California, Hawaii, and Alaska are Neighboring States

RottenAppleby Bruce Price   12/5/13
Millions of Americans believe that Hawaii, Alaska and California are touching or almost. These people have seen this proximity on maps. There’s California in its usual place, and just to the left Alaska, with Hawaii nearby.

Evidently, geography is not taught in today’s schools. The result is an almost comically ignorant population.

A comedian on Comedy Central has a routine based on this geographical black hole. He jokes that a lot of people look around nervously when they learn the truth. Gee, they exclaim, I always wondered why Alaska and Hawaii have such different weather.

MapA few years ago a man wrote me that his son, chatting with four confident coeds, was aggressively insulted for insisting that Alaska was far to the north of California. Don’t be a fool, the women insisted, it’s just off the coast. Behold, college students in California do not know what is near the coast of their own state.

A comical bit on the Internet is titled “Do Juneau How Stupid You Sound?” The teacher pulls down a map of North America and a student exclaims, “Wait, where is Alaska?”
Teacher points to Alaska. The student objects, “But Alaska is an island!” Everyone else is confused and silent. The student continues, “It’s next to Hawaii. Haven’t you ever seen a map of the United States?”

This geographical confusion offers a wonderful window on public education in the United States.

Our Education Establishment wages open war on maps, facts, names, geography, and memorizing anything. Children see contrived maps in various textbooks, and retain garbled information. The bigger problem is that no teacher ever points to a map of the world or a globe, never explains the most basic thing about our country, namely, that we have The Lower 48 (or The Contiguous USA).

Perhaps the even bigger problem is that so many students never have enough curiosity or other motivation, anywhere in their schooling, to study a map of the world.

Let’s think about World War II. Obviously it’s not taught. A teacher would have to mention the attack at Pearl Harbor and the strategic importance of this place far out in the middle of the ocean.

Think about Pearl Harbor Day every December 7. It’s on the news, a perfect opportunity to discuss how the war started and how the Japanese hoped to dominate the Pacific and bring the war to California 2000 miles away. They actually did attack the Aleutians (part of Alaska) 2000 miles to the north.

What about the history of the United States generally? Wouldn’t students enjoy learning about Russian settlements in Alaska, Seward’s Folly, and the Alaska Gold Rush?

Most people know that Ice Road Truckers is set in Alaska. If not, tell them. This program is an easy way to teach about a far-off state. If only someone wants to teach.

To understand the pervasive ignorance, we can look at a single quote from a modern educator. At a meeting of school officials, someone asked E. D. Hirsch what he thought first-graders should know. He suggested the continents and the oceans. An administrator objected that she couldn’t see any reason why children would need such information.

There you have the whole story of American educational decline in one anecdote.

The impossible confusion about Alaska, Hawaii and California could not happen unless we had an Education Establishment that disdains teaching knowledge in favor of teaching nothing.

The remedy is to celebrate facts and knowledge.
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Bruce Deitrick Price explains education theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org
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13 Responses to California, Hawaii, and Alaska are Neighboring States

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Imagine modern students trying to figure out why Midway (technically one of the Hawaiian islands) was so important (and why it was so named). But this reminds me of what a friend (who teaches at Laredo Junior College) once reported: many of his students couldn’t identify the Rio Grande on a map during a test.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    It’s easy to laugh at these kids who think Alaska and Hawaii are just offshore from California. This is tempered somewhat by knowing that this is what they have been taught, if only by default because no other better information was given them but some map hanging on a wall. After all, it took some time for me to learn that Greenland was in no way as large as depicted on the Mercator map.

    But on the other hand, we seem to be surrounded by the people of the type that Jay Leno regularly talks to on the street. The average man seems no longer to be even an average man. He is a below-average man. He is uninformed. Worse, his ignorance doesn’t seem to bother him, nor does it seem to hold any embarrassment for him.

    Being ignorant is one thing. We are all ignorant of a great many things. But not caring that one is ignorant, or even reveling in it, is quite another. And that’s what I think is starting to predominate in our society. And it’s a death spiral as low-quality, low-skilled teachers cycle back through this system that they themselves were subjected to and dumb the process down even further when they take charge.

    This ignorance and lack of excellent has many fathers. But one standard component is what Dennis Prager calls being “nice” but not good. Let’s take at all the “not nice” things required for a good education, but things that are unquestionably good:

    1) Criticism — Only by having one’s errors pointed out does one stand a chance of improving, or having the motivation to do so. Simply handing out gold stars for the prize of “self esteem” is to treat children like cattle, not human beings capable of growth.

