One of the most disappointing things is how little our 13 year olds know of the basic places around them. For all their knowledge and creativity, for all the toys and electronic devices which surround us, we probably couldn’t ask students to name the towns that surround us!
This isn’t stupidity, but illiteracy – in terms of geography, of course. It’s such a minor detail, but such an important one. State, capitals, and their locations form the basis for the frame of reference that adults have. Imagine not knowing where the Colorado Rockies play (and why they have such a name). Or, imagine a friend mentioning flying into Harrisburg to meet with several state legislators, and you find yourself asking – which country? Sure, you may not need these facts every day, but they form the silent background of a film, the parts you never notice. Ahh… but if they were askew, you’d notice immediately!
Here’s a great snippet from an old article by the AAA Auto Club in California:
All of us, if awakened in the middle of the night, can find our way from the bed to the bathroom. In the dark. It’s a start. Out of the wide world we carve our own worlds and know them almost instinctively. We are masters of an intimate geography of floor plans, daily commutes, shortcuts, scenic drives, back alleys, paper routes stretching back to childhood. We would be lost and poor without it. But now we can be lost and impoverished with it. No longer is it enough to know one’s individual piece of Earth, one’s place, because today all places are lavishly linked. On an average day we may put on an Italian suit made in Malaysia; find email in English, Hebrew, and Mandarin; order from a Romanian waitress in an Indian restaurant; fill the tank of our Japanese car with gas from Saudi Arabian oil; and then settle down for a quiet evening of televised baseball with players from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and South Korea. We can graze a dozen different cultures simply by getting up in the morning. The broader world has engulfed, and enriched, our smaller ones.
This year’s 7th graders did better than most groups. On a blind, unannounced quiz matching capitals with their states, the average student scored 52%. After the next week of study, we’ll see how students improve. We’ll also use their Multiple Intelligences, something related to the way we learn. Annually, both have a profound effect on the way we learn. Here’s a peak from Howard Gardner, author of the Multiple Intelligences Theory: