Kristi is a teacher consultant and Public Engagement Coordinator from Michigan.
Years have passed since more concerted efforts have been put in place to teach more geography. We have seen the extraordinary efforts of the National Geographic Society and the formation of Geographic Alliances all across our country. We have seen countless teachers trained in innovative, exciting, and practical geographic methods head back to their classrooms to share with countless colleagues and students their new found love for geography. We have seen the emergence of the grassroots efforts to promote and spread geography through My Wonderful World. So, why is it still so hard to understand states and other places on the map?
Examples abound of the misuse of simple and basic fundamentals of state names. I find myself laughing in order to keep from crying. During a recent phone conversation at a national insurance company, the sales representative asked the young mother to give her state of residence. She answered, “Kansas City.” When told that Kansas City was not a state, she replied that she lived in Wyandotte. Again the representative told her that that was not a state. Her reply? “That’s what they told me.” Who would tell anyone that Wyandotte was a state? I can maybe see mixing up the words county and country but not county and state! Where was this child in elementary school or middle school when others learned about our 50 states? Daily the sales representatives have people tell them their state of residence is, “Chicago” or “Atlanta.” Indeed these are important cities, but they are not states.
My alma mater flies several flags outside of one of their new buildings on campus. In an article in the alumni magazine someone was quoted as saying the flags being flown represented the countries that this year’s foreign students hailed from, “… and Africa.” While all other places listed were countries why do people include Africa when listing countries? It’s a continent made up of 54 countries, each with its own flag.
Families, teachers, relatives, friends, business and community leaders all have an obligation to make our citizens geographically literate! One of the favorite stories I read to my sons when they were young included a line about going from “Timbuktu to Kalamazoo” which sounds so good rolling off the tongue. Do people know these are real cities? We can and should have a map ready at hand when we read to enhance our geographic learning.
Each year I watch in awe as students from across the state of Michigan compete in the state level of the National Geographic Bee. Here is a group of students who get it! They know so much about geography and they compete with confidence. Let’s continue to fight the good fight and spread geography whenever and wherever we can.