Overview: Educators, Cults, and Related Groups
Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.
Educators can serve two important roles with regard to cultic groups.
First, if they learn of students or family members who may need help because of a cultic involvement, they can refer the affected persons to resources, such as those that ICSA provides.
Second, through their teaching they can help to inoculate young people against deceptive cultic recruitment by teaching them about cultic groups and especially by teaching them about the psychological manipulation that is often used to lure young people into joining groups.
Research also documents the extent of attempted recruitment of high school youngsters by cults. Fifty-four percent of high school students surveyed by psychologist Philip Zimbardo in 1985 reported that they had been approached by cult recruiters, and 3% reported they belonged to cultic groups. Surveys of high school students in the Boston area in 1984 found that 1.5% of the students in a working-class suburb and 3% in an affluent suburb reported that they had belonged or did belong to cultic groups.
In a survey of 414 chief housing officers of U.S. campuses (Elleven, Kern & Moore), 11.7% of respondents reported that a staff member was involved in a cultic group and 27.6% reported being aware of a student involved in cultic activity.
A task force appointed by the governor of Maryland met 11 times in 1999 in order:
To determine the extent to which there are groups whose activities on the campuses of USM institutions, St. Mary’s College, or Morgan State University are, intentionally or innocently, inappropriately:
- causing demonstrable physical, psychological or emotional harm to students;
- interfering substantially with the educational mission of the institution and/or
- violating institutional policies and/or federal, state or local laws.
and to make recommendations concerning courses of action that might be pursued by individuals or institutions to assist in the prevention and/or resolution of those problems.
Among other recommendations, the Task Force suggested that campuses should create an educational program for incoming students and ongoing education programs thereafter through graduation. These programs should assist students in assessing their decisions whether to join groups and how to recognize destructive behavior that may affect them.
The Task Force also recognized that “constitutional issues are extremely important, including freedom of religion, speech and assembly.”
ICSA also affirms the importance of respecting these fundamental freedoms in any educational work in this area. Therefore, we recommend that educational programs focus on the psychological processes through which individuals can be manipulated into doing things that they might not ordinarily do. Such a focus not only respects religious freedom issues, but it also arms students against manipulative groups that may not be religious. A rich body of research in social psychology attests to the capacity of environments to shape the behavior of individuals. We believe that the cult issue should be placed within the broader context of social-psychological manipulation.