Education

Who Joins Cults?

November 03, 1982 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Those who join cults are generally not the children of troubled families, according to Robert E. Schecter, director of education for the American Family Foundation in Weston, Mass, an anti-cult organization.

“The fact that most of the kids who join are from normal, happy families bespeaks the power of the cult,” Mr. Schecter says.

Counselors, parents, and others with personal knowledge of cult behavior contend that almost any young person or adult may be susceptible to the “lure” of a cult.

“Recruits are usually lonely and between meaningful attachments,” according to Margaret L. Singer, a scholar who became interested in the problems of people involved with cults as a result of her experiences in treating American prisoners of war in Korea who had been “brainwashed.”

The majority of the cult members she has dealt with, Ms. Singer said, “were depressed, mildly to moderately, when they joined. They didn’t get into the college of their choice or had an abortion or were in-between romances or jobs at a time when they had no other major social affiliation.”

Because they have money and the freedom to move, and are usually the products of comfortable surroundings, upper-middle class young people, she said, tend to be the most vulnerable as well as the most desirable targets for recruitment by cults.

“The lower classes have ‘street smarts,”’ she added. “They know there are no free lunches. When they are offered a free dinner they know somebody wants something in return. The sales pitches appeal to the idealistic and the fairly wealthy who have parents who trust them to go off for a weekend somewhere.”

Major target areas for recruitment, according to Ms. Singer, are on or near college campuses and schools, outside counseling centers, and in airports or railway and bus depots where vacationing young adults may be found.

Another prime location is the suburbs, she noted. “That’s why private schools are aware of the problem. Kids in private school haven’t been hustled on school grounds by other conniving students. Private-school kids are more susceptible because they know fewer people. There may be 300 students in a private school compared to 3,000 in a public school. There’s less a chance of being conned. And the diversity of the students and the wider range of tensions in public schools is educational.”

“Kids from fundamentalist religions don’t often join cults,” she pointed out. “They know the Bible cold and laugh at the cult interpretation. But Jewish and Catholic kids who are not grounded solidly in religion and, at the same time, are seeking some firm base, are highly susceptible. “They often wish,” Ms. Singer added, “that they had the same connection to the past that their parents have--to be raised in a closed community of immigrants with all the songs, dances, music, cooking, and stories. Without everything so amalgamated and cosmopolitan.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 03, 1982 edition of Education Week as Who Joins Cults?

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Tiny Wrists in Cuffs: How Police Use Force Against Children
An investigation finds children as young as 6 and a disproportionate amount of Black children have been handled forcibly by police officers.
15 min read
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Nam Y. Huh/AP
Education Gunman in 2018 Parkland School Massacre Pleads Guilty
A jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
3 min read
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education Briefly Stated: October 20, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP