Piotr T. Nowakowski
doctor of pedagogy; Assistant Professor at The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin – Off-Campus Faculty of Social Sciences in Stalowa Wola
POLISH EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM WITH REGARD TO THE CULT PROBLEM
Educational institutions have been an attractive point of reference for cults’ recruiters for a long time. A series of alarming occurrences of controversial groups penetrating schools could be observed in recent years. These groups declared their activity as “uninterested,” however, used this as a disguise to carry out recruitment of new members.
This activity was carried out in different ways. It could be a proposal of equipping a school library with books in exchange for personal contacts with readers as well as offering them books which promoted the cult’s doctrine. Foundations and sponsoring also turned out to be a method of recruitment. On one occasion was much ado about an incident when one of the groups almost took control over an orphanage. Its members bought sport equipment, teaching aids and tutored for free. They also had an effect on a primary school, situated nearby. Let’s add to this the casus of International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which ran a vegetarian lunchroom for children in one of Krakow’s primary schools. It allowed the society’s representatives to have daily contact with children beyond the parents’ control.
Some offers were sent to schools secretaries formally and, among others, covered learning foreign languages, fast reading and mind training (e.g., Silva Mind Control). Unspecified companies also advertised offers for parents whose children had some school problems. In 1997, materials concerning an ecological competition were sent to schools by the agency of a school superintendent. The set included an offer of Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University and an invitation for a course of positive thinking.
Renting school rooms, after lessons, for their own purposes, was noted as well. It was also an opportunity to make a group dependent as well as enter into informal relationships with young people who stayed behind after school. A cult sometimes succeeded in presenting its offer during classes. By adopting the name of an association or foundation of an educational nature, these groups proposed conducting lectures or topical meetings. Without prior content control, it could have turned out that a school was involved in the indoctrination.
Call! We Will Come
The young people made an untypical offer to the Economic School Complex (Zespół Szkół Ekonomicznych) in Leszno: a performance in English. “Why not?” – the manager said, “it is a great opportunity for the students to improve their foreign language skills.” Nobody knew that they were members of a cult called the Family. At first, the performance was to take place in a hall of the Municipal Cultural Centre, however, the place was being renovated. Finally, the right place was settled – a school hall. In exchange for this, the tickets for students of this economic school were cheaper. Besides them, the students from the neighbouring Clothes School Complex (Zespół Szkół Odzieżowych) also came – in total about two hundred people. “It was a performance in which good fought evil” – one girl reports, “something like: Satan was about to win, but Jesus finally came and defeated him. They sang in English, danced a little. Generally it was fine.” After the performance, the actors engaged young people in conversation in English. Nevertheless, not all conversations were carried out in the presence of the school English teachers. The guests convinced young people that they could help them with their problems. They invited them to their place and told them not to tell anybody about it. It would be enough to phone them from a railway station, and they could pick him/her up there. It turned out that after the school performance the cult members phoned several people. A girl phoned who spoke Polish relatively well. She presented herself as Abigeil. She said that she wanted to remind the students and to encourage contact.
A journalist of Głos Wielkopolski newspaper succeeded in contacting the students who received a phone number from the cult. He asked his colleague to phone purporting to be a student. The phone was picked up by a girl who spoke English. After a while a second girl took the call – she spoke Polish; her name was Gloria.
“You said that if I had trouble, I could phone. I had a quarrel with my parents.”
“Where are you phoning from? From home? Come on Saturday, we have a meeting then. Phone from a railway station. We will pick you up.”
“And what are we going to do?”
“We will sing, drink some tea, eat cake.”
“And will we pray?” – a pause. “Yes. We are Christians. You are also Christian, aren’t you?”
“Who are you?”
“We live here at our friends. We are friends. We help in an orphanage and a reformatory. Come. You will be able to talk.”
After two days the journalist himself phoned. A young girl picked up the phone. “Good morning! I am a journalist from Głos Wielkopolski newspaper. I have found out that you invite young people to your place. Can I find out why you do that?”
