Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Why Geography doesn't matter according to a Geography Teacher

This story has created quite the brouhaha in the blogosphere. Apparently a large percentage of 18-24 year olds in America are clueless about where stuff is. According to the Roper poll conducted for National Geographic:
• One-third of respondents couldn't pinpoint Louisiana on a map and 48 percent were unable to locate Mississippi.

• Six in 10 could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle East.

• While the outsourcing of jobs to India has been a major U.S. business story, 47 percent could not find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia.

• While Israeli-Palestinian strife has been in the news for the entire lives of the respondents, 75 percent were unable to locate Israel on a map of the Middle East.

Who cares? A few blogs I read including Dignan and The Education Wonks do.

I don't and I teach Geography. It is very possible these 18-24 year olds knew the information at an earlier point in their lives, but don't remember it now. Maybe you are one of those folks. You dutifully colored in your maps and memorized where things were on the worksheet. You coughed up the answers for the quiz on Friday and promptly forgot on Saturday. I don't blame you. Considering all that is out there, knowing where Ohio and New York are on a map isn't important. You can always Google Map it from your phone or laptop if you need to know the answer.

Some may say I advocate dumbing down the curriculum and skipping the basics. Please note that I am not arguing that Geography shouldn't be taught. Heck, I'd be out of a job. My only point was that adults aged 18-24 don't need to know this sort of knowledge, so they don't remember it.

Should we teach more than the bare minimum? Absolutely, but that doesn't mean everyone will retain all the information. Do you know the speed of light off the top of your head? Can you recite more than 2 lines from Romeo and Juliet? Do you know the treaty that ended the 30 Years War? How about being able to give the scientific name for 3 bones in the human body? or exactly how many state representatives sit in your state's legislature?

The truth is that none of that matters to most people. Not in the world of Google. I can almost Google those answers faster than I can wrack my brain to get the answer. In a high tech world, facts are easy. Analysis, synthesis and evaluation are much more important skills. The victor in today's business world isn't the one that figures out who the customers are and where they live, it is the one that figures out what they want and where they want it.

FYI- The answers are: 299,792,458 m/s. Answers vary, but Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say 'Ay'; And I will take thy word. Yet, if thou swear'st, Thou may prove false. At lovers' perjuries, They say Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo, If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully. Or if thou thinkest I am too quickly won, I'll frown, and be perverse, and say thee nay, So thou wilt woo; but else, not for the world. is a famous quotation. Treaty of Westphalia. Again vary, but 3 well known ones are the femur, patella and the coccyx. Finally, varies but go here for your state.

So to me, it is much more distressing that those 18-24 year olds believe:
• Fewer than three in 10 think it important to know the locations of countries in the news and just 14 percent believe speaking another language is a necessary skill.

because the world is getting increasingly interconnected and the 18-24 year olds are the next generation of businessmen and women. For them to not think it is important to know where a newsworthy country is and don't care about other languages worries me. Can America compete with that kind of attitude?

So what this Geography teacher think should be done? My first step would be to remove all worksheets that have to be colored and labeled with locations. Who cares where Israel is? Certainly not a 16 year old inner city youth. Is it important that he knows where Israel is and why it is important? Absolutely, so the teacher better make him interested. Drop the atlases and worksheets and talk about future wars in that region over water that he might be fighting in. Show how the security fence Israel is building follows the line of the underground aquifer in that region. Now that is interesting Geography. Rather than label all the deserts in the world, why not discuss how increased desertification has compounded the troubles in Darfur? That gets kids attention. If you get it long enough, they will also pick out that the encroaching desert is the Sahara. That will stick with them, the colored and labeled map will not. Let's get students thinking rather than just memorizing.

Few 18-24 year olds need to know the difference between Ohio and New York on a map. A teen in Florida doesn't need to know this unless s/he is traveling there. Having a general idea is probably good enough for most day-to-day living. Should people know more US and World Geography? Sure, but the world is a big place and we are busy people. The exact location of political boundaries, especially in America where everything and everyone is so fluid, rarely matters.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,