Dear Probe reader,

A highlight of my recent tour of Jordan—a land teeming with biblical history—was visiting King’s Academy. Jordan’s new prep school emphasizes critical thinking over rote learning, teaching students not what to think but how to think. Could it become a model to train a new generation of Middle Eastern leaders to shake hands with each other and the West?

As you analyze your world through biblical lenses, it’s important to be aware of significant global developments. King’s Academy has garnered considerable attention among US and international media:

“Rather revolutionary” (TIME)

“What could be more important in the Middle East than educating open-minded future leaders?” (The Sunday Times [London] op-ed)

“Bringing the best of western education to the Middle East.” (NPR)

“There is a crisis in Arab education. This school [is] about the future—trying to pull an education system into the 21st Century—to build bridges between clashing cultures.” (CBS-TV News)

Biblical worldview, of course, promotes careful, critical thinking. Many westerners are unaware of how lack of critical thinking permeates Middle Eastern education and, hence, influences international relations. This piece aims to expand readers’ geopolitical understanding. And, alas, too many western readers lack critical thinking themselves, so this uses current news to help focus attention on that biblical value, a crucial one if we are to communicate cross culturally.

As are most of my shorter articles on the Probe Ministries website, this is an op-ed written for secular newspapers. I’m honored that you might read it and hope you find it useful.

Warm regards,

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.

Arab Preppies

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 Emperors 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.

Critical Thinking

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 (Proverbs 18:15 NLT). How much better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgment than silver! claims another (Proverbs 16:16 NLT).

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, dont 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?

© Copyright 2007 Rusty Wright

Rusty Wright, former associate speaker and writer with Probe Ministries, is an international lecturer, award-winning author, and journalist who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

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