Where In The World Is… World Geography?

As geography disappears from Texas schools, students are left wondering where in the world a lot of things are.

Georgia Oldham, Beyond Our Walls Editor

I remember it clearly. Like most bad things that happen in our past, it was on a Monday and it was in the 7th grade. Our french teacher pulled down a map of the world and asked us if we knew any french speaking countries. Of course I did, I knew stuff about geography. My hand shot up with impressive enthusiasm.

“Alors,” the teacher said. “What country?”

“Paris!” I shouted out gleefully, making sure to project my voice. I wanted that whole entire class to hear my brilliancy.

It was only a moment later when I suddenly realized that Paris was not, in fact a country, but a city, that I buried my reddened face in my fluffy black jacket and wished that for once I had just kept my proud mouth shut.

Students participate in Model United Nations this past year, a club where knowledge of geography is essential.
Students participate in Model United Nations this past year, a club where knowledge of geography is essential.

Later in 9th grade, while taking world geography, I felt relieved to finally learn where things were on the maps people were always showing me- no one had ever bothered to teach me much of those things before. I silently cursed my elementary school teachers as I my hand glided over the Paris dot on the map of Europe.

Although my ‘Paris’ mistake was just a slip of the mind (or so I always tell myself), I’m not alone in making some minor and some major geographical blunders. Nearly 2/3 of young Americans still can’t find Iraq on a map, 33% of Americans can’t even point Louisiana out on a map either, and ask an American child what Niagara Falls is and over half will be stumped.

Knowledge of Earth’s geography is an essential and incredibly valuable tool, and its totally learnable too. It not only keeps us from looking like complete fools (been there, done that), but it helps us to grasp a better understanding of the plants, animals, and people we are on this world with. Without geography we are all just concerned with our own little space on this planet, but once we gain a wider understanding of where we are, we begin to think outside of our ‘bubble’ and into the big wide world.

Recent Texas education reforms, that require only 3 (not 4) social studies credits, are resulting in a loss of world geography classes (and also world history classes) across the state. Schools have a choice of cutting one or the other, and most (like Ann Richards), chose the generally 9th grade geography class. Neither class can function without the other properly, and neither class can be substituted for the other either.

Disappearing social studies classes mean loss of jobs for teachers as well as loss of knowledge for students.
Disappearing social studies classes mean loss of jobs for teachers as well as loss of knowledge for students.

World Geography teaches kids about what our world looks like right now. It didn’t just re-iterate for me that Paris was a city, it taught my piers and I about humanity and our struggles and triumphs as people alive today. Without it, I’m not sure how we would’ve survived world history (you need knowledge of the present to understand the past), but more importantly, I don’t think I would be the same person- compelled to make a difference in the world around me.

Next year, for the first time, 9th graders across Ann Richards and high school students across Texas will be getting schedules without a social studies class. Wether they are missing world history or world geography, to me, all of these kids are missing out. They are missing out on knowledge that won’t just help them to be successful, or know the difference between a city and country, but that will help them go into this world as informed citizens with the powerful ability to make a positive change.