Between the Lines

A Scientology-backed tutoring program looks to expand in the Houston area

Minot Edwards is juggling three knives.

This is one of the better ways to get kids' attention. The dozen children and adults in the Project CALL learning center are focused on the short distance between the tips of the blades and Edwards's nose.

Add to this show Edwards's gregarious, self-deprecating humor, and you've got someone who can make both children and adults feel at ease.

Norman says Scientology is misunderstood.
Norman says Scientology is misunderstood.

Edwards uses the knives (and balls, and bowling pins) to demonstrate the technique he uses to teach kids and adults how to study. It's called "study technology," and it's based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard.

Now, just in case the people sitting around the tables in this Missouri City strip-mall space don't know who Hubbard was, Edwards is there to explain. Hubbard, he tells everyone, was a humanitarian who founded the Church of Scientology. He was a novelist, educator and World War II officer. Study technology grew out of his educational research and is used in classrooms around the world. His followers also developed a drug rehab group called Narconon, which also works in some public schools.

So what exactly is study technology? Edwards says it isolates and defines the three barriers to learning. These common-sense concepts are uniquely labeled as "mass," "gradient" and "misunderstood." Mass means that if you're trying to teach a kid the meaning of the word "boat," it's best to show him an actual boat. Gradient means that a child needs to learn incrementally; just because the kid now knows what a boat is doesn't mean he knows how the engine works. And misunderstood is the most important of all. When kids encounter a misunderstood word, they will not be able to understand anything past that word. They will often feel sleepy, nauseated, dizzy.

Students of study technology (which, like Church of Scientology, is a copyrighted concept) are told to immediately consult a dictionary when they encounter a misunderstood. If, say, they still didn't understand the meaning of "Scientology," the dictionary would tell them it's a religion based on self-knowledge and spiritual fulfillment.

What it wouldn't tell them is that the church is an extremely secretive, controversial, complex organization that charges members thousands of dollars to achieve spiritual fulfillment, at which time they are told that the galaxy was once ruled by an evil alien named Xenu and that humans evolved from clams. There will be no mention of Hubbard's claims that most ailments, including arthritis, tuberculosis -- and possibly cancer and diabetes -- are psychosomatic.

The dictionary won't tell them that Hubbard, who died in 1986, misrepresented his military and school records and said he'd visited heaven and Venus. It won't tell them that the church was behind the biggest burglary of federal government offices in U.S. history.

It won't tell them about Hubbard's internal memos, leaked by defectors, telling Scientologists that their sole purpose is to recruit new members -- what he called "raw meat."

Critics say that organizations like Project CALL are really fronts for sanitizing Hubbard's questionable background and setting the stage for recruiting raw meat.

Scientologists say their idiosyncratic concepts are leaked out of context to a prejudiced press, perpetuating the myth of their religion as a cult.

Whether it's a cult, a pyramid scheme or a religion, one thing's for sure: As with the world's major religions, a lot of money works its way up the echelon. These "fixed donations" are the price members pay to shed "engrams" -- negative buried thoughts -- on the way to becoming "Clear."

As Hubbard once wrote in an internal memo to the church's financial office: "Make money, make more money, make others produce so as to make more money. However you get them in, or why, just do it."

Edwards hopes to bring his study technology into public schools. But his ties to Scientology may be working against him.

Minot Edwards was certified to teach study technology by St. Louis-based Applied Scholastics. The company is not legally connected to the church, but it deals in Scientology-related material.

Applied Scholastics satellites in other cities have tried for years to get their books into public schools, succeeding mostly in California. Some districts embraced the material, while others were wary of potentially violating the separation of church and state. In July, the University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac dropped a study-technology course after a parent complained about the school's perceived religious endorsement. But in Boston, city officials said they received only a few complaints after the city awarded a $1,000 grant to a study-technology tutoring center.

Project CALL already has a working relationship with Fort Bend Justice of the Peace Joel Clouser. Clouser gives first-time truants the chance to spend a day volunteering or being tutored at Project CALL instead of paying a fine.

"I've had a lot of parents and kids to say they've really improved once they went to them," Clouser says. "It's like anything: You get out of it what you put into it."

Clouser says he was unaware of the Scientology connection, but he's never received a complaint about religion being preached at Project CALL.

"I'm not concerned about Scientology," he says. "I'm not a Scientologist…the only thing I was interested in was the program."

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