In a multimillion-dollar complex overlooking the Mississippi River, a company called Applied Scholastics International has opened its national headquarters - a training center for teachers, tutors and business trainers.
The center uses methods developed by L. Ron Hubbard, the late science fiction writer and founder of Scientology.
The company has moved to north St. Louis County from Los Angeles because of Missouri's central location and the area's rich history of education, said Bennetta Slaughter, chief executive officer of Applied Scholastics.
The words, teachings and photos of Hubbard appear in a hall just inside the main entrance of the complex at 11755 Riverview Drive, about a half-mile north of Interstate 270. So do photos of prominent Scientologists such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Anne Archer and Isaac Hayes. Applied Scholastics appears prominently on the Scientology Web site.
Leaders of Applied Scholastics say their organization is separate from Hubbard's Scientology, that it is based on his educational techniques.
"We are strictly an educational organization," said Slaughter. "We are not part of the church," she said.
"We are tax-exempt. We use the materials that Ron Hubbard researched and codified. And we get results."
Applied Scholastics paid $2.9 million to buy the complex and 55 acres two years ago from the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The company also bought an adjacent 45 acres and plans to expand, Slaughter said. St. Louis County lists the property as taxable, a county spokeswoman said.
Applied Scholastics spent about $2 million on renovations. The company will open the center with tours for the public from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. today and a discussion of Hubbard's techniques on Sunday.
A group of people inspired by Hubbard founded Applied Scholastics three decades ago. The company says it trained 6,000 teachers last year. It employs about 45 people at the center.
On the front wall of the complex's former chapel are panels describing Hubbard's "three barriers to learning." The barriers arise when a student:
Cannot visualize an object, such as a combine when the student is studying about food production.
Fails to master all the steps in a concept.
Doesn't understand a word.
Hubbard's solutions: Have a student use a dictionary. Provide a student a picture or model of unfamiliar objects. Review concepts students fail to understand.
Reminded that many teachers already do these things, Slaughter said Hubbard's method offers a system to teach a student to learn.
Hubbard faced difficult times two decades ago when Scientology became the subject of investigations. At the time, some former church officials said Hubbard asked them to establish a series of corporations to divert the church's resources. But Scientology officials said the church's millions of dollars in revenue each year were spent on charitable efforts.
After 25 years of challenges and investigations by the Internal Revenue Service, the church got tax-exempt status in 1993.
Applied Scholastics was at the center of a debate in California six years ago when some teachers proposed that the state buy the group's books to supplement school textbooks. State officials approved the purchase after a review group found the books did not appear to advance Scientology.
The complex here has a bookstore that will sell Hubbard's books. The complex also has room to train 700 people and a center to tutor students after school and on weekends. The center offers lodging for up to 180 people.
Applied Scholastics employees have begun to introduce themselves to school districts, churches and other agencies in the St. Louis area, Slaughter said. She said several local school districts were considering using ASI's training.
Scot Danforth, who oversees teacher education for the University of Missouri at St. Louis, said he searched a database of four decades of published educational research and could find no study on L. Ron Hubbard's instructional techniques.
"In my opinion, they are involved in the worst kind of deception. They make grandiose claims about the effectiveness of their methods and materials ... with data that has never been published in a legitimate educational research journal," he said.
Slaughter said that Hubbard did his own research on the Study Technology and organizations that have taught his method have collected their own data.
Greg Jung, president of the Missouri National Education Association, is cautious.
"We don't know if the people who are providing training are qualified and if the teachers providing the tutoring are qualified," Jung said.