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Nxivm’s Super Kids Program vs. Scientology Applied Scholastics

Today, we follow up with another comparison, this time, focusing on the similarities between Nxivm’s “Rainbow Cultural Garden” program, designed to teach kids seven different languages at the same time, and the Scientology “study tech” program pushed into often unwitting schools by its Applied Scholastics front group.

We look at how the similarities may portend a common feature of well-established personal development cults, pressured to come up with ever greater “super powers,” and ways to create second-generation members. 

rainbow_web_top2Logo of Rainbow Cultural Garden. 

About “Rainbow Cultural Garden”

The basics of the program: In 2006, Nxivm founder Keith Raniere launched “Rainbow Cultural Garden,” an oddly-named company designed to raise “super kids” who are fluent from an early age in multiple languages.  One of Raniere’s web sites describes RCG as “a revolutionary child development program promoting children’s cultural, linguistic, emotional, physical and problem-solving potential,” implying that language skills are the foundation for far greater achievement.  One news article suggested that the method also included exposure to certain music and physical exercise, in addition to language lessons.

Raniere
Keith Raniere. 
The purported breakthrough technology was to teach kids seven different languages (English, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, German, Hindi and Spanish) using intense instruction of around 12 hours per day, with a different language being taught on each day of the week.  Parents are forbidden from interacting with their children when they were unable to speak the language being taught that day. Needless to say, there’s no evidence suggesting that such an approach to learning languages will actually work.  Leading Nxivm critic Frank Parlato suggests that the RCG program has produced kids who aren’t even fluent in their parent’s native language, much less any of the others.

The business model: Rainbow Cultural Garden has offices in London, New York City, Miami, Mexico City and Guadalajara. It was also recruiting people for programs in Guatemala City, Provence (southern France), Madrid, Ireland and potentially other locations.  Several locations, particularly Miami, offered non-Nxivm introductory classes such as “Mommy and Me” sessions, presumably to attract potential customers not affiliated with the various Nxivm groups.

RCG hires “nannies” from foreign countries and pays them relatively low wages consistent with day care workers, typically $10 to $15 per hour.  One-on-one tutoring for a child thus costs RCG about $50,000 per year to provide for in-home clients, but the company charges about $125,000 per year for these services.  Even 50 clients a year results in $3 million to $4 million in gross margin to the group, a profitable enterprise indeed.  The nannies were given Nxivm workshops and may have been channeling their earnings back to the group.

There’s no evidence that RCG centers have filed for any needed license or regulatory reviews.  Rainbow Cultural Garden UK was highlighted in a UK news report and the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), which regulates schools and child care facilities, said in December 2017 that it was not aware of the group. One can presume that an investigation is under way.  From hiring advertisements, it appears that there are no particular qualifications needed for hiring such as being a licensed teacher or day care provider; RCG only requires an applicant to declare that they’re fluent in the targeted language.

Risks and concerns of the Rainbow Cultural Garden approach: the combination of long hours isolated with a non-parent teacher plus the prohibition for parents to speak with their kids in anything other than the language being spoken that day essentially marginalizes the role of the parents in the child’s life.

The low wages paid to the nannies virtually guarantees high turnover, especially in expensive cities where RCG offices exist, so even loyalty to a particular nanny could easily be transitory when turnover occurs.

Parents wishing to send their child or children to Rainbow Cultural Garden training would need to either move to be close to a center, or would need to find some sort of temporary custody arrangement to board their children, further lessening their involvement in their children’s lives.

About Hubbard’s “Study Tech” and Applied Scholastics

How the “tech” works: In the early 1970’s, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard introduced “study tech,” a method that he modestly claimed would always cure all known study problems that anyone might encounter.  Hubbard apparently blatantly stole the basics of this technique from two of his followers who came up with it.

The “study tech” method is based on three beliefs:  that misunderstood words are the basis of all learning problems; that even the most abstract and conceptual ideas have to have “mass” in the real world to be understood fully; and that you must not skip ahead to harder material without properly progressing through all the lower-level material because you can only move smoothly up the “gradient” from easy to hard.  At a high level, these ideas sound reasonable enough, but Scientology quickly loads them up with jargon and with exercises driven by quack theories of reading comprehension that have been comprehensively disproven by countless studies. And in the Scientology context, these techniques are used to control members and reinforce their loyalty to the group.

To understand a concept, in “study tech,” one must first “get its mass,” by rendering it into a physical form.  Scientologists use a “demo table” with a random collection of household objects such as keys, bits of paper, paper clips, etc.  They are required to explain the concept to a course supervisor (who may not have any training in the subject) until the course supervisor “passes” the student.  Hubbard claimed (and no evidence has been offered in support of the claim) that a picture is how the brain processes words; abundant research shows that the opposite is true — the brain processes stories and words to access images. But in Hubbard’s world, the lack of mass is dangerous.  He says, “Such an absence of mass can actually make a student feel squashed. It can make him feel bent, sort of spinny, sort of dead, bored, and exasperated.” (Basic Study Manual, pp. 25-30)  So if you buy into Hubbard’s quack theory, not following his instructions is quite dangerous.

