Influencing public school curricula
Page created Oct 7, 2012
At first glance, they seem like great ideas for enriching our classrooms: school superintendents, teachers and students traveling abroad; native speakers helping with language curricula; natives from other countries providing material for history or geography lessons. But what if behind these ideas lies a group with an agenda?
The Gulen Movement has been working to influence public school curricula in several states, not only through its own charter schools, but also in other districts. It also escorts students, teachers and district school superintendents on free or heavily subsidized Turkey trips - the same type of Turkey trips used to impart the Gulenist view of Turkey and the Gulen Movement onto our politicians, as well as journalists, academics and other influential people.
Volunteers in classrooms - are they qualified? And what's their agenda?
Gulenist volunteers show up in classrooms and "teach" about Turkey - but are they giving the students a well-rounded view, or is it tainted with propaganda? "I learned that Turkey has many religions and the people live in peace," 6th grader Joshua B. was quoted as saying after Erkan Acar and Harun Gultekin visited his school in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 2009 (link). Acar's and Gultekin's affiliations with the Gulen Movement are clear. The Pocono Record said Acar lives at the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center (photo album; date not given), the same center where Fethullah Gulen himself resides. Gultekin has translated one of Gulen's books. Both Acar and Gultekin have written articles for the quintessentially Gulenist Fountain Magazine, and Acar was involved in several events at Marywood University that were sponsored by Gulenist organizations. Furthermore, in 2012 Acar completed his doctoral dissertation at Marywood University, entitled "A case study of a Gulen-inspired school in the US."
Did 6th grader Joshua emerge from his "lesson" on Turkey better- or worse-informed? Saying that "the people live in peace" in Turkey glosses over the ongoing Kurdish conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives in recent decades, is the single most worrisome issue the nation faces, and is nowhere near resolution. Turkey, like any country in the world, "has many religions" (so does Saudi Arabia) but according to a 2009 Pew Report, the percentage of Muslims is around 98%. To characterize Turkey as a country that "has many religions" without noting the overwhelming dominance of one of them is misleading. Life for Alevis, Jews, Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities has not always been peaceful, as shown by violent incidents such as the Sivas massacre of 1993 and the Istanbul Pogrom of 1955. In March 2012, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom issued its annual report, in which Turkey was downgraded from the USCIRF's "watch list" to its list of "countries of particular concern" (link). A report by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada dated June 1, 2012 states that "Several sources indicate that historically and at present Alevis have been the focus of discrimination...The article in Turkish Studies indicates that historically the Sunni majority has been, and continues to be, responsible for the suppression of the Alevi minority..." (link). A Sep 2011 article in the New York Times entitled "Turkey's Elephant in the Room: Religious Freedom" quoted a prominent Alevi leader as saying "Turkey may look like a secular state on paper, but in terms of international law it is actually a Sunni Islamic state." Of course, there are positive aspects about Turkey as well. Nevertheless, the uncanny similarity of Joshua's sum-up statement to the impression of Turkey that Gulenists work so hard to convey to Americans - that it is a utopia of religious tolerance, freedom and peace where the Kurdish conflict barely exists - is concerning.
After Turkey trips, Austin school district officials push Turkish programs in schools
A July 13, 2011 article in the Austin American-Statesman reported that "A Turkish group with possible connections to a growing charter school system that has raised eyebrows among some conservative state lawmakers is working with the Austin school district on a Turkish language program at a handful of Austin schools."
The article said these plans came after Austin school Superintendent Meria Carstarphen traveled to Turkey with a group of other Austin district administrators and teachers on a trip sponsored by the Raindrop (a.k.a. Rain Drop) Foundation.
"The district said that University of Texas assistant research professor Yetkin Yildirim — an outreach representative for the Raindrop Foundation , the Turkish group that is helping to finance the program — has been working with the district since last year to offer Turkish in one unit of study in the exploratory language programs in the 2011-12 school year at Byker Woods Elementary School and O. Henry and Martin middle schools."
