An odd mix, yes? Let’s bring you up to speed.
According to its website, Harmony Public Schools operates 25 K-12 college preparatory charter schools, with more than 12,000 students in all, that focus on math, science, engineering and computer technologies. These schools have received substantial praise for student achievement from the Texas Education Agency, recognition by former President George W. Bush and numerous other Republican elected officials, and major funding from mainstream foundations, including the Dell and Gates Foundations.
Nevertheless, a newly formed group called West Texas Patriots is questioning the opening of a new Harmony Science Academy in Odessa this fall. The group’s members claim that the schools have ties to radical Islam, noting links between the foundation that funds the schools and Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim and intellectual (who actually lives in northeastern Pennsylvania). Gulen appears to be a controversial figure (to some people, anyway), but there doesn’t seem to be sufficient evidence to support the charge that he is an “Islamic extremist.”
And who are the West Texas Patriots? The group appears to be little different from countless “Tea party” groups that have sprouted across the country. From the group’s website:
“Every day we learn of some new scheme or infringement to strip us of our rights as citizens of the United States and we are here to take our Country back from the liars, thieves, deceivers, foreign and domestic enemies. We cannot sit idly by and watch this Country deteriorate any more.”
Patriot member Michelle Fowler says her organization believes there may be a plan by radical Muslims to use Harmony schools to infiltrate the United States and indoctrinate children. The CBS affiliate in Odessa, KOSA, could find no information to verify Ms. Fowler’s charge. The KOSA reporter also asked about a U.S. News & World Report ranking of Harmony schools as among the best high schools in the nation. Fowler was unmoved: “Well, to be honest, I don’t really believe that much in the media.”
In any case, the Islamic/Harmony threat is real to Ms. Fowler and her fellow Patriots. Fowler told another reporter: “(L)ook at the Chinese people. They took over lots of countries without invading.”
The Texas Freedom Network takes no side on this issue — we think most parents and local school officials can make reasoned decisions based on facts and research from respected sources. But we find the Harmony issue rather ironic from at least two perspectives.
First, most conservative leaders in Texas have been strong advocates of charter schools even though many such schools have been academic and fiscal disasters. Now a far-right group is targeting a group of charter schools that actually seems to have a respectable academic track record. Second, we wonder why the West Texas Patriots have yet to protest a far more pressing threat to the education of public school students in Texas — the politicization of curriculum standards by ideologues on the State Board of Education who reject the work of classroom teachers, scholars and other experts.