King Agamemnon and the Angry Birds: what have we learned in 3000 years?

Scene: 13th Century BC Greece; the throne room of Agamemnon, King of Mycenae. The King waits alone in front of a huge enchanted mirror. Suddenly the surface of the mirror ripples with a rainbow of colour, and two men step through, both dressed strangely.

The King: By Zeus you have returned. To what strange land did Circe's mirror take you?
First traveller: To the 21st century, Lord Agamemnon.
The King: And what marvels does such a future hold? Show me.
First Traveller: It is a world of magic, majesty. (He empties a bag on the floor in front of the King) See: this black box of glass allows the owner to talk to anyone across the known world. Like the Delphi oracle it answers any question man's mind can frame, and like a mechanical homunculus labours silently to its master's tasks.
The King: It shines like a lamp. Here, give me it. (He examines it) What's this?
First traveller: Angry Birds, majesty.
The King: I would know these Angry Birds.

Three hours later

The King: We shall return to conquer these magical swine later. What other miracles will our descendants enjoy?
First Traveller: Every joy and comfort that philosophy can conjure, majesty. The art of the apothecary has been elevated such that many live into great ages of forty, fifty and more. It is possible to wear the same teeth throughout a man's life. Horses have given way to iron wagons, driven by trapped Djinn of fire that roar and steam as they propel men along faster than wind. Great cities stud the world as bright and as tall as Olympus. Men fly around the world inside giant falcons...
The King: Like the Birds that are Angry?
First Traveller: (pauses) Sort of. Sure.Wars are settled as the Gods do; by hurling great thunderbolts of fire across nations, and by all manner of Hephaestian device. It is a world of the casually miraculous.
The King: Astonishing. Nature itself bows to the sorcery of mens' minds, centuries hence. What a future you have shown to me. And you, man: what part of our kind's destiny did you explore? What have you to tell me of our path, millenia from now?
Second Traveller: (puts hands in pockets) Er...
The King: Speak. Your companion has sought the marvels of men's conquest of nature. What did you explore?
Second Traveller: Schools, sir. I spent some time speaking to their wisest augurs, and studied their greatest arts.
The King: Ah, this is happy news! What secrets of men's minds have our descendants divined? What alchemy have the wisest of their mages discerned?
Second Traveller: Well....
The King: Well what?
Second Traveller: Well it is said that children learn best when they are taught by experts, and given new information which they are then asked to recall and explain. It is also said that this should be neither too easy, nor too hard.
The King: (not impressed)....go on.
Second Traveller: (visibly sweating) And they also say that they should probably be tested from time to time. And shouldn't muck about.
The King: Is that it?
Second Traveller: Pretty much.
The King: Hmm. That sounds exactly how my own education went. Is there nothing to match the invention of the Furious Birds of Nemesis? Be careful how you reply, or you will suffer the fate of the Boss Pig in Ham 'em High.
Second Traveller: There's this, my liege. (Pulls out a cap)
The King: What's this?
Second Traveller: It is a Hat of Thinking. Placing it on a child's head gives it the wisdom of Hera.
The King: (trying it on) My mind is no clearer.
Second Traveller: It is because you are so wise already.
The King: Ah yes, I knew that. What else?
Second Traveller: (warming to a theme) It is said that children learn best, not when taught by a teacher, but by each other, in groups.
The King: That seems somewhat counter intuitive.
Second Traveller: You can't argue with science, majesty.
The King: Let it be so throughout the land from now on. And let the spinning wheels of Mycenae weave a coloured hat for every child, until we rear a nation of Apollos. Anything else?
Second Traveller: Yes- the children should be taught through the medium of drama and role-play. They should cast their books...
The King: Nobody has books. This is the 13th century BC.
Second Traveller:....their scrolls aside and be taught instead how they feel about carpentry, blacksmithing, war and nature.
The King: How are they expected to...are you sure this is all legit?
Second traveller: Their sages were quite clear on the matter.
The King: Well...if you say so. I'll have every script and scroll pressed to feed the furnace. What more?
Second Traveller: If it pleases sir, I have a most wonderful thing that will transport teacher and pupil alike to greatness. (pulls out a piece of paper)
The King: A note?
Second Traveller: A design, majesty. It is the architect's plans for the fabled Learning Bicycle of the 21st Century. I wasn't quite clear how it worked, but it seemed very popular.
The King: Let us build a fleet then, and raise an army of....
Second Traveller: ...of Independent, creative digital natives and discovery learning explorers.
The King: You know, for a minute there I thought you were going to say that we had learned nothing in all those centuries. Of course, I would have to kill you for your failure.
Second Traveller: (going pale) Yes, they have this philosophy too in the future. They call it high-stakes accountability.
The King: Instead, you are more the hero than your companion, for his marvels have run out of power and we have no leads or wall sockets to restore the spirits inside. I will announce you as Prince of Education to the people.

[Kingdom promptly falls]

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  1. Agamemnon always had a troubled relationship with prophecies: it was a dodgy weather forecast that led to ten years of war with Troy and a very angry wife when he got home.

    Great article, though.


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