Thursday, June 9, 2011

And where is Portugual?

A couple years ago I was with a friend when she noticed the above background picture on my computer.  The picture was taken in Sintra, Portugal.  I mentioned that it was taken in Portugal.  She paused and then said.  "And where is Portugal?"  I mentioned that it was.... in Europe (face still a bit blank)... next to Spain (that seemed to help... a bit).  On the one hand I found it funny, but on the other hand I was horrified.  It brought the American lack of geography knowledge a bit closer home.  My friend was educated and living in an affluent New England community.  I would not have been surprised if she did not know where Burkina Faso is located, but Portugal?

I am a total map nerd.  Whenever my family visits a yard sale or book sale, I inevitably end up buying an atlas... or two... or three.  Old, new, outdated, children's version -- I love them all!  Even more tempting is a beautiful, framed map.  So it saddens me when I hear about Americans and their lack of geographic knowledge.  I am therefore thinking of starting a crusade to get a map of the world hung in every classroom and every household in America.  I realize that most classrooms have lovely, pull-down maps, but in my experience, they are rarely pulled down and not made for marking up.  My family owns a wonderful, very large, laminated map of the world (similar to this one) and it is incredibly handy.  One can mark them up to highlight places studied in a particular lesson, to trace students' ancestral heritage, or to indicate the places visited or that one would like to visit one day.  I think exposure to maps is essential to understanding the larger world.

Although useful, online maps, like Google, and Bing are not enough.  One has to manipulate them to really get a feel for where things are located in relation to oneself.  The ability to walk by a map daily and, on occasion, take note of where things are located cannot be beat.  It is like a daily reminder that we are part of a larger world.  By having to consciously think about looking something up on Google maps, we are not given this subtle message.  So if you do not already own one, do yourself and your family a favor, buy a world map and hang it prominently in your home.  Talk about where you live, where you grew up and where your ancestral roots originated.  When a story comes on the news that seems to interest your children, walk over to the map and note where the story takes place.  Is it the location far away?  Is there something familiar nearby?  Maps, although simple in concept, provide a  real educational opportunity.  Who knows, you might even learn something in the process. 

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