In Praise of Geography

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world map 640px-BlackMarble20161kmBack in the olden days (late 1950s—early 1960s), geography was taught in elementary schools. Not all elementary schools, apparently, since my husband can’t recall ever studying it, but it was a subject at the parochial school I attended.

I think the first year it was offered was third grade. I remember being disappointed with our textbook, because it didn’t really deal with other countries, which, as a child of immigrants, I hungered to learn about. Instead, it dealt in general terms about land masses and oceans and mountains and map representations. It bored me, but I suppose it laid the groundwork for what was to come.

I can’t remember exactly what came next, but I suppose we learned the names of each continent and ocean and where they were located on a map and on the globe. We learned that we lived in North America, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and that our neighbor to the north was Canada, and to the south, Mexico. My next-door neighbor, Mrs. Brennan, grew up in Mexico, and she gave me a Mexican doll, which I brought to school for geography show-and-tell.

DSC01850In subsequent years, our study centered on the various countries located on specific continents. We were tasked with learning capital cities and prominent cities, principal exports, languages spoken, forms of government, characteristics of the landscapes and peoples, special customs, and being able to locate the countries on a map and tell what their borders touched.

As an adult, when I taught elementary general music, I would bring in a little geography, showing on the map a composer’s country of origin, or where an ethnic song or dance came from. I would show our location in Chandler, Arizona, and how you had to travel across the United States and sometimes across oceans and other continents to get there.

I’d like to say I remember everything I learned in geography as a child. But so much has changed. Countries have changed names, borders have been redrawn, and sometimes I don’t recall what was what. However, I do have a general idea where to look for places on a map.

I think the study of geography is important, and should be required at least one year at the elementary, secondary, and college levels. It’s such a shame when adults don’t know the difference between Austria and Australia or between longitude and latitude.

About Andrea R Huelsenbeck

Andrea R Huelsenbeck is a wife, a mother of five and a former elementary general music teacher. A freelance writer in the 1990s, her nonfiction articles and book reviews appeared in Raising Arizona Kids, Christian Library Journal, and other publications. She is currently working on a young adult mystical fantasy novel and a mystery.

4 responses »

  1. We had to do a map of Southeast Asia, and at the time I thought, “Why are we coloring these? The mapmakers obviously already know where everything is!” But the locations of those countries have stuck with me! I just wish the teacher had explained, “You are doing this to boost your own memory.”

    I like the way you brought geography in to your music classes — I always love ideas about how to enrich the curriculum. I could have benefited from that idea when I was teaching.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember having to draw maps in school as a child. The only problem is I didn’t know where countries went. I don’t really remember learning that. Only labeling the capitals where the countries were labeled and outlined on maps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My oldest daughter went to a Montessori preschool for two years. One of their long-term projects was a 2-sided round map, global projection, that they made by tracing continent puzzle pieces on construction paper, then perforated along the lines with many pokes with a push-pin. The idea behind the project was holding the push-pin and poking it through the construction paper (on a carpet) strengthened the muscles needed to hold a pencil.

      Liked by 1 person

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