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A rush of life

"A rush of life" Continued...

Issue: "The battle," March 24, 2012

Matty agreed to run the first school, and the next logical step was to borrow from the Franklin Classical School-the school founded by Grant in 1992 that became a trailblazer in the Classical Christian education movement. With its curriculum as a foundation, students from downtrodden Kurdish families could receive English language instruction and perhaps American-made opportunities. Matty recruited Iraqis to help run the school and to teach, while Servant Group and Grant began to recruit and train teachers from the United States.

The mostly Muslim Kurds, predisposed to like Americans for the protection and help they received during the first Gulf War, seized on an education taught in a language other than Arabic, which under Saddam had become the language of oppression. In 2001 Classical School of the Medes was born-first in Sulaymaniyah, then the far northern city of Dohuk, and in 2003 in Erbil, the regional capital.

"Those schools have grown faster than any Classical Christian school in the United States," notes Grant, who has used the same model to help start Classical schools in Indonesia. The three Iraqi schools this year have over 2,000 students-nearly all Muslim-with 27 American teachers supplementing the Iraqi faculty. Matty serves as senior director of all three schools.

From the beginning the schools have been an anomaly, with Christian faculty from the United States teaching in classrooms that are 95 percent or more Muslim. The Classical formula puts emphasis on critical thinking, asking questions, and developing a worldview-in a culture where classroom activity centered on rote memory and repetition at all ages. Yet when I visited the Sulaymaniyah school in 2002, it had 60 students; today it has over 600.

Matty remains the on-the-ground visionary holding it together, and without playing down his Christian beliefs. Over the years he has successfully licensed each school with the Ministry of Education and demanded that the schools be given equal footing in their communities, and judged by their product. More than once he has left a rigorous meeting with government officials only to discover that some of them have just registered their own children to attend his schools.

"What we tell the Kurdish officials is we want to work hand in hand with Kurdish Muslims, we want to live with you but not at the edge of life. We want to be at the heart of Kurdistan, and we want to work hard for the good of the community," Matty told me in 2007.

In the classroom, Small operated much the same way, never hiding his own Christian beliefs but unafraid to explore the Quran and other religious texts with his students, along with the book of Romans and works of Western literature. "Inside and outside the classroom, Jeremiah made clear that he loved Jesus Christ," said his former student Amed Omar, "but he never demanded that we read the Bible or become Christians. You did not have to be a Christian to be a part of what he was doing, but Jesus Christ was ubiquitous everywhere in his life."

That may have led to tension with Sarwar, who several students said described himself as an atheist. A week before the shooting Small told an Iraqi friend, "I have a student who wants to kill me." When the friend asked him about it several days later, Small said he thought the issue had been resolved.

Small was the oldest of seven children and grew up moving around the country, including Alaska, until his parents, Dan and Rebecca Small, settled in southwest Washington to run a Bible camp. He graduated from Central Washington University and worked as a substitute teacher before attending an SGI presentation about the schools in Iraq. "I think I am supposed to go there," he told an SGI staff member.

In late 2005 Small arrived in Sulaymaniyah to teach English and history and, according to a statement released by Servant Group after his death, "continued to return to Iraq to teach year after year because of the great changes and hope he saw in the lives of his students."

G.K. Chesterton, in a quote Small liked to repeat for his students, said, "It might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life." It was the theme defining Small's time in Iraq as he filled after-school hours, taught students rock climbing and organized trips to Europe over summer break. He helped to launch a student-run newspaper called Median Ink, and graduates Omar and Ali went on to launch a monthly newspaper in the region called Awat.

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