Essay / Education

No wonder geography is dying

No wonder geography is dying: “‘We need to engage pupils more purposely,’ he says. ‘Water shortages, famine, migrations of people, disputes over oil, globalisation and debt are all major issues with which our world is grappling and this is the geography of today.’ “Of course, British classes have dropped learning “lists” for these deeper issues. Shockingly, to educators, this leads to ignorance of, well, actual geography. College is the time for deep discussion, if students are properly prepared. We need high schools to teach students the facts they need to have those discussions.There is a sad tendency in education that I call “Deeper Issues Syndrome” (DIS). Advocates of DIS often ask, “Why are we teaching geography? What are the deeper issues involved?” Since these perceived “deeper issues” are more interesting, and often more important, than the content of the field teachers are hired to teach, they almost always end up DISing the curriculum too quickly. To put it simply one must master the fundamentals of a game before the game is a great pleasure to play. There is no way to cheat. One must learn to play the piano fairly well before having the joy of hearing the sound of good, live music. We live in a culture that wants the ends without the hard work of pursuing the means. Some of my students do not want to sit and read page after page of hard books, mastering their difficult messages. They prefer (of course they prefer!) that I act as “guru” and place the cookies on the lower shelf for them. However, done too much this turns the teacher into master and the students into slaves. There is a place for drawing aside the curtain for students and let them see where they are going. I do this all the time, but in our culture it is easy to have this good teaching technique turn into DIS. How does one know when this has happened? A teacher knows when the text or content begins to fade in discussion before it has been mastered by the students for any length of time. For some reason, the fact that one must know a text before asking profound questions about it rarely occurs to the victim of DIS. Geographically ignorant students (who could not find Albania on the map) end up pontificating about what British or American policy toward Albania should be. Since teens all have opinions they believe to be wise, and learning location of Albania is much harder, DIS is often popular with students. Teachers fallen into DIS dread the question “Why do we have to learn this?” Instead of saying, “So that later we will be able to discuss these important issues.” Dis people drop the study of the curriculum in favor of an overly rapid movement to Deeper Issues.Of course, some discussion of Deeper Issues early can act as a piece of candy to keep students moving forward. My Greek professor let us discuss certain issue in the Iliad long before we were really able to do so. This took a tiny fraction of our time (most of which was spent in actual translation. . . a fairly wooden task), but reminded us that there was a reason to do the hard work. The other problem with DIS is that it often leads to a person discussing things for which they have no evident qualifications. The teacher of geography begins to act as social commentator, a job that long suffering tax payers have no reason to think he can do. Even more horrific, in a school that has fallen into DIS, no teacher in the school may know where Albania actually is, but have lots of half-warmed “philosophical” opinions about government policy toward Albania. In that case, Albania as an actual place disappears altogether to be replaced DI-Albania, which need have no connection to actual Albanians. If we must have government-schools, then let them teach students the basic tools of learning: speaking well, reading well, writing well, numerous, and a basic stock of cultural facts. Let them model good values, as determined by the values of the tax payers in their area. A good teacher will hint at deeper things and the good student will be made thirsty for these things, but one must walk before running.

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