DSM: Cult-school comparison

Robert Swanson (robertswanson@icehouse.net)
Fri, 01 Dec 2000 13:24:48 -0800

Steve Hassan does not speak about schools that I know of, but his
description of cults is useful in discerning the intent and utility of

Steve Hassan, cult expert and counselor, answers questions about cults and
mind control

Let's do a comparison. We will ask what is a cult, what are the two kinds of
cults, and what does this mean to education? Some of what is below is direct
from Steve's web page.

A Cult is any group of people who have a set of beliefs and rituals which
are not mainstream. A cult may be religious, political, therapeutic,
entrepreneurial, (or educational).

There are two kinds of cults, either selfeffacing or self-enhancing. A
selfeffacing cult is a pyramid-shaped authoritarian regime with a person or
group of people that have dictatorial control. It uses deception in
recruiting new members (e.g. people are NOT told up front what the group is,
what the group actually believes and what will be expected of them if they
become members). It also uses mind control techniques to keep people
dependent and obedient. Destructive cults try to "clone" people to become
small versions of the cult leader, rather than respect people's
individuality, creativity and self-will.

In a self-enhancing cult people are freely able to choose to join with full
disclosure of the group's doctrine and practices and can choose to
disaffiliate without fear or harassment. Any mind control techniques used
will keep the locus of control within the individual and there is no hidden
agenda to have people submit and turn over their power to some other human
being. Being in control of your own mind includes being in touch with your
feelings, having the ability to think analytically, question, look at issues
from multiple perspectives, having control of your behavior to take periodic
"timeouts" in order to reflect and be able to have access to information
which may be "negative" to the group leadership.

When would a school be a cult? When its practices do not fit mainstream. Is
it mainstream to ring a bell every hour, to have highly structured "free
time", to function socially as a dictatorship, to have one's interests
dictated, to have one's time dictated, to have your media rewritten for your
consumption, to perform for others without compensation, to be secluded from
other age groups, to have either competitive or aloof relationships
emphasized rather than cooperation and friendship and love, to have one's
behavior controlled by threat of shaming or by threat of imprisoning one's
parents? In some cases normal work relationships may be competitive and
one's time is dictated, but when is it normal for young children to be
working, and are they getting paid?

Is mind control as used by schools self-enhancing? Not when there is no free
choice as to what the mind is doing. Not when the use of the mind is an
abstracted benefit not understood by the individual. Not when the mind's use
is for the benefit or scrutiny of another -- the teacher's job approval and
grading system. Not when the result is anxiety, aggression, depression,
sadness and withdrawn behavior.

Are public schools cults? They do not inform children of their motives,
practices, intent or conditions up front (what six year old can explain the
education process; even I can't, except as a cult). Their control techniques
demean the individual politically, socially, emotionally and creatively, and
are structured to remove self-will and individuality. One is not trusted to
one's self. There is little or no freedom to quit the school or to join
another school. Being out of line five minutes is met with a shaming
protocol. A functional agenda specifically benefiting the individual is
rarely if ever considered in over ten years of incarceration. Specifically
deterred are: being in touch with your feelings, having the ability to think
analytically, questioning, looking at issues from multiple perspectives,
having control of one's behavior so to take periodic timeouts in order to
reflect and be able to have access to information which may be "negative" to
the group leadership. Schools may claim to promote analytical thinking and
multiple perspectives, but this is not true when the materials available
have been selected for them as well as the issue looked at, the time allowed
to research, to whom the material is presented and who's approval determines

Robert Swanson

Who is Steve Hassan:
[I am a human rights activist who very much values my spirituality as the
core of my existence. I pray and meditate daily. My work has received
endorsements from virtually every major religious denomination. I definitely
believe in a God who created us with freewill and wants us to use our minds
to live lives of love, peace, beauty, and goodness. My work has grown out of
my own desire to grow in understanding and to help people to realize that
they need not be psychologically constricted.

I am a licensed mental health counselor. I got my Master's degree from
Cambridge College in 1985, and have taken the time and undertaken the
expense to receive counseling training from some of the top people in
America and the world. I have experience doing individual, couple and family
counseling. I teach communications techniques and strategies and encourage a
legal approach which I call "strategic interaction therapy".]

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