Friday, November 13, 2009

International Education from Idaho to Jordan

Posted By on Fri, Nov 13, 2009 at 2:31 PM

First, a disclaimer: I will try not to universalize my observations from a week spent in Jordan. My window into this society has just been opened a crack and is still limited—deeper insights could obviously be gained by living here, and of course speaking the language. Yet because of this incredible opportunity, I’m likely to know at least a little bit more than perhaps the average American about this small Middle Eastern country and important US ally. I will apologize in advance for any generalizations that I draw based on my short time here.

Despite my eagerness to explore Amman on our first day, our group spent the first four hours in a conference room in the Le Meridien Hotel, where we were staying. Breakfast was a sumptuous buffet spread—a blend of Western and Middle Eastern offerings. Among other things, I enjoyed hummus, sushi, and an omelet.

From there, we proceeded to our meeting room. Walking through the hotel, we passed a Jordanian military band that was rehearsing. The band’s dominant sound was bagpipes—one of the many apparent cultural incongruities to be encountered in Jordan. Given Britain’s influence in the region and in particular over Transjordan following the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 (which gave Britain its post-WWI sphere of influence in the Middle East), bagpipes seem less out of place. Still, these are not the sounds one conjures up when thinking about Jordan.

Dan Prinzing, the Education Director of the Idaho Human Rights Education Center (IHREC), and the person who organized the mission, provided the backdrop for our trip and the work that he and the IHREC have been doing in Jordan. This is Dan’s 20th trip to Jordan. It’s safe to say he considers the country a second home. And his love for the place and its people is palpable.

He spelled out one of the overriding purposes of a mission like this: To discover for ourselves that “much of what we know and have heard about the Arab world is steeped in misinformation.” He encouraged us to keep our minds, ears, eyes, and hearts open. He urged us to ask questions and talk to Jordanians. And he encouraged us to take in the food, the culture, the history, and the people and enjoy a rare opportunity that most Americans will never have.

Next, Dan proceeded to explain the evolution of his work that led to such a close relationship with Jordan. In a previous role, Dan was coordinator of international and civic education at the Idaho State Department of Education, under Dr. Marilyn Howard (who now serves on the IHREC Board). Back in 2003, they began looking at what civic and international education might look like in a very insular state like Idaho. A task force of teachers focused on curricular design, linking schools with international schools, and the goal of enabling teachers to travel.

Initial work began in Germany (where many Idahoans can trace their roots to), China (Idaho’s largest trade partner), Mexico (where a growing population of new Idahoans hails from), and the Basque Country.
At the same time, Dan began to get involved with The Center for Civic Education and its Project Citizen program. The Center for Civic Ed held its 2005 World Congress in Amman, with 300 people from 70 countries attending.

A few years and several trips later, Dan found himself as the project manager for the implementation of e-lessons of the Project Citizen curriculum, which would be offered in the King’s “discovery schools” throughout Jordan. This project would be funded by the Center for Civics Education and the Jordan Ministry of Education. The project has been so successful that it will now be customized for Lebanon, the UAE, and several other countries. Though Dan showed us a few of the e-lessons (translated into English), it wouldn’t be until the next day that we would truly see the impact of Project Citizen in action.

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