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Copyright: ©2007 Rusty Wright
CAN WESTERN-STYLE EDUCATION TRANSFORM THE MIDDLE EAST?
By: Rusty Wright
If you only learn to repeat what you’ve been taught – and not to think for yourself – you may be ill prepared to vote.
That’s the lesson the Jerusalem-born librarian conveyed as we sat in her office in a brand new boarding school near Madaba, Jordan. When Afaf Kazimi moved to Jordan many years ago and could vote for the first time, she simply cast her ballot on another’s recommendation without knowing much about the candidate. “I voted for the wrong person,” she concluded in hindsight.
Much of her early school education had involved rote memorization – learning facts for tests, as is common in the Middle East – and had lacked training in critical thinking, skills she developed later. Now she’s excited to be part of a new experiment that blends Western analytical emphases with traditional Arab culture, helping students avoid the educational path she and others had to take.
Jordan’s King’s Academy opened in 2007 with goals of helping students from many nations and different religious backgrounds learn not what to think but how to think. Patterned after Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, King Abdullah’s alma mater, King’s looks much like a New England prep school. Think Dead Poets Society or The Emperor’s Club, coed and transplanted to a desert oasis.
Students wear preppie blue blazers and ties, khaki trousers. Many live in dormitories, with faculty house parents. They have service responsibilities in the dining hall and community.
Sports aim to cultivate teamwork and discipline. An honor code is being developed. Course offerings involve the humanities, social sciences and hard sciences and include studies in Islam, Christianity, world religions, communication, rhetoric and ethics. Financial aid aims for socioeconomic diversity. Courses are taught in English and Arabic.
King Abdulla’s Deerfield experience was formative in his young life. It developed lasting relationships. He’s a friend of the West. Jordan has led efforts to renounce religious extremism and help religions coexist peacefully. King’s Academy hopes its multinational faculty will train future leaders for the Middle East and beyond.
Since I attended Choate, Deerfield’s peer (and, my classmates would want me to emphasize, chief rival), I’m especially interested in this Jordanian experiment. I’m grateful that I learned early to think critically and to ask lots of questions. King’s appears eager to cultivate inquisitive minds.
A poster of William Shakespeare hung in the King’s library along with promotion for J.R.R. Tolkien and the International Herald Tribune. Broad reading – especially of writers with whom you disagree – can facilitate learning and enhance communication. “Intelligent people are always ready to learn,” affirms an ancient proverb. “Their ears are open for knowledge.” “How much better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgment than silver!” claims another.
Logical, analytical thinking is, of course, crucial for healthy societies. Sloppy logic can be amusing or devastating: “All fish swim. I swim. Therefore, I am a fish.” Somewhat similar illogic appears in numerous aberrations: “Muslim extremists threaten Western society. Omar is a Muslim. So Omar is a threat to me.” Or, “American foreign policy undermines my country. You’re an American. Thus, you’re my enemy.” Shallow thinkers can turn illogic into dogma and breed fanaticism.
Of course, no school will produce perfect students. George W. Bush’s critics might sometimes wonder if his Andover education taught him to think clearly. And if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had attended Andover, would he and Bush get along? Well, maybe. But please, don’t expect miracles.
King Abdullah’s promising educational venture deserves close scrutiny. Could it become a model to train a new generation of Middle Eastern leaders to shake hands with each other and the West?
Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer with Probe.org who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.
"Real Answers™" furnished courtesy of The Amy Foundation Internet Syndicate. To contact the author or The Amy Foundation, write or E-mail to: P. O. Box 16091, Lansing, MI 48901-6091; email@example.com
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