News - Young Alumnus Cultivates Critical Thinking in East Jerusalem Classrooms

Young Alumnus Cultivates Critical Thinking in East Jerusalem Classrooms

Brady Merrin '11 at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote. “Come and die” for Brad Merrin ’11, meant laying a familiar “tourist mentality” to rest.

“We need to be careful about how we affect local populations in our travels,” he says. “God has placed a call on my life to not be a tourist. Rather than simply traveling for my enjoyment, I am compelled to understand the footprint I leave on an already well-established community.”

Merrin’s travels most recently have taken him to Jerusalem University College where he is pursuing a master’s degree in Middle Eastern cultures and religions. Though he is on track to receive his degree this May, his academic accomplishments tell only the less adventurous side of his travel tale. There is another side.

Persistent Tension

Called to be more than a tourist/student, Merrin determined early on to engage meaningfully in the community that would be his home away from home while in school.

“This is very complicated,” he concedes, painting a picture of the Jerusalem landscape with “scores of micro-communities” packed in a small area.

Prior to 1967, Jordan controlled areas that included one of these micro-communities, East Jerusalem. In 1967, however, it relinquished that control to Israel. Heavily populated by Palestinians today and the site of continual community development by Israel, East Jerusalem functions under a cloud of persistent tension.

Still, East Jerusalem is where Merrin chose to volunteer at a local high school. 

Merrin’s passions include intercultural affairs, inter-religious studies and foreign policy. A history and political science major at Greenville College, he fully engaged in experiential learning as an undergraduate through a semester of study in Washington D.C. with the American Studies Program.

During Merrin’s first semester at JUC, he became acquainted with an instructor at the high school who invited him to speak occasionally in a government class. Creativity and ideas flowed when the two later partnered to develop a course in world government and social systems. They co-taught the course for the first time in fall 2013 and achieved remarkable results. 

You Decide

The innovative curriculum draws heavily on simulations, games and role-playing to introduce students to a smorgasbord of civilizations; political, social and economic systems; and great thinkers who have influenced societal formation. In the process, they learn about democracies, dictatorships, monarchies, republics, empires, capitalism, communism, socialism and more.  

“We are not attempting to guide them into believing that one system is superior to another,” explains Merrin. “We want the students to be able to think for themselves and make their own decisions.”

He wishes that ideal for all who may accept government rhetoric as fact. “The issues are complicated; there is no righteous party. If people want to know more, they should visit or read as many news sources as possible, with critical lenses.”

Rethinking a “Compartmentalized World”

Merrin’s focus on critical thinking and integrated learning hearkens back to his experiences at Greenville College where critical thinking is far from a dying art, and where students are encouraged to draw from various disciplines to solve problems. He is quick to praise the liberal arts model:

“God did not create a compartmentalized world; modern consumer-driven culture did. We are integrative creatures and the disciplines we can study inform each other. GC certainly helped cultivate this concept.”

Merrin believes that students at the high school in East Jerusalem will particularly benefit from an integrative approach. “Israel is technically Africa, Asia, and Europe,” he explains. “They need to know how the histories of all three have affected them.”

Though he desires to tread lightly when traveling, Merrin values the imprint he still carries from time spent at Greenville College. “Reaching students where they are and drawing them close to the heart of God . . . this is what makes GC special.”     

Click here to learn about GC’s study opportunities at Jerusalem University College.

Click here to learn more about Jewish-Christian Studies at Greenville College.

Click here to learn more about leaving a gentle footprint through short term missions.

This story was published on November 25, 2014

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