Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Religion On The March In Charter World

Way, way too busy to write--- and believe me, for a writer, that's painful---but I would like to point out that the Sun Times, as usual, is fearless in reporting about the various and sundry charternanigans that are so common, yet so counter-narrative and therefore not discussable in polite company.

First of all, Dan Mihalopoulous recently unearthed the fact that UNO paid a $150k settlement to the PE teacher who was arbitrarily fired by Juan Rangel. I'd say the teacher settled for way, way too little. This was the incident where the PE teacher was supposed to be monitoring both the gym, the boys' locker-room, and evidently also the girls' locker-room, as well as teaching PE, but found himself capable of being in only one place at a time. A boy was victimized in the boys' locker-room, and the teacher had the gall and temerity to report it.

This culture of being arbitrarily punished for doing the right thing? It's what Rahm Emanuel would refer to as the "secret sauce." Fred posted some observations on Rangel and the rest of this sad episode.

As an aside, I've been trying to pull together financials, but it's not easy in the charter world. So at this point it's conjecture, but I don't see how UNO survives financially beyond 2015-16 without some kind of manna from Springfield. We'll see. Maybe the Commercial Club will put out some new research about exactly how much taxpayer money is going to service very expensive private debt.

Second, Becky Schlickerman filed a story about the church and state issue with the new Moody Bible charter school group scheduled to open in Austin in 2015. Apparently, a DC group working on the church/state issue is indicating it might sue if the school actually comes online. The church group is taking the position that the bible stuff is after school and therefore they're not crossing a line. Here's the defense:
“I think it’s unfortunate that we are being singled out for this type of an action. I think everyone who starts a charter school has a belief system whether they are Muslim or Buddhist or agnostic or atheist,” said Michael Rogers, executive director of Chicago Education Partnership and a leader at By the Hand. “I don’t . . . recall this group attacking any other charter operators for their belief system.”

I call bullsh*t. It's an obvious blurring of a line that doesn't need to be blurred. If the Board and administration of the public school where I now work suddenly announced it was sponsoring a Christian Bible after-school program, I hope someone would sue.  Rogers' assertion that the group's objection is based on the fact that the charter operators have "a belief system" and that everyone has a belief system, is absurd and childish. It's a religious group running a religious program that wants to connect it to a public school.

There is a analogous assertion sometimes made in the Gulen-linked charter school world, which I have written extensively about. The Gulen-linked charter schools are connected directly to a religious movement, one that is not commonly known here in the States but which is rooted in a specific Islamic theology.  The people organizing these schools sometimes suggest that a few people connected to the schools might possibly have been somehow "influenced" by the Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen. But a closer examination, as we have made on these pages, reveals that the Gulen Movement is in fact indistinguishable from the Gulen-linked charter school network. It is in fact a network of people gathered around a specific religious sect, one that sees science and technology as an instrument of faith in Islam, and that with diligence, secrecy, and perseverance, a "Golden Generation" of youth can be molded to bring about "the Islamification of modernity" with a special emphasis on the critical importance of Turkey in the big picture.

More power to both of these groups; I'm a great fan of religious impulses; it's just that I think public education in the United State ought to be kept out of it. There are so many high quality, accredited private religious schools in our country; I think these charter operators ought to be playing by the same rules. 

For me personally, the religious aspect of the Moody-linked charter is my primary objection. In the Gulen-linked schools, the political aspect is my primary objection, although I think people need to be clear-minded about the religious aspect, as well.

Speaking of, we're working on a bunch of posts here, but just as a preview, here's a couple observations from a recent Gulen-linked charter school event (the rest of this pending post is waiting for legal review, believe it or not):


 We're only a few weeks away from the Turkish Olympiad, during which event last year, Mr. Gulen appeared on the big screen to deliver his message to the assembled contestants from throughout the worldwide network of Gulen-linked schools, including the American charter schools; it's an event that I have written about at length in attempt to sketch out the religious context in which all of this is taking place.

Locally, our Concept charter students recently participated in one of the qualifying competitions for this Olympiad, and some of the videos of that event are now posted. They're in a bit of a catch-22 situation; they've learned not to include the names of the charter schools in the videos because people tracking these things will point it out, and yet, leaving out the names seems evasive. I understand their dilemma. But it isn't difficult to figure out which performance groups are from the charter schools, and which are from the private religious schools. So for now, enjoy one of the performances from these CMSA kids, who do a very fine job, even if they didn't win. Folk dancing is fun, I openly admit it.


The CMSA kids have no idea about the political and religious context of the event that all this is leading to; they're just kids at a school event, dancing up a Turkish storm. On the other hand, some of the school's employees have a different understanding of the larger audience; one in particular (a veteran of a number of Gulen-linked schools) was eager the next day to share pictures on Twitter, sending a tweet to the Washington correspondent of the Gulenist media flagship, Zaman.   As I've written before, the Turkish Olympiad and its preceding events are one of the central elements in the worldwide campaign to burnish the image of the Movement and its leader,* which is probably why one of the CMSA's coaches was reaching out to the Gulen Movement's media arm rather than, say, The Pioneer Press, or whatever they have in Rosemont.

I've written time and time again about the connections between the Gulen Movement and these charter schools, and I'll be writing more about this particular festival, but case you missed the point, it's this: even one of the school's employees at the event was out on social media trying to get the attention of Fethullah Gulen's media arm during the event. Nothing wrong with that, but really? There's no connection between the schools and the Movement?

Incidentally, there was an odd moment during the month before the competition when the organizers send out this rather odd tweet, quoting Marcus Garvey.

I can see an organic connection between Garvey's observation and the circumstances the Turkish children attending private religious schools might find themselves, but for most of the Concept charter school kids, Turkish folk dancing isn't about connecting people to their past, unless you have a very, very expanded idea of what Turkishness is, or secret knowledge of  what's in the kids' hearts and minds

Once you start looking long and hard at the theology, you start to see how it fits.

I'm working on a post about the two separate Turkish expat communities--- one which is essentially secular, promoting Turkish folk arts and Turkish cultural awareness through a Saturday school program;  and the other one, this one, which is run by the politically savvy, highly secretive transnational social/religious/political Gulen Movement and which includes the charter schools as well as the political operation that has successfully reeled in so many Illinois policymakers, including at least four we didn't know about until recently.

Much more later.

*There's an excellent chapter on this topic in Joshua Hendrick's G├╝len: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World (See p. 197.)

New to the topic? Please see some of my previous posts.

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