As we shall see, there is finally to be a great irony here; for in attempting to adapt an adolescent to a psychologically acceptable norm, to the grand hive as it were, the psychologist would wind up with just the opposite: the sullen and illiterate killer bee who stalks today’s schoolyard. But even as of 1930, that Dewey-Thorndike proposition carried disturbing implications; hence LRH objections to what he soon described as schools for “the pack,” and students as “animated file cabinets.” While even more to the heart of the matter: “It is appalling how education tries to reduce all children to the same level mentally.”
His own stay at the university ended in the spring term of 1932, when the greater track of research towards Dianetics and Scientology drew him to ethnological work in the Caribbean. Yet the issues now at hand – that disturbing view of mass education to the needs of a massed society – he would never forget. Nor would he ever forget what psychology in the classroom represented in the way of declining literacy levels or what, in turn, he found when called back to George Washington University some four years later.
The circumstances require some explanation, but it is relevant to the larger story. Immediately upon his return from the Caribbean in 1933, Ron launched a literary career that would finally span five decades. He was not, however, to wait for success and, as of 1936, had firmly arrived at the forefront of popular fiction. The primary outlet for his work was the pulps – those massively successful pulpwood stock magazines eventually to launch the likes of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and longtime LRH friend Robert Heinlein. In other words, when L. Ron Hubbard appeared before professor Douglas Bement’s short story class at George Washington University he stood for professional fiction; he stood for tales consumed by some forty million readers and works that would forever live in American literature.
Opposite Douglas Bement’s lectern, however, sat some fifty young men and women schooled in a very different view of American literature – or at least a different view of what it took to write the American novel. As a preliminary clue, Ron tells of discovering one of his own published works – on Bement’s desk, no less – scrawled with such notes as “foreshadow” and “characterization.” Also in evidence were various notations suggesting a pragmatic school of criticism and thus, by turns, yet another infusion of psychological thought.
Again, the subject is complex and bears upon a good part of twentieth-century American letters. But suffice it to say, that quite in addition to the psychological novel as sprung from Freudian thought, came a psychological infusion to the teaching of writing... and, at least in Douglas Bement’s class, students who could criticize, but could not or would not actually write.
The point is not moot. Eventually through the course of his address, Ron would remark that a writer could not hope to develop a style in less than a hundred thousand words, i.e., a substantial novel or collection of stories. To a class of students bound for graduation after but ten or fifteen thousand words under their literary belts, the figure was shocking. A veritable uproar, Ron termed it, and cited actual complaints to the dean. But his argument was well taken, because George Washington University’s creative writing department had not been turning out working writers. Nor, as he discovered through lectures in Massachusetts, had Harvard, and in fact, he could not name a single colleague from professional circles who counted himself a product of the university.
The do-less graduate, he was eventually to term the ill-prepared collegians, and would soon make the subject a definite study. But for all intents and purposes, he was first to address a more pressing matter: the instruction of military personnel during the Second World War. The details were these: Following extended service in both the Atlantic and Pacific aboard antisubmarine vessels and an attack transport, Lieutenant L. Ron Hubbard reported to duty at the Small Craft Training Center school in San Pedro, California. Duties were variable, and involved both direct instruction of skippers and crews, as well as the redrafting of instructional materials for some fifteen thousand others. As one might imagine, the subjects were fairly technical: navigation, submarine defense and shallow-water assault. But in either case, LRH methods were entirely universal and actually spoke of very critical breakthroughs to come.
For example, in a preliminary note on his navigational text, he advised, “Concern yourself with the following definitions [e.g., dead reckoning, latitude and chronometer]. They must be well learned. Failure to learn definitions results in a later inability to understand explanations which include those definitions. Easily the most important factor in any study is a comprehension of what is meant by certain words.”
Again, if the statement seems too simple or obvious, it is not. In the wake of the Dewey-Thorndike creed, and particularly through the latter 1940s, Western educators engaged in vigorous debate on such matters as the child’s ability to distinguish ego from alter-ego and the matching of curriculum to sexual development. By the early 1950s, education itself had become a highly obtuse term, and was generally felt to best be described as “life adjustment.” While even when the pendulum finally swung back to the more practical curriculum of a cold war science boom, the orientation still remained psychological (and, in fact, was largely instrumented by premier educational psychologist Jerome Bruner). In consequence came yet more convoluted debate on school as “life itself and not merely preparation for life,” to quote Bruner himself, or school as a talent pool for a United States military-industrial complex. But regardless, as Ron repeatedly pointed out, no one had addressed that question of how one educated, beginning with such very fundamental matters as the comprehension of words.
Thereafter, and particularly beyond 1950, when the founding of Dianetics necessitated training several thousand students on the subject, education remained a question of considerable LRH concern. For if nothing else, he asked, how could one practice Dianetics without having first studied it, and studied it well? Whereupon, he declared – and here we draw very close to the central LRH revelation – it became necessary to develop a “technology of study, or a technology of education.” As a preliminary word, and an impassioned one, he spoke of modern education as a locomotive consigned to carry the knowledge of a civilization from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, however, those who had been driving that train, had thrown the wrong switch... And so, as he bluntly concluded, “the Twentieth Century Limited went off the rails.”
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