Education — its teachers and its curriculum — has a strong impact on how we understand who we are and who others are. A group of BGSU education majors and faculty and local schoolteachers is spending the month of July in Jordan to explore the idea of identity among Jordanians who, like U.S. citizens, are of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. They predict that what they learn will help them in their own classrooms to understand cultural diversity.
The trip is organized by BGSU’s Center for International Comparative Education (ICE), which obtained a Fulbright-Hays grant as part of the Group Projects Abroad Program in the U.S. Department of Education. Dr. Patty Kubow, ICE director and a faculty member in the School of Leadership and Policy Studies, is leading the trip for the second time.
Also on the journey are Dr. Bruce Collet, School of Leadership and Policy Studies, and Dr. Mohammed Darabie, School of Teaching and Learning, who is from Jordan. Both were part of the ICE Center’s research and curriculum study in Jordan in 2008.
Four northwest Ohio schoolteachers (including one from Toledo School for the Arts), three undergraduates and five graduate students at BGSU are participating in the program, which began with an intensive, eight-day pre-departure orientation organized and administered by Kubow. The group prepared for the experience with the trip faculty and Dr. Marc Simon, political science. They visited the Islamic Center in Perrysburg, began a study of basic Arabic and immersed themselves in learning about Jordan’s political, cultural, religious and immigration history.
In Jordan, they will visit historic sites and interact with Jordanian partners at the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Political Development, the University of Jordan, Al-Hussein Bin Talal University, the National Centre for Human Rights, and other agencies.
“I believe this will be a life-changing experience for me, both personally and professionally,” said Leilani Kupo, a Ph.D. candidate in higher education administration who will graduate in August. “I’m already thinking about things differently. We will also have a spectrum of world views, experiences and even ages in our group, which I think will contribute a beautiful richness to the experience.”
Jill Posta, a geometry teacher at Maumee Valley Country Day School in Toledo, is the only non-social studies teacher on the trip. “Maumee Valley has a large number of Arab students. In order for me to connect with my students, it’s important to understand their background,” she said. She plans to incorporate elements of Arabic art into her geometry curriculum, using tessellations, or repeating patterns, found in mosaics and tapestries, which she said fits well into hands-on lessons on congruence and symmetry.
The cultural sensitivity gained by the Jordan experience should be reflected in the lesson plans the participants produce — tangible products they can use in the classroom as a result of their Fulbright program experience. “For example, one of our focuses, in teaching about culturally important places, is that we need to take care how we present them, that we don’t ‘exotify’ or demean them or treat them too lightly,” Kupo said. Ohio has the ninth largest Arab American population, and there is great need for cultural competency.