Monday, January 5, 2009
Passports' Power Permits People to Poo-Poo Perfidious Pronouncements
I really enjoy volunteering at my daughter's school. The teachers I've met there are great - so enthusiastic and dedicated. One of the tasks I work on is testing students for the Geography Passport program. It's a fun way to motivate them to learn about the world.
I recognize that it isn't even a drop in the bucket that needs to be filled to bring our students up to speed in this global economy. Still, this program boasts some impressive results. It began in Olympia, Washington, where an elementary school which used it in grades 1-5 for a two year period found that eighty percent of the students scored 13 out of 15 or better on a geography quiz. The nearest comparable school's scores had only eight percent scoring 13 out of 15 or better.
But the material only goes so far. (Get it? Goes so far? What a great geography pun.) There is a world of knowledge (Oops, I did it again! Man, I'm clever.) about geography beyond the simple facts of names, of terrain, of places. Geography is not merely physical; it is a study of cultures.
I read a really interesting piece by Jerome Dobson, president of the American Geographical Society about this matter. He writes:
Geography is more than you think. Geography is to space what history is to time. It is a spatial way of thinking, a science with distinctive methods and tools, a body of knowledge about places, and a set of information technologies that have been around for centuries. Geography is about understanding people and places and how real-world places function in a viscerally organic sense.
Dobson details the history of geography studies in his article, noting the influence of AGS scholars in establishing President Wilson's knowledge base for leadership of an emerging world power. Isaiah Bowman, whom Dobson credits as the author of America's globalization policy, also served FDR and worked to establish the United Nations.
While the Passport program may not prepare students to map out (OMG, another pun!) a foreign policy strategy, it's a darned good first step.
I'll share a bit more Dobson with you to explain why:
Today, however, politicians and pundits can make whatever pronouncements they please about geography, no matter how absurd, and there aren't enough geographically informed people to counter their claims. Geographically smart people exist, of course, in government offices, schools, businesses, and homes across the land, but they are too few. There's no sizable constituency to carry the day.
So I'm doing my little part to help in the fight against geographic illiteracy. And of course, I'm educating my owns kids in more thorough ways, taking them on travels and exposing them to news and literature about other places. It's neat to watch them learn and develop critical thinking skills. Maybe the liars won't get away with their foul deeds if enough of us learn more geography. It's worth a try, don't you think?