Today in the United States, there is an alarming and ever growing problem present. The people of the United States are among the worst in the world when tested over geographic literacy. In his address, Peirce Lewis, the president of geography at Pennsylvania State University, states that the majority of Americans are immensely uninformed about geography. He goes on to say that geography can be split into a subject matter and a profession. Subject matter, as its name suggests, is the material that is often taught in schools and recalled by individuals.
A profession in geography, however, requires the individual to have an exceptional understanding of geography and be able to apply it in the world. In his account, Lewis addresses the three aspects that are crucial to developing geographical understanding as improving public competency, creating a passion for the earth, and refining geography education in schools. According to Lewis, the public’s lack of understanding geography is not for a lack of interest. He states that indifference does not attribute to the geographic illiteracy as much as most would think.
Also, he claims that while people actually do think geography is an important subject, most people lack any kind of knowledge about geography in a professional sense. For the average person, the most exposure they have to professional geography is the National Geographic magazine. Apart from that, Lewis asserts that it comes to the surprise of many people to hear that universities would have their own geography department that contains students who actually study the matter. In order to find the best way to ducate the public on geography, one must ask how the general public currently receives its information on geography.
Again, National Geographic magazine is seen as the natural source of information that intrigues the public. Therefore, Lewis deduces the public yearns for a description of the surface of the earth when learning geography. They want to be told about locations and their descriptions and Lewis affirms that those aspects can be found at the heart of academic geography. Another point of view taken by Lewis is that geography can be understood through an appreciation and passion for the earth.
He insists that the greatest geographers were not taught in school, but instead developed their understanding through their own passion for the subject itself. He asserts that very few people have the desire to study the earth spatially, but instead have the desire to study geography because of their love of the earth itself. Lewis identifies two things that commonly appeal to those who are naturally inclined to study geography: a love of maps, otherwise known as cartophilia, and topophilia, a deep passion for the earth.
Lewis contends that every person experiences topophilia as a child, as they are often bewildered by distant places and the experience of traversing foreign terrains. A personal example he makes for topophilia is when he was driving on a back road across the plains of Kansas. He encounters the sunrise and explains that his experience is not something that can be recalled rationally. He goes on describe his own experiences with cartophilia as a young child. Spending hours studying old road maps, he eventually felt inclined to make maps of his own, describing in tremendous detail his own imaginary worlds.
His behavior at adolescence displayed what it truly means to be in love with the earth and have a passion for its aesthetics. According to Lewis, geographic knowledge typically leads into two different aspects: aesthetic and intellectual. In Lewis’ interpretation, strong aesthetic recognition brews emotion, and intellectual description helps procure strong thought. When talking about aesthetic recognition, Lewis points out that the aesthetics of the earth have the sheer power to provoke emotions without stirring intellectual thought.
He goes on to claim that American geographers often lack this feeling of aesthetic fulfillment because they often pay more attention to high technological opportunities and imaging that the public yearns for. Trying to counteract this effect, Lewis proposes that geographers learn to present their knowledge through a medium that society deems desirable and can understand, such as television or magazines. The other aspect of geographic knowledge is intellectual understanding. In order to practice geographic intellectual understanding, one must describe the earth and then attempt to analyze and interpret it.
Lewis professes that it can be compared to the difference between simply reading a map and being able to interpret a map along with all of its features and asking why they are present. Another assertion that Lewis makes is that a good map will always raise more questions than It answers because it should make the reader question the locations and features of the landscape. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans are unable to grasp or comprehend the great intellectual challenges of modern geography simply because they were never taught that geography is much more than descriptions taught in a classroom.
Lewis’ idea for remedying the problem is to teach the public of the importance of asking the right questions and receiving useful answers. Lewis states one final action that can be taken to ensure that geographic literacy of future generations increases. In short, education needs to be reformed help students pay attention longer, enhance reading and writing, and reinforce physical geography and history. Students need to be stimulated outside of the classroom by leaving the dull atmosphere of a classroom and library to experience the physical world and its features.
When they aren’t watching TV or on the computer, exploring the outside world is often seen as something that children do when they are bored. This mentality towards the outdoor world cannot continue if the United States is to increase its geographic literacy. In all, people must pay attention not only to what they see, but why they see those things A second place where geographic education must be improved is reading and writing. Seeing the world is one thing, but according to Lewis, students need to be able to effectively describe their experiences.
He believes that in order for students to “write good stuff”, they first need to “read good stuff. ” He goes on to point out a specific example of how the writing style of Winston Churchill was remarkable similar to that of Edward Gibbon, mostly because Churchill possessed a copy of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire when he was stranded on the Indian Frontier. Young students will develop superior writing skills if they immerse themselves in readings that challenge them intellectually. The third and final area identified as an area for improvement in education is physical geography and history.
Lewis affirms that history is a sequence of events that happen to be repeated every few centuries. Modern geography is a pattern that is inherited from former geographies throughout history. A prominent reason for geographic illiteracy among students is because they have an insufficient understanding of history, and are therefore unfit to understand the most important aspects of intellectual geography and its patterns. Also, Lewis claims that students would understand physical landscapes if they were given elementary education in climatology, geomorphology, and biogeography.
It is inefficient to expect students to comprehend and utilize concepts of geography if they have not been taught the components that are crucial to developing geographic understanding. The only way to guarantee that geographic understanding and analysis can flourish is by effectively teaching the subject matter in schools across the nation. Undoubtedly, the curriculum must be improved to try and reverse the negative trend of geographic incompetency that has gripped the United States.
The three aspects critical to developing geographic literacy in the United States are improving public competency, creating passion for the earth, and refining geography education in schools. The majority of people were not taught sufficiently in school as kids and thus lead to their geographical incompetency In his address, Lewis claims that if the aspects are improved upon then the United States will experience much higher rates of geographic literacy. If geographical literacy is restored, then the number of geographic professions will increase and the world of geography will undergo an increase of attention and interest.