I find relative uniformity in
viewpoints on the topic of Americans’ knowledge of geography. Everyone agrees that “we” know too little about geography. Also, it seems that everyone agrees that
geography is not being taught well enough. The discussions seem to go
back and forth about who should do the teaching. I haven’t seen any discussion about how we learn geography.
Academia offers us, starting in our youths, an enormous collection of
information. Most of this data is learned through memorization which is
perceived in a theoretical mindset. Very few subjects are actualized. For example, word problems in math are most students biggest difficulty.
Let me make the distinction this way. You may inform me that your
dog has died and that you feel extremely distraught over the loss. I
have never felt any affection for an animal in my entire life, so I
have never experienced this loss. Now. I understand
and believe you when you describe your pain. I can comprehend your pain
in a theoretical way by superimposing suffering from my past onto the
image I have of your situation, but all this understanding does not
mean I’m able to relate.
Ultimately, I think it isn’t knowledge “we” are missing but the ability to relate to other cultures.
Now consider this. Even if the best teacher, the best parent, the best
self-taught high-achiever is involved, how well do you think the
student will be able to relate to geography without real, not textbook
induced, exposure. And without relatedness, how well do you think the
student will be able to use that information in life (when voting
on foreign affairs decisions, meeting a foreign individual, or answering a
question on a game show).
The problem does not lie in our education, we have too high a dependency on school learning already, but lies in the fact that “we”
have too little exposure to real multi-culturalism (and I’m not talking
about the elementary school kids doing an americanized version of an
african dance in the cafeteria or eating Chinese food from the local China Express). In Europe, the countries are the size
of our states, and they are across a lake from Africa. Most highly
civilized countries get our culture
pumped into their lives through Internet, radio, television, and, most
importantly, by our businesses stomping commercial footprints
They know our culture, less because they read about it in their
textbooks, but because we have thrown our culture into there physical
Simply put, if you want to teach a child to value geography, then
the only way to really do that is to buy some tickets and teleport
yourselves into other realms and regions. Without that, all you can do
is hope you have instilled enough curiosity in them that they will
travel on their own later.