When reading about something, the student is told that any misunderstood definitions of a word will actually make them almost sick.  If they skate past even a simple word that they don’t understand the definition of, they will get “a distinctly blank feeling or a washed-out feeling. A not-there feeling and a sort of nervous hysteria will follow in the back of that.” (HCOB 25 June 1971, “Barriers to Study”)   In other words, failing to memorize enough dictionary definitions will be catastrophic to your well being!  Several different elaborate and complex “word clearing” procedures are supposedly used to make sure that people comprehend what they read.  Staff are required to use the most onerous method to process any memos from Scientology founder David Miscavige, often spending hours poring over a brief memo, wasting time and living in fear of not understanding his “command intention” accurately.

The business model: Study tech is widely used inside Scientology as Scientologists study.  There is a basic course that teaches the methods of “study tech” but it can be used in all Scientology courses.

Scientology has long used “study tech” as a recruiting tool through its Applied Scholastics front group.  This group attempts to take advantage of lack of familiarity with the connection to the cult and to introduce Scientology methods to schools as a recruiting tool.  In most cases, where publicly funded schools have been caught with the material, they’ve quickly backed away.  In some cases, Scientologists have become administrators at charter schools, driving the material into the curriculum even after objections have been raised by parents and teachers.

In 2012, Scientologists involved in a Clearwater, Florida charter schoolalmost in the shadow of Scientology’s “Flag” building, looted the school, charging exorbitant fees to introduce Study Tech.  In only two years, performance on standardized tests went from approximately average to the second-worst school in populous Pinellas County, beating only a special education facility for severely handicapped kids.

We don’t believe Scientology reaps a significant amount of money from pushing study tech via the Applied Scholastics front. Negative publicity has caused most districts who unwittingly adopted this quackery to back away from it as soon as it was publicized.  Even schools founded by Scientologists to use study tech have faltered.  New Village Leadership Academy in Los Angeles was funded to the tune of over $1 million by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, but shut down after five years when demand for a school using Scientology methods unsurprisingly failed to materialize.  It thus appears that Applied Scholastics and “study tech” are far less of a concern than they were in the past, though vigilance to guard against further outbreaks is still necessary as Scientology is not going to walk away from Applied Scholastics even if there’s no viable economic opportunity for it.

Psychological harm to users of study tech:  Study tech creates a climate of fear that makes people far more afraid of failing than confident of success. Making members doubt even basic abilities is key to making them fearful of the outside world and more likely to be repeat customers, stuck in the cult for a long time.

The real effect of this fear of misunderstanding and of the essentially punitive nature of looking up words in the dictionary and of performing the elaborate “word clearing” rituals to demonstrate understanding is to unleash hypnotic trance states to make the member more compliant to other directions of cult leadership, and to wear down the member’s autonomy and self-confidence over time, making them more dependent on the cult.

Reasons for Creating Study Programs

So why create these learning programs, when they’re based on dubious science and when they can never really produce meaningful results?  Beyond simply broadening the product line and offering existing members more ways to spend money with the group, we think there are several common elements that drove Raniere and Hubbard to engage in this bit of quackery, and we believe this will become part and parcel of self-improvement cults as the wave of Internet-driven cults continues to build.

Validate the founder’s “super-genius” origin stories:  In both cases, Nxivm’s Rainbow Cultural Garden and Scientology’s “study tech” seem to be aimed in no small part at bolstering the legendary biography of the respective cult’s founders, placing them among the world’s greatest polymaths.  Both Nxivm founder Keith Raniere and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard have official biographies laughably filled with easily disproven lies about their early childhood achievements.  Both have a tendency to try to couch their cult dogma as brilliantly simple solutions to exceedingly complex problems.

We suspect that cult leaders are easily tempted to tackle learning as a natural extension of their cult dogma, and because perennial frustration with the school system in general and specific educational issues in particular leads people to believe that an outsider could come up with an innovation that educational insiders have all missed that provides an easy answer to complex problems.

Create Second-Generation Cult Members: recruiting loyal cult members from the general public is difficult and labor intensive.  It’s thus a great business practice to create time-intensive kids’ programs to ensure that the cult, not the child’s parents, is the main source of information and input. Children thus become loyal to the cult above their parents, and since they know no other life, are far less likely to leave the group, even if their parents do.

Recruit additional members through offering these methods to the public:  Both Nxivm and Scientology offer their study methods to the general public.  They disguise the connection between the organization marketing the study methods and the main cultic group, either by burying it entirely or by having a message to deflect the association.  In both Scientology and Nxivm’s case, it’s unclear whether a significant number of people were recruited through the marketing efforts of these ideas to non-members.

