During my lunch break today, I finished a lengthy feature in the New Yorker about King’s Academy in Jordan — the first co-ed boarding school in the Middle East. I blogged about the academy a number of times and even got a chance to get a glimpse of it last April when I was in Madaba. I wrote then that when I saw the school:
… it was fascinating to see the mammoth structure up close and personal. It was quite an impressive structure with a number of adjoining buildings all topped with a rich, red tile.
The New Yorker feature is detailed and filled with whimsical, although somehow stereotypical, observations. The title is one example: Deerfield in the Desert. The last time I checked, Madaba, where the school is located, is not the desert, although the author would argue otherwise.
Nevertheless, the feature was a good read. It’s well worth getting your hands on a copy. The article also sheds some light on His Majesty King Abdullah’s school days at Deerfield academy – the inspiration for King’s Academy — where his classmates nicknamed him "Ab". I found a summary of the article on-line — but I couldn’t find the article it in its entirety.
Nick Paumgarten reports on King’s Academy, a Jordanian preparatory school commissioned by King Abdullah to emulate Deerfield Academy, his Massachusetts alma mater. Abdullah, who graduated from Deerfield in 1980, tells Paumgarten that he hopes the Deerfield experience will serve as a kind of foil to the so-called clash of civilizations. While Americans tend to stereotype prep schools as elitist, in Abdullah’s view Deerfield is a diverse place he hopes to reproduce.
Paumgarten writes, "Abdullah felt that Deerfield’s secular curriculum; its emphasis on critical thinking, camaraderie, tolerance, and sacrifice; and its commitment to the well-rounded boy (and, later, girl) were key elements in the creation of leaders — especially those comfortable with the ways of the West." Abdullah says, "It’s called the Deerfield experience, and it’s very hard to quantify — the way teachers are with you, the camaraderie, the way they allow you to mature, the values that they instill in you. I wanted to give other people that opportunity."
I guess the most controversial issue about this academy, besides the fact that it is co-ed, is the fact that Jordanian/Arab students will get their education alongside Israeli students. I wonder how this will work out.
He adds, "I’m sure it’s going to be a challenge for the first couple of students because of the tension in the area — as you know, Israeli students are going to be accepted into the school. But we need examples like this to show that, actually, we can all get along — and to build a younger generation who can take on the responsibilities of the world with a more open mind."
Eric Widmer, who has been Deerfield’s headmaster for the last decade, and was convinced by Abdullah to come to Jordan rather than retiring, will head King’s Academy. He tells Paumgarten, "At the new school, even though ‘2007’ will be on the seal, we’d like to convey that there’s a past to it, a history that’s very important. It won’t look old, but it will feel like it’s on historical ground."