I was curious to see how Lesley Stahl and 60 Minutes would deal with the Gulen Charter schools in their program last night.

The Gulen charters are the largest charter chain in the United States, with something like 135-140 charters. Few people realize that the Gulen charter chain is far larger than the KIPP chain.

They focus mainly on math and science. Some of the Gulen charters get high test scores.

That seems to seal the deal for 60 Minutes. Stahl was very impressed with the schools’ test scores and with the students’ interest in math and science.

The show points out that the Gulen schools are tied, in some non-specific way, to a Turkish imam named Fethullah Gulen, who lives in seclusion in the Poconos in Pennyslvania. It notes that the Gulenists run a vast media, financial, and political empire inside Turkey, and that critics of the Gulen movement in Turkey are reluctant to appear on camera. Stahl made no reference to the page one story in the New York Times about the critics of Gulen in Turkey who are fearful and intimidated (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/25/world/middleeast/turkey-feels-sway-of-fethullah-gulen-a-reclusive-cleric.html?pagewanted=all).

Stahl says that the Gulenists are moderate and devoted to education (they told her so), and it sounds as though we are lucky that the Gulenists have imported large numbers of Turkish teachers (some of whom can barely speak English) to teach math, science, and even English! She never gets a good answer to the question of why the Gulen movement has opened so many publicly-financed schools in the United States, and she does not reflect on whether this is a good idea.

Maybe one day we will also have a chain of Japanese charter schools, Korean charter schools, Singaporean charter schools, Finnish charter schools, etc., and we can raise our test scores by importing teachers from other nations to run charter schools; what’s odd about this is that Turkey is not, unlike Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Finland, a high-performing nation. Allowing foreign nationals to open and manage charter schools, run by boards composed of their fellow nationals, opens up a new world of possibilities, especially when they need not come from high-performing nations. We might have Iranian charters, Mexican charters, Malaysian charters, Argentinean charters, Haitian charters, Cuban charters, Portuguese charters, the possibilities are endless.

But back to 60 Minutes:

Stahl interviews the head of the Texas charter school association, who defends the Gulen schools strongly. The show quotes an ex-teacher at a Gulen school who claims that the schools get kickbacks from the Turkish teachers they import (she married one of them), but the Gulen spokesman says she is not creditable because she is a disgruntled employee. No other critic appears on camera, though there are many who wonder about the propriety of funneling taxpayer dollars to a foreign-run “public” school enterprise.

CBS News did not ask one very important question. What about the role of public schools in building our democracy? The reason that taxpayers pay for public schools is to develop citizens, people who are prepared to vote and to serve on juries and to sustain our democracy into the future. That does not mean that public schools should be jngoistic or that their teachers must be true-blue patriots, but that the schools must take seriously their responsibility to prepare young people to assume the full responsibilities of citizenship: to think critically and independently; to understand our form of government; to understand other forms of government; to have a deep knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; to understand American culture and history; to know enough about world history to be able to form a thoughtful opinion of events and to look critically at how the mainstream media portrays ideas and events. In other words, we pay for public schools to develop our future citizens, and we want them to think for themselves. That is why we have historically taken a dim view of public money being used to subsidize any partisanship or special interests in education.

This is why schools have mock trials, conduct student elections, have a student council, and adopt a pedagogical style that involves questioning and challenge.

Are the Gulen schools preparing young people to assume their roles as citizens and to improve the practice of democracy in the United States?

Those questions were never asked.