Author: John P.

John P. is a Wall Street money manager and IT technologist fascinated by irrationality in all its forms, and Scientology most of all. He’s a lifelong Steely Dan fan.




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  • The worst part is the 12-hour daily separation of parents and child. For that reason alone RCG should be shut down.

    The silliest part are the word salads RCG uses to promote and defend multiple language acquisition in children just learning to speak. (From the UK website: “the jewel in our crown and our most valuable service is our programme aimed at children aged 0-3 years old.”). Every bit of science says that two languages is a good thing, no evidence for more. In fact the BBC produced a video about the advantages of a bilingual brain… that RCG UK now has on its homepage. Umm. (Or “oof,” as Sara Bronfman would say.)

    Regarding “Our Philosophy,” on the RCG site, there is surprisingly no discussion about language. Instead they try to convince parents to submit their children because… a succession of [untrained] caretakers will never be tired like real parents. Umm. (Oh, and evidently fathers don’t do parenting?) On the plus side, RCG offers “a parenting program!” Exciting news. That passage is so mind-boggling I’m going to copy and paste it in full, and keep in mind that RCG is unregulated with wholly untrained caretakers:

    “Parenting is an art. The knowledge of “good parenting” has been passed down from hundreds of years ago, through generation upon generation of well-intended however unskilled parents. To this day parenting skills is a largely unregulated field. Wouldn’t it be far better for children if their parents grew up learning the specific parenting skills they needed to be their? Yes. But that doesn’t commonly exist in our society.

    That’s why Rainbow also has a parenting program. It helps parents develop the skills they need, or want, in order to be their best. When you give a child a combination of an extremely well-equipped parent with a set of diverse caregivers, that child has many role models from which to soak up the best examples. If one parent has a specific type of fear or issue, the child is less likely to inherit it when they have other role models showing them different ways to overcome it.”

    I don’t suspect any parents want their children to inherit the fears and issues latent in NXIVM cultists.

  • Thank you so much for your time, extensive knowledge, and great writing! Such a pleasure to read.

  • I’ve been through the entirety of the Frank Report. I have only made one other comment on the board, but felt I had more to say here. Though it should be obvious by now, I know it bears repeating: Hubbard and Raniere are jackasses. Anyone with any amount of critical thinking ability or analytic skill should be able to spot their shenanigans from afar. No one deserves special snowflake status in this world. No one has a shortcut that can obviate the need for hard work and discipline in a chosen field of study, regardless of age. There is no magic formula that will allow an average child to succeed where one with an exceptional intellectual capacity will flourish. Simple biological development of the human brain will win out in the end.

    Does that mean parents shouldn’t seek out advantages for their children that they may not have had? Of course not. Does that mean every child, though different, is not special? Ask any parent and the answer will be a resounding no. Do these parental expectations for their children grant them license to abrogate their responsibility as parents and place their kids in potentially destructive environments based on the promise of unprovable statistics? NO!

    Everyone even remotely connected to these exploitive philosophies are equally deserving of ridicule and imprisonment. I will be unapologetic in holding people, all people, to intellectual standards that demand, demand, that each person regardless of upbringing, ethos, or current psychological state, reject the messages delivered by these “false prophets”. It is irrelevant if one is seeking societal acceptance, is emotionally or intellectually vulnerable to coercion, or is seeking answers to unknowable questions; linking one’s future, or much worse, their child’s future to half baked promises made by borderline sociopaths is unforgivable.

    I am glad for those getting distance from this poison, and I’m sure I am not alone in giving thanks to Mr. Parlato for the work he’s done here to help those seduced by this Vanguard. That said, everyone involved must own their failure in this. Whether it was greed, ignorance, weakness, or intellectual credulity that brought those into the circle of NXIVM thought, own your mistakes and missteps and get out now. For the love of everything right, get your children out now.

    • You say “Anyone with any amount of critical thinking ability or analytic skill should be able to spot their shenanigans from afar.” That’s true enough. But that’s how cults roll: they put members on a program of coercion, manipulation of reality and undue influence to get them to suspend their natural critical thinking abilities. Anyone who hasn’t been through that program will look at the dreck in both Hubbard’s “study tech” and Raniere’s “Rainbow Cultural Garden” and say “WTF?” But those who have been subject to months or years of each group’s thought reform manipulations will think it’s great and many will mortgage their houses to sign up.

      • I understand that there’s a well defined methodology used to indoctrinate people into this way of thinking, but that does not negate the fact that, in my opinion, responsibility cannot simply be abrogated in lieu of this mental conditioning. People walking in the door for the first time to one of these centers – whether it be ESP, RCG, or one of the offshoot groups, and do not exercise a healthy amount of self determination, skepticism, or analysis of what they’re being “sold” have well and truly failed themselves.

