Applied Scholastics.

Yellow posters advertising Applied Scholastics have appeared in storefront windows throughout Los Angeles. They promise better learning skills but make no mention of the church.

Applied Scholastics currently has plans to build a 1,000-acre campus, where the organization would train educators to teach Hubbard's tutorial program. A recent Applied Scholastics mailer predicted that the training center will be a "model of real education for the world" and "create overwhelming public popularity" for Hubbard.

Developed for students of Scientology, the Hubbard program is built upon an elementary premise: learning difficulties arise when students read past words they do not understand.

"The misunderstood word in a subject produces a vast panorama of mental effects and is the prime factor involved in stupidity," Hubbard wrote in 1967. "This is a sweepingly fantastic discovery in the field of education."

The chief solution he propounds is simple: students must learn to use a dictionary when they encounter an unfamiliar or confusing word.

In recent years, Applied Scholastics has targeted predominantly minority schools, where many students tend to do poorly on standardized tests. Applied Scholastics considers these schools fertile ground because campus administrators are willing to try new approaches to improve scores.

The Compton Unified School District in 1987 and 1988 allowed the Hubbard program to be tested with 80 students at Centennial Senior High School. The program there was run by a substitute teacher named Frizell Clegg, a Scientologist who was an Applied Scholastics consultant.

Clegg, who refused to be interviewed, was suspended from his teaching duties in 1988 after he reportedly gave discourses on Scientology in a history class. He no longer teaches at the school.

In applying for district financing, Clegg said the educational program was "developed by American writer and educator L. Ron Hubbard." Excluding any reference to Hubbard's Scientology connection, he persuaded the board to provide $5,000 to tutor 30 sophomores with low reading scores and to conduct a parent workshop.

After the program grew to 50 students, Applied Scholastics submitted a proposal increasing the number of students to 125 and the cost to $27,000.

District officials killed the program, believing that Applied Scholastics was seeking to expand too quickly. Officials were also displeased that the group, without district approval, was using its involvement with Centennial to market the program elsewhere, according to Acting Supt. Elisa Sanchez.

In promotional literature, Applied Scholastics made claims of remarkable success at Centennial High. While some parents said the program helped their children, Sanchez said the claims made by Applied Scholastics were unsubstantiated.