Up until the early part of the 20th century, geography mattered in education. It was an expectation for all educated citizens in our country to learn geography. Geography was specifically taught as one of the four core subjects: reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography. There was a reason for this. As early as 1776, founders of our nation including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson understood the value of learning geography; it was practical and useful, and should be taught to instill a national identity. The new citizens of America should learn geography to understand how and where they fit into the new nation and within the world.
Even though educating our children about geography should remain important, it has slowly disappeared from the focus of teaching. Students, however, still need to understand how and where they fit into our nation and within the world. Geography IS important.
Create Awareness of Place
Studying geography creates an awareness of place. Just like our founding fathers identified, understanding geography instills an identity of the American place. Shouldn’t everyone know what states neighbor their own? How and where to find the 9/11 Memorials? Where important cities are like Miami, Dallas, Chicago, New York, Boston, or Seattle? The names of the countries that border us? The importance of Washington, DC?
More importantly, understanding geography helps us make sense of current and historical events, whether of economic, political, or social importance. We become better critical thinkers knowing this information. Geography pervades just about every aspect of our lives!
Develop Non-Fiction Reading Skills
Studying geography develops non-fiction reading skills. Geography uses complex visual representations such as maps, pictures, charts, and graphs that must be interpreted depending on the purpose. Students of geography must use higher order thinking skills to analyze and synthesize information. Studying geography also naturally develops a working knowledge of how to read and process non-fiction text features since those features are woven throughout all aspects of the content. Finally, studying geography builds important vocabulary and background knowledge about our country and world too. If you want to build non-fiction reading skills, geography is a great resource.
Develop Spatial Awareness
Studying geography develops better spatial awareness. It is important to learn map sense and globe-reading skills yet these activities are virtually gone from education today. Could your students point north if you asked them? Could they look at a map and identify the location of our continents and oceans without the help of technology? Would your students know how to find their way home or to the next state without a GPS? By studying geography and mapping skills, we foster the development of spatial awareness and also create the link to understanding the effectiveness of key spatial geographic systems such as GPS. How will we improve on these technologies without another generation of students who understand how our world is structured?
Create a Global Community
Studying geography creates a global citizen. Those who know geography better understand the interdependence of our world and how we are connected through location, place, movement, region, and human-environment interactions. Think about it. As we develop our understanding of the important themes of geography, we also help build awareness for cultural diversity–how and why people live the way they do. Students need to understand this information in our global society.
Geography was and is still very important. And even though it may not be a part of your testing cycle, there are so many valuable reasons why integrating geography into your classroom is important.
Barb Bailey is the Director of Learning at LearningPlunge, Inc. She has a Master of Education degree and 15 years of teaching experience. Barb is committed to providing high quality educational resources for all children. Reach out to her at Bailey@learningplunge.org.