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ACTC Wins Mellon Grant for Project in Central Asia:
Journey on the Silk Road

June-August 2000 -- ACTC won a $ 15,000 Andrew W. Mellon travel grant to support its cooperative curriculum development work with the Aga Khan Humanities Project (AKHP) in Central Asia. With the awarded funds, an ACTC team of five representatives traveled to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to observe the progress of the new core curriculum being developed by the AKHP in nine former Soviet universities. The AKHP contributed support for housing, food, and travel within the region.

The AKHP program, now in its third year, networks nine regional universities. Its objective is to renovate the region’s outdated, Soviet-style higher education pedagogy and structure in order to aid in the development in students of the spirit of pluralistic, civil societies. ACTC and AKHP have been in collaboration for several years before this trip. The hoped-for, long-term results will not only include a further strengthening of the already advanced AKHP program, but collaborative efforts between AKHP institutions and ACTC institutions in faculty and student exchanges.

The Project Director for this effort was Scott Lee, Executive Director of ACTC. Lee wrote the Mellon proposal and selected the team. The team included: Stephen Zelnick, ACTC President, and Professor of English and former Director of the Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple University; Margaret Downes, Director of the Asheville Institute on General Education and ACTC Board Member, University of North Carolina at Asheville; Susan Gillespie, Director of the International Institute on Liberal Education at Bard; and Thomas Barfield, Chair of the Anthropology Department at Boston University, a key participant in Boston’s Core Curriculum and an expert on the region. Lee commented: “This team demonstrates ACTC’s extensive experience in core, general liberal education programs, as well as its ability to integrate knowledge of liberal education with expertise in a wide variety of fields. Each member is eager to learn from the work being carried forward by the AKHP.”

The visiting team met with government officials, university rectors, and the large staff of the AKHP project, including many young teachers engaged in renovating pedagogy on the campuses of the three Central Asian countries. Program training, pedagogical instruction and assessment, curricular development, faculty support, and cultural legacies after Soviet withdrawal, all played a part in the discussions. Zelnick commented that the region offers artistic and cultural richness to the rest of the world: “In stories, visual arts, tapestries, music and dance we can expect an out-flowing of treasures as these national traditions become part of the global culture we now see emerging from all over the world.”

The Silk Road was an ancient trade route from China through Central Asia to the ancient Mediterranean. Now, along this route, the AKHP hopes to establish a global, liberal education that links the intellectual heritage of many nations. Under the leadership of Director Rafique Keshavjee, AKHP helps the region’s universities to construct curricula that reflect the pluralistic, cultural heritage of Tajiks, Kyrgyz, and Kazakhs living in these four countries. Groups span the national borders originally set up during imperial conquests by Russia and the Soviets, so there is urgency in finding ways of dialogue and pluralistic nation building. The universities desire to open themselves to global, higher education, to explore Western pedagogy, and, in particular, to acquire the practice of open discussion and inquiry based styles of learning. The foundation for this pedagogy is the rich Islamic, Eastern, and Western heritage of texts and traditions which have repeatedly intersected on the Silk Road for over 2000 years.

At the invitation of Keshavjee and Tom Kessinger, former President of Haverford College and General Manager of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the parent organization of AKHP, Stephen Zelnick, will be returning to review classroom practices in Spring of 2001.

Association for Core Texts and Courses & The ACTC Liberal Arts Institute at
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