Charter School Or Scientology Center? Education In Rick Scott's Florida

My alternative title to this post would have been something like This is why education is not a business. Except that in this case, it's not merely business interfering with children's education. It's a cult masquerading as a religion; specifically,

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My alternative title to this post would have been something like This is why education is not a business. Except that in this case, it's not merely business interfering with children's education. It's a cult masquerading as a religion; specifically, Scientology.

In Rick Scott's Florida, charter schools are the preferred way to deliver "public education," and especially in areas with poor and underprivileged students. They are a gateway to ALEC's goal of completely privatized "public education."

This exposé in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times should be an object lesson for every single state in this country for why charter schools are a terrible idea. Worse than terrible. They're a waste of public funds and place children in danger of being "educated" by fanatics who place profit and dogma over educating children.

Some parents and former teachers at Life Force, which receives about $800,000 a year in public funding, say the Pinellas County charter school has become a Scientology recruiting post targeting children.

Opened to serve a low-income Clearwater neighborhood and advertising classes in computers and modern dance, Life Force had begun pushing Hubbard's "study technology," which critics call a Trojan horse Scientology uses to infiltrate public classrooms.

And while Life Force students and teachers worked in poorly stocked classrooms and teachers went unpaid, the bankrupt school funneled tens of thousands of dollars more to Islam's business interests than she told the bankruptcy court she would charge.

To understand just how bad this is, you should read these essays on Hubbard's "study tech" techniques, which were part of the curriculum these children were required to learn. Here's a snippet:

The Study Tech books fall into two groups. The first three, theBasic Study Manual, Study Skills for Life, and Learning How to Learn, cover Study Technology proper, but are targeted at different grade levels. These three books are the primary focus of this essay. The remaining two titles, How to Use a Dictionary, and Grammar and Communication for Children, are unremarkable introductions to grammar and punctuation that show only a few tiny traces of Hubbard’s influence. The Study Technology is also used in other Scientology-related "social reform" programs, notably the Narconon and Criminon drug and criminal rehabilitation programs. There, it is delivered in the form of a "Learning Improvement Course" utilizing a very similar set of course materials.

All five books (plus their Narconon and Criminon variants) are published by Bridge Publications, the in-house publishing arm of the Church of Scientology. They are distributed by a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization called Applied Scholastics International (ASI). ASI is a subordinate organization of theAssociation for Better Living and Education International (ABLE). This is in turn a subordinate, and an integral part, of the Church of Scientology, which exercises direct overall control of all of the aforementioned organizations. (Recently Scientology also began distributing the books through another front organization, Effective Education Publishing.) This complicated set of relationships, examined elsewhere on StudyTech.org, is seemingly designed to obscure the central role of the Church of Scientology in the promotion and implementation of Study Technology.

[...]

Study Tech is founded on three principles: (1) use pictures and diagrams to illustrate the concepts being taught, (2) break down complex concepts so they can be mastered in a series of simple steps, and (3) always seek definitions for unfamiliar terms. These rules make sense and are harmless enough when phrased in plain English. But the Study Tech books present them in a different manner. The three principles are called “mass”, “gradients”, and “misunderstoods”: terms that were invented or redefined by Hubbard and loaded with significance in the Scientology religion.

From the Miami Times article:

Teachers who questioned study tech were told they had no choice but to implement it. Fifth-grade teacher Jason Lowe, who was fired in January, said Life Force director of operations Vikki Williams told him, " 'We are a study tech school,' and that if any of us had a problem with it, we had to get over it."

Three teachers said they were terminated last month without explanation. Lowe said he was fired because school leaders suspected he spoke with the Times. Several parents and teachers who talked with the Times were reluctant to be quoted because they feared retribution.

The problem in Florida is complicated even more by the fact that the school has filed for bankruptcy protection, which prohibits the overseeing school district from closing its doors. In an effort to save the school, the board approved a takeover by Hanan Islam, executive director of the World Literacy Crusade, an organization that proudly boasts of improving students' test scores using techniques developed by L. Ron Hubbard.

From Sunday's Times article:

Life Force paid the World Literacy Crusade more than $33,000 in September and October, bankruptcy court filings show, though they do not detail what that money bought. Islam's management company was paid more than $56,000 in the three months after the school's bankruptcy — nearly double the rate Islam told the courts she would charge the school.

While public education funds streamed out of the school, former teachers said the educational environment at Life Force declined.

The "arts and technology academy," which had promised parents their children would have access to Kindles and laptop computers, instead provided only a small lab with two working computers. Music, science and art classes were nearly nonexistent.

Teachers and parents began resorting to unorthodox means to keep the school afloat. When the school stopped paying for bus service, former teachers said, parents and teachers carpooled. After administrators denied requests for classroom materials like paper, pencils and textbooks, teachers wrote to parents asking for help with supplies.

Some teachers resorted to buying their own supplies, downloading free online curriculum sets, and copying whole workbooks and teachers' guides, former teachers said. Paid $85 a day before taxes, without benefits or sick days, some teachers waited months to receive their paychecks.

That mention of public funds streaming out of the school? Yes. There are 106 students at this school. One hundred and six. Ninety percent of them are on free and reduced cost lunch programs. What would you think an appropriate public funding level should be for a school that pays teachers $85 per day before taxes, doesn't provide supplies, technology, or approved textbooks? Here's what they've received, according to the Times article: $800,000 per year. Eight. hundred. thousand. dollars. For 106 students. That would be $7,547.00 per student of taxpayer dollars to a school which is using Scientology-based curriculum, ripping their teachers off, not providing students with a proper environment to learn, and which failed to meet benchmarks in four out of six areas, though I'm certain those children probably understand this concept, which is pounded home in the study tech curriculum:

Study tech combines common educational concepts like hands-on learning and word comprehension with what Hubbard defined as "barriers of study" and their manifested responses. "The real things or the objects that you study about are called mass," explains Learning How to Learn. Studying something without having the "mass" of it could make a student "feel squashed" or "sort of spinny," the book states. To get past that barrier, the student might be instructed to craft the idea with clay.

Newt Gingrich would be proud of this particular charter school's discipline policy and fiscal prudence:

The boys, the employee told school district officials, had gotten in trouble. For punishment they were to work alongside the school custodian. One boy would mop the floors; the other, scrub a bathroom.

Williams, Life Force's director of operations, told the school district this was ordinary practice at Life Force. Student discipline entailed forfeiting recess for "work detail."

Dot Clark, the school district's coordinator of partnership schools, told Life Force administrators that forcing young children to clean bathrooms was "inappropriate, unhealthy and a possible safety concern."

But Islam defended the practice. "We have found in many programs," Islam wrote to Clark, "having children contribute to the cleanliness of their environment (can) enhance their level of ownership and build their self-esteem."

This school continues to teach students. I refuse to use the term "educate" in this instance. Children are the gateway of choice for many religions, who establish schools as a means to reach out to the larger community around the children they teach. This could possibly be the first time I've seen public funds used to indoctrinate children into the teachings of a cult, however.

Florida taxpayers, and especially those children, deserve better. Instead, what they're getting is an expansion of charter schools with the full blessing of Governor ALEC Scott and Florida's ultra-conservative legislature.

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