Gülen’s Dialogue on Education: A Caravanserai of Ideas


Date posted: January 16, 2014

A new book has recently came out – Gülen’s Dialogue on Education: A Caravanserai of Ideas. Professor Tom Gage portrays eight modern educators and the development of their theories viewed from personal, cultural, and historical perspectives. He links their ideas to those of Fethullah Gülen, a highly influential educator of today who draws on an entirely different tradition. The book was published by Cune Press at Smashwords.

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In a most engaging narrative style, Professor Tom Gage portrays eight modern educators and the development of their theories viewed from personal, cultural, and historical perspectives. He links their ideas to those of Fethullah Gülen, a highly influential educator of today who draws on an entirely different tradition.

Open-minded, yet with strong commitments of his own, Gage ably transcends cultural barriers to compare Gülen and educators of the western ‘canon.’ The result is to reduce the potential for alienation between practitioners of different traditions and to increase the likelihood of fruitful cooperation.

Tom Gage’s balanced, well-structured, and immensely readable account comprises a thorough scholarly contribution to culture, education, community service, and resources for global understanding and peaceful coexistence.

— Muhammed Cetin, PhD is the author of The Gülen Movement: Civic Service without Borders and Hizmet: Questions and Answers on the Hizmet Movement

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This sweeping work reminds us of the achievements of the West’s great educational thinkers and connects them to Gülen’s ideas and accomplishments that have arisen in the east and have spread throughout the world.

— Dr Paul M. Rogers, George Mason University

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In an extraordinarily rich and ambitious work, Professor Tom Gage compares, and at times contrasts, the educational theories of Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish Sufi scholar and theologian, to those of a spate of modern educational theorists, among them Jean Piaget, Marie Montesori, John Dewey, Benjamin Bloom, Alexander Maslow, Kurt Hahn, Lem Vgotsky, Albert Bandura, and James Moffett.

Gülen, chosen in 2013 by Time magazine as one of the most influential leaders in the world, believes that parents and teachers should serve as role models of ethical principles and spiritual values. Gülen’s influence has been profound: His followers have founded non-denominational schools in 140 countries, including the United States, in which students are implicitly taught moderation, cooperation, and moral values. One can find no better introduction to the educational beliefs of Fethullah Gülen and no better review of the theories of modern educational theorists than Gülen’s Dialogue and Education Caravanserai.

—Dr. Edmund J. Farrell, Professor Emeritus of English Education, The University of Texas at Austin 

Click here ti buy the book. 

Introduction

From Averroes to Voltaire and Kant to Gülen: Exchanges in a Caravanserai of Ideas

Viewing the Otogar on the Asian side of the Bosporus, one can imagine beneath its present activities an ancient Turkish caravanserai. Here is a palimpsest of history where merchants converge, as they have converged since Homer, to await arrival of Europe-bound ferries. This caravanserai has been transformed beyond immediate recognition by modernity and celerity. Busses, cars, vendors, and pedestrians await, some out of the rain munching on sesame-encrusted simits, others thumbing through newspapers, still others helping the crippled traverse barriers of this temporary sanctuary, a refuge that in its past offered shelter, rest, sustenance, and community before the next stage of life’s journey.

Now, from a satellite in Space, view Earth:

A doctor performing free cardiac surgery in Kenya.

An architect designing a school building for refugee children in Darfur.

A woman organizing community efforts to provide aid to Haitian victims of the earthquake.

A student from humble background becoming world champion in the International Physics Olympiad.

An educator teaching in perilous conditions in Afghanistan.

A plumbing manufacturer from South East Turkey financing a school in Cambodia.

An entrepreneur committing resources and time to support a conference in Holland at which scholars of many countries deliver papers on violence and peaceful reconciliation.

A newly built school in Southeast Turkey north of the Iraq border with teachers instructing Kurdish youths, some of whose older siblings recruited by terrorist groups.

A poor student from rural Black Sea, who arrived in Istanbul lacking academic skills, receiving assistance that helped him to transition into university, and who is now completing his PhD in American literature.

The informed space traveler would know that M. Fethullah Gülen inspired these social, cultural, charitable, and educational activities, the latter of which is the subject of this book.

Fethullah Gülen

Yes, Gülen over the last four decades has inspired people to actualize the objectives portrayed in these vistas of a Hizmet caravanserai. First in Turkey and then throughout the world, dedicated people have chosen not to pursue the highest paying jobs but to address needs and then to secure funding from the business community and philanthropists for projects to address those needs. This combination of will and funding serve many of the older functions of a caravanserai, shelter, sanctuary, safety, and sociability during life’s transit. Turks and those from countries beyond Anatolia hearing and reading the words of this intellectual have become committed as aksiyon insanları to benefit today’s global commonweal.

