Over the course of 12 days in July, EHS Social Studies Teacher Jon Parkin estimated that he and a group of about two dozen teachers from the U.S. drove 1,900 miles and hiked about 90 miles across the country of Turkey. Although he was hobbling by the end of the trip from all the walking, Parkin would do it all again without hesitation because he was doing something that he absolutely loves – learning about history.
Parkin was one of 25 U.S. teachers participating in a Teacher Study Tour sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Foundation (TCF) in cooperation with the World Affairs Councils of America (WACA) and its local chapter in St. Louis.
The group of teachers traveled to Turkey to visit historical cities and sites such as Istanbul, Gallipoli, Troy, Ephesus, Canakkale, Bursa, Kusadasi, Pamukkale, Konya, Catalhoyuk, Cappadocia and Ankara. During each stop along the tour, the teachers learned about world-famous cultural, archaeological, architectural and natural sites of Turkey and met with experts, educators and representatives of Turkish civil society.
“Professionally for me, in essence, we peeled back the layers of 10,000 years of history if you think about it. We didn’t’ necessarily do things in that chronological order because we started in Istanbul looking at Byzantine and Ottoman Turkish sites,” Parkin said. “But then the oldest site we went to was Catalhoyuk which is south-southwest of Ankara – kind of in south-central Turkey. It’s considered one of the oldest, urban sites dating back 8,000 years B.C. And of course what we consider urban and what they consider urban is different– you’re talking maybe a few hundred or a few thousand people but 8,000 years ago that was a large number of people.”
Parkin said they also saw more “intermediary sites” like Pergamon which was the capital of Lydia. “And Lydia, sometime around 700 or so B.C., because they had rich deposits of silver and gold, is credited with inventing currency,” Parkin noted.
The group’s visit to Ephesus, which Parkin pointed out was where there was a riot in the early days of Christianity that’s mentioned in the book of Acts, was a personal highlight of the trip. “That for me, personally, was very exciting to be able to look into this theater and stand on this stage and think 2,000 years ago there was a big riot here because the silversmiths were upset that the Christians might break their rice bowl,” Parkin explained. “If people start worshiping this God you don’t depict, where’s our income going to come from kind of thing so that was one thing that was very personally rewarding for me.”
Parkin recalled several other places in Turkey they visited as he highlighted the historical significance of each. “We went and saw Troy and of course Troy was inhabited prior to the time period of the Iliad by Homer as well as after,” Parkin noted. “We visited other sites such as the battlefield of Gallipoli, which next year is their 100th anniversary. That’s where the British tried to force The Narrows and take Turkey out of the war and keep Russia in the war. I’ve always been fascinated with World War I and of course the centenary is here now.”
While thinking about what were the personal highlights of the trip versus the professional ones, Parkin acknowledged that those two were often blurred. “Because I love what I do and teach so much, it’s hard for me to kind of separate the personal from the professional,” Parkin noted.
In talking to Parkin, there’s no doubt this man is a walking encyclopedia of world history, but don’t think that he doesn’t also have a sense of humor. He made and wore t-shirts during the trip that thematically tied-in with stops on the tour. “So when we went to the Byzantine stuff, I wore a t-shirt of Belisarius, who is probably the greatest Byzantine general. His picture was on the front, and on the back, I have a list of all the battles he won. So it’s kind of like a parody of the rock concert t-shirt - Rolling Stones North American Tour 2005 - well this is the Belisarius Victory Tour,” Parkin said joking. “It was really a lot of fun. Like the day we went to Gallipoli I wore a shirt with Winston Churchill on it because he was one of the people who came up with the idea to try to take Gallipoli from the Turks.”
Having participated in numerous other educational trips and workshops designed for educators in the states and internationally, Parkin stressed that the common thread in them all is that he “runs into a lot of other consummate professionals. It’s not that I don’t work with consummate professionals here in District 7, but they are a different breed who are willing to take such a big chunk of their time out and travel half way across the world and live and breathe these locations,” Parkin said. “You get an opportunity to meet and work with and become friends with people who are kindred spirits in that respect. I suspect some very strong, life-long bonds have been forged on this trip. There’s a number of people I definitely want to stay in touch with. That has always been a very rewarding kind of thing.”
The teachers who were selected for the trip were required, upon their return home, to develop a teaching lesson plan about Turkey that would be disseminated within their own school districts as well as published on the Turkish Cultural Foundation’s Web site for other teachers to use. “So there were 23 people who went on the first two-week trip and then the 25 on the trip I went on so you’re looking at almost 50 lesson plans,” Parkin said. “Some of them may have similar ideas or overlap but they will all reflect the personalities and experiences of each teacher and will probably run the gamut of the places we visited and the topics we were introduced to,” Parkin said. “We learned about the arts of the Ottoman Empire. Whether it was carpet weaving, marble, paper making, glass beads. . . you’ve got literature, religion, architecture, music and I suspect by the time 48 people produce their lesson plans there’s going to be quite an interesting collection. We can hopefully benefit from each other’s efforts.”
It was a trip of a lifetime, but also a trip that will provide even a greater depth of understanding of world history that Parkin can infuse into his teaching at the high school. “But just the whole idea of peeling back these layers (of history). I’m still kind of processing and thinking, wow, I can’t believe I was there,” Parkin said.