Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Landmark Education (LE), founded in 1991 and long known as Landmark Education Corporation or as LEC, purchased certain rights to a presentation marketed as a training course and known as The Forum from Werner Erhard and Associates (WEA -- the corporate successor of Erhard Seminars Training - est or EST). The new owners -- including former staff of WEA -- renamed the course The Landmark Forum and claim to have further developed its content. The Landmark Education group of companies has also marketed and presented many other courses and seminars, several with parallels dating back to EST days.
Landmark Education sells courses -- notably the aforementioned "Landmark Forum" -- to individuals. It also has a subsidiary - Landmark Education Business Development - which provides training and consultancy to organizations.
The organization provokes passionate opinions both in favour and against its activities and methods.
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.
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)".
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 such terminology as vague and inaccurate, and dispute that it provides an appropriate description of Landmark Education's methodology.
Landmark Education comprises an international employee-owned for-profit company with more than half its offices in North America. Landmark employees -- and, in some cases, graduates from Landmark 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 population.
Landmark promotes 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. Many practices and methods of Landmark Education, of WEA and of EST have alleged roots in Scientology (whose courses Erhard followed), Holiday Magic, Mind Dynamics (which Erhard taught pre-est) and Leadership Dynamics .
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" the "technology" (See Kopp's academic analysis of the Landmark Forum milieu for one view of the importance of environmental control.)
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.
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 three principal courses, collectively called "The Curriculum for Living":
- The Landmark Forum, four days long, focused on completing participants' pasts
- The Advanced Course, five days in duration, focused on designing "a new future of freedom and self-expression" for participants' lives.
- 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. SELP projects have allegedly 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" which functions as a recruitment opportunity) 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 into a Landmark offerring.
A number of course participants volunteer as 'people who assist' (popularly and tradionally 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 adborb/learn leadership and team skills in a Landmark Education Corporation context.
Stated attitudes of Landmark Education
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 states that it intends its courses for mentally healthy people: it has a screening process to discourage potential participants with histories of psychological distress.
An analysis done by Daniel Yankelovich , chairman of DYG , Inc., (Analysis of The Landmark Forum and Its Benefits) of a survey (whose date and 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 (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: "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.)
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).
Dennison Charles's Ph.D. research involved interviewing Landmark Forum participants and reported predominantly positive outcomes.
Pro and Con
Background and Patterns
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.
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 placed outside the public domain.
Specific areas of controversy
Acquaintances of Landmark Forum "graduates" often note with concern and/or alarm what they perceive as excessive enthusiasm and religious-like zeal to enroll (recruit) new attendees. Some former participants and numerous observers have cited Landmark as 'manipulative' in insisting that graduates take more courses and recruit others to take Landmark training. Landmark Education claims to rely on "word-of-mouth" advertising, known in marketing circles as "sell it by zealot".
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.
Exploitation of volunteers
Some assess the assisting programs as exploitative and assert that Landmark exerts pressure tactics on its graduates to donate their time. With further courses, the pressure allegedly builds. Informal assisting also occurs.
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 time, most for several hours a week or a day.
Rebuttal: Landmark Education programs do not, according to Landmark Education itself, comprise therapy. Former President of the American Psychiatric Association Raymond D. Fowler, PhD,  who has observed sessions of the Landmark Forum, wrote: "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."
Despite Landmark presenting itself as "not therapy", some participants and some observers claim that some of its practices or exercises resemble psychotherapy.
Response: Landmark does attempt to screen partipants and to make sure that applicants with histories of psychiatric disturbances do not take part.
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 Landmarkian language can occasion confusion between recruiters and potential recruits, especially given the lack of a published dictionary of usage.
Rebuttal: What Landmark Education refers to as "training" uses specialized language, as does (says Landmark Education) any field or discipline, such as engineering, science or the military. This special terminology can cause those without direct contemporary first-hand experience in Landmark Education's programs to view it as confusing.
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"; note the vagueness of Landmark's propensity of advocating the "experience" (rather than any logic) of "getting it"; refer to Landmark dismissing vast tracts of human activity as "nothing"; and 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 environment, they welcome skepticism and critical thinking because they view critcal analysis and searching as the only access to producing the results allegedly made possible by the "work" of the Landmark Forum. Indeed, they see one of the critical aspects of Landmark Education's "work" as being "authentic", truthful, and honest about what "is" really "so".
Detractors point to religious aspects of Landmark Education's training: a solipsistic belief-system 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 the courses empower people in their beliefs and claim that Landmark Education's courses do not concern themselves with belief - just as a mathematics course does not concern itself with belief.
Many of those aquainted 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 merely demonstrates great effectiveness in impacting on people, and that it gives people access to those barriers that had slowed them down and this makes them allegedly more satisfied, fulfilled and effective.
Landmark Education Corporation does not express a very open attitude to its corporate origins in est and in WEA , groups with a history of much controversy. Landmark's publicity materials do not mention EST, nor does Landmark raise the issue at introductory recruitment sessions.
Landmark Education Corporation tends to minimize its connections with Werner Erhard, whom many see as a controversial and polarizing figure.
Landmark Education's programs have their basis in (unpublished) research and in what Landmarkers refer to as the "technology" attributed to Werner Erhard, who has, despite his family ties, royalty payments, great personal respect, history and 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 legal responsibility.
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 partipants 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.
"Accusers" 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.)
Defenders of Landmark might maintain that while over three quarters of a million people worldwide have participated in the Landmark Forum, those who voice criticism allegedly account for a tiny percentage of Forum graduates [not counting their friends, families and psychiatrists]. Those who have made accusations of mental instability allegedly amount to a few dozen, and in the nature of things, few, if any, of these claims have been independently substantiated
The rigidly specified bland layout and décor of Landmark Education's seminar environment, the focus on a single charismatic presenter/leader, the long hours and repetitive content of sessions, and the employment of set key phrases ("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 post-hypnotic triggers.
People critical of Landmark Education's training courses - those who have never taken such courses and/or make no claim to have taken Landmark Education training - 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 Landmark Forum.
Prominent Employees of Landmark Education
- Harry Rosenberg , brother of Werner Erhard, heads Landmark Education.
- Art Schreiber functions in the important post of legal representative. The importance of Schreiber's role relates to the frequent legal actions and threats of legal actions undertaken by Landmark Education where media have, knowingly or even accidentally, represented Landmark in a less-than-positive light.
- Charlene Afremow has conducted courses from the earliest appearances of Werner Erhard in the personal training field. She co-founded Lifespring and conducting courses for that organization for a period.
- Steve Zaffron , CEO of Landmark Education Business Development
Largely approving of Landmark Education
- Landmark Education official website
- Blog About Landmark Forum Graduates
- The Scoop on Landmark - independent website
- An independent site written by members of the Landmark Team Management and Leadership Program
- My Landmark Forum - a list of independent sites
- I Love Possibility: Landmark Forum graduates describe their experiences
- Landmark Forum Graduates on Yahoogroups
Somewhat questioning of Landmark Education
- Rick Ross (Rick Ross)
- Skeptic's Dictionary
- Berlin Senate report (in German)
- Swiss InfoSekta investigations (in German)
Critical of Landmark Education
- Landmark Forum Shatters A Young Girl's Dreams
- Landmark Education destroyed my life -- from the Forum to a psych ward
Varied opinions on Landmark Education
- What's this Landmark Thing?
- Landmark Forum: Rants and Raves
- Rants and Raves LIVE! on Delphi Forums
- Usenet group: alt.fan.landmark
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