The word Hizmet translates in English as “service.” Both Dr Helen Rose Ebaugh and Dr Muhammed Çetin have enumerated a range of enterprises from radio stations to cooperatives, disaster relief organizations, health therapy, banking, and building construction, all recipients of the wisdom of this Turkish mentor to help, care for, shelter, inform, reconcile, finance, and educate in the spirit of caravanserai. It is likely that because of these activities an international survey in 2008 ranked Gülen the world’s number one living intellectual and in 2013 Time included him as one of a hundred most influential persons alive.

In his seventies, this philosophical theologian, influenced by Sufism, has spent much of his career encouraging the establishment of new schools and reformation of education in Turkey to become more responsive to and integrated with local communities. Dr B. Jill Carroll situates Gülen in the humanistic tradition by juxtaposing his thoughts on education, freedom, responsibility, the ideal human, inherent human value, and moral dignity with those of Confucius, Plato, Kant, Sartre, and Mill.5 Some critics fear that education and curriculum inspired by a Muslim might advance religion but such assertions have been soundly refuted (Solberg, 2005). Others have found that these schools worldwide, though inspired by an imam, are neither Islamic nor religious: “Instead, they are secular private schools inspected by state authorities and sponsored by parents and entrepreneurs. They follow secular, state-prescribed curriculum and internationally recognized programs.”

During the early decades of the Turkish Republic, religion was severely restricted in a nation whose vast majority were Muslims, with Orthodox, Jewish, and Christian Arab minorities. For all sectarian groups, the Kemalists, following Ataturk, centralized an education bureaucracy in Ankara, where governance, certification, accreditation, licensing, and teacher training emanated from the Capital. At first private religious schools were forbidden. The state, rather than the local community, extended its authority, in loco status, with schools having no autonomy or local authority to influence curriculum or hiring teachers. Separate from education, the state governed religion, appointing imams and determining where mosques were constructed, a secular policy deriving from Jacobin France of 19th Century called laicism (lay control). This is quite unlike the policy and practice of division of church and state in the US. In recent years Turkish education has moved away from Francophone hierarchy toward the US traditional model.

Gülen’s influence is clearly evident in the evolving status of and respect for education and teachers in Turkey. As in America, teaching had not been as respected as most white-collar vocations, and, therefore, few of Turkey’s superior students had selected education for careers. In the wake of Gülen’s discourses, however, an increased number of students today have become or are aspiring to be educators, and the career choice has greatly risen in prestige. So popular are Gülen’s editorials, sermons, and essays that a palpable increase of college students choosing teaching as a career has effected demographics. The increase of applicants into teacher preparation and education training programs in Turkey has resulted in a rise of admission standards that reaches levels of qualifications demanded of engineering schools and nearly of medical schools.

In the last two decades in Turkey, nondenominational, private Güleninspired schools have become an option for Turkish parents. The curriculum of these, as elsewhere in over 200 countries, conforms to the nation’s criteria and credentialing requirements. Gülen-inspired schools must operate within the policies of state guidelines, whether they are in Australia, the US, the Philippines, or Kosovo, another nation composed of a vast majority of Muslims, though whose educational governance is strictly laical.

Gülen emphasizes the need for a holistic model of education and on the crucial role that education can play in serving humanity and working toward intercultural dialogue and world peace. Gülen sees the lack of moral guidance as a critical weakness of curriculums in many contemporary schools. To address this shortcoming, he believes that teachers should be role models for their students, giving “due importance to all aspects of a person’s mind, spirit, and self.” This does not mean eschewing academic learning; quite the contrary, teachers at Gülen-inspired schools are encouraged to integrate disciplines with ethical behavior by teaching the former while modeling the latter. Gülen shares with many educators the belief that schools have put too much emphasis on testable knowledge, leaving little time for moral guidance and other increasingly neglected aspects of an education.

Gülen’s ideal learning environment consists of groups of students in classrooms, in which teachers and students are able to foster close relationships. Such relationships will help students to participate actively and to think critically through dialogue by creating healthy discussions of ideas. To ensure that tolerance and diversity of thought is present in classrooms, Gülen proposes that schools enroll students from varied cultural and economic backgrounds, for such a variety of voices, after democratic give and take, facilitates collaboration for working with all toward common goals and, ultimately, world peace. In Bosnia, both Serbian and Croatian children attend with predominantly Muslim children in Güleninspired schools to work side by side in classrooms, a policy fulfilled elsewhere like the Philippine and Turkish School of Tolerance in war torn Mindanao.

