Before Homer Was a Simpson He Was a Bard

To set off an adventure like ours, you have to be willing to take some heat. Many of your friends and family will question your sanity and some will doubt your ability to follow through on your plans. We never allowed the skeptics to stand in our way and got used to the “you must be crazy” looks whenever we discussed the trip outside the safety of our own home. One of the first questions critics continue to ask is “But what about school?” Well, what about school? At home, school is a building where the kids spend their days learning facts and skills that will help them enter adulthood. On the road, school is a round the clock, everchanging experience, a 7-day-a-week field trip that teaches them more about the world and themselves than they could ever learn at home. We make sure that in the down times they are completing their core subject work, the big boys through BYU online courses and the little ones with us, but the rest of the time the world is their learning laboratory. By experiencing it first hand, they are gaining an appreciation for peoples, politics, cultures, and history most adults never do. They are also learning that the world is not something to be feared but rather to be embraced. They now know that just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it can’t be done and just because something seems foreign or uncomfortable doesn’t mean you can’t learn to love it (or at least tolerate it).

For those who still might argue their education is deficient, I offer three days in the life of the Andrus kids. After leaving Ephesus, one of the world’s largest Roman ruins, they took in another series of ancient sites surrounding the city of Bergama, known long ago as Pergamum. The Greco-Roman complex perched on the hilltop reminded us that great advances in art and scholarship occurred thousands of years before we were born and more than a millennium before Shakespeare, Newton, and DaVinci. At the base of the hill they walked the perimeter of the Red Basilica, once a temple to the Egyptian god Serapis, and widely believed to be the building John deemed “the seat of Satan” in the Bible’s Book of Revelations. He also singled it out as one of the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse, a heavy distinction borne out by its current creepy vibe. A few more kilometers down the road, they saw the Asklepion, the world’s first psychiatric hospital and onetime home to Galen, a pioneering surgeon of the second century whose techniques were thousands of years before his time.

Satan's Throne The complex on the hill in Pergamum

Their classical civilizations lesson for the day was complete, but this particular site presented a lesson in modern history as well. Situated in the cusp of a narrow, shallow canyon, it is flanked by a full-on military base. Signs warn visitors that taking pictures is forbidden and serve as a not so subtle reminder that Turkey sits smack dab in the middle of one of the most politically and militarily volatile regions in the world. When McKane was back home in school, one of his teachers swore Guam was in the Caribbean. He’ll never make such a mistake. He knows Iraq and Armenia are across the border to the east and Bulgaria is to the north. He knows the military is currently threatening to flex its muscles against the government if the possible president takes a religious stance in this country that has been stolidly secular since Ataturk proclaimed it so in the 1920’s.
Pergamum was just a stop on the way to an even more significant destination for the Andrus kids: the ruins of the legendary city of Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad, the place where men believe Helen gazed across the Aegean longing for her Greek home, or if you believe the Brad Pitt/Orlando Bloom version, fearing her return to her husband King Menelaus. For centuries scholars doubted the existence of Troy and shrugged off the Trojan War as lore. But in the late nineteenth century, Heinrich Schliemann, a fervent amateur historian and archaeologist, believed he had figured out the location based on Homer’s descriptions. He started digging in northwestern Turkey and when his site proved barren moved to another archaeologists’ site not far away. What he unearthed and partially destroyed over the next 20 years were the ruins of not one but 9 different cities, each a different iteration of Troy covering a different period of history. Some scholars now claim that the 400 year gap between Troy VII and Troy VIII points to a decimation of the population such as caused by natural disaster or war…specifically THE Trojan War.

McKane as a ghost at TroyDax leading his troops in a Trojan horse
Trojan explorers

Whatever you believe about the site, The Iliad remains of the world’s greatest epic poems, if not the greatest. Both Dax and McKane read it in 6th grade (3 years ago for Dax and this year for Mac) and could create vivid depictions of the once great city-state in their minds as we ambled the jumbled ruins. This was difficult since there was little left and like Ephesus, the shoreline has moved many miles to the west after millenia of silt deposit. Oddly enough, the highlight for many visitors, including the busloads of Korean and Japanese tourists we encountered, is the replica Trojan horse built in the 1970s. We joined in for some photographic fun before heading off for our next destination, a site that even though only an hour and a half away from these ancient ruins would catapult our history lesson into the twentieth century.
We spent the night at a fabulous new boutique hotel, the Abydos, in Cannakale and then took the ferry across the Dardanelles to the famed battlefields of Gallipoli. I thought Dax, our resident military historian who has a penchant for World War I, would be the most absorbed by the site, but it was the older members of our group who found it more compelling. Like all good students, we started our field trip at the information center, where we giggled at the silly plaques that explained the history through a poppy flower mascot.

Kieran at the welcome center in GallipoliThe crazy tulip guide

From there we drove Captain Starex (our rented Hyundai van) out to one of the most visited sites, the ANZAC landing point. We had read that the peninsula was worth visiting strictly for its natural beauty and this spot quickly confirmed that. Bright red plastic stadium seats blocked the view but we forgave their intrusion on the landscape given that a few days later there would be a sunrise service commemorating the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC troops). ANZAC Day is a national holiday in both distant countries, and each year thousands of Kiwis and Aussies make the pilgrimage to Turkey to honor their forefathers’ wartime sacrifice.

redchairsatgallipoli.JPG

The battles that raged on the peninsula for eight months were horrific for both sides, and the Allies and Turks collectively lost over 200,000 thousand men on the beautiful, rolling hills. No matter where we drove, we found cemeteries and memorials marking the locations where men had fallen, poignant reminders of the cost of war. Probably because of our Western origins, the simple crosses and stone walls resonated more with us than the bright yellow stucco Turkish constructions. Though we naturally gravitated toward the Allied memorials, we visited the Turkish ones as well.

