How Educators Can Incorporate Heritage Conservation into School Curricula

The first time I walked into my daughter’s playgroup, I saw a model of St. Peter’s Cathedral from Rome placed on one of the classroom’s shelves. Having walked around, I also noticed the model of St. Basil’s Cathedral from Moscow in another room along with models of a few other landmarks from around the world. 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 one of the Palmyra’s temples or the Northwest Palace from Nimrud? Then I thought, Why not make heritage conservation part of school curricula?

As I had mentioned in my other post, 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 and political instability in other adjacent countries being present, the number of important heritage sites is diminishing rapidly. Neglect, illegal construction, militarization, as well as deliberate destruction—all of these 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 somewhat limited. I had enrolled in a teachers’ college right after finishing my master’s program because that was what everyone with a humanities background was doing (assuming that a law school or a Ph.D. program wasn’t part of the agenda).  After barely surviving the first two weeks of the practicum, I quit. The program’s structure and the school noise simply weren’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. Which can often 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.

In Ontario, ancient civilizations are being taught in Grade 5 Social Studies class and later in Grade 11 and Grade 12 history courses. It would make sense to include recent events into the curriculum. Please note that I’m using the plural form in my title because I’m also 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 teambuilding skills, as it would be done in a group. This project could be readjusted for older/younger groups.
  • Encourage high school students to obtain volunteer hours, which are mandatory in Ontario, 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, 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 heritage conservation.
  • Organize discussion groups about the importance of fighting heritage destruction.

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.

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