Everyone had that one class in school that made them think, “When am I ever going to use this in life?”
Lisa Manzione, a mom and advocate of geographic literacy – along with the U.S. Congress – seem to think that geography is no longer one of those subjects.
In March, Senator Thad Cochran, a Republican from Mississippi, introduced a bill that would fund a four-year, $60 million program to enhance the teaching of geography in public schools around the country. Currently in committee, the bill was applauded by few people as loudly as Manzione, a mom who has a strong understanding of the value of teaching other cultures to children and author of the globally-focused children’s book series The Adventures of Bella and Harry (www.bellaandharry.com).
“Geography is about a lot more than just memorizing where countries are on a map,” said Manzione. “It’s about understanding the cultures that go along with each country and the process for understanding those cultures has to start early. If our children are going to thrive in the newly globalized economy, and prepare for the nearly 70,000 new jobs geotechnology is adding to the U.S. each year, they need this program. In addition, they’ll be more well-rounded individuals if they accept that the United States isn’t the center of the universe and that there are other places on the map worth knowing about.”
According to the Department of Labor, Manzione is right on target. Geotechnology is one of the three fastest growing employment fields serving industries such as insurance, baking, real estate, forestry and agriculture, as well as state and federal governments. In addition, the geospatial technology industry is expected to open up more than 70,000 new jobs every year — and understanding geography is key to those applicants.
“We need this program, because our kids aren’t learning geography under the current curriculums available,” Manzione added. “In a recent National Geographic-Roper 9 country survey of geographic literacy among young adults aged 18 through 24, students in the United States ranked second to last. Only 13 percent of young adults aged 18 through 24 in the United States were able to correctly identify Iraq on a map of Asia and the Middle East. Considering we’re currently in a war with that country, and several hundred thousand American soldiers are stationed there, it’s more than a little embarrassing that most of our kids don’t even know where it is.”
The irony is that National Geographic also surveyed school districts around the country and discovered that that all 50 States and the District of Columbia recognize geography in their curricula or content standards. Moreover, an increasing number require geography for graduation and include geography in mandated statewide assessments.
That’s one of the reasons why Manzione wrote her children’s books. Her desire is to open children to the world around them, and show them the value that other cultures can bring to them. Her view is that the United States is nothing more than an amalgamation of the world’s cultures anyway, so when kids learn about the rest of the world, they are also learning more about what it is to be an American.
“All of my children’s books take place in a different country, and that’s on purpose,” she said. “Children need to learn at an early age that the world is a big place, and if they are ever going to understand their place in the world, it is probably a good idea that they know more about it than what’s in their own backyard.”