Landmark Education

From Academic Kids

The term Landmark Education refers to the company Landmark Education LLC and to its commercial operations, which primarily involve the delivery of a series of motivational and self-development courses. Landmark Education refers to the most well-known of its offerings as The Landmark Forum.

Landmark Education and its supporters (customers) market the company's courses primarily to individuals, while the subsidiary Landmark Education Business Development provides training and consultancy to organizations.

The Landmark organization and its methods evoke considerable controversy, with passionate opinions held by supporters and detractors.

Contents

History

Landmark Education Corporation ("LEC"), originally set up under that name in 1991, became Landmark Education LLC in February 2003.

Landmark Education Corporation acquired certain rights to the form and content of the course previously known as "The Forum" from Werner Erhard and Associates (WEA -- the corporate successor of Erhard Seminars Training - est or EST), when it more closely resembled a training course. The new owners, mainly former staff of WEA, renamed the course "The Landmark Forum" and claim to have developed its content further.

Landmark Education comprises an international employee-owned for-profit company with more than half its offices in North America. Landmark Education employees -- and, in some cases, graduates from Landmark Education's courses -- own all the stock, with no single individual holding more than 3%. The company has never distributed dividends, using profits either to expand the operation generally or to expand the operation by subsidising courses in countries such as Kenya, South Africa and India, to render them affordable to the local populations.

Landmark Education continues to promote what it calls "the work" and what it calls the "technology" of Werner Erhard, though without stressing his name, his controversial reputation or his ideological forebears. Some observers speculate that some practices and methods of Landmark Education, of WEA and of est have roots in Scientology (whose courses Erhard followed, and which subsequently listed Erhard and est among its enemies), Holiday Magic, Mind Dynamics (which Erhard taught pre-est) and Leadership Dynamics.

Operation

Landmark Education's courses generally take place in large, carefully-prepared rooms and involve 100 to 200 attendees listening to lectures and participating in exercises. Participants in Landmark Education's Assisting Program ("graduates" of the Landmark Forum) aid in maintaining the minutiae of an environment that fosters acceptable group-based behavior and participation - what Landmark Education terms "getting" Landmark's technology. (See Kopp's academic analysis (http://www.u.arizona.edu/~kopp/Finalmat3.doc) of the Landmark Forum milieu for an analysis of the delivery-setup and of the importance of control of the perceived environment.)

Regarding philosophical content, attendees have made comparisons with the ideas of Heidegger, Richard Rorty, Sartre, Fernando Flores and Westernized and popularized Zen. Others have suggested that Landmark Education has incorporated ideas from a wide range of philosophers from Socrates to Wittgenstein.

An article in the journal Contemporary Philosophy hosted at the University of Colorado at Boulder discusses philosophy and the Landmark Forum The Promise of Philosophy and the Landmark Forum (http://ucsub.colorado.edu/~schwartb/landmark/Promise-of-Philosophy-Landmark-Forum.pdf).

Generally, Landmark promotes its courses by encouraging participants in its seminars to invite family members, friends, work-mates and acquaintances to "guest events" where they can hear about the experiences of others, and book themselves to "transform" their lives by signing up to participate in the Landmark Forum. Most people hear about Landmark Education Corporation's courses through word-of-mouth marketing.

Landmark Forums have taken place in at least 26 countries : Japan, Israel, India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Romania, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, South Africa, Kenya, Jamaica, United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.

Landmark Education offers four principal courses, collectively called "The Curriculum for Living":

  1. The Landmark Forum, three days and an evening, focused on "completing" participants' pasts.
  2. The Forum in Action Seminar, a series of ten 3-hour seminars at weekly intervals (normally delivered free of charge to people who have completed the Forum within the previous year), which review the material from the Landmark Forum, and support participants in seeing how it may apply in practical terms to their own circumstances.
  3. The Advanced Course, four days and an evening in duration, focused on designing "a new future of freedom and self-expression" for participants' lives.
  4. The Self Expression and Leadership Programme (SELP) focused on engaging other people in the "new future" one has "designed." Each participant (including the program leader and the coaches) takes up a project in some community (not related to Landmark), such as a sports or social club, an extended family, a church group or a charitable undertaking. Estimates suggest that SELP projects have raised many millions of dollars for a large variety of charities worldwide.

Landmark Education also offers a free "Special Introduction to the Landmark Forum" (an "invitation to register") for graduates and guests and (according to Landmark Education's own website) more than forty other for-payment courses, seminars or programmes, covering such topics as sex and intimacy, time-management and Landmark Education course presentation. Most courses have an evening session which supplement the word-of-mouth marketing by taking guests through what LEC calls "exercises" from the course, and offering them an opportunity to enroll themselves in a Landmark "event".

