Saturday, June 11, 2011

The New York Times vs Harmony Public Schools

The New York Times has published a lengthy article about some highly concerning financial practices of Texas’s Harmony Schools. The front page piece, which appeared above the fold on June 7, 2011 (and filled over one and one half pages inside), is entitled “Charter Schools Tied to Turkey Grow in Texas.” Written by Stephanie Saul, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, the article has introduced hundreds of thousands of people to the reality that the Gulen movement is deeply, deeply involved in the U.S. charter school business.

In an attempt to control the damage to their operations which will be produced by this long-awaited public transparency, the superintendent of Harmony Public Schools (AKA Cosmos Foundation) responded with the usual Gulenist denial. Soner Tarim's open letter states:
…As we told the Times reporter repeatedly, Harmony Schools…have no affiliation with Fetullah Gulen or the so-called Gulen movement yet the article repeatedly states and implies that such an affiliation exists, based on a composite of innuendo, circumstantial evidence and rumors…The facts are clear:  We do not teach religion at all and we are not affiliated with any movement…
Tarim and Helen Rose Ebaugh – University of Houston professor, movement sympathizer, and regular and probably-well-compensated speaker at Gulen conferences – need to get together so they can get their stories straight. Here’s what Ebaugh said at “Mapping the Gulen Movement,” a 2010 conference sponsored by Dialoog Academie, a Gulenist organization in Amsterdam (@ 11:57 minutes into the YouTube video of her presentation): 
“Do you know in Texas we now have 25 Gulen schools? They’re called charter schools, totally financed by the state, and it’s causing problems...”

The membership of the Gulen movement consists nearly exclusively of Turkish-born individuals. Looking at who runs each of the Texas charter schools listed in the Center for Education Reform’s “National Charter School Directory” (“the only complete and searchable national database of America's operating and approved charter schools”) will reveal that the ONLY group of charter schools being operated in Texas by Turkish-born individuals are those of Harmony Public Schools and its affiliated smaller branch, the School of Science and Technology group.

Superintendent Tarim needs to be made aware that, in United States courtrooms, circumstantial evidence is completely legitimate and sometimes the most powerful. From a legal dictionary:
Circumstantial Evidence is also known as indirect evidence…Circumstantial evidence relates to a series of facts other than the particular fact sought to be proved. The party offering circumstantial evidence argues that this series of facts, by reason and experience, is so closely associated with the fact to be proved that the fact to be proved may be inferred simply from the existence of the circumstantial evidence…

Books, movies, and television often perpetuate the belief that circumstantial evidence may not be used to convict a criminal of a crime. But this view is incorrect…In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that "circumstantial evidence is intrinsically no different from testimonial [direct] evidence"(Holland v. United States, 348 U.S. 121, 75 S. Ct. 127, 99 L. Ed. 150 [1954]). Thus, the distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence has little practical effect in the presentation or admissibility of evidence in trials.
In this case, the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming.

(Side note: Will fuzzy legal information be taught to students at the Harmony School of Political Science and Communication, one of the new over-the-top, palatial schools (with 16-dorm rooms), being built by Solidarity Contracting, one of the Gulen charter school-associated contractors mentioned in the New York Times? Also, the Gulen movement has a history of recruiting members who are using their dormitories, for example, read HERE.)

The people operating Harmony Public Schools are fully aware that people who don’t have adequate information are simply gullible.

Whether Fethullah Gulen’s educational philosophy is the best in the world, or not, is not the issue here, as there has been no wide public disclosure of his philosophy to the American public, nor informed debate or discussion. The primary issue is that this group has been hiding and denying its indisputable affiliation to a controversial Turkish spiritual leader and his teachings. 

Make no mistake. One reason Gulenists are opening their schools around the world is so they can put their spiritual leader's educational philosophy into practice. Parents making their school choices, and all taxpayers, have the right to have this type of information disclosed by the people who are operating these charter schools.

And what is the National Science Teachers Association's position on Fethullah Gulen's educational philosophy and approach?
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), founded in 1944 and headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, is the largest organization in the world committed to promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. NSTA's current membership of 60,000 includes science teachers, science supervisors, administrators, scientists, business and industry representatives, and others involved in and committed to science education.
As far as Gulen's educational philosophy goes, a great deal has been written about it, mostly by, and for, movement insiders. Here are four examples:

1. “Fethullah Gülen’s Philosophy of Education in Practice” by Ruth Woodhall (no date stated, likely 2009). Woodall is a self-proclaimed member of the movement. Excerpts:
But for Gülen, education is not utilitarian; it is integral to his philosophy and religious world view. This world view is naturally shared by many in Turkey (Kalyoncu 2008) The Gülen movement originated as a faith-based with a strong cultural identity, but its educational and cultural projects are spreading into regions where world views have neither Turkic nor Islamic roots…

Gülen’s educational philosophy derives from his faith, and for him scientific and religious knowledge are essential and complementary parts of the same whole. Gülen movement participants support this synthesis of rational and religious knowledge. Consequently, Gülen-inspired schools value science and mathematics. Most of these schools have excellent computer technology and science laboratories.

