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Global Economy Demands Understanding of Geography

Eliminating the subject as a graduation requirement is not in the best interest of students who must address worldwide concerns and issues of multiculturalism.

November 19, 2000|LANNY PROFFER | Lanny Proffer is executive director of the National Geographic Society Education Foundation in Washington, D.C

As executive director of the National Geographic Society's Education Foundation, I was distressed to learn that the Oxnard Union High School District is considering eliminating geography as a graduation requirement.

Geography as a curricular discipline was badly neglected in American schools for several decades. A 1988 Gallup survey showed that one out of seven Americans could not identify the Pacific Ocean on a blank world map. Americans 18 to 24 placed last in basic geographical knowledge behind their peers in eight other countries.

Relegating geography to the back burner as an elective does a disservice to today's students who will have to compete in a global economy, understand multicultural issues, and be able to address worldwide environmental concerns.

Having students memorize place names, longest rivers or tallest mountains and calling it geography is like teaching the alphabet and calling it literature. Unfortunately, this is what happens when students are expected to pick up the basics of geography through their other courses.

In 1994, the National Geographic Society supported the creation of nationwide standards for geography. "Geography For Life: National Geography Standards" outlines what children should know and be able to do at certain grade levels to be geographically literate.

In California, the society has worked with geography professors and K-12 teachers since 1986, through a state geographic alliance, to provide geography training and resources to teachers, as well as to advocate for the inclusion of more and better geography in the school curriculum.


The Oxnard school district's geography high school graduation requirement is an important standard that should be retained. Oxnard students will be better prepared to understand their place in the world and make informed decisions on economic, social and environmental issues. Geographic skills will help them integrate concepts from other disciplines, identify patterns and trends, analyze data and solve problems.

Retaining geography as a required course should not undermine math and English instruction. Properly taught, geography should stimulate reading and math skills.

I hope the Oxnard Union High School District will accept the state's challenge to ensure that all students master geography as well as math and English. With California being the most multicultural and international of all states, geographic literacy has immediate real world value to its students.

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