Laser Points on Ancient Messages

“Watch your step like an Egyptian,” our guide told us, “so you don’t fall down like an American.”

I didn’t mind looking down. The granite pavers under my feet had been worn smooth for thousands of years. Who had walked on these pathways, I wondered as the guide took us through the famous Temple of Hatshepsut, the princess who pulled the baby Moses from the Nile.

“Watch your step,” he said at the Step Pyramid of Zoser, the oldest pyramid ever built, dating back to 2700 B.C.

He said it at the Tomb of King Tut and at the Avenue of the Sphinx and at the storehouses Joseph built and at Cheops, the most colossal pyramid ever built.

I haven’t fallen, not yet. But it’s hard to watch your step in a place where looking is learning. We, with our smart boards and slides and video conferencing, have nothing on ancient Egyptian visuals. In Egypt, there is literacy in the statuary and on the walls of temples and tombs and gates. And on ceilings—which takes your eyes even further from your feet. In the hieroglyphics and symbols and stone-chiseled drawings, you can read biographies and histories and strategies and beliefs.

What a delicious anachronism to watch guides explain meanings by moving their laser pointers across ancient messages reaching forty feet high.

As I watched guides teaching the throngs of people who came to see what they could learn, I reflected on a trend I noticed in the decades I taught. Students, it seemed, more and more attended better, made greater sense of content, and remembered longer when I made concepts visible. When their eyes had nothing to see, their brains disengaged.

We are now leaving the visuals of the temples and tombs to head through the wilderness. The people Moses led away from Egypt and across the desert missed what they left behind: fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. And likely, so did Moses.

But as I look across the vast spaces of the desert, I can’t help but think that Moses looked up at the empty skies and missed the messages on the walls.

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