When writing about the qualities of a good school Gülen blends metaphors of science and spirituality and reminds us of the hereafter…

…Nevertheless, observers sometimes remark on a lack of women in higher and more visible administrative posts in the movement (Stephenson 2007:150–1). Some women in the movement give the ban on the head-covering as one reason for not aspiring to visible roles, such as principal, which would involve representing the school in public…

This importance given to the development of the individual in the movement leads to teachers and administrators dedicating extra hours to free after-school and weekend lessons for individuals or small groups…

Teachers’ altruism is not confined to sacrificing their time for students. They also make considerable financial sacrifices. Many teachers also sponsor students for part or all of their tuition…
*Schools outside of the U.S. are private, meaning tuition and scholarship based.

2. “The Urgency of Educational Reform in the United States of America: Lessons Learned from Fethullah Gülen” by Sheryl L. Santos. Santos, like Ebaugh, is a Gulen movement sympathizer who regularly presents at Gulen conferences. This paper was presented in November 2006 at the “Second International Conference on Islam in the Contemporary World: The Fethullah Gülen Movement in Thought and Practice.” Excerpt:
Desiring to contribute to educational reform in the United States, I believe that there are lessons to be learned from the works of Fethullah Gülen that can, and should specifically, be applied to schools in America.  Obviously, many of the Güleninspired schools and academies are private institutions that can expel students who do not meet the expected standards. Two of these private schools are Brooklyn Amity School ( ) and Pioneer School in New York.  Nevertheless, I believe that all public schools, including public charter schools serving a diversity of students, can benefit from the prototype and the philosophical underpinnings of Güleninspired schools.
Fethullah Gülen, a younger contemporary of Nursi, was inspired by the Risale-i Nur, and so also promoted the harmony between science and religion. He sees scientific education and Islamic education as compatible and complementary. Although he was educated in traditional institutions, he has urged his sympathizers to open modern schools rather than traditional madrasas and mosques. For him, as with Nursi, an ideal education combines modern science with Islamic knowledge. Scientific knowledge without religion could lead to atheism, while religious knowledge without science could lead to bigotry and fanaticism. When combined, they urge a student to research further, and deepen both his belief and knowledge ( Kuru, 2003:120; Yilmaz, 2005: 203-204).
He argues that science and technology cannot explain the meaning and the purpose of life, and they may be harmful for humankind if unjust and irresponsible people manipulate them. Science can neither provide true happiness nor replace the role of religion. Moreover, he emphasizes that the development of physics in the twentieth century shook positivist science (Kuru, 2003: 120)
But unlike Nursi, Gülen promoted this harmony through schools all over the world. This did not imply the Islamization of knowledge as we know it today. There was no attempt to infuse Islamic elements into the secular curriculum. All he wanted was for committed Muslim teachers to excel in the sciences. Through education they could “raise a generation both deeply rooted in Islam and able to participate in the modern scientific world. He aspires to create an educated elite within the Islamic umma in general and within the Turkish nature in particular” (Agai, 2003: 50)…
In summarizing Gülen’s views, we can say that the primary reason for the Qur’an’s interest in the science of nature and other sciences is that God wants to invite man to know Him. If the Qur’an repeatedly calls upon humans to study creation, it is because God wants them to study it for the sake of knowing the Creator. Gülen strongly believes this whole approach of the Qur’an to science needs to be properly understood, because in this spiritual approach lies the real basis for a harmonious and fruitful relationship between religion and science…

Gulen’s views are significant for the contemporary world in a number of respects. First, in insisting that science not be separated from religion, Gülen takes a firm intellectual position against ideological secularism understood in its strictest sense. The idea of the secularization of knowledge pursued to its logical conclusion would be incompatible with Islamic conceptions and theories of knowledge that are rooted in the teachings of the Qur’an. In particular, that idea would go against Gülen’s belief that “science should not be studied independently of the Qur’an.” The ongoing intellectual discourse on “Islamization of knowledge” in many parts of the Muslim world, Turkey included, can only be fully appreciated if one understands Islam’s insistence on harmonious conceptual relations between the science of God and the sciences of the natural and human worlds. The Islamization of knowledge may be seen as a serious attempt by contemporary Muslims to restore the philosophical conceptual link between theology and the sciences that has been severed and the traditional unity of knowledge that was shattered by the modern secularization of knowledge…

To any reasonable mind, there can be no doubt that the Harmony Public Schools and the Gulen movement are affiliated.

PS: The movement's involvement in charter schools is only one part of its activities here. To learn about where else they are involved, see the website, "A Guide to the Gulen Movement's Activities in the U.S."


Michael Fiorillo said...

To my knowledge, the Perimeter Primate was the first person to warn of this. Thank you for your efforts; you should have received some credit from the Times.

CarolineSF said...

I think the public gets really confused about this. At least speaking for myself, here's my view:

1. I support freedom of religion, including the Gulen movement's right to spread its views.
2. But NOT with public money in supposedly public schools!

Anonymous said...

i am a harmony student i go to harmony school of innovation on glenmont drive in san antonio texas i am almost 16 and the teachers are all mostly substitutes or turkish teachers what scares me the most is when they touch the little girls over there if you guys can please help me rid this school harmony is 100 percent a terible school and the curiculum is terible just im very sick of the teachers well vice principle mr kendurchi touching all these little girls. thanks u sincerely - anonymous