No Geography Left Behind?

Guest Blogger Chris Shearer examines the state of federal support for Geography education.

may be wondering to yourself, “If the world is becoming
flat, or post-American, or potentially close to collapse,
how is it that Geography–THE subject in school that
addresses these issues so well–is given such short shrift?” Okay, maybe you
weren’t wondering this but I, as a card-carrying geography education advocate,
was wondering it for you.

here’s one possible answer: federal policy.

has actually been on Congress’ radar since President George H.W. Bush (you
remember him, the father not the son) gathered the nation’s governors at a
1989 Education
 in Charlottesville, VA, and they ginned up the concept of standards-based education in core

The guy who
wrote up the Summit’s recommendations in a memo
to President Bush was a then little-known governor of Arkansas named Bill Clinton. When he
subsequently became El Presidente himself, he brought the idea that Geography
is a key academic area with him to the White House, and got it named as a core
subject in the Improving
America’s Schools Act
. Then, George W. Bush took the reins and,
working with Congress, kept Geography as one of nine core subjects in No Child Left

So far so
good, right? Sort of. Here’s the problem: While Geography is indeed a required
subject and, while it is periodically assessed by the National Assessment of
Educational Progress (better known as The Nation’s Report Card), it is the ONLY subject that does not receive
dedicated federal funding.

does this mean? Well, it means that fiscal year 2008 Congressional budgets in
education look something like this:

506 million
Math & Science Partnerships                      $
179 million
Teaching American History                        $ 118 million
Foreign Language Assistance Programs      $ 26 million
Geography                                                $

right. Zero dollars for the subject that deals–in this time of war, climate
change, cultural loss, and competitive international markets–with studying the
earth; understanding its places, regions, and physical systems; human impacts
on the environment, and vice versa; the study of culture and conflict; and the
use of new technologies, such as
GIS, to analyze and solve problems.

non? But there is hope. Congressional leaders have proposed a bill called
Geography Is Fundamental
, which would provide an initial $15 million
annually for teacher training and research in Geography education. The bill is
currently being considered for inclusion in the next version of No Child Left

Maybe this is
news to you? Maybe you want to find out more? Maybe you want your kids to get
some Geographic learnin’? Maybe you want your students to be ready to succeed
in the future? Maybe you want your Member of Congress to support the bill? I’m
just asking.


Chris Shearer is Director of Grantmaking at the National Geographic Education
Foundation and Director of the My
Wonderful World

Note: Today, the National Geographic Education Foundation presents the second annual Geography Legislator of the Year Awards to four members of Congress. Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Representatives Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Tim Walz (D-MN) have been selected for their demonstrated commitment to promoting improved geographic literacy among American students. Notably, Senator Kennedy has championed TGIF in the Senate as chairman of the Education Committee, and Senator Alexander helped establish National Geographic’s grassroots system of state-based geographic education alliances. Representative Walz, a former high school geography teacher, has worked with Blunt, another former teacher, and others in the House to build support for educational legislation.

7 thoughts on “No Geography Left Behind?

  1. Wow! Great site and great insight about federal funding for Geography education in K-12. Be sure to mention to your students that Geography is alive and well in post-secondary education and as a Geographer, I can say that it is full of career potential as the number of available positions for Geographers has outpaced the number of qualified candidates.

  2. Dear Joan: Always nice to see someone else out there with a real passion for the subject! I agree that our students must have a strong background in the Social Sciences. To crib from Senator Ted Kennedy, “the strength of our democracy and our standing in the world also depend on children having a basic understanding of the nation’s past and how to engage in our democracy.” (As the son of an artist—and a struggling musician myself—I could not agree more with the need for Arts education. By the way, see the excellent Web site.)
    I do want to clarify that the geography education community is certainly not trying to dismantle the Social Studies or eat its lunch; what National Geographic, and others, are advocating for is simply that the U.S. Congress step up to the plate to add funding under the No Child Left Behind Act for Geography—the only one of the named “core” disciplines under that specific bill to have no dedicated source of support. Oh, I owe you a citation for geography in the Improving America’s Schools Act. It’s in Section 2103, under the definition of “Core Subject Areas,” which are listed as Mathematics, Science, English, Civics and government, Foreign languages, Arts, Geography, History, and Economics.
    Thanks for your posting. Best, Chris

  3. Dear Sue: I like your point about High School. In fact, the College Board has added an AP course and exam in “Human Geography,” which is the fastest growing Advanced Placement course they have. This year they expect more than 40,000 kids to take the exam. Pretty good growth in just 7 years–it started in 2001. PS–A High School year in Geography *is* required in Texas and some 340,000 students take the course annually. Don’t mess with Texas! Thanks for your comment! Best, Chris.

  4. Dear Hunter: “Wow” is right. If you want to say that to your Members of Congress check out the “Notify Your Lawmakers” button on the My Wonderful World homepage. Thanks for your comment. If you have time, tell a friend about the campaign. Best, Chris.

  5. Geography AND civics and government AND economics AND history of places other than the U.S. are missing from Mr. Shearer’s list. Every one of these subject areas within the social sciences is important. (Yes, I know that social sciences and the humanities battle over history: it’s both.) Arts education (visual arts, music, theatre, dance, etc.) is missing too, and it too is vital. Is geography truly the ONLY one of these subjects without federal education funding? These additional subjects, by the way, the remaining ones of the nine that Mr. Shearer refers to, come from “Goals 2000: Educate America Act,” sec. 102 (3), which is referred to in the “Improving America’s Schools Act.” If there’s a place in the latter where geography is mentioned by name, please post that clarification. Although it wouldn’t help arts education, it would help the rest if the lobbying efforts of the geography establishment, including NGS, would quit elbowing the rest of the social sciences out of the way. When was the last time the geometry establishment tried to act like something other than part of mathematics? This atomized politicking has proven counterproductive for years and ill-serves the country and its students.

  6. When you watch Jay Leno ask geography questions of college kids and young adults you can see the need for stronger emphasis on teaching geography in the schools. And, geography should not be an elective, but a core course at least one year of senior high school. Elementary school should continue to raise students curiosity’s about other countries and their cultures and how they live.

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