“Movin’ On Up” with Geography in Motor City


Last weekend geography educators and enthusiasts from across
the country traveled to Dearborn, Michigan,
for the annual National Council on Geography Education (NCGE) conference.

The highlight of the event for the My Wonderful World team
was an intensive, spirited, one day workshop for our Public Engagement
Coordinators (PECs).
These are our grassroots organizers who promote the cause for geographic
education in communities across the nation–and the world.

We started the training session by posing a series of
questions related to messaging and strategy:
Why is geography

What do we want the
public to do?

How can we promote
Geography Awareness Week 2008 through traditional and new media?

How can partnerships
and events enhance campaign reach?

Then, we put the PECs to work developing plans to localize the campaign in their states. At the end
of the day, though, I think we may have learned as much from them as they did
from us. This highly energetic, experienced group of educators brought some
great ideas to the table that we are excited to implement soon!

Most rewarding was that the PECs carried the energy generated at the
workshop with them throughout the rest of the weekend, infecting others in the
NCGE community with the same fervor for geographic activism, and actively
participating in several additional National Geographic-led sessions at the

Following Thursday’s workshop we now have over 100  trained Public Engagement Coordinators in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. You may have met one of these hardy geo-evangelists
at an event in your hometown. Perhaps
it was even a PEC who first introduced you to the My Wonderful World campaign!

As we all raced around the Henry Ford Museum
during a Friday night gala like wide-eyed children, I was struck by connections
between the museum and our own workshop. I stepped into a mobile diner that had
been transplanted from my home state of Massachusetts,
and reflected on our PECs who had traveled far and
wide from their own hometowns to join us in Dearborn. Included among the Americana artifacts were
many projects and ideas once perceived as “radical” when first introduced. Some
of these resulted in failed ventures (e.g. the “Dymaxion” house ),
while others wholly changed the course and character of American and global society
(e.g. the Wright Brothers airplane).

Whether ultimately successful or not, all represented daring
attempts to challenge the status quo and advance human progress through innovation.
And here we were in this museum, itself a wonderful hands-on educational
resource, offering our own challenge to the educational status quo. Call me
overzealous, but I believe that serious reform to expand quality geographic
education offerings–reform that would instill students with a spatial perspective
and equip them with the knowledge and skills to tackle critical global and
local issues like climate change, the energy crisis, immigration, cultural conflict, urban
sprawl, and disease diffusion–could have as profound an impact on the leaders
of tomorrow, and global society at large, as some of the major technological
innovations of the 20th century. Do you agree?

Did you attend NCGE? What were your favorite parts of the

We hope to see all of you next year when the NCGE meeting will
be held in San Juan, Puerto

3 thoughts on ““Movin’ On Up” with Geography in Motor City

  1. After an incredible adventure to Dearborn where I was able to learn more about Geography education and My Wonderful World, I came home with many new tools to enhance my geography teaching. I have not only been able to bring back resources for myself, but many for my colleagues who are hoping to go to NCGE next year. I don’t think I could pick out something favorite from Dearborn, everything was awesome. I do have to say Al-Ameer was wonderful, a great adventure with Natalie and some of our fellow PEC’s, along with a trip to the supermarket across the street!
    My school is now covered with MWW posters, students will be engaged in Geography Awareness Week quizzes to earn points for their classroom only to crown a “Geography Champion” class!
    Thank you for the oppurtunity to attend NCGE and the MWW PEC training, it was really wonderful.

  2. Glad you had as much fun as we did, Natalie. Thanks for the great feedback!
    I second Natalie on the Al-Ameer recommendation, we went to this Lebanese restaurant too and had a great meal with plenty of leftovers to share.
    Did you know that the Detroit area has one of the largest Arab populations in the world outside of the Middle East? That’s a little tidbit I left out of my post yesterday, but one we definitely experienced firsthand during our trip.
    Check out these the articles:
    Of course for all you human/cultural geographers out there, recall the distinction between Arabs and Muslims:
    Arab refers to members of an ethnic group from the Middle East region. Many Arabs practice the religion of Islam and are therefore “Muslim,” but nearly equal as many are Christian, and a minority follow Judaism or other religions (e.g. Zoroastrianism). Muslims are followers of the religion of Islam, and include Arabs and many other ethnic groups; the majority of the world’s Muslims are NOT Arabs!
    We witnessed this distinction in Dearborn. Is the Islam tradition, it is forbidden to drink alcohol. Consumption of alcohol IS allowed in the Christian religion, however. Therefore, some of the “Middle Eastern” restaurants we visited served alcohol, while others did not!

  3. I don’t think I could name a single favorite part of NCGE! The MWW team provided fabulous training for the Public Engagement Coordinators. While there is definitely a serious purpose in raising awareness about the necessity for geographic education, we still had a lot of fun. I enjoyed attending sessions and workshops (the US has some truly fabulous geography educators out there!) and enjoyed seeing a tiny bit of the city. If you go to Dearborn, be sure to check out http://www.alameerrestaurant.com/menu.htm The food is delicious and it seems to pack in a crowd every night! NCGE was a wonderful experience for me…my students are still hearing stories about my adventures.

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