LOS ANGELES – A new private school founded by popular actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith has set off a Hollywood media frenzy over its alleged ties to the controversial "Church" of Scientology.
The New Village Academy in Calabasas, Calif., which the Smiths have poured nearly $1 million into building, will open Sept. 3 and use teaching methods developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
Although both Smiths have claimed not to be Scientologists and the academy's director school insists the facility has no religious affiliation, news of the school's controversial curriculum has raised flags.
"There is no reputable educator anywhere who endorses [study technology]," said David S. Touretzky, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and a critic of Scientology, according to the Los Angeles Times. "What happens is that children are inculcated with Scientology jargon and are led to regard L.R. Hubbard as an authority figure. They are laying the groundwork for later bringing people into Scientology."
In its report, the LA Times noted that several teachers at the New Village Academy are Scientology members, and the small school, which will initially have about 40 students, will provide financial assistance for about 80 percent of its enrollees and laptop computers and organic meals for every student, with the aim of grooming a "citizen of the world."
While acknowledging the school's use of "study technology," Jacqueline Olivier, who was hired to head the school, said it will also use many philosophies, including Montessori, Bruner and Gardner.
She also defended the use of "study technology," explaining it is not something taught but a method of teaching.
"People tend to think study technology is a subject, but it is really just the way the subject is taught," Olivier said, according to the LA Times. "They then come to the conclusion that we are teaching Scientology when actually a methodology doesn't have anything to do with content."
A spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, Karin Pouw, also defended teaching method, saying that is not religious and is widely used in schools around the world.
Aside from the school, Will Smith has also come under the microscope for his own possible ties to Scientology, which his close friend, actor Tom Cruise, is an active advocate of.
When production on his latest movie, "Hancock," finished around Christmastime last year, Smith reportedly passed out "wrap presents" to the film's crew members: vouchers good for a personality test at a local Scientology center.
And in a story in Men's Vogue in December, Smith favorably compared Hubbard's teachings to tenets of other major religions.
"I've studied Buddhism and Hinduism and I've studied Scientology through Tom," Smith said. "And nobody's saying anything different!
"[I]n all the experiences I've had with Tom and Scientology, like, 98 percent of the principles are identical to the principals in the Bible," the 39-year-old actor claimed. "The Bible talks about your spirit being immortal, that you were created for existence beyond your physical body. Well, that's no different from Scientology! I don't think that because the word someone uses for spirit is thetan that the definition becomes any different."
Despite his favorable view of Scientology, Smith has denied reports that he and his wife were becoming Scientologists.
"I am a Christian. I am a student of all religions. And I respect all people and all paths," the Hollywood star told the New York Daily News.
The most recent controversy comes as Smith is in the midst of a career hot streak – 11 of the actor-producer's films have grossed more than $100 million at the box office.