What's a concerned parent to do?
(also for teachers and community members)
The Gulen Movement has evolved over decades, under a very hostile environment in Turkey. Consequently it has developed some very shrewd tactics. Gulen's followers are very good at exploiting certain weak points in our democratic system and society.
One tactic they have employed with great success whenever allegations of a school's connections to the Movement are raised is to feign innocence, deny any connections, and allege that the people raising questions are Islamophobic, xenophobic, or against diversity. Another tactic is to say that the allegations arise from disgruntled parents or ex-teachers, or competitors who are jealous of their success. Sometimes they try to cast aspersions on the mental stability of the concerned person. They will say that the accusations are baseless. Their trump card is to repeat over and over that their schools are excelling. Americans have an innate bias towards thinking favorably of any school that is apparently excelling in math.
Why do these tactics work so well? There's actually a very easy explanation. Americans are very aware that Islamophobia exists in our society. So, they can easily believe that when someone criticizes a school that has acquired a reputation as excelling, and that just happens to be run by Muslims from another country, they're being Islamophobic. People tend to put new information into already existing frameworks. See "Psychology of Belief" for more on this.
Also, the Gulen Movement's activities in this country are so unlike anything anyone has ever seen before, that they seem almost incredible - as in, literally, not credible, not believable.
But hard-to-believe things do happen, occasionally. And this is one of them.
Here are some suggestions for concerned parents:
(1) Come with the facts. Bring evidence. Don't just say you heard a rumor or read something on somebody's website. Make sure you know the source of all your information.
(2) Some constructive starting points:
- Why is the school administration denying any connection to Gulen when there is so much evidence of a connection?
- Why all the secrecy?
- Who sets school policies? Is it really the Board of Directors and the Principal?
- Why are parents who ask questions being threatened with lawsuits, or being accused of racism or bias?
- Why is it so difficult for parents of special needs students to get the services they are legally entitled to?
- Is it right for a publicly-funded charter school to be run by a religious group, even if there is no overt indoctrination in the curriculum?
- Is it right for a publicly-funded charter school to fail to disclose its affiliations to parents?
- Where are the tax dollars going?
- Why does the school have almost exclusively Gulenist male administrators?
- Why is the school contracting its business to Gulenist businesses?
- Why is the administrative overhead going to Gulenist foundations?
- How much is the school spending on visas, and why?
- Why is information requested in the application form that should have no bearing on admission?
- Why are placement tests requested before a final admission decision is made, rather than after?
- Has anyone actually supervised the entire admission lottery process, in cases where the school says it has a waiting list?
- Why is teacher turnover so high?
- Why the emphasis on Turkish language classes? Would other languages be a higher priority?
- Why aren't the names of the members of the board and the board meeting times and minutes posted on the school website?
- Where are the school's security cameras located, and exactly what are they recording? How long are these recordings kept?
- Why doesn't the school hire a trained, professional counselor to deal with bullying and other issues?
- Why can't the PTO address parents' concerns?
- Are staff members who are simultaneously pursuing a graduate degree truly putting in the effort normally expected of a full-time employee?
- Is the school supporting the graduate education of any of its staff, and if so, why?
- Is it appropriate for teachers' spouses to also be hired by the school?
- How is it that the school claims to barely be able to afford paper for the copy machine, yet the Turkish club has elaborate, expensive costumes?
- Which private individuals are loaning money to the school, and at what interest rate? Why did the school need these loans?
(3) Download and print this 1-page informational flyer (it's a pdf file) which you can hand out to other parents or prospective parents, or to public officials.
(4) Some more ideas for taking action:
- Find out which businesses the school is contracting to or purchasing from, using public records requests if necessary.
- See if the state or local authorities governing the school have conflict of interest policies, prohibitions on related-party deals, and anti-nepotism rules. If so, inform them of violations your research has uncovered.
- Ask if board meeting minutes are public information; if so, request that they be posted on the school website in a timely manner.
- Inquire about state or local requirements for percentages of certified teachers.
- Write letters, do petition drives, or arrange meetings with state legislators to try to change charter school law. Some ideas: require at least 50% of board members to be US citizens; require minimum state or county residency requirements for board members; ask for a mandate that the board include parent members; require all charter school employees to use their legal name spelled exactly as shown on their government-issued ID at all times; require that all providers of goods or services to the school above a certain threshold go through a transparent bidding process.
- Approach your local media about informing the public of the Gulen connection.
- Ask questions about state and local officials going on Gulenist Turkey trips. What was the purpose? Were they disclosed as a gift? Do the trips create a conflict of interest?
(5) Don't fall into the trap. Don't talk about Islam or Muslim indoctrination of students (unless you have very solid evidence, and you probably don't). Don't throw out inflammatory words such as "jihad," "radical," or "Sharia," or mention "possible ties to terrorism," without very good supporting documentation. Don't bring up your own religion or ethnicity as it is irrelevant to the issue at hand as seen by most of the public and by government officials.
Here is why you will get nowhere with trying to call Gulen "radical:"
Here is why you will get nowhere with trying to call Gulen "radical:"
- His publishing company churned out dozens of books on "interfaith dialog."
- He met with Pope John Paul II.
- Bill Clinton mentioned him in a speech, and his followers have successfully courted many other well-known political figures and influential community leaders.
- Much of the literature critical of Gulen is written in Turkish, so it's inaccessible to most Americans.
- A Gulen charter school is currently operating on a US Air Force Base, and most people believe our government would not have allowed this if there were any security threat.