“Who are you? Aha, a journalist? Can you speak English?” – she spoke broken Polish, but it was understandable. It could have been possible that she actually spoke better than she demonstrated.
“Are you a religious group, a cult?” [sic]
“No! We live at our friends. Can you speak English, I don’t understand” – she repeated after all the following questions.
“Can I talk to anybody who can speak Polish?”
“No, there’s nobody.”
“With Gloria or Abigeil?”
“They aren’t here.”
“And maybe later, tomorrow will there be anybody who can speak Polish?”
“No, there’ll be nobody.”
A Cult with Recommendation
A couple of years ago a storm was brought about by the activity of the Family in Legionowo near Warsaw. The case is not as recent, but instructive. In December 1993, two members of the cult came to local schools with a proposal to carry out talks about drug addiction and AIDS with the young people. During the talks with the management a place of a meeting was set – the headquarters of the Association of Drug Addiction Prevention (Towarzystwo Zapobiegania Narkomanii) in Legionowo.
Ten young people from one of the primary schools and a group of students from a secondary school came to this meeting. Three teachers from a primary school and an educator from a secondary school were also present. However, during the lecture it appeared that the guests did not speak about the subject agreed upon earlier. The meeting was made to look like a quasi-religious propaganda, and finally young people were asked to give their addresses. The cult was recommended by one of the police subinspectors – the chairman of the Association of Drug Addiction Prevention (Foster Division in Police Main Headquarters). He highly esteemed the moral message carried out by the Family Mission Assembly and he stated that it was “a new religious movement relatively well-known, also from TV programmes.” According to the subinspector, this group could be an alternative for pathological families. When the case saw the light of day, the school superintendent and the Ministry of National Education expressed great reservations about the cult’s activities in the schools in Legionowo. The town’s authorities ordered subordinate institutions to stop all contacts with the group. They also ordered that children, youth and parents be warned against this cult. Moreover, the Association of Drug Addiction Prevention was given a note to quit their presently occupied premises by the Housing Co-operative in Legionowo, and during a thorough analysis of this case it turned out that the cult members had carried out their activities even earlier – during youth camps organised by the above-mentioned association.
Caution Is Not Bad
The school authorities are responsible for the protection of children and youth against the activities of cults. It can be executed by broadly defined prevention, which consists of informing teachers, parents and students of recruitment and psycho-manipulation methods. It is also necessary to prepare mechanisms of controlling the content of lectures and actions of invited guest lecturers or “specialists,” but – as it sometimes turns out – teachers as well. After publishing an article about the Himavanti Confraternity Order (Bractwo Zakonne Himavanti) by Newsweek Polska in 2003, it turned out that a Polish language teacher from one of Bydgoszcz’s schools was connected with the cult. Then the Ministry of Education demanded carrying out control by school superintendents. Based on police data, they were to check out if Himavanti members acted in schools and could influence the young people in this way. It is commonly known that Himavanti is an extremely dangerous and unpredictable cult.
The school managers often recognize a threat very quickly by themselves and do not allow school penetration. It happens in cases when the school rooms are refused to be hired, people entering a school are controlled and received offers and leaflets are verified. In particular individual cases the school managers ask specialists in this field for help.
It also happens that the reaction of school management to the school’s problems is as follows: “I can see nothing, I can hear nothing.” This is proved by a case from the Silesian Information Centre of Cults and New Religious Movements (Śląskie Centrum Informacji o Sektach i Nowych Ruchach Religijnych). In the second half of 2000 the office coordinator, Dariusz Pietrek, concluded an agreement with the Health Division of the Municipal Office in Katowice for conducting 55 lecturers for the students. The schools did not bear any costs; all costs were borne by the Municipal Office, making conditions extremely attractive. However, not all schools accepted the proposal. There was a refusal from a secondary school, which had a very good reputation.
