INSIDE 'SCIENTOLOGY HIGH'
to “Scientology High,” where students imagine they’re in a Harry Potter
book, make lots of clay models, look up “the” in the dictionary and
learn the ethical principles of L. Ron Hubbard — all while paying more
than $42,000 a year in tuition and fees.
The administration of
the secretive and secluded Delphian boarding school recruits students
with the suggestion that it is a real-world Hogwarts — an enchanted
place for teens, deep in the bucolic mountains of western Oregon.
school in itself, it’s different,” says one smiling teen in an official
marketing video for Delphian School. “You know, it’s on a hill, and I’m
a big Harry Potter fan … You’ve got the Forbidden Forest out there,
it’s like, awesome.” A fresh-faced female student describes it as “kinda
magical.” In the video, a swooping shot from a helicopter shows
ethereal rays of sunlight illuminating the school’s centerpiece
building, an old Jesuit monastery surrounded by towering pines.
there may be reason to question whether all is magic and wonder on that
800-acre Oregon campus. The institution, which counts Tom Cruise and
Nicole Kidman’s daughter among its former students, charges more in
tuition and fees than Phillips Exeter Academy. Yet it lacks academic
accreditation, and relies on Hubbard-inspired teaching methods rejected
by mainstream education experts.
Founded in the 1970s by
Scientologists, Delphian has remained largely a mystery for decades. But
with the unraveling of the church’s public face, alumni of the school
have begun to speak out.
For this exclusive two-part series, The
Daily extensively interviewed numerous former students, obtaining a more
detailed behind-the-scenes picture of life at the school than has ever
before been reported.
The former students said their education at
Delphian included a dizzying array of jargon, unorthodox notions of
academic learning and an intensive and complex disciplinary system based
partly on peer monitoring. Some spoke of feeling lost after leaving
Delphian and attempting to adjust to the world outside of Scientology.
The Daily also found that a steady stream of Delphian grads have gone on
to join the Sea Org, a Church of Scientology religious order that some
former participants have equated with human slavery.
distance, Delphian seems like any other pricey boarding school. It’s
small, with roughly 250 students, and runs from the equivalent of
kindergarten to the senior year of high school (known at Delphian as
Form 8). The campus is gorgeous, encompassing an idyllic hilltop about
90 minutes southwest of Portland. There are stables, tennis courts and a
track. The Delphian Dragons play sports against other independent
Delphian rejected The Daily’s request to visit the
campus, and the school headmistress and assistant headmaster declined to
comment for this story.
Although the word “Scientology” appears
nowhere on the Delphian website, and the school is technically
independent, its connections to the group are intimate and pervasive. “A
good majority, if not all the staff, are Scientologists,” said Elaine
Ke, 18, who graduated from the school this year. Other alums back that
estimate. Both the headmistress and the assistant headmaster are listed
as having completed various levels of Scientology programs in the
According to several alumni who spoke with
The Daily, half or more of the students — roughly three-quarters of
graduates, according to Ke — are Scientologists. And the structure of
the school, its ethical code and its language all reflect the influence
and precepts of Scientology.
One of the religion’s most
controversial institutions is the Sea Org, the poorly paid labor corps
that staffs Scientology’s affiliated companies. The path from the
boarding school to the Sea Org seems to be well-worn.
“A lot of
people who go to Delphian wind up in the Sea Org,” Jenna Miscavige Hill,
the niece of current church leader David Miscavige, told The Daily. A
former Sea Org member herself, she has since left Scientology.
of February, the FBI was investigating Sea Org for activities related
to human trafficking and slavery, according to The New Yorker. The
accounts from defectors are chilling: Enlistees sign contracts of up to a
billion years, work grueling hours, are paid next to nothing and
surrender many basic personal freedoms. “It was like living in George
Orwell’s ‘1984,’” one former Sea Org member told the magazine.
Hill grew up in the Sea Org from the time she was a child. She worked
15-hour days, seven days a week, and saw her parents twice between ages
12 and 18, she told The Daily. Chuck Beatty, another former Sea Org
member, said he gave 27 years of his life to the group, and spent seven
years in a “Rehabilitative Project Force” group, which defectors have
described to The New Yorker as “punitive re-education camps.”
