Teaching history

As a kid, I loved Age of Empires – the game where you could build and command armies of different civilizations.

One of my favourite civilizations were the Byzantines. They could create almost every unit and had access to extensive technology. Moreover, the Byzantines were experts at erecting defenses, having established and controlled Constantinople – that pivotal gateway between the Orient and the Occident. Byzantine buildings had the characteristic blue, striped tiles that adorn the dome of the Hagia Sophia – a wonder of the medieval world.

Last week, I visited Istanbul – the great city that was formerly Constantinople. What started as impressions of a computer game, were consummated as a real-life experience. I learned about how the Turks adopted the Byzantine domes in constructing their mosques. And there was more – I realized how everything named Osmania in Hyderabad, from a university, a reservoir to a popular biscuit had Ottoman roots (Osman in Turkish is Ottoman).

As human beings we derive great pleasure from recognizing patterns. This ecstatic joy allows us to engage with useful information, remember it better and apply it to our lives. This is precisely what education is meant to enable. The role of a teacher, then, is to show their students these patterns and spark wonder in their eyes. If history is boring, it indicates, above all, a failure to do so. A failure, above all, of our imagination.

A good teacher can just as easily be a computer game.

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