        What makes this more unforgivable in my mind, in relation to Rainbow at least, is that these people are also failing their children. That should never be tolerated or allowed.

        All that said, I do appreciate your input as it’s give me another thing to consider in all of this, what could only be charitably called a “hot mess”, perpetrated by NXIVM…

        • The issue of responsibility for recruitment in a cult is very tricky to assess. In general, it is important that people take responsibility for the consequences of their actions; that’s what gives one power over the world. Blaming others for misfortune is childish and it disempowers those who live that way. And it is hard to take responsibility for your own actions that have made you miserable (taking up drinking, drug use, etc.).

          On the other hand, it’s basically a defining characteristic of cults that recruitment involves deception. Nobody would join a cult if they had full informed disclosure of what the beliefs are or what would be involved in being a member (long hours of unpaid work, verbal/physical/sexual abuse, or any of the rest of it).

          The intentional deception is exactly what pedophiles and sexual predators do to their victims — they’re good at taking advantage of victims’ weaknesses to further their own aims regardless of the suffering of those they abuse. It’s pretty easy to say that sexual abuse such as rape, molestation, etc. is always 100% the fault of the perpetrator. Temptation is never justification for rape. But it’s a lot harder in the case of a cult to assign responsibility.

          As other commenters here have pointed out, victims of cult recruitment can go on to become abusers themselves as they stay in the cult for a long period of time. They should be held responsible for the damage they do to others, regardless of the level of deception and coercion that they were recruited with. But someone recruited into a cult who abandons friends and family, quits job and school and bankrupts themselves before coming to their senses on their own would be a lot more like a 100% victim and deserves compassion and sympathy.

          And yes, there should be a special place in hell for those who join a cult and then subject their children to such damaging things as Rainbow Cultural Garden or a Scientology school.

    • “…standards that demand, demand, that each person regardless of upbringing, ethos, or current psychological state, reject the messages delivered by these “false prophets”. Three thoughts:

      False prophets don’t wear signs. It’s all sugar-coated at the outset. And the successful ones are conmen of the highest order. They carefully select victims to be groomed, particularly as victims ascend in the organization, as did NXIVM. The stages of brainwashing are succinctly described here: http://changingminds.org/techniques/conversion/lifton_brainwashing.htm

      Important to note, brainwashing/insanity defense has a poor record of acquitting people. And people thus charged go to mental hospitals that, in America, keep them imprisoned pretty much forever. At least those that end up in prison may have a release date that affords them freedom before they die.

      The ex-NXIVMer who was kind enough to post a summary of remaining top cultists made an interesting distinction: conscience remaining vs no conscience remaining. I’m curious to see who, if any, of the diehard cultists express genuine regret and remorse when all is done.

      And please keep in mind that all religions began as a cult. Even Christianity. Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras was considered a cult leader in 6th century BC. And he “formulated principles that influenced the thought of Plato and Aristotle and contributed to the development of mathematics and Western rational philosophy. I would’ve happily joined his cult.

  • I never understood why NXIVM required its top women to be childless. Compared to other cults or religious minorities, this huge difference as these groups can grow internally while NXIVM has to grow by recruitment. All it requires is some really bad press like today and the stream of freshly recruited people dries up and everything comes to a halt.

    If he had encouraged them to procreate like the Quiverfull, the group would stabilize and even the loss of a few members could be accepted. But I guess having fun and a group of available women was more important to KR. Do you know any of the higher-ups who have children?

    • Scientology’s Sea.org also frowns upon children: Sea Org members are not permitted to have children while working for the organization. Couples who get pregnant are either pressured to abort the baby, or they must leave. Often, these people have been in the Sea Org so long, they have nowhere to go, no resume outside of Scientology, no job experience, no finances, no property, and no non-Scientology friends.

      Gold Sash – Nancy Salzman: Two children Michelle and Lauren, procreated before she became involved with ESP

      Purple Sashes – Pam Cafritz and Barb Jeske: Both died childless

      “Retired or Loco en la Cabeza” Blue sash – Edgar Boone and Wife Vanessa Sahugun: Have children (triplets and a little one).

      The Greens:

      Lauren Salzman: Barren like her soul – and appears to suffer from body dysmorphic disorder. Probably could not get pregnant if she wanted to.

      Emiliano Salinas: Had twins with Ludwika Paleta via surrogate.

      Alex Betancourt: Also supposedly has adopted twins.

      Esther Carlson Chiappone: Had four children but all before she moved to Albany from Alaska. .

      Dawn Morrison: Childless

      Cecilia Salinas Gatica, sister of Emi: Unknown if she has children, she is involved with Rainbow Cultural Garden;

      JImena Garza and Omar Boone: Childless

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