Letters to the Editor
Educators Should Be Wary Of Scientology Claims
To the Editor:
Thank you for giving us your report on the Church of Scientology's effort to induce the state of California to approve five books produced by the church's publishing company, Bridge Publications Inc. ("Texts Highlight Scientology's Role in Education," Sept. 17, 1997.) Please let me offer some comments based on information I have gathered during my own inquiry into the same matter.
You report that all five of the Bridge Publications books are "based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard," the founder of the Church of Scientology. This is an accurate restatement of a claim made by Bridge Publications, but the claim itself has not been substantiated. All five books show 1992 as their copyright date (though L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986), and all five books are anonymously written. None of the books shows any author or editor on its title page, and there is no indication of where the material in the book originated, or who assembled it. Moreover, the copyright page of each book displays one of the most bizarre disclaimers I have ever seen:
"This book is part of the works of L. Ron Hubbard. It is presented to the reader as part of the record of his personal research into life, and the application of same by others, and should be construed only as a written report of such research and not as a statement of claims made by the author."
If I understand this, it means that these authorless books really do have an author, but the multitude of claims made in the books were devised not by the author but by some other, unidentified person or persons.
As you have reported, Bridge Publications is one of several interconnected organizations that promote L. Ron Hubbard and distribute materials which may be related to Mr. Hubbard in one way or another. The other organizations include the L. Ron Hubbard Library, the Association for Better Living and Education, or ABLE, Applied Scholastics, and the World Literacy Crusade. It is important to know that Applied Scholastics is an offspring of ABLE (which owns the rights to the name Applied Scholastics) and that the World Literacy Crusade is an "initiative" of Applied Scholastics. It was explicitly called an Applied Scholastics "initiative" by Rena Weinberg, ABLE's president, in a piece that ran in Solutions, ABLE's official magazine.
This helps explain why, as your article states, materials sold by Applied Scholastics are used in "literacy programs," and why "The Rev. Alfreddie Johnson ... runs the World Literacy Crusade, with a reported 35 chapters around the world using [Applied Scholastics] books to help children learn to read." This Rev. Johnson and his so-called crusade are creatures of Applied Scholastics, so it is not surprising that the crusade uses and promotes Applied Scholastics books.
You report cogent remarks by Professor MaryEllen Vogt, who "becomes wary" when instructional materials are promoted by the use of testimonials. In plugging Applied Scholastics materials and "L. Ron Hubbard Study Technology," the Church of Scientology and its affiliates rely heavily on testimonials--almost all of which are anonymous and cannot be checked. (In a recent promotional piece issued by the L. Ron Hubbard Library, typical testimonials are ascribed to "L.M., First Year Education Student, South Africa," "J.K., California Institute of Technology," "D.S., High School Sophomore," and "L.K., Teacher, New York.")
Reliance upon testimonials is a classic technique of quacks and con artists, of course. Such persons use testimonials and endorsements because they cannot support their claims with evidence--and this seems to be true in the case at hand. As far as I have been able to learn, there is no evidence to suggest that "L. Ron Hubbard Study Technology" or the Applied Scholastics books have any particular pedagogic merit.
I suggest that anyone who wants to know more about L. Ron Hubbard should read the obituary that ran in The New York Times on Jan. 29, 1986. For a much more extensive account, see Jon Atack's A Piece of Blue Sky (Carol Publishing Group, 1990).
William J. Bennetta
The Textbook League
Hubbard Teaching Aids Offer Viable Solutions
To the Editor:
I am writing in response to your articles "Hubbard's Education Theories Focus on Barriers to Learning" and "Texts Highlight Scientology's Role in Education" (Sept. 17, 1997).
In the first article, you very briefly define L. Ron Hubbard's "three barriers to learning." I am familiar with these principles and the application of the study techniques mentioned, and I have found them to be logical, down-to-earth, and quite useful in helping students with literacy and comprehension problems.
I am a certified reading specialist, a member of the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, and hold a graduate degree in curriculum and instruction (specifically in reading instruction). I have taught students at the elementary through the college level and have found the Hubbard materials quite valuable as curriculum supplements with a broad range of educational populations. Specifically, I have used them with elementary Chapter 1 students and with low-literacy adult readers. But I have also found the principles extremely useful in teaching academic-skills workshops for students at the college level. They were effective in providing study strategies for students performing both at high and low levels.
MaryEllen Vogt expresses concern in one of your articles about the "word clearing" strategy. While it is true that there are important strategies to learn that apply to the textual levels above words (such as those that deal with sentences, paragraphs, and general text structure), when we deal with tasks that require precise understanding and application (such as those of an adult reader whose job depends on reading and understanding acurately the manual for a technology or machine), there is no leeway to use the strategies of guessing at word meaning through context clues. Only precise definitions will do.
This holds true for elementary- through college-age students in subjects such as science and math. Students simply need a collection of dependable reading-strategy tools. I found that "word clearing" (which is a very precise method of comprehension checking) provided such a tool.
Many of your readers are deeply concerned about educational solutions and could have benefited from more detailed coverage of these principles, rather than the lengthy sections in the two articles that added an alarming, tabloid-style tone to the coverage, collapsing the teaching concerns with religious controversy, and quoting professional Church of Scientology critics rather than professional educators. The Hubbard Method materials are secular (no church-state conflict exists) and, to my knowledge, their use is international.
In a world where we have so many literacy concerns, it might behoove us to look to sources with workable methods.
Reading Specialist/Curriculum Writer
San Diego, Calif.