A number of course participants volunteer as 'people who assist' (popularly and traditionally known as 'assistants') for Landmark Education for a period of time from 3 hours to several weeks. In France, such 'assistants' have the apparent legal status of volunteer unpaid workers -- the French Labour Ministry has judged this practice illegal). People who 'assist' work with and for the Landmark Education staff, receive further training in Landmark Education practices and absorb/learn leadership and team skills in a Landmark Education Corporation context, which they can then potentially apply (Landmark Education's copyrights permitting) in many other areas of their lives.

Landmark Education and its subsidiaries hold memberships (http://www.landmarkeducation.com/display_content.jsp?top=25&mid=260&bottom=309) in the following professional associations and organizations:

  • American Society for Training and Development
  • International Society for Performance Improvement
  • American Management Association
  • International Association for Continuing Education and Training
  • Academy of Management

Some bodies use Landmark Education as a provider of continuing education. For example, the Phoenix Police Sergeants and Lieutenants Association has assessed (http://www.ppsla.org/article_125.shtml) the Landmark Forum at 43.5 training credits.

Stated scope

Landmark Education claims that "[a] fundamental principle of its work is that people – and the communities, organizations, and institutions with which they are engaged – have the possibility not only of success, but also of fulfillment and greatness".

In addition, Landmark Education Corporation marketing material claims that "[i]n independent research, graduates of Landmark's programs report major positive results in the following areas:

  • The quality of their relationships.
  • The confidence with which they conduct their lives.
  • The level of their personal productivity.
  • The experience of the difference they make.
  • The degree to which they enjoy their lives."

Landmark Education states that it intends its courses for mentally healthy people: it has a screening process to discourage potential participants with histories of psychological distress.

Critique

As indicated, the organisation has attracted passionately expressed comments, both for and against.

Most supporters have completed the Landmark Forum and found it beneficial; for example in enhanced relationships, improved earning power, or greater enjoyment of life. The group of participants also includes or overlaps with observers such as some journalists, some social scientists, a few religious leaders, and sundry health professionals. Supporters often lace their comments with enthusiasm, wishful thinking, and uncritical acclaim.

Detractors include many who have first-hand experience of Landmark courses and many relatives and friends of participants. Detractors also include many journalists, some psychologists, a few religious leaders and some poiticians. They supplement their comments with external observation, comparisons with other organizations, hearsay, speculation, despair and dread at the phenomenon of Landmark Education.

Supporters estimate that well over 90% of Landmark Forum participants assess it as providing good value and tangible benefits. They claim that those who have done the course in its entirety and remain critical amount to a tiny proportion, well under one percent. They also point out that, since some of the detractors make their comments anonymously, such criticisms often remain difficult to verify.

Detractors have associated Landmark with one or more of: psychological multi-level marketing, New Age "cult"-like behaviour, brainwashing, mind control, inconsistent mysticism, ruthless opportunism, amoral nihilism and exploitative hypnotism. Supporters of Landmark Education portray the use of any such terminology as vague and inaccurate, and dispute that it provides an appropriate description of Landmark Education's methodology.

Supporters of Landmark Education characterise the organisation as a straightforward business selling highly effective training courses empowering their course-participants to reach their full potential in all areas of life. Detractors disparage these claims, which they see as subjective and unprovable. A wealth of personal accounts describing detailed and specific results in a subjective manner back up the claims of both sides.

Some commentators have described the Landmark Forum as a large group awareness training (LGAT), a view also espoused in a University of Denver Ph.D. dissertation by Charles Wayne Denison: "The Children of est: A study of the Experience and Perceived Effects of a Large Group Awareness Training (The Forum)".

Debates have raged for several years over whether Landmark Education and its predecessors have any merit or redeeming features -- or whether the organization has discovered "breakthrough" ideas and practices ahead of its time.

As with some other companies, previous court cases involving Landmark Education and dissatisfied customers, or involving Landmark Education and the media, have generally ended in out-of-court settlements with details conveniently placed outside the public domain. Landmark Education's media sparring partners have included Time and ELLE.

In September 2004, Landmark Education filed a one million USD suit against the Rick A. Ross Institute, claiming that the Institute's online archives did damage to its (Landmark Education's) product (legal term: product disparagement). In 2005, Landmark Education filed to dismiss its own lawsuit with prejudice, possibly because of the high burden of proof and possibly because the on-line archives could easily move to a country without American libel/defamation laws.

