For students: We hope this two-page guide will help sharpen your reading skills and deepen your understanding of this issue’s articles.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from Saudi Aramco World, by teachers at any level, whether working in a classroom or through home study.
— THE EDITORS
This issue’s Classroom Guide is organized around two themes: The Arts and Putting the Puzzle Together.
Theme: The Arts
What makes the arts valuable? Two articles in this issue of Saudi Aramco World address that question in different ways. The first, “new voices | new afghanistan,” presents five profiles of young entrepreneurs (four of whom work in culture and the arts) in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Start your work by thinking about the context. As a class, discuss and write down what you already know about Afghanistan. Use the introduction to “new voices | new afghanistan” to get you started. If your knowledge is thin, visit your library or do an Internet search to find out about Afghanistan since 1978. Before you go on with the activities, be sure you can answer these questions: What wars was the country involved in? What is the Taliban? How did it fall? What is the current political situation in the country?
What role can the arts play in rebuilding a country?
Think about what it would be like to live in a country that is rebuilding after decades of war. If you were a young entrepreneur, what kind of business would you want to start? Why? How would it help meet the needs of the people around you? Discuss your thoughts as a class.
Now think about “new voices | new afghanistan.” What kinds of businesses does it focus on? How do they compare to your ideas? Why do you think the people interviewed for the article chose to focus on arts and culture? In other words, why do these five entrepreneurs think arts and culture are so important? Do you agree? Write your answers, and do it in the form of a letter to one of the five. In your letter, a) explain what you understand about why he or she chose that work; b) state whether you admire and/or would make that choice; and c) explain why you hold the opinion you do.
When is it worthwhile to take risks to make art?
The people profiled in “new voices | new afghanistan” all touch on the subject of the difficulties—and sometimes dangers—of working in Afghanistan. Highlight the places in the article that address these problems. Then divide the class into pairs. With your partner, focus on Roya Sadat and Rana Ahmadi. Both talk about the dangers they face, but each woman has reached a different conclusion about how to proceed. Take the role of one of these women; have your partner take the role of the other. Role-play a conversation about the risks involved in being a woman making films and commercials, and about how you’ve decided to deal with them. Can you understand each other’s point of view?
Think about film- and commercial-making in most other countries. They are hardly dangerous occupations—at least not in the life-threatening way that they are in Afghanistan. What do you think motivates most actors and filmmakers to pursue the careers they’ve chosen? (Check out some of their Web sites, pick up a fan magazine, or watch “American Idol” if you’re having trouble answering that question!) How would the motivation to make films—even documentary films—in most other places differ from Roya Sadat’s motivation? How would the motivation to star in commercials elsewhere differ from Rana Ahmadi’s motivation? Think about whether you would you be interested in film- or commercial-making if you lived in Afghanistan.
After you complete these activities, write a journal entry that answers this question: When is it worthwhile to take risks, and when isn’t it worthwhile? In your writing, address the two Afghan women. Think, too, about what you might do if you were in their place, and why you might do it, or not.
What does art reveal about the people who created it and the times they lived in?
“Written on the Wind” also looks at the importance of the arts, but in a different way. Read the article, which examines works of art and the Southeast Asian Islamic context in which they were created. Using different colored highlighters, identify the following elements of that context: geography, economics, politics and, of course, religion. Write each at the top of a sheet of paper. On each page, identify how each context affected the artwork, and/or what the artwork reveals about each context area at the time the artwork was created. What concluding statement can you make about the relationship between art and its context?
Which approach to the arts do you find more interesting? Why?
The two articles you’ve read are both based on the notion that the arts are very important. But each article views that importance differently. Which do you find more interesting? Why? Write your answer in response to this prompt: “I find the arts interesting because…”
Theme: Putting the Puzzle Together
“New Pieces of Mada’in Salih’s Puzzle” describes how scholars are piecing together the history of a city in what is today Saudi Arabia. On one level, this article tells about the history of Mada’in Salih, the city known in ancient times as Hegra. But on another level, it shows you how scholars pool their efforts, gather data and put together a story about the past. As the title of the article says, it’s a lot like putting together a puzzle—only, as you’ll see, sometimes you don’t know where the edges are!
