Dr. Graham Leonard passes at age 96

Dear Friends,

It is with much sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. Graham Leonard, after whom the Leonard Education Organization (LE.O) was named.  

Dr. Graham Leonard 1957
Dr. Graham Leonard, Dr. Farouk Shami in front of photo of Sheikh Abu Abdallah Shami. 

It is almost impossible to write a one-page obituary about a man who has lived such a long, productive, healthy, and extraordinary life. His life’s work was dedicated to education, particularly to that of his beloved second home and the People of Palestine. In the coming months, we plan to establish a page on our website as a tribute to Dr. Leonard, his life, and his work.  Today we wish to share with you a tribute written about his work in education by former Prime Minister and Former Minister of Education of Jordan, Omar Razzaz.

“Dr. Graham Leonard has strong views about education in the Arab world. These views are right on. They are transformational. Perhaps that is partly why we have yet to fully realize them. For decades, Dr. Leonard has been fighting for three main transformations in Arab education: speaking and writing in Modern Standard Arabic; engaging all students in Arab liberal studies, history of science, and humanities; and critical thinking through debate and dialogue. These might all seem non-controversial, and some people might think we are already practicing them. Neither is true. Indeed, these ideas, if taken seriously, would be transformational. To be clear, it will take a decade at least to make the changes needed in curricula, teacher training, and cultural shifts of students and parents. But it will be a revolution, or perhaps the revolution, the Arab world needs to come to terms with its history and its future. In my own experience as Minister of Education, working with Dr. Leonard and with pioneers in the Ministry of Education, I sensed firsthand the bureaucratic push back. It was not hard to start “Mahakkaat at-Tafkir” (Touchstones for Thinking) as a pilot. It was indeed a great success. What was challenging, however, is to integrate it into the curriculum and teacher training. 

Making the above transformations is critical for an Arab renaissance. It will require patience, but also a clear long-term vision with clear targets that involves society as a whole. 

Thank you, Graham, for reminding us of how limiting and self-defeating it is to read in formal Arabic but speak and think in colloquial Arabic. Thank you for re-introducing us to the Arab heritage of critical thinkers. And thank you for emphasizing the importance of dialogue and debate, as opposed to rote memorization, as a means of acquiring knowledge, social identity, and contributing to the episteme of our civilization.”

We are also pleased to announce that LE.O’s first student Yazan from a village on the West Bank, has dedicated his recent doctoral degree from Purdue University in honor of Dr. Graham.

The outpouring of condolences from our extended family, friends, colleagues, LE.O students, and their families has been humbling. And we proudly continue to honor his legacy through the work we do at LE.O.

In Peace,