I admit I wasn't smarter than a seventh grader until I had to teach my son world history. I taught him about the ancient caravan trade routes that are still visible from satellites but are invisible if you are standing on top of them. I realized WE may be standing on top of one of them right here in Central Turkey (Kayseri, known in Roman times as Caesaria). Ancient history no longer seems far away and irrelevant to me -- it comes alive here! (Map source)
I also taught him about the (relatively) nearby city of Petra, in the northwest corner of the Arabian peninsula, now Jordan, the remains of which we will probably visit while we're in this part of the world. "A former trading city nestled at the foot of a high cliff, it is now known for its beauty," my son's textbook, Across the Centuries states. "Attracted by Petra's ample supply of spring water, travelers began stopping at this center as early as 300 B.C....In the open-air marketplace, or suq of Petra, wheat, olive oil, wine, hides, slaves, precious stones, and spices were abundantly available."
We learned about the long-lost "Frankincense Road" (see Georgie Anne Geyer's March, 2010 article) that led to the ancient marketplace of Ubar. That's south of here in Oman. Maybe we will get there while living in this part of the world. I hear it's beautiful, and peaceful.
With the textbook's guidance, I taught him about the rise of Arab culture from nomads, the growth of communities centered around oases, the origins of Islam with the prophet Abraham (who also "founded" Judaism and Christianity). I visited Abraham's home cave in not-far-away Sanliurfa, Turkey, in the southeast. Alex also learned about pilgrimages to Mecca and specifically to the Kaaba (built by Abraham and his son Ishmael more than 4,000 years ago), and how Muslims used advanced irrigation systems to make the desert bloom. We learned about the five pillars of Islam and the differences between Sunni and Shia.
This is an American textbook, but how much do most Americans know about this subject? Certainly, I sure didn't learn much about it in school. I'm glad my son is learning more about the world than I did when I did.