Why do scholars want to know about Mada’in Salih’s past?
Before looking at how scholars are piecing together the history of Mada’in Salih and its people, think about a more basic question: Why is it worthwhile to find out about that past? When scholars apply for funding to pursue their research, they must always answer that question. Glibly put, they must answer the big “So what?” Why should they spend years of their lives—and ask others to spend lots of money—to excavate the remains of this Saudi Arabian city? (Or any other one!) Write your class’s answer to the question at the top of a piece of chart paper. You will be adding to the chart as you work through the following activities.
People with many different occupations are participating in the excavation at Mada’in Salih. What do they do?
Near the top of page 17, you will find a dizzying list of specialists who will be involved in the four-year excavation project at Mada’in Salih. They include: archeologists, epigraphers, numismatists, topographers, ceramicists, paleobotanists, anthropologists, geophysicists, and draftsmen. Divide the class into groups. Assign each group one of the occupations. Find out what your occupation involves. Get more than a dictionary definition. Do a little digging. (Yes, that pun was intended.) Find the parts of the article that describe work that someone with your group’s occupation has done. Then expand your search. Find examples of your occupation in action in other settings. Report to the class on what you’ve found.
Each of the specialists provides pieces of the puzzle that’s being put together at Mada’in Salih. What are those pieces? Make a jigsaw puzzle. Have a piece for the type of evidence that each scholar works with. What title would you give the puzzle?
How are scholars piecing together Mada’in Salih’s past?
The story of the excavations at Mada’in Salih is a fascinating example of how scholars locate evidence, then use that evidence to piece together the puzzle of what an ancient civilization was like. Read the article again, looking specifically for mentions of the evidence that’s been found at Mada’in Salih. On your chart, below your class’s statement about the value of excavating the site, make a two-column chart. In the left-hand column, list each type of evidence. In the right-hand column, list what it might be evidence of. Remember that sometimes evidence lies in what’s missing. When there is reason to expect something to be present but it’s not there, that’s a kind of evidence. Be sure to include that in your chart.
Gather your information not just from the text of the article, but from the photos that accompany it. Nearly every photograph pre-sents a piece of the evidence being uncovered at Mada’in Salih. Study the photos and read the captions to find out what each shows you. Include the evidence from the photographs in your table.
What happens when new findings change the basic understanding of the history being studied?
In Mada’in Salih, something unexpected—and exciting—happened. Scholars found something that challenged their core ideas about Hegra (the name of the city in ancient times): A stone tablet whose writing showed them that the city they were studying actually lasted longer than they had thought. Think about how dramatic that finding is. Imagine that it’s the year 4000, and the most recent artifacts from the United States come from 1907. Then suddenly archeologists find something from 2007. (Maybe it’s a copy of this magazine that’s been stored in a safe.) Their whole idea about the United States has to change. In Mada’in Salih, how has that one tablet changed not just the pieces of the puzzle they’re constructing, but the puzzle itself?
Analyzing Visual Images
Consider the photograph on page 16. It looks, at first glance, like a simple desert landscape. But look more closely at the composition. Notice the different sections, which are defined by color variations, shapes and the textures of the objects in the photo. Before you read the caption, see if you can figure out what this is a photograph of, and how it relates to the excavation at Mada’in Salih. Then read the caption. Were you right?
Look at the focal point of the photo—the cuts in the ground. Look at a sidewalk in your community. It’s probably flatter than the cut earth shown in the photo, but photographing its cracks or seams would present some of the same problems that the photographer faced here. Use a camera to take pictures of the sidewalk. Try different angles. You might take one looking straight down at it, another from near ground level. You might take a picture in which the blocks of sidewalk fill the frame completely, others with different backgrounds. You might try something more abstract, like a shot from the side, so that the lines separating the squares look vertical in your photo. Which of your photos is most interesting to look at? What makes it most interesting? Which is least interesting? What makes it that way? Which draws attention to the cracks between the blocks? Which is the most informative? Which is most visually pleasing or artistic.
||Julie Weiss is an education consultant based in Lowell, Massachusetts. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies. Her company, Unlimited Horizons, develops social studies, media literacy and English as a Second Language curricula, and produces textbook materials.