Gülen has observed that students from homes where parents promote learning and take responsibility for the education of their children are far more likely to succeed than students whose parents leave that responsibility entirely to educators. He encourages parents to create a healthy home environment by modeling and encouraging positive behavior and pursuit of knowledge. Gülen often has asserted “although knowledge is a value in itself, the purpose of learning is to make knowledge a guide in life. Teachers who have read Gülen or are teaching among others inspired by his insight at schools provide curricular lessons relevant to the lives of their students.

Gülen believes that in addition to students’ learning cognitively from curriculums, they must become passionate and enthusiastic—a word etymologically signifying spirituality. Along with knowledge these two attributes are equally important components of a child and adolescent’s development into responsible adulthood. Gülen advances, “Humans are creatures composed not only of a body and a mind, or feelings and a spirit; rather, we are harmonious compositions of all these elements. Each of us is a body writhing in a network of needs; but this is not all, we also posses a mind that has more subtle and vital needs than the body, and each of us is driven by anxieties…21

The subject of the initial chapter, John Dewey amplifies the aforesaid insights:

Impulse is needed to arouse thought, incite reflection and enliven belief. But only thought notes obstructions, invents tools, conceives aims, directs technique… Thought is born as the twin of impulse in every moment of impeded habit. But unless it is nurtured, it speedily dies, and habit and instinct continue their civil warfare. There is instinctive wisdom in the tendency of the young to ignore the limitations of the environment. Only thus can they discover their own power and learn the differences in different kinds of environing limitations. But this discovery when once made marks the birth of intelligence; and with its birth comes the responsibility of the mature to observe, to recall, to forecast. Every moral life has its radical ism; but this radical factor does not find its full expression in direct action but in the courage of intelligence to go deeper than either tradition or immediate impulse goes.22

Gülen, like Dewey, envisioned every human as a whole composed of dynamic tensions—of impulse, instincts, and thought accreting from unconscious toward consciousness that amount over the years as reasoned wisdom. Relatedly, yaqin, a crucial thesis of Gülen’s, is addressed in chapters that follow, specifically those devoted to Dewey (Chapter 1), Montessori (Chapter 2), and Bloom (Chapter 7). Gülen believes the levels of observation, experience, and certitude should be fostered and facilitated by family and schools. A balanced approach will prepare students to lead a commendable life and contribute positively to society. Therefore, students should be exposed to ethical dilemmas in classrooms, and they should also be able to put their developing moral standards to practice in interactions with their school community. The emphasis that Gülen places on educating the whole person stems from his belief that “a community’s well-being depends on idealism and morality, as well as on being able to attain sufficiently adequate scientific and technological knowledge and skills.” Yet communities have histories that differ in every nation.

In contrast to the Republic of Turkey as cited above, Americans traditionally have assigned the responsibility to govern schools in local community boards. The Latin phrase in loco parentis embodies a principle that the parents of children accept the school as proxy. As the US is a comparatively religious nation, the First Amendment to the Constitution protects not only the freedom of assembly and the freedom to practice a religion of one’s choice in every community, but implicitly the Amendment protects freedom from having religion imposed upon a person by any community. Secularism, as practiced by local control in the US, has not condoned ostracizing religion nor approved of imposing the majority religion upon students. By contrast, France and the Republic of Turkey of the past endorse a very different concept of secularism, a strict laical policy that subordinates religion to the State, a State that appoints heads of sectarian communities.

In nations that host Gülen-inspired schools, there can be private, secular, tuition-funded schools and public schools governed under the auspices of boards of trustees. There are fewer than a half dozen private schools in the US but more than a hundred public schools that benefit from the service of dedicated teachers, some of whom have read and are inspired by Gülen’s theories. These services range from tutoring, to offering special classes in language or mathematics, to innovative schools that realize the goals and objectives of the community and the State.

Gülen has attained prominence by composing essays, delivering lectures, consulting, and writing editorials. His remarks pertaining to education are embedded in rhetorical genres of sermons or inspirational essays, cultural genres appropriated for specific audiences and occasions and not necessarily to those in search of concrete objectives for curriculum or pedagogy. Gülen has not addressed himself specifically to pedagogy and curriculum but generally to a holistic approach to life, of which education is an inseparable component. His words serve as inspirational guides to educators who, subsequently, educate in elementary, secondary, and higher education. But no one “teaches Gülen.”

