by 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.
A 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.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains education theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org