Specific areas of controversy

Registration

Acquaintances of Landmark Forum "graduates" sometimes note with concern and/or alarm what they perceive as excessive enthusiasm and zeal to enroll ("register") new attendees. Detractors characterise Landmark Education as 'manipulative' in insisting that graduates take more courses and invite others to take Landmark Education's courses, with the result that non-customers endure seemingly endless tirades of Landmark's jargon. Landmark Education says it relies on "word-of-mouth" advertising, which detractors disparage as "sell it by zealot" and compare to multi-level marketing.

Rebuttal: Landmark Education stresses that "enrolling" others into one's own ideals forms an essential part of self-"transformation" and that graduates will want to follow its suggestions and tell others of their experiences. - Note that Landmark Education often takes commonly-used words and attaches an entirely new meaning to them. The English word enrollment furnishes one example. Enrolling, in Landmark's lexicon, means sharing the possibility one has created for oneself, and making that possibility "touch, move and inspire" another person. In layman's terms, it means sharing what you've learned, and sharing the new-found knowledge with someone in a way that the other person truly understands and accepts your new-found knowledge.

Treatment of volunteers

Some assess the assisting programs as exploitative and assert that Landmark exerts pressure tactics on its graduates to donate ever more of their time. With further courses, the pressure allegedly builds up. Informal assisting also occurs. The hundreds of thousands of est, WEA and Landmark Education "graduates" built up over the years form a sizable potential free-labor pool.

Rebuttal: Assistants working for Landmark Education assist voluntarily, and most do so -- according to Landmark Education -- for a single weekend or a few hours at a time: some assist more than once or over a longer period. Landmark Education also claims that fewer than 1% of graduates will participate in a formal assisting program at any one time, most for three hours a week.

Alleged "cult-like" practices

Some former participants regard themselves as cult victims and have made allegations of destruction of the individuality of attendees. The Australian psychologist Louise Samways has linked Landmark Education with undesirable practices in Dangerous Persuaders: An exposé of gurus, personal development courses and cults, and how they operate (Penguin, 1994) ISBN 0-14-023553-1.

Comment: Landmark Education programs do not, according to Landmark Education itself, comprise therapy. Former President of the American Psychiatric Association Raymond D. Fowler, PhD, who observed sessions of the Landmark Forum, wrote in a report (http://www.landmarkeducation.com/uploaded_files/694/Fowler.pdf) commissioned by Landmark Education: "In my opinion, the Landmark Forum is not a cult or anything like a cult, and I do not see how any reasonable, responsible person could say that it is." Furthermore, Landmark Education successfully sued Margaret Singer, a UC Berkeley professor and author of Cults in Our Midst for defamation, using legal/financial means to cause her to cease her characterization of Landmark Education as a cult. (Libel and defamation are specifically recognized as legal torts.)

Therapy

Despite Landmark presenting itself as "not therapy", some participants and some observers claim that some of its practices or exercises resemble psychotherapy.

Response: On a therapy-related but different front, Landmark screens potential participants and discourages applicants with histories of psychiatric disturbances from taking part in its events.

Language

Some observers find Landmark jargon pervasive, confusing, shallow and/or irritating; and that its use of specialized terminology makes it easy to create a manipulative environment featuring an us-them divide with the "outside" world. On-going use of Landmark jargon can occasion confusion between recuiters and potential recruits, discouraging the latter from finding out about the utility of the Landmark Forum, especially given the lack of a published dictionary of Landmarkian usage.

Rebuttal: Landmark Education courses use specialized language, as do many fields or disciplines, such as engineering, science or the military. This special terminology can cause those without experience in Landmark Education's programs to view it as confusing. Landmark Education's web site has a course syllabus (http://www.landmarkeducation.com/display_content.jsp?top=21&mid=59&bottom=62) with definitions in passing of a few of the more frequent terms, including "racket" and "already always listening".

Rationality

A proportion of participants has claimed that Landmark Education attempts to forestall potential criticism by setting up (or 'creating') an atmosphere of trust and by disparaging reasoned questioning on part of the participants as "cynical". (Landmark proponents often frown on cynicism, critical analysis and searching for meaning, stressing acceptance, instinct and enthusiasm.) People often quote Werner Erhard's alleged aphorism: "Understanding is the booby prize"; they note the vagueness of Landmark's propensity of advocating the "experience" (rather than any logic) of "getting it"; they refer to Landmark dismissing vast tracts of human activity as "nothing"; and some regard Landmark Education analysis of "what's so" as superficial and inadequate.