It was as follows: Dariusz Pietrek phoned, presented himself and presented the offer of lectures. Then the school manager arrogantly said: “But Sir, our students are so intelligent, so smart, so discriminating, that they will not allow themselves to be caught by such mechanisms!” The Coordinator of the Silesian Centre did not conceal his astonishment: “If you do not want it, it is no problem, although I am surprised, because it is the first offer of this kind for six years; not to mention the fact that our training is generally chargeable, as we are a self-financing office, and here you are being offered a lecture for free.”
By coincidence, the next day some parents with a daughter who tried to free herself from a satanic group came to his office. During the conversation it turned out that the girl attended a very good secondary school… the same one that Dariusz Pietrek had phoned the day before. “I could not control my laughter,” he recalled. ”Immediately I explained my reaction.” Their daughter commented more emphatically: “Sir, there are few normal people there, there are people who take drugs, drink, and belong to various kind of subculture. A satanic group, of which I am a member, consists of at least seven people, and I do not know who else may be there”.
The situation forced the coordinator of the Silesian Centre to phone the secondary school manager the next day. “I heard her indignant voice, that I was not well-mannered, that she had explained to me once already that the students were intelligent and that she did not require any lectures,” Pietrek remembered. “I only said: Excuse me, you understood me in the wrong way, I do not want to persuade you to accept my proposal, because you told me this distinctly and I understood. I simply want to inform you that in your school there is a satanic group consisting of at least seven people. I have it confirmed, because the parents visited me a day earlier.” The manager imperiously demanded the girl’s name, but Dariusz Pietrek due to obvious reasons had to refuse.
Preventive Measures against the Cults
Due to the attempts of certain cults to interfere with the functioning of schools, certain preventive initiatives have been carried out over a period of years. The following initiatives have been undertaken in some school superintendents’ offices within this scope:
- instructions for school supervisors;
- training for school pedagogues, educators, methodological advisors, in addition to schools and district nurses;
- meetings with parents (talks, lectures, etc.);
- workshops and seminars for school pedagogues, teachers and head masters;
- psycho educational and therapeutic training for the youth conducted by the staff of psychological-pedagogical clinics;
- turns of duty of specialists (volunteers from cult-awareness organizations and educationists);
- publications in local educational periodicals;
- inclusion of the problem of new religious movements in the curricula of postgraduate studies and qualifying courses for teachers;
- inclusion of the problem of threats of cults in the curricula for courses in personal and social education, civic education, religious studies, and ethics;
- introduction of a call-in service.
Within the scope of information, preventive and therapeutical activities, the school superintendents established also relations with nongovernmental organisations, associations and media. Due to noticed activities of cults, it is necessary to maintain the execution of the above-mentioned initiatives. Though at present the organised cult groups trying to infiltrate schools are not so big problem as controversial training or therapeutical methods (mentioned at the very beginning), which are promoted in the educational environment. However, the analysis of these offers was not the purpose of this paper.
When you cite or refer to this paper, please comprise the following data: P. T. Nowakowski, “Polish Educational System with Regard to the Cult Problem” – paper presented at the conference State Responsibility to Protect Citizens against Destructive Cults: Analysis of Present and Possible Future Models, European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Sectarianism, Pisa (Italy), 12 April 2008.
 The group was first known as the Children of God (1968-1977), afterwards – the Family of Love (1978-1981), later – the Family (1982-2003), and since 2004 its name is the Family International).
 See A. Jakubowski, Werbują w Lesznie? [Do They Recruit in Leszno?], Głos Wielkopolski 79: 4.
 M. Karnowski, A. R. Potocki, Bractwo nigdy nie wybacza [Fraternity Never Forgives], Newsweek Polska 46: 12-18; A. R. Potocki, Kuratorzy na Himawanti. Po publikacji [The School Superintendents against Himavanti. After Publication], Newsweek Polska 48: 7.
 Raport o niektórych zjawiskach związanych z działalnością sekt w Polsce [Report on Some Phenomena Connected with Cult Activities in Poland], K. Wiktor, G. Mikrut (Eds.), Ministerstwo Spraw Wewnętrznych i Administracji [The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration], Warszawa 2000: 55.