Gülen and International Foundations of Modern Education

This volume explores the educational philosophies, research, and pedagogies of the some of the most prominent twentieth century educators and practitioners of the West, who in turn have been influenced by three millennia of global interaction. Each chapter relates ideas on education to those of Gülen from Anatolia, a global crossroad. The subjects of each chapter are the following: the American John Dewey (Chapter 1), the Italian Maria Montessori (Chapter 2), the Russian Lev Vygotsky (Chapter 3), the German Kurt Hahn (Chapter 4), the Swiss Jean Piaget (Chapter 5), the Canadian Albert Bandura (Chapter 6), also from America Benjamin Bloom (Chapter 7) and James Moffett (Chapter 8), and a number of international scholars associated with social constructionism (Chapter 9). Cumulatively, these chapters blend with the thoughts of this Turkish scholar in exploring how children learn and how educators, schools, and curriculum can best facilitate their education.

The ongoing research on children’s intellectual and emotional development throughout the last century has resulted in a rich and vigorous dialogue on how education can best serve the economically and culturally diverse student populations of the early twenty-first century. The comparisons of convictions and findings in this volume will provide readers with insights not only into current educational research but also into the Hizmet Movement and its ongoing growth and influence on education around the world.

These thinkers, by and large, concur with Gülen on how to provide pre-college level students with meaningful education. They believe in the power of education to help shape young men and women into compassionate, thoughtful, and productive members of society. They believe that methods reflecting the best ways to interest, include, and develop children should be promoted in classroom practices and lessons. They recognize the need for a holistic educational model that includes physical activity and a moral component.

The discussions of this volume aim to inform those unfamiliar with Gülen’s work how his writing intersects with Western foundational scholarship. This scholarship and research have constituted, and constitutes, the grounds for pre-service teacher training institutions and of in-service staff development in Western countries. Gülen’s thoughts on education in English are dispersed among the following titles: M. Fethullah Gülen: Essays-Perspectives-Opinions, Sufism, Pearls of Wisdom, and Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance. In the title chapter of his book of essays The Statue of Our Souls, Gülen identifies as sculptors of a better world parents, educators, business leaders, and community leaders. He believes that all persons are born with the potential and capacity to develop and, in the case of some, to reach a level of being builders of that better world. Those achieving this state have acquired competencies through study, obtained by personal will and by family guidance, and by a culture that complements personal will and family with its education system.

The reader residing in this caravanserai of ideas enters into a dialogue on how the general thoughts of Gülen dovetail with the thoughts of those foundational thinkers whose comparison warrant inclusion in this collection of essays. The foundational philosophers share with Gülen lofty themes, some have tested hypotheses derived from theory to produced research findings, others have published works of pedagogy and still others have dealt with curriculum and taught in schools. From Aristotle to Wittgenstein, many of the aforementioned, like Gülen, began as classroom teachers and acquired pragmatics and wisdom.

About Tom Gage

Professor Tom Gage has enjoyed a successful half-century career in education and taught graduate courses for over three decades at Humboldt State University. His interests range from John Steinbeck to Captain Bill Jones, a colorful figure from the life of Andrew Carnegie. Dr. Gage’s book Gülen’s Dialogue on Education: A Caravanserai of Ideas is a freewheeling exploration that connects the educational innovator James Moffett to the Turkish educator and inspirational figure Fethullah Gülen to John Dewey to Montessori and more.

Gage has been involved with the Middle East since the 1950s. Following a year of hitchhiking that landed him in Damascus in 1959, he returned to the University of California at Berkeley where earned BA, MA, and PhD degrees. He is a Fulbright scholar who taught in Aleppo, Syria for an academic year in 1983 and has also taught in China, Turkey, and Greece.

In the 1970s, Gage served as dean of three summer programs held in eight European nations. He has authored, co-authored, and edited / consulted on twenty books. In 2013, his e-book American Prometheus was recognized with two Silver awards from the Independent Book Publishers Association, one in history for “eLit Illuminating Digital Publishing Excellence” and the other for the “Best Regional E-Book” for the eastern region of the US. For more: www.gagepage.org As Professor Emeritus of the California State University system, Gage continues to teach in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the Humboldt campus. Over the last decades, he has interviewed academics and authors on TV and has initiated and participated in the development of software that won the “Best of the Best Award in Educational Software” of the Association of Supervision and Instruction for the year 2000.

Source: Cune Press at Smashwords , January 14, 2014


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