Too Good to be True Teacher

Too Good to be True: Resisting Cults and Psychological Manipulation

Teacher's Guide.  A Lesson Plan for Middle Schools and High Schools

Marcia Rudin

 Developed by the American Family Foundation; Copyright 1992 American Family Foundation. The following is a revised version prepared for the AFF Web site. See "Free Info – Educators" and "Free Info – Students" for additional resources from AFF’s Web site.

"When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you've ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate and understanding person you've ever met, and then you learn that the cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true it probably is too good to betrue!"

Jeannie Mills

The American Family Foundation (AFF) helps professionals in colleges, universities, high schools, middle schools, churches, synagogues, and other settings educate themselves and their young people about cults, psychological manipulation, and occult rituals by providing educational programs and materials. AFF is a nonprofit research and educational organization that collects information on cultic groups and manipulative techniques of persuasion and control, analyzes this information in order to advance understanding of the problem and possible solutions to it, and shares it with other professionals, the general public, and those requesting help with cult involvements.

The author would like to express her appreciation to the following people who assisted in the conception and development of this lesson plan: Dr. Sandy Andron, Linda Blood, Michael Caslin, Priscilla Coates, Paul Engel, Hope Evans, Robert Fellows, Dr. Doris Holloway-Abels, Dr. Michael Langone, Arnold Markowitz, Dr. Herbert Nieburg, Nadia Preyma, Herbert Rosedale, Esq., Judy Safransky, and Dr. Robert Safransky.

Table of Contents of Teacher's Guide

To the Teacher

Introduction Page

What is a Cult?

The Harm Cults Can Cause

Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation Page

Saying "No" to Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation

Occult Rituals

How to Avoid Getting Into a Cult and Getting Involved in Occult Rituals

Supplementary Writing Project


Where to Go for Additional Information and Assistance

Student Evaluation

Teacher Evaluation and Questionnaire

Additional Resources

Duplication Permission Form

To the Teacher

With all the other problems youngsters face today and with all the other material you have to cover in your classroom, why is it so important to teach this unit?

There are more cults around than ever before. Experts estimate there are 3,000 to 5,000 groups. They have one to three million members, and they can be found throughout the world.

Cults seriously and sometimes permanently disrupt their members' educations and lives. A survey of 308 former cult members from more than 100 different cult groups completed in 1992 by American Family Foundation Research Director Michael Langone confirms this: of those 308 who were students when first contacted by cults, 38% dropped out of school after joining the group.

While cult groups have changed their "pitch" and are now also recruiting older, established and more affluent people, young people are still their primary targets. Twenty-seven percent of the 308 former cult members in Dr. Langone's 1992 survey were undergraduates at a college or university when they first made contact with their group. Six percent were graduate students. It's important, therefore, to prepare your students to meet the challenge of cult recruitment in college.

However, your students must also learn to meet this challenge now, because youngsters are being aggressively approached by recruiters at earlier ages. Ten percent of the 308 former members in Langone's research study reported they were in high school when they were recruited. Earlier 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.

Other statistics from the 1992 American Family Foundation study further confirm the need for early preventive education. Seventy-two percent of the 308 former members questioned report that group pressures made it difficult to leave the group. This illustrates the importance of teaching young people how to resist pressure and psychological manipulation.

It's also important to make adolescents and teens aware of psychological manipulation in general, especially because they are so sensitive to peer pressure. One of the goals of this lesson plan is to enable youngsters to apply what they learn here about psychological manipulation to other areas of their life and to sharpen their critical-thinking skills.

There are other reasons why teachers should be aware of cults and psychological manipulation. You may have a youngster in your class who has joined, or is thinking of joining a destructive cult. You may have a child in your class who is being raised in a cult group, or —and this is more likely — one whose family has left a group and is trying to adjust to the outside world. It's important that teachers, school counselors, and administrators be aware of the cult phenomenon, know what to do in these cases, and know where to turn for further advice and assistance.

Occult Rituals

In the last few years, concern has grown about the apparent increase of participation of young people in occult rituals. These activities are often classified under the term "satanism." But not all of these rituals are based on the specific ideology of satanism. Therefore, the broader and more accurate term "occult rituals" will be used here.

No one knows how much occult-ritual activity goes on because it is done secretly. Some believe the problem is very serious; others believe it's overblown. But in the last few years reports to law-enforcement officials have increased, and clergy, parents, school administrators, and mental-health professionals have deluged resource organizations with requests for information and educational materials. The American Family Foundation (AFF) believes teachers and school staff should know about occult rituals, be aware of the danger signs and the general profile of youngsters who might become involved, be able to assess the seriousness of occult-ritual involvements of their students, and know where to turn for additional information and assistance.

When presenting material about occult rituals to youngsters one must be very careful to do it in a way that does not make these activities sound attractive. Some believe this material should be given only to parents, teachers, and school staff, and not to the youngsters themselves. However, AFF believes it should be presented responsibly to students also, emphasizing the potential harm and dangers of these practices.