Rebuttal: Supporters explain that although Landmark Education's instructors do not see the utility of pre-judging "cynicism" in the Landmark Education environment, they welcome skepticism (as opposed to cynicism) and critical thinking because they view critical analysis and searching as the only access to producing the results allegedly made possible by the "work" of Landmark Education. Indeed, they see some of the important results of Landmark Education's "work" as "being authentic", "being truthful", and "being honest" about what "is" really "so".

Religion

Detractors point to religious aspects of Landmark Education's training: a solipsistic worldview and passionately-held beliefs in and advocacy of Landmark concepts, practices and slogans, all spread with evangelistic zeal.

Rebuttal: Supporters deny that Landmark Education has any religious basis and portray the courses as compatible with existing other beliefs. They explain that Landmark Education courses empower people in their beliefs but claim that Landmark Education's courses do not concern themselves with belief - just as a mathematics course does not concern itself with belief.

Alleged brainwashing

Many of those acquainted with Landmark Education Corporation "graduates", seeing dramatic behavioral changes in Landmark participants, surmise that Landmark Education methodology resembles brainwashing, especially in its jargon, its alleged use of group pressure, and its allegedly putting listeners on the defensive and the leaders on the offensive.

Rebuttal: Supporters explain that the Landmark Forum (favorite subject of the defense in that most people start their Landmark career with this course) merely demonstrates great effectiveness in impacting on people, and that it gives people access to those barriers that had allegedly slowed them down and this makes them allegedly more satisfied, fulfilled and more effective.

Corporate history

Landmark Education does not vigorously advertise its corporate origins in est and in WEA , groups with a history of much controversy. Landmark Education's publicity materials do not mention est, nor does Landmark Education raise the issue at introductory guest events.

Landmark Education tends to minimize its connections with Werner Erhard, whom many see as a controversial and polarizing figure, however the corporate fact sheet (http://www.landmarkeducation.com/display_content.jsp?top=25&mid=260&bottom=309) does claim that "[b]ased on a methodology and material originally developed by Werner Erhard, Landmark has evolved its unique educational methodology through years of continuous research, development, and redesign".

Landmark Education's programs have their basis in (unpublished) research and in what Landmark Education's customers refer to as the "technology" attributed to Werner Erhard, who has, despite his family ties, royalty payments, great personal respect, history and ongoing contracting associations with Landmark Education, no ownership, governance or management position in the organization. Landmark Education Corporation claims no responsibility for est or for WEA, its direct corporate predecessors; a US court has confirmed this absence of successor liability.

At the beginning of the Landmark Forum and of other programs, a course leader invites participants' questions about the Landmark Education Corporation, its origins, programs, policies etc., as well as giving the participants the opportunity to leave the program with a full refund. These Q&A sessions handle -- from a Landmark Education point of view -- questions about Werner Erhard, WEA, est and other matters anyone wants to discuss. Those wishing to obtain "official" answers from Landmark Education's Corporate headquarters can telephone 1-415-981-8850.

Alleged psychological consequences

Questioners of Landmark Education have alleged that some participants' experiences have led to mental illness. (See Das Forum: Protokoll einer Gehirnwäsche: Der Psycho-Konzern Landmark Education [The Forum: Account of a Brainwashing: The Psycho-Outfit Landmark Education] by Martin Lell, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich, 1997, ISBN 3423360216 - a work which Landmark Education attempoted to suppress at first publication.)

Supporters of Landmark Education maintain that while over three-quarters of a million people worldwide have participated in the Landmark Forum, those who voice criticism account for a tiny percentage (allegedly) of Forum graduates and their friends and families. Those who have made accusations of mental instability amount to a few dozen, and in the nature of things, few, if any, of these claims have been independently substantiated.

Governmental classification (without definition)

In France, the government (through the Interministerial Mission for Awareness against Sectarian Risks (MILS) [1] (http://www.miviludes.gouv.fr/)) has classified Landmark Education as a secte (cult). Many dispute this classification and the US State Department noted in its 2002 report that the French legislation creating the MILS did not define the term "cult" and that the president of MILS had resigned in mid-2002 and no replacement had emerged b y the time of reporting - as shown in this US State Department hyperlink (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2002/13938.htm).

