By Liz Oakes
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MADISONVILLE - Frank Tipton is planning to create an international crisis.
The students in Tipton's History of the Middle East class at Seven Hills Upper School aren't just learning about political leaders of the region. They are the leaders - the diplomats and heads of state.
During a crisis simulation later in the semester, the students will e-mail each other and hold conferences and secret negotiations to put themselves in the shoes of officials struggling to resolve thorny issues in the Middle East.
A week of role-playing - as well as bringing in local and nationally known activists and scholars - are some of the ways that Tipton is engaging the 19 juniors and seniors in learning about the volatile region. A native of Dalton, Ga., Tipton speaks Arabic and has lived in Yemen.
"Most Cincinnati high-schoolers have never been dropped into the trenches, so to speak, of a religious and ethnic conflict," said Tipton, who knows about cultural differences firsthand from his travels during college and later research in China, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Tunisia, Jordan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The class at the 310-student private school recently compared the sometimes-bloody French colonial experience in Algiers with the U.S. invasion of Baghdad. This month, Tipton plans to contrast Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and later discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict and look at how America - and Cincinnati specifically - have changed since 9-11.
Students say they have learned things from Tipton's class they wouldn't have gotten from a typical textbook-and-discussion course.
"We're fortunate to have this class, to know the history of both sides that a lot of people, especially kids our age, don't have the chance to," said Sarah McDonough, 17, a senior from Hyde Park.
Olga Krayterman of Madeira, also 17 and a senior, called Tipton "well-versed and passionate." Some teachers she's had in the past weren't as knowledgeable and didn't listen to their point of view, Krayterman said.
"The fact that he has an extensive background in the Middle East and has traveled widely is very helpful," she said.
Senior Alex Grosinger, 17, of Montgomery wishes the class were a required history course, along with American, European, ancient and medieval history. "He helps us get into the mindset of the Arab world," Grosinger said.
Tipton says knowing that mindset is important today.
"The Israeli and Palestinian narratives of the 20th century are dramatically different. I want them to recognize how history is built."
He researched British imperial history in Yemen during the summer of 1994 and again in 1997. Tipton got his bachelor's degree in Middle East languages and cultures from Columbia University in 1991, and he has a master's in Arab studies from Georgetown University.
When Tipton proposed a course on the history of the Middle East last year in his first year of teaching at Seven Hills, approving it was a "no-brainer," said Todd Bland, head of the Upper School.
The course was immediately popular, Bland said, partly attributing that to Tipton's teaching style and knowledge.
"He is seen as an expert in the field," the principal said.
Among speakers Tipton has brought in this month was Daniel Byman, a professor at Georgetown University and former director of research on the Middle East and U.S. government policy at the Rand Corp. in Washington, D.C.
Byman left Rand to advise the congressional committee investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks shortly after the panel was created.
"It's a great idea to expose students, particularly high school students, to as many voices as possible," said Byman, who studied Arabic with Tipton at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Other guests in the course include representatives from Israel-based peace center Open House, and New York City-based Seeds of Peace, which runs a summer camp in Otisfield, Maine, that brings together Arab and Israeli teen-agers.
Tipton also has plans for speakers from the intelligence field and Capitol Hill. The presentations will be taped to provide an archive for future classes and Web sites.
He hopes that the course, which also will be offered next semester, will be repeated every year.
"I thought this was important 10 years ago," he said. "The region is obviously central to American national security and for policy interests.
"I think it's important religiously and symbolically to many students in the United States, including at Seven Hills. And I think it's a region that's often misunderstood."
Tipton began his career in 1994 in the Boston area, where he was an instructor at Phillips Andover Academy, Tufts University and MIT. Before coming to Seven Hills, he taught world history and economics at Wellesley (Mass.) High School.
He's also helping to create a Web site funded by the U.S. Department of Education to serve as a resource on the Middle East for kindergarten to college teachers across the country. The site is expected to be up and running next summer.
"I enjoy taking stuff from scholarly literature and bringing it to students and teachers. That's the goal with the Web site," he says.
"I know I can make a difference in kids' lives."
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