To the Editor:
I teach second-year college mathematics to science and engineering students. It is a fact well known to scientists and engineers that you cannot learn a subject in these areas unless you also learn the terminology that goes along with it. As a consequence, the quickest way to find out if a student knows the subject he is studying is to take a couple of the basic concepts from this subject and ask him for definitions and examples.
I regularly ask a couple of such questions on every exam. The results are predictable. The bright students can give answers. They also can do something with the subject matter. The student who is still fumbling with the subject matter cannot return a coherent and sensible answer to these questions.
After the first exam, the poor student's performance usually encourages him to start studying the definitions and really trying to learn them, not just memorize them. As he starts to master the terminology, he also fumbles less. This can mean the difference between knowing what the exam question is asking and then answering it correctly, or not knowing what it is asking and answering incorrectly. It can be the difference between passing and failing--and between being able to do scientific work and only pretending to do it.
The methods of "word clearing" and study, as given in the Hubbard Study Manuals, are valid educational methods. They are simple, easy to learn, and easy to apply. They will improve the study skills of any student.
David J. Kaup
Joint Professor of Mathematics, Computer Science, and Physics
On Students as Consumers: Two Readers Respond
To the Editor:
David Labaree asks some important questions in his recent Commentary ("Are Students 'Consumers'?," Sept. 17, 1997). The question of exactly whom public schools are supposed to serve is one rarely addressed directly.
When parents choose private education, they no doubt expect that the private schools will serve the needs of students and parents. And why not? Parents are paying the bills, and students are the ones receiving the educational benefit.
With public schools, however, it seems that the public benefits of education are often emphasized to the complete exclusion of private benefits. This total emphasis on "public goods" gives rise to discussions of average test scores or of whose political or social agenda will be advanced in the classroom. The "public good" view of education asks whether we are serving children in general.
The public-good view excludes the question of whether each child is being served. As long as grade averages are up and voters are happy, the public good of education is seen as fulfilled. The question of whether some children may not be receiving an adequate education is turned into a merely private issue of no concern to the public authorities.
What we need is a more balanced view. Education is both a public good and a private good. It is most proximately a private good, in that the direct benefits received are benefits to the one being educated. It is eventually a public good, in that those educated can use their talents to the benefit of society as a whole.
The private good is first, both in order of chronology and in importance. The public good is not served by the aggregate of educated students, but by the individual knowledge of each person. "Students in general" never build bridges, heal the sick, or even go on to teach others. Only individuals, relying on their own hard work and the hard work of those who taught them, can do these things.
Maybe a dose of "private goods" in public education is just what we need. Instead of asking if all children are being served, it would be refreshing once in a while for someone to ask if each child is being served.
Seton Home Study School
Front Royal, Va.
To the Editor:
In his Commentary "Are Students 'Consumers'?," David Labaree defines himself into a problem that otherwise doesn't exist. He states that an effective social-mobility goal (even his choice of term is pejorative) must "provide some people with benefits that others don't get." Why? Why is it that my children and I can only get ahead by climbing on the backs of others? The economy is not now--and never has been--a zero-sum game in which my gain is your loss.
When students succeed in life everyone else succeeds. My wealth-creation efforts do nothing but improve your standard of living as well. If I try to hold you back so that I get ahead, I'm also harming myself.
As for students' trying to distinguish themselves and stand out from the crowd: So what? Again, this isn't a zero-sum game. The point is to provide each student with the education appropriate for them. If a gifted program is where they must go to be challenged, why does that necessarily keep anyone else from getting the same challenge in the same or different program?
Mr. Labaree seems to equate making the most of oneself with elitism. They're very different things. And why does he consider such programs to be lacking sufficient concern for "providing socially useful skills"? What is more "socially useful" than being the best you can be? Than coming to a true understanding of where your skills lie and then proceeding down that path, whether it leads to engineering school, the NBA, or even a Calcutta slum? Each is a place where someone made the most of himself or herself and thereby gave to society the most that they were capable of giving. And this is bad somehow?
Tests Will Be a Surrogate For Missing Motivation
To the Editor:
Use of standardized-test scores to market public school "success" reflects a dubious measure of academic achievement ("Experts Question Value of New National Tests," Sept. 3, 1997.) The Educational Testing Service has referred to "the myth of a single yardstick." Educators, in their role as "team players," have failed to rise to the occasion.
Useful assessment, including testing, can serve best to diagnose the need for remediation. These one-shot tests focus only on a narrow part of the spectrum of human intelligence. Reaching for higher standards is desirable and is most likely to be achieved in schools promoting positive student motivation to learn. High test scores are not the same as high standards.
The tests seem to be a surrogate for now-missing motivation incentives. They also reflect a lack of confidence in teachers. Ask any thoughtful teacher two questions: What are the disadvantages and limitations of standardized testing? and What exactly do the scores mean? Teachers have a long-standing familiarity with the student inquiry, "If it isn't on the test, why should I learn it?"
How will standardized tests contribute to a high-quality commitment to learning? To understanding concepts? To the ability to synthesize ideas based on prior knowledge and understanding? Even among the best students, high-risk tests create the need to prove competency by getting high scores, rather than to improve competency as a result of reasonable mastery of knowledge, understanding, and skills.
Is the ability of students to give superficially correct answers to questions they may have been tutored to expect evidence of academic achievement? Teachers, who also know they will be judged on their students' scores, are unlikely to concentrate heavily on areas untested. And researh shows us that teaching behavior that supports high-score achievement is the opposite of teaching behavior aimed at stimulating critical-thinking skills. An army of people paid to prepare test-takers is not concerned about such matters.
There are better ways to help students become more motivated. Our unstandardized workplaces require different kinds of intelligence from competent people schooled in reality. We should remove the artificial limitations of standardized-test scores.
Edward H. Meyer