The Controversial School That Will And Jada Pinkett-Smith Started

While Jada Pinkett Smith's "Red Table Talk" revelations and Will Smith's infamous 2022 Oscars slap are likely the first controversies to come to mind when thinking about the couple, they were questioned about something else back in the late aughts and early 2010s. That would be their now-closed school, New Village Leadership Academy.

Per Fox News, Pinkett Smith explained at an event that she'd got the idea to open a school after a number of parents asked for their kids to join the homeschooling lessons she'd been running for her and Will's kids, Jaden and Willow Smith. In 2008, that vision became a reality, when Will leased a campus and New Village Leadership Academy opened its doors. Set to offer students daily, nutritious meals, resources like laptops, and committed to creating a diverse environment, the school seemed like the perfect option for parents looking for alternatives to mainstream education. So, why the controversy? Per The Daily Beast, much of the curriculum was based on "study technology," a method developed by L. Ron Hubbard — aka the founder of Scientology. 

Soon enough, the academy was billed as a Scientology school in headlines, despite both Will and Pinkett Smith repeatedly reiterating that that wasn't the case. Unfortunately, the label was hard to shake, and throughout its five-year run — and even after its closure — the academy continued to be framed as one affiliated to the religion. That said, the real reason the controversial school closed for good was significantly less scandalous. 

The school was criticized for its curriculum

So, New Village Leadership Academy's curriculum was based on L. Ron Hubbard's study technology — but what does that actually mean? According to The Daily Beast, the school's now-defunct website noted that it comprised of hands-on learning, total understanding of one topic before moving to another, and, finally, the concept of "misunderstood word." However, some educators who had been involved with the school weren't major fans of the approach. 

Speaking to the outlet, the former head of school, Jacqueline Olivier shared that in particular, the "misunderstood word" approach — which required children to understand every single word before moving to the next — was holding children back from learning. "I said to Jada ... 'They can't move forward and everything is bogged down. They would have fifth graders reading second-grade material — just one paragraph, because they would stop at every word," she recounted. Another educator speaking to The Daily Beast, frequent guest lecturer Mariappan Jawaharlal, claimed that the children were too often left to their own devices. "There was no structured curriculum ... In the name of 'creativity,' they were just letting the kids do whatever they want," he complained. 

Granted, both Smith and Pinkett Smith have long been open about offering her own children the freedom to think and do what they wanted. And, with the school based on what Pinkett Smith had been teaching Jaden and Willow Smith in home-schooling, even if controversial, this one isn't exactly surprising. 

... but it closed for financial reasons

Despite the concerns over the school's links to L. Ron Hubbard's methodologies and the curriculum itself, it's worth noting that the real reason Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's school shut down in 2013 was for financial reasons. And, according to one former teacher who spoke with The Daily Beast, the couple's approach to providing free education to those who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it was a major contributing factor. "The founders were very open to people being there on scholarship, [and] the teachers were paid really well," Queenie Johnson told the outlet.

Of course, there have been other theories as to why the revenue generated from school fees couldn't cover the academy's costs. Jacqueline Olivier told The Daily Beast that a number of parents removed children from the school over concerns that the curriculum was too closely linked to Scientology. Additionally, an unnamed insider told The National Enquirer that the misunderstood word approach had left some children unable to read properly, well into the sixth grade (via Lipstick Alley). 

Controversies aside, toward the end of New Village Leadership Academy's run, Smith and Pinkett Smith did whatever they could to keep doors open. The school's Facebook page still shows the items being auctioned off as part of a 2013 fundraiser — like shoes worn by Pinkett Smith in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, and tickets to see "After Earth" alongside Will and Jaden Smith. The couple has never addressed the closure.