    2) Discipline — Not all educational work can or must be fun. Often you just have to apply yourself. Trying to make everything “fun” betrays a trivial and unserious mind. Good things in life often require a bit of unpleasantness.

    3) Failure — No points for just trying, Johnny. As Master Yoda wisely said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Kids need to learn that failure is a part of life. If they don’t work hard, they will fail. If they don’t pay attention in class, they will fail. The sad thing is that the evil teacher’s unions care more about feathering their own nests then giving children a quality education. So the sad fact is that this awful education system has even taken away the learning aspect of failing. Now failure is built into the system. And this does no one any good.

    4) Work — I just did a business card for an education person and it noted how once a month the kids went on field trips. Sorry, that’s nothing to brag about. As kids, we loved field trips because we all knew that it was just a mini vacation away from the hard work of schooling. Teachers know this too, even as they try to glorify it as some great “in the world” learning experience. Let families take their children to the museum if they want. It’s not the job of educators to play parent. They are supposed to be educators. And there is no avoiding the inherent drudgery of the work involved in becoming educated. Yes, there are techniques to lesson the load. But at the end of the day, work is work and this fact can’t be ignored.

    5) Honor — Perhaps the largest component missing is just honoring the very idea of being tasked with the responsibility of teaching kids. The kids are not there to be political tools for someone’s propaganda. They are there to learn the necessary skills so that they can make their own way in the world as independent and capable adults, not so they can be made psychologically dependent upon government by foisting on them a weak and ninny socialist mentality. If teachers, parents, principals, legislators, and governors did no more than honor the fact they they are tasked with the responsibility of education — not for creating union jobs, not for foisting socialism on kids, not for avoiding the hard work of educating by various stupid and crank side-schemes — that would solve everything. Serious people with honorable goals could educate our children at 1/4 the cost that they do now and with 1/20th the dropout rate.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    In fact, this is nothing new. Americans are notorious for their ignorance about the geography of the world.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have told someone that I studied in Austria, only to have them say something like, “oh, did you see any kangaroos?”.

    That Americans know next to nothing about American geography simply shows that they are equal opportunity ignoramuses. No bias there.

    Maybe the educational powers that be, wish the kids to get creative about geography. Who is to say that Mt. Everest isn’t the capital of Vermont? After all, the world, as we know it, is simply an artificial construct which has be foisted on us by the white , male, heterosexual, Christian, European slave masters who have been imposing their reality on us for almost 500 years.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I thought Mt. Everest was a river in Phoenix?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This is as good a place as any to mention an incident in which Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrated how tiny Israel is compared to the Arab World (what I call the Evil Crescent). Most Americans hadn’t realized that because, if they ever saw a map of Israel at all, it showed the country but not the Levant as a whole.

  4. Anniel says:

    I’m late to this, but I must say as an Alaskan (married to an ex Californian) I much prefer being as far north as possible from the left coast.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      No kidding. But I’m stuck being relatively near to King County, home of the Peoples Republic of Seattle, among other far left places. But it’s utopia. What’s not to like?

  5. Anniel says:

    While I was reading this article I couldn’t help but remember all the hours we spent drawing maps when I was in elementary (dear Watson) school. We grew up with a clear, if flat, idea where different lands were located. Most of the place names are changed, but still, we have some idea of where is where, all from good teaching and training.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Mostly, it’s not so much that the names have changed, but that in some cases (especially in the Third World) native names (such as Mumbai) have replaced English names. (Note that maps still refer to Wales instead of Cymry, Spain instead of Espana, Greece instead of Hellas, and numerous city names similarly retained.)

  6. Anniel says:

    Thanks Tim, you’re right. My husband got ahold of some friends he knew in Turkey, so I’ve been going around singing what I can remember of, “Why it’s Istanbul Not Constantinople, It’s Nobody’s Business But the Turks.” Now I have to find my old globe to see what remains the same.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      We have that song on a 50s CD that my housemate; I’d never heard of it until then. Incidentally, she also has an atlas from World War II, and I have one from the 1960s or so as well as a much letter National Geographic atlas (and additional maps in our sets of encyclopedias). But I’ve had a fascination with geography and maps going back over half a century.

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