For four weeks in June and July, 2005, CMES led a group of K-12 educators on a curriculum-building travel seminar in Turkey sponsored by a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grant. The group traveled to sites of historic and cultural interest in western and central Turkey and attended a series of lectures, seminars and discussions with scholars from Turkish universities, journalists, artists, U.S. State Department officials, and other scholars and community figures. The teachers brought back materials and knowledge that could be used in a variety of ways to enhance Middle Eastern content in their classrooms and to make the region directly relevant to the daily lives of their students. The travel seminar was preceded by Teach Turkey: Multiculturalism in the Middle East, a K-12 teacher workshop that prepared the teachers for their trip and provided materials and background for other K-12 educators attending the sessions.
In Turkey, the teachers learned about Turkey through the study of its geography, history, religious traditions, archaeology and architecture. The project enabled a broad understanding of the diverse cultures that have historically existed in Turkey and that continue to exist today. Participants learned about the many layers of Anatolian history including influences by the Hittites, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans through visits to various archaeological and cultural sites, such as mosques, churches, hamams, caravansarays, and other significant historical remains. Teachers explored how this rich history continues to shape the identities and memories of contemporary citizens of Turkey.
On several occasions, speakers joined the group for meals after their talks and continued discussing cultural and political issues of Turkey (and the U.S). These discussions—with archaeologists, sociologists, educational experts, and others—created opportunities for a genuine exchange of ideas between people of Turkey and the U.S.
On other memorable occasions, participants were able to see into the private lives of Turkish citizens. One of these took place towards the outset of the trip when participants were invited to a viewing of artwork created by a student in Istanbul, after which her parents invited the group to a buffet dinner. She caught up with the group several days later to exchange gifts and contact information with the U.S. art teachers and other group members.
The group visited several small towns and larger cities in order to gain an appreciation of the effects of modernization and secularization on the cultural lives of Turkey’s diverse peoples. The participants were struck by how developed and cosmopolitan Turkey’s western cities appeared to be, especially in comparison to its smaller towns. They marveled at its extraordinarily rich cultural heritage, as well as the challenges Turkey faces in how to represent these diverse cultures in today’s secularized, yet predominantly Muslim society. One talk, given in Ankara, focused on contemporary society’s relationship to its Ottoman past. The participants heard an argument that critiqued the rapid pace of industrialization and Westernization that led to a virtual illiteracy about pre-Republican times. This led some participants to ponder the public display of controversial religious and historical artifacts in U.S. public life.
In another case, a geologist gave a lecture about the formation of the extraordinary landscape of Cappadocia. As the group took a short break inside Ihlara Valley, which contains the remains of dozens of rock-cut churches from Byzantine times, one of the teachers asked about “what we know about the people who lived in this valley before recent times.” The expert, a respected scholar and researcher, admitted that unfortunately—despite the imaginative tales spun by enterprising tour guides and other agents of the Ministry of Culture—very little is known about these people because very little research is being done in this area. That evening, this speaker joined the group for dinner and conversation, and then accompanied a group of teachers in a small Anatolian town for a nighttime walk that led the group to a traditional party held for the bride prior to a wedding.
Scholarly discussions and outings to places like the World War I war memorial at Gallipoli and Ataturk’s Mausoleum in Ankara enabled participants to ponder the influence of Ataturk and the dramatic social and political reforms of the early Republican period. They witnessed this legacy today as the nation struggles to become a member of the European Union in light of competing visions of Turkey’s past and future. Teachers also learned a lot about trade and commerce as they acquired cultural artifacts to distribute and share with their students.
Following their return to the U.S., teachers completed lesson-plan projects to be used in the classroom based on their participation in the project in Turkey. Curriculum projects include literature lessons for primary and secondary students, a ceramic tile project for art students that includes lessons about Ottoman history and culture, a geography unit on Turkey, a project that uses Islam and Sufism to expand Arizona state requirements in Character Education, and math and technology class projects that include humanities content related to Turkey. All projects will be posted on CMES’ website and the national Outreach World website to be shared with teachers locally and nationally.
The Teach Turkey program was the fifth in a series of successful Fulbright-Hays K-12 projects organized by CMES; the previous trips went to Syria, Turkey, Morocco and Cyprus.