Good News from the Middle East-The Schools of the Latin Patriarchate

By Turpen, Bill L. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2003 | Go to article overview
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Good News from the Middle East-The Schools of the Latin Patriarchate

Turpen, Bill L., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Buried in a virtual avalanche of miscalculations made by U.S. governments in recent years, it is comforting to take a look at some things of which Americans can be justly proud. Education in Palestine is at the very top of the list.

During the latter part of the 19th century, Palestine was part of the declining Ottoman Empire, an empire no longer able to provide viable educational opportunities to its Arab subjects. This era also was a time of increased missionary activities by Americans.

At first, the missionaries believed they would succeed in gaining mass conversions to their faith, but since Muslims almost never convert to another religion, they soon turned their attention to education. At the outset, these activities were concentrated in urban areas, particularly in the port cities. In the hinterland, there was practically no effect at all.

Unlike others, these missionaries were not, in Lenin's words, "the vanguard of imperialism." In the American case, the flag did not follow the Bible. Instead, the legacy of these missionaries includes the American University of Beirut, formerly known as Syrian Protestant College, numerous clinics, and the first schools for girls in the Middle East.

These activities continue. The Latin Patriarchate Schools, for example, were established in the 19th century. After a century and a half, they are still in existence, but no longer associated only with port cities. The Patriarchate currently has over 40 schools in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, with over 18,000 students, and they have definitely spread to the villages.

A case in point is the school in Al-Fuheis. During the late Ottoman period, Al-Fuheis was just another poor village in Jordan. In 1885, priests opened some classes to teach Arabic, religion and mathematics, a parallel to the curriculum of the traditional Islamic madrassas. Today in Jordan, there are no longer three subjects, but three tracks, called "streams." In the 11th and 12th grades, students choose the Literature, the Scientific, or the Commercial path toward a better life.

All schools in Jordan, be they religious, public or private, follow the mandated state syllabus. Additions, however, are permitted. At Al-Fuheis, students engage in the "Round Table Program" as well. Here, the students select topics for study. Those in the scientific track, for example, may investigate how to act as a chemist or biologist, with a specific point to examine in order to enhance investigative and discovery skills.

Another addition to the syllabus, "Civilization Studies," is in the planning stages right now. An optional program for those interested, "Civilization Studies" will consist of two main components: classroom "theoretical" studies, and the extramural. The school will provide the traditional classroom learning opportunities and follow up by facilitating visits to the countries studied. Imagine, as a high school student, being able to compare "theoretical" and "actual" Egypt!

All students at the Fuheis schools study languages, too-Arabic, English and French.

There are about 600 students in grades 7 through 12 working toward the coveted Tawjihi-the difficult examination that is the gateway to the university and a better life.

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