Hypnotism

The rigidly specified bland layout and décor of Landmark Education's seminar environment, the focus on a single charismatic presenter/leader (pictures of the leaders: [2] (http://www.landmarkeducation.com/display_images.jsp?top=21&mid=166&siteObjectID=173)), the long hours and repetitive content of sessions, and the employment of set key phrases (such as: "I am the possibility of...", "I got it", "... what's so", "the promise of the Forum", etc) have led some (including former insiders) to explain the effectiveness of Landmark Education's outreach in terms of hypnotism and of post-hypnotic triggers.

General controversy

People critical of Landmark Education's training courses - not only those who have never taken such courses and/or make no claim to have taken Landmark Education training, but also some who have participated - often get space in the media to discuss Landmark Education products and practices. See http://www.landmarkeducation.com/menu.jsp?top=22&mid=11020&bottom=3058 for corporately-approved stories of people who have, as the jargon has it, "completed" one such course, the flagship Landmark Forum..

Independent studies

An analysis (http://www.landmarkeducation.com/display_content.jsp?top=21&mid=80&bottom=116&siteObjectID=350) done by Daniel Yankelovich, chairman of DYG, Inc., (Analysis of The Landmark Forum and Its Benefits) of a survey (whose date, selection-methodology and analysis-methodology Landmark Education has not reported in detail) concluded that:

  • More than 90% of "participants" report "practical value for many aspects" of life
  • More than 90% of respondents saw the Forum as "likely to have enduring value"
  • More than 90% of "participants" saw the Forum as "well worth ... time and effort"
  • Just 90% of "participants" adjudged the Forum "well worth the cost"
  • More than 90% of "participants" who self-reportedly attended the Forum in order to gain "a better understanding of relationships and how they work" expressed satisfaction.
  • Nearly every "participant" in the survey reportedly received unexpected benefits - ranging from 'ability to control weight to achieving a specific educational or business goal'

It remains unclear over what time-duration Yankelovich conducted this study.

A survey (http://www.landmarkeducation.com/display_content.jsp?top=21&mid=80&bottom=116&siteObjectID=150) (the date and methodology of which Landmark Education has not reported in detail) carried out by Harris Interactive concluded that:

  • One-third experienced a significant increase (of 25% or more) in their incomes after completing The Landmark Forum. Of that group, 94% said The Landmark Forum directly contributed to the increase.
  • Seven out of 10 people said they worried less about money and became more effective in managing their finances after completing Landmark's programs.
  • Participants found they were working fewer hours, suggesting they achieved greater balance in their lives.

It remains unclear over what time-duration Harris Interactive conducted this study.

The University of Southern California Marshall Business School carried out a case study into the work of Landmark Education Business Development (LEBD) at BHP New Zealand Steel. Landmark summarized (http://www.landmarkeducation.com/display_content.jsp?top=21&mid=80&bottom=116&subsection=160): "The set of interventions in the organization produced impressive measurable results:

  • Safety performance improved 50%
  • Key benchmark costs were reduced 15-20%
  • Return on capital increased by 50%
  • Raw steel produced per employee rose 20%"

(Full report available from USC for money. BHP New Zealand Steel - now known as New Zealand Steel- makes no detectable reference to Landmark on its website (http://www.nzsteel.co.nz).)

A study commissioned by Werner Erhard and Associates concluded that attending a (pre-Landmark) Forum had minimal lasting effects, positive or negative, on participants' self-perception. (J.D. Fisher, R. C. Silver, J. M. Chinsky, B. Goff and Y. Klar Evaluating a Large Group Awareness Training: A Longitudinal Study of Psychosocial Effects Springer-Verlag, 1990, ISBN 0387973206).

Charles Wayne Denison's Ph.D. research involved interviewing Landmark Forum participants and reported predominantly positive outcomes.

Prominent employees

  • Harry Rosenberg, brother of Werner Erhard, holds the office of CEO of Landmark Education.
  • Steve Zaffron, CEO of Landmark Education Business Development
  • Art Schreiber, general counsel. The importance of Schreiber's role relates to the legal actions and threats of legal actions undertaken by Landmark Education when, in Landmark Education's intpretation, the media have crossed the line between "free speech" and the civil torts of 1) libel / defamation, 2) false light or 3) product disparagement.
  • Charlene Afremow has conducted courses from the earliest appearances of Werner Erhard in the personal training field. She co-founded Lifespring and conducted courses for that organization for a period.

See also

External links

Largely approving of Landmark Education

Questioning of Landmark Education

Critical of Landmark Education

  • Rick Ross (http://www.rickross.com/groups/landmark.html) (Rick Ross) (This site allegedly restricts positive commentary and rebuttals in its Discussion Forums.)

Varied opinions on Landmark Education

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