On top of all that, Sea Org members reportedly promise not to raise children.
Delphian graduate, who will be called David here, arrived at the
boarding school as a non-Scientologist — or a “wog,” in Scientology
lingo. But he found that outside the “bubble” of the school, he suffered
from “culture shock” and soon dropped out of college and joined Sea
“If you’re a Delphi Oregon grad, you’re always going to know
someone in the Sea Org,” he told The Daily. “There’s sort of an air of
mystique around it when you hear about it at Delphi. They always seem
serious and they walk very fast.”
Before he knew it, he was
promoted to the teams that would intercept defecting Scientologists in
airports and pressure them to stay in the church’s fold.
“I got put there because I was a Delphi graduate,” he said.
was never paid more than $17 a week for his work and lived in a room so
bare it lacked a doorknob, he said. When he decided to quit, a team of
11 Scientologists attempted to intercept him, he said, but he succeeded
in making a hasty departure.
Many others never leave.
Miscavige “has turned it into a modern-day political prison,” said
David. “It’s an absolute disregard for life and liberty.”
he estimated that roughly a third of his class at Delphian ended up in
the Sea Org. Determining the overall rate of Sea Org enlistment among
Delphian graduates is difficult, but students across a wide span of
years told The Daily they knew multiple schoolmates who joined.
have friends who joined the Sea Org,” said Elaine Ke. She is not a
Scientologist, which put her in the minority at school. (She was
introduced to Delphian by a relative who is part of the church.)
as Sea Org was an invention of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, so
is the “study technology” — known as Study Tech — that shapes the
The methods are based on Hubbard’s writings,
though stripped of any spiritual language. Chuck Beatty told The Daily
that Study Tech was “a watered-down version of the mainline scriptures”
used in Scientology.
Study Tech revolves around three basic
ideas: All educational problems arise from misunderstood words
(including words as basic as “the” or “it”); abstract ideas need to be
shown in pictures or clay to be grasped; and students should not
progress in a subject until they master every single step.
sounds commonsensical enough, but education experts don’t think much of
it. Grover Whitehurst, former director of the Institute of Education
Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education, evaluated the research
supposedly supporting Study Tech, and told The Daily, “They had no
credible evidence on the effect of their approach. As I looked into it,
it seemed to me what seemed to be cultish practices extended to a
legitimate area, which is reading difficulties.”
By the time a
student leaves, the language of the outside world — that is, the “wog”
world — can seem almost foreign. David, who graduated in the early
1990s, felt almost alien after he left.
“I came out of that place
barely speaking English. I’d be at home, and I felt so different from
everyone in the wog world,” he said. “It’s similar to Harry Potter
calling the non-wizard people ‘muggles.’”
Paul Csige, who
attended Delphian in the late 1990s, said the program could be
narrowing. “Once you’ve been in the system for a couple years, most
people find any other system a little odd,” he told The Daily.
When Mac Stevens left Delphian in 1989 to attend college, he said, he felt adrift.
immediately, I fell behind in my classwork,” he wrote of his freshman
year at Harvey Mudd College. “I wasn’t used to studying with a group. I
wasn’t used to the total freedom.”
Stevens flunked out after a year. He still speaks highly of Delphian, however.
their unorthodox education, many Delphian students have done well in
the real world. Sky Dayton, founder of Earthlink and Boingo, graduated
from the school. Other graduates have gone on to become computer
programmers, designers and filmmakers.
Ke came away from her alma
mater with warm feelings. Now a freshman at Johns Hopkins University,
she intends to study biomedical engineering.
The people of nearby Sheridan, Ore., seem to be generally puzzled by the place, though.
McIntyre, 51, who works at Lee’s Green Frog restaurant in town, seemed
mystified by Delphian. “They’re pretty secretive, actually … We’ve all
heard of John L. Hubbard or whoever it is. We leave them alone, they
leave us alone.”
She visited the school only once and found it frightening.
I was in high school, we went on a field trip up there. It was really
strange and orderly and real quiet and kinda scary, actually.”
much more at the source
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