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Teaching Heritage in Classrooms

Posted in: ASOR, Cultural Heritage and Property, Outreach, SHI
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By: Olga Sushinsky

The first time I walked into my daughter’s playgroup, I saw a model of St. Peter’s Cathedral from Rome placed on the top shelf of the art/music classroom. Having walked around, I noticed the model of St. Basil’s Cathedral from Moscow in another room along with models of other similar landmarks. These were obviously built by older kids, who attend math and history classes in the same school. Just as we were driving back home, the idea hit me. Why don’t these students build a model of the Temple of Bel from Palmyra or the Northwest Palace from Nimrud? Then I thought: Why not make heritage conservation part of school curricula?

Detail of Winged Human-Headed Lion from Nimrud In the British Museum.

Heritage destruction is one of the biggest tragedies of our age. It’s almost impossible to talk about Mesopotamia without mentioning the issue. With Syria’s Civil War getting out of control, the number of important heritage sites is diminishing rapidly. Neglect, illegal construction, militarization, and deliberate destruction constantly contribute to the dwindling of Syria’s and Iraq’s cultural heritages.

The question is how do we reach out to the general public? After all, the biggest percentage of our population consists of non-scholars with little-to-no background in heritage conservation. I believe there is no better place to start educating lay people about the topic than schools, where future generations are developing.

My experience with public education is very limited. I had enrolled in a teachers’ college right after finishing my master’s program because that was what everyone with humanities background was doing (assuming that a law school or an MBA program wasn’t part of the agenda). After barely surviving the first two weeks of the practicum, I quit. That level of noise, along with classroom management issues, simply wasn’t for me. However, I’d learned a few things about education in Canada during that month and a half of coursework that had preceded the practicum.

1. Ontario curriculum is big on social justice. As a teacher, or at least as a practicum student from a teachers’ college, you’ll be expected to incorporate social justice into pretty much everything, be it a geometry lesson or a science class. Sometimes, fulfilling this expectation can be next to impossible.

2. In the ideal world, all subjects should be interrelated. Math, science, history, and even physical education—all have to have some form of connection. The fancy term for this idea is cross-curricular/interdisciplinary learning.

Please note that I’m using the plural form of curriculum in my title because I’m referring to curricula of other provinces and states. I believe it should be a global effort. By incorporating heritage destruction into their curricula, educators would not only link courses on ancient history with modern issues but also raise greater awareness about the problem. Some activities teachers could plan for their students include the following:

    • Have students construct a model of the Northwest Palace as a group project during the study of Mesopotamia in Grade 5 Social Studies class. This cross-curricular activity would help students to bridge connections between Match and Social Studies and develop team building skills, as it would be done in a group. This project could be readjusted for older/younger groups.
    • Encourage high school students to obtain mandatory volunteer hours by participating in one of the global initiatives against heritage destruction, such as the ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives or Project Mosul. In an exchange for their hours spent virtually, students would gain valuable experience and obtain a letter of recommendation from one of the leaders in heritage conservation.
    • Invite archaeology professionals to schools to host special workshops on fighting heritage destruction.
    • Organize discussion groups about the topic.

In spite of overwhelming presence of popular archaeology magazines and free information on the Internet, there is still a big gap between the scholarly world and the general public. In the times like these, it’s important for different communities to come together and collaborate. The more people become aware of the issue, the more empowered our society will become in dealing with the crisis.

Olga Sushinsky is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. She provides editorial services to publishers, businesses, and individuals. She is also currently volunteering with the ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives.

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