Crosses mark the cemetaries spread across all of Gallipoli Turkish memorial in yellow stucco

We wondered how modern day Turks feel about the continuous stream of foreigners whose forefathers shed so much Turkish blood but quickly found our answer in the words of Ataturk, who first gained fame as a commander on the fields of Gallipoli.

Those heroes that shed their blood
and lost their lives;
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
and the Mehemets to us where they lie side by side
here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
who sent their sons from far away countries,
wipe away your tears;
your sons are now lying in our bosom
and are at peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have
become our sons as well.

daxatgallipoligraves.JPG

What a moving lesson in healing and forgiveness for our kids, one that will hopefully influence them in the way they approach the world as adults. I don’t know how they could have learned it more effectively in school.

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11 thoughts on “Before Homer Was a Simpson He Was a Bard

  1. I showed this to my fellow teachers today and they were all, like myself, jealous of your magnificent classroom that you have the opportunity to work in. Any truly devoted teacher would do just about anything to be able to experience these things with the kids they teach, even just for a day. Your kids have something not one teacher in the American school systems can give. I hope everyone who reads your post is aware of the magnitude of knowledge and understanding on a real life, been there seen it, done it, felt it, heard it level that very few people in the world will ever get the chance to have. I have also shown this site to the kids I teach and they are completely enamored with you year long field trip, especially being that we have no been allowed to have one in three years. A mother and father are truly the best teachers, you guys have just raised the bar. I am thoroughly impressed and in awe of your family.

    -Not a skeptic at ALL!!!

  2. Hey Andrus Family, my name is Giovanna, I’m 15 and I live in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After the Oprah episode, the one that showed you guys in Africa, I was very interested in knowing about the places you all went and the things you guys experienced. Since then, I have been reading the blog entries always when I find some time.
    What most makes me so driven into reading and wanting to be updated in what you guys write is how you all created a bond, and share love and joy together with happiness. It is rare now a days to see families like yours being so close and united, and I want to congratulate you all for having such a beautiful family, and for using this trip to not only create a bigger connection, but explore different places and meet new people. I know your story did not only inspire me and my family but all the other people who know about this “travel around the world’ trip. Keep up the fabuloussss work!!
    Best wishes to the whole family,
    Giovanna

  3. Anne,
    If this trip is part of the kids schooling, what do the do for college? Go to the moon? :)

  4. Hello Andrus Family!
    I’ve been a silent observer of your travels for the last few months. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us – I am sure you are impacting so many more lives than you can imagine! I am a French teacher in Utah, and have shared several of your posts with my students.

    Again, thank you for allowing so many of us to tag along. Enjoy the trip!

    ‘The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.’
    ~G.K. Chesterton

  5. You guys will join us in agreeing with Euripides: “Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves”
    We are just planning a trip – similar but much slower than yours….and the main concern of *others* appears to be THE CHILDREN’S EDUCATION. Never mind that we live like this at home anyway – our kids don’t go to school – it’s just that people don’t realise *how* we live! I guess it becomes more apparent to the rest of the world once you’re on the road. People seem to find it hard to understand that rather than being worried about their education, I’m EXCITED at the oportunities!
    You have confirmed it for me – and not just in this post, but in every single one.

    Now I have a question for you – are you guys history buffs and so *know* all the stuff to make your time meaningful or do you google your destinations a few days before arriving and learn along with the kids and the stylised poppies on memorials? Not mnay Americans know about us ANZACS!!

    Enjoy every moment.

  6. Anne, you hit the nail on the head with this post. There is nothing better than hands-on lessons to really make a lasting impression on our children. Your children are fortunate to have such wonderful teachers. That isn’t to say that our children can’t get a good education in public school, but with all the increasing paperwork teachers are required to do there is very little creativity and true teaching they can bring into their classrooms. And, in my mind, the worst thing that has come of all the new rules and budget cuts is that field trips are just about ancient history in our schools today. What you are doing for your family is giving them a global understanding of the world in which we live. Perhaps if more of us did that in our own homes, however we are able to do so, then we would be creating a much better, brighter, and more tolerant future for this world.

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  9. Hi Anne & Tom,

    congratulations on your trip and all the best with your health.

    I have a question for you about schooling while on extended travel. I wholeheartedly agree with your commentary on education – you’ve given your children “real” education. But are there legalities we should concern ourselves with before pulling our kids out of school? Do they have to be officially registered as “homeschooled”? (even if that “home” is the world road?). Are there regulations (by state perhaps?) with respect to reentering public or private school upon return? If so, and if you know of any, would you mind pointing me to resources for information on this?

    Thanks!
    Heidi

  10. Heidi,

    It varies by state and country. We have heard that it is illegal to home-school children in Germany but as far as I know it is legal in all of the US. Each state and even your district may have some rules about both the removal and re-admittance of your children. It is usually a pretty easy and straight forward process. We have done it both in Georgia and California and did not find the process to be tough, but we did find it to be different. You should look for local information, if you children are high school age I would recommend BYU’s online education. Our oldest did his freshman year through BYU. Good luck with your home or road school.

    Tom

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