Scientology is focus of flap over Will Smith’s new school
In Los Angeles’ rarefied world of private schools, where tuitions are high, academics are tough and educational philosophy is taken seriously, the newest member of the tribe is getting the kind of breathless attention reserved for a music or film star.
That may be because the founders of New Village Academy are themselves such stars: Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith.
It is one of several initiatives by the couple, including a new foundation that will give grants to young people in the arts and education. About 80% of New Village students will receive financial assistance in the fall.
But the school’s Sept. 3 opening, on the leased campus of a former school in Calabasas, will be accompanied by a whiff of controversy. Some of its teachers are members of the Church of Scientology, and it will use teaching methods developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
That has provoked a slew of headlines: On FOXNews.com, “Will Smith Funds Private Scientology School”; from Britain’s The Guardian, “Will Smith funds school teaching Scientology creator’s study method”; and on the religion blog of the Dallas Morning News, “Is Will Smith school a front for Scientology?”
Both Smiths have said they are not Scientologists.
In a statement, Will Smith said of the school: “About 10 years ago, Jada and I started dreaming about the possibility of creating an ideal educational environment, where children could feel happy, positive and excited about learning. . . .
“New Village Academy was born of a simple question, ‘Is it possible to create an educational environment in which children have fun learning?’ Jada and I believe the answer is ‘Yes.’ “
The school is headed by Jacqueline Olivier, previously an administrator at private schools in Santa Monica and La Jolla, and it is she who answered written questions about the school via Will Smith’s publicist
She said some staff members are Scientologists and others are Muslim, Christian or Jewish. The school has no religious affiliation, she said.
“We are a secular school and just like all nonreligious independent schools, faculty and staff do not promote their own religions at school or pass on the beliefs of their particular faith to children,” Olivier said.
One teaching method the school uses is study technology, which was developed by Hubbard and focuses on students gaining hands-on experience, mastering subject matter before moving to the next level, and being taught not to read past words they don’t understand.
“People tend to think study technology is a subject, but it is really just the way the subject is taught,” Olivier said. “They then come to the conclusion that we are teaching Scientology when actually a methodology doesn’t have anything to do with content.”
The school, she said, will use many philosophies, including Montessori, Bruner and Gardner.
The New Village curriculum includes literacy and math, and subjects such as living skills, Spanish, karate, yoga, robotics, technology, etiquette and art. Parental involvement is encouraged, as is limited access to television and sugary foods.
But critics contend that the school is not being honest about its links to Scientology. David S. Touretzky, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, created a website that dissects study technology and asserts that it is Scientology religion disguised as education.
Touretzky said many phrases and concepts on the school’s website are specific to Scientology. For example, the school lists a “Director of Qualifications” and another teacher who is an assistant in the “Qual” department. The “Qual,” said Touretzky, is where people who have completed a Scientology counseling, or “auditing,” session or a course in the Church of Scientology are tested by a qualifications teacher.
“There is no reputable educator anywhere who endorses [study technology],” said Touretzky, a critic of Scientology. “What happens is that children are inculcated with Scientology jargon and are led to regard L.R. Hubbard as an authority figure. They are laying the groundwork for later bringing people into Scientology.”
A spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, Karin Pouw, denied Touretzky’s assertions and said the teaching methods are not religious and are widely used in schools around the world.
Ron Reynolds, executive director of the California Assn. of Private School Organizations, which represents primarily independent religious schools, said all schools should strive for transparency.
“I know next to nothing about Scientology, but if you’re using some method or technology closely associated with Scientology and Scientology is characterized as a church or religious body, it raises a question if they proclaim themselves as other than religious,” Reynolds said. He has not seen the school’s website.
“I don’t want to insinuate the school is failing to disclose anything. But as a matter of good practice, if a school has an affiliation, it would behoove it to expose it.”
Church of Scientology buys historic Nashville building
The Church of Scientology Religious Trust has bought the Fall School Business Center on 8th Avenue.
The Scientology trust purchased the executive suit building at 1130 8th Ave. S. along with adjacent properties at 1112 and 1114 8th Ave. S. for $6 million from Fall School Associates June 26, according to records and the Davidson County Register of Deeds.
“It was just a persistence of the part of the buyer to continue to purse and be interested in a historic building,” says Gary Haynes owner and managing partner of the Fall School Business Center. “There is a point at which the buyer becomes more motivated than the seller.”
According to Davidson County records, the appraised value of the three parcels of land is about $1.84 million.
The Church of Scientology often claims to be the ‘fastest growing religion.’ That claim is belied by every religion poll or survey we are aware of. In fact, judging by the reports of Scientology-watchers, it appears that the cult is finding it more and more difficult to find retain those whom it has managed to interest in the ramblings of L. Ron Hubbard.
We think that may be the one reason why the Scientology business has gone on a buying spree of, for the most part, historic buildings in recent years. It is one way of investing the profits.
Another reason may be the PR value of such buildings. While Scientology’s PR deparment often appears to produce as much fiction as Scientology fantasy-prone founder did, historic buildings may convey a message of solidity and trustworthiness — an image the cult’s wishy-washy celebrity fronts generally do not provide.
If you wonder what the “Church of Scientology Religious Trust” is, Wikipedia explains, “The worldwide network of Scientology organizations consists of numerous entities and corporations, located in the United States as well as in other countries. All these organizations are interrelated and connected through an internal hierarchy system, which is called the “Command Channels of Scientology””
If you wish to know more about Scientology, Apologetics Index provides research resouces.