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Teaching Geography

November 29, 1987

Prof. William Puzo's quiz at Cal State Fullerton ("Geography Quiz Maps Gap in College Knowledge," Part I, Nov. 17) does indeed reveal the abysmal lack of geographic knowledge of our college students. The geography scandal is real, but it does have causes, and they are worth examining. It also has remedies, and they--like all prescriptions in education--will take time.

Our students are not learning geography in our schools because it is, by and large, not taught. Most elementary teachers in California have not taught geography in any systematic way for at least 15 years. The reason is that geography--and several other subjects--were crowded out by the demand for saturation teaching of minute skills in reading, writing and math. This particularly ineffective "reform" has now passed, and it is time that the public demand that science, health education, the arts and the social studies--including geography--be returned to the elementary school day. It is already beginning to happen in some school districts.

A separate high school course in geography is one proposed solution. I find it a little simplistic. High school students need to relate their history, government, culture studies, economics (and science and literature) to geography. It makes better sense on the secondary level to teach geography along with these subjects than in a separate course.

A more effective approach to effective geography education would be a plan that teaches some kinds of geography at every grade level, kindergarten through grade 12. A systematic program of skills in locating places needs to be in place in grades 3 through 7. Grades 8 through 12 should emphasize the effect of place on other aspects of human life.

Neither the elementary or secondary parts of such a program are really functioning in most of our schools now. But some of our social studies teachers at all levels are getting very concerned about geography. They need public support. If Puzo's pathetic quiz results get some parents on the phone to their school board members demanding some serious geography instruction, it will be well worth the embarrassment of it all.

The issue is instructional time. The school day is already very crowded. What do we drop so that we can teach geography? It will take a long time to rebuild a subject largely neglected for two decades. Maybe we even need some crash programs for a while. But let us begin.


Past President

Calif. Council for the Social Studies


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