Note that Yetkin Yildirim and the Raindrop/Rain Drop Foundation have numerous connections to the Gulen Movement.
The Austin American-Statesman continues: "The Raindrop Foundation may help the district develop a curriculum and would pay a Turkish teacher's part-time salary, about $27,500 annually, and benefits for three years . As was the case with the trip to Turkey, no district funding will be used for the program, Austin school district officials stressed. The district, however, will supply resources such as a computer, supplies and professional development."
What qualifications does the Raindrop/Rain Drop Foundation have to develop curricula for our public schools? Given the track record of the Gulen Movement for misinformation, deception, and self-promoting propaganda, this idea should cause alarm to all parents and citizens.
Other school districts have been approached
The website of the Raindrop Turkish House refers to overtures made to other Texas school districts: "October 6, 2010, Houston’s Raindrop Turkish House hosted a lunch with the members of Alief ISD including Gina Tomas, Interim Superintendent, Dr. Sue Page, Area Superintendent and Susan Castro, Director of Communications & Public Relations. At the lunch, Mehmet Okumus, the president of Raindrop Turkish House, gave a presentation ...Specifically, he invited the guests and teachers and students at schools of Alief ISD to the 4th Annual Turkic Cultures and Children’s Festival. The officials offered help in disseminating the information within schools. Possible future cooperation between Raindrop Turkish House and Alief ISD in offering Turkish courses within Alief ISD was another topic of discussion."
Another post, dated Dec 2, 2010: "San Antonio Raindrop Turkish House executives, with the president of Raindrop Turkish House Mehmet Okumus, visited Northside Independent School District (NISD) superintendent Dr. John Folks at his office in San Antonio. Dr.John Folks was informed about the upcoming events of Raindrop Turkish in SanAntonio. The visit conversation was included offering Turkish classes at NISD, encouraging student to attend the essay contest organized by Raindrop Turkish House and inviting NISD administrators to a intercultural dialog trip to Turkey. Dr. Folks also confirmed his attendance to a luncheon program, that will be held in the Raindrop Turkish House, San Antonio."
It all sounds innocuous - until it is noted that the Raindrop Turkish House is not just a "cultural" organization, it is a political lobbying group.
Contests: another tactic to get students, teachers, and officials on Turkey trips
On April 2, 2012, Charleston Currents (a South Carolina news outlet) reported on a student who won a Gulenist contest: "Wando High School senior Devan R. Walsh won a trip to Turkey this summer after placing first in an art contest offered by the South Carolina Dialogue Foundation. ....Not only will Walsh get a trip to Turkey from the contest, but the foundation also offers a trip for her teacher, Mary Catherine Middleton, and the school district superintendent."
The Athens Banner-Herald in Georgia reported a similar case on April 7, 2010:
"Skinner penned essays for a variety of writing competitions, one of which was sponsored by the Atlanta-based Istanbul Center, a nonprofit organization that seeks to develop education, culture, dialogue and humanitarian activities. The prize for contest winners was a 10-day trip to Turkey for the winner, a chosen teacher and the school district superintendent." The Istanbul Center is Gulen-affiliated.
These are just two examples; Gulenist organizations regularly hold such contests.
Should school superintendents be allowed to accept free trips while in office? How do we know these trips are not influencing decisions about our schools? It is already known that Gulenist organizations are pushing for Turkish classes in district schools. The following quote is from the website of the Turkish Cultural Center of Tampa Bay, a Gulenist organization: "Turkish has been offered as an elective for middle and high school students in the State curriculum of Florida and Georgia in the last two years with the efforts of these centers." The centers referred to here are Turkish Cultural Centers in the Southeast run by the Gulen Movement. Why Turkish, when many other languages have greater importance economically or in terms of number of speakers? Shouldn't the choice of language electives in our schools be based on what our children really need and what parents want, rather than being influenced by lobbyists?
There is no such thing as a free trip, or a free curriculum; an agenda always lies behind them. Our schools should not accept "free curricula" from lobbying or special interest groups. Curricula should be developed by qualified personnel and then properly vetted before use in the classroom.