For most students, these two words don’t usually go together, kind of like maple syrup and bacon. But placed on a platform of pancakes, it is surprisingly exquisite.
And that is what this unit on Ancient Greece is all about – providing platforms for students to allow delightful notions of beauty and the hardened rigour of thinking to embrace: an ideal that the Grecian people of yore would favour for.
Firstly, to understand the nature of the diversity within ancient Greek people, students chose to be emissaries of either the courtly state of Athens or the brutal warriors of Sparta.
To end the Spartan and Athenian-led Peloponnesian War with a Peace Treaty between the two belligerent states. After reading up on their new identities, emissaries negotiated the choppy waters between the cliffs of dignity and sacrifice, exchanging ideas on what the Peace Treaty that both sides would agree on.
Inevitably, pandemonium ensued, to the delight of the teacher.
The polarity between the identities and ideals of the Athenians and Spartans led to conflicts of interest, to the point where our young Grecians (especially the Spartans) took up arms!
But peace was needed.
“We began to see each others’ strengths as our own weaknesses, and vice-versa”, most groups reflected after persevering for peace, as the Talks began to include ideas of capitalising on the Athenian expertise to refine the culture of a united Greece, and Spartan strength for the defence of it.
A win-win situation. A thing of beauty.
The following lesson on Greek Achievements placed students in another role: Designers in the Ancient Greece Tourism Board (fictional, of course, or is it?).
Using their skills in media literacy and creative thinking, students set out to promote Greece to the ancient world! Student groups researched on the Greek culture, innovation and architecture, and created tourism posters to promote ancient Greece as a hub for flourishing ideas and inspiring works.
As students participated in a Gallery Walk to view all the posters, they learnt about the vast array of achievements owed to the ancient Greeks: Grecian architecture, mathematical theorems, technological breakthroughs, ideas for direct democracy…
…and of course, philosophy.
In the true spirit of the ancient Greek philosophers, students participated in a Socratic Discussion about the question, “Is civilisation a blessing or a curse?”
To acquire a different perspective to the one they are used to (legacies of civilisations benefiting us and hence a blessing) a song, ‘Pompeii’ by Bastille, was used to ignite the critical thinking of students:
I was left to my own devices / Many days fell away with nothing to show
And the walls kept tumbling down / In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills / Bringing darkness from above
But if you close your eyes / Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes / Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
Oh where do we begin / The rubble or our sins?
Analysis of the poignant lyrics allowed students to see the other side of the concept of civilisation beyond the legacies that past civilisations blessed us with: the rubble of futility found in the endless, repetitive cycle of empires’ rise and fall; the unwillingness (or inability?) of humans to avoid falling into the mistakes of civilisations past; the sin, darkness and vices caused by ‘advancement’ in different aspects in society…
Then, the main event!
With fervent urgency, a student-facilitated inquiry into the question, “Is civilisation a blessing or a curse?” burst forth, with contrasting ideas from all angles exchanged as students pursued a collective truth to the problem:
Human nature: “Human always find a way to destroy” versus “People can learn from civilisations of the past.”
Government: “Ideas like democracy are passed down to benefit us today” versus “Hitler also got his ideas from what people before him passed down”
Logic: “All civilisations inevitably fall, and anything that falls is not a good thing” versus “Every civilisation falls so that the next one can learn, and learning is good”
Technology: “Civilisations allow for inventions to make our lives easier, e.g. airplanes” versus “The same airplanes are used for bombers to kill people in WWII”…
In the end, despite personal stands still divergent, students agreed on one point:
“the idea of civilisation is a tool; whether it is considered a blessing or curse depends on how us humans use that tool”.