The student text of this lesson plan does not include a listing of general personality characteristics of young people who participate in occult rituals or a list of danger signals. They are listed below for you. Refer also to the article "Satanism and Occult-Ritual Activity: Questions and Answers" in the AFF handout Cults & Mind Control. For a fuller discussion, see the book Satanism and Occult-Related Violence: What You Should Know by Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. and Linda O. Blood, which you can obtain from AFF (see Page 9).

Characteristics of Youngsters Involved with Occult Rituals

The general personality profile of youngsters who might become involved with occult rituals differs from that of the general profile of a cult member. Young people who get recruited into cults are often high achievers and model students; youngster who might become involved with occult rituals are often:

Signs of Possible Involvement with Occult Rituals

[Please note: It's important not to jump to conclusions. Many of these signs, in and of themselves, have nothing to do with occult-ritual participation and may be associated with other types of problems. Look at the whole picture and remember that destructive occult-ritual involvement will often be associated with, if not in fact result from, more traditional psychological problems such as low self-esteem, depression, alienation, etc. Not all of the factors listed below need to be present in order to indicate possible involvement, and any one factor present alone needn't indicate possible involvement. Also, it may not be possible to observe some of these factors even if they are present.]

Diminished intellectual ability, falling grades, drug and/or alcohol abuse

Accumulating occult ritual paraphernalia, such as books about Satan, witchcraft, the occult, etc., knives and other weapons, whips, black or red candles and robes, bones, posters depicting sex, violence, or occult images

Use of occult signs and symbols in jewelry, sewn on clothing, or drawn on papers, books, or walls

Preoccupation with silver jewelry

Developing an obsession with movies, videos, books, and heavy-metal music with themes of occultism and demonism, violence, rape, mutilation, suicide, and death

Obsession with fantasy role-playing games; obsession with ouija boards and/or tarot cards and means of predicting the future

Displaying signs of ritualistic mutilation such as unexplained cuts on the left arm or chest area, especially if these are in the form of occult symbols; tattoos, excessive piercing of ears or other parts of the body

Maintaining a "book of shadows" -- a notebook in which rituals and other activities are recorded

Use of inverted religious symbols such as an upside-down cross

Preoccupation with suicide and with death, particularly the morbid side of it, perhaps expressed verbally or through dress, drawings, poetry, or music

Participation in antisocial, violent, and/or criminal acts

Deterioration in physical health

Making a pact to sell one's soul to Satan in return for power, money, fame, and success

Adopting unusual nicknames, especially if related to the occult, horror movies, and fantasy role-playing games

Belief by youngster that he/she is possessed by demons

Alienation from family and old friends; secretiveness about new friends and activities

Unexplained disappearances, especially at night

Lesson Plan Objectives

See page 1 of the student text. An additional objective is to provide you with resources for further information and assistance for both you and the students.

Educational Methods

In keeping with its primary objective of encouraging critical thinking and evaluation skills, this lesson plan emphasizes questioning and class discussion, provides thought-provoking questions and discussion projects, and encourages students to contribute their ideas and experiences.

How to Use this Lesson Plan

If you copy the student text for your students, in keeping with copyright regulations we ask that you reproduce the entire page of every page used, including the copyright notice on the bottom of the page.

Lesson Plan Time Frame

This lesson plan is designed to be taught over three to five class sessions. Following is a suggested breakdown of subjects covered in this lesson plan into a three-day, four-day, and five-day time frame:

Three-day time frame:

If the AFF videotape "Cults: Saying No Under Pressure" is purchased

- Day 1 - Pre-test, AFF videotape, What is a Cult?

- Day 2 - The Harm Cults Can Cause, Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation

- Day 3 - Saying "No" to Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation, Occult Rituals, Post-test

If AFF videotape is not purchased

- Day 1 - Pre-test, What is a Cult?, The Harm Cults Can Cause

- Day 2 - Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation

- Day 3 - Saying "No" to Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation, Occult Rituals, Post-test

Four-day time frame:

- Day 1 - Pre-test, AFF videotape, What is a Cult?

- Day 2 - The Harm Cults Can Cause, Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation

- Day 3 - Saying "No" to Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation

- Day 4 - Occult Rituals, Post-test, summary

Five-day time frame:

- Day 1 - Pre-test, AFF videotape, What is a Cult?

- Day 2 - The Harm Cults Can Cause, Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation

- Day 3 - Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation (continued), Saying "No" to Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation

- Day 4 - Saying "No" to Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation (continued)

- Day 5 - Occult Rituals, Post-test, summary


Contents of Student Text

The following topics are covered in the student text. We do not give page numbers, for in a Web version these may vary depending upon your browser.


What is a Cult?

The Harm Cults Can Cause

Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation

Saying "No" to Mind Control and Psychological Manipulation

Occult Rituals

How to Avoid Getting Into a Cult and Getting Involved in Occult Rituals

Supplementary Writing Project


Student Evaluation

Ordering of Additional Materials

We intend to make all of our preventive educational material (except videos) available on our Web site so that teachers, clergy, and others can download the resources free. If, however, you want to purchase printed copies of the material, contact AFF to inquire about availability and prices.