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Why Geography?

Haven't all the places in the world been discovered, located, and named already? For the most part, yes.

So, why geography?

It seems that citizens of the United States are finally becoming aware that their ignorance of geography is affecting their country's environmental, political, and economic well-being. The world is shrinking fast and it is important to know where things are located. But more important yet is knowing how those places are affected by the environment and its peoples. That, too, is geography.

The earth's survival depends on our knowing where the rain forests are being cleared and where the ozone layer is being depleted. It would behoove us to know why people want to fly airplanes into buildings. And we must respect the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part. At the heart of all that is geography.


Exposing the Myths - Geography is Not Only Maps

It's common for people to misunderstand geography. Many believe it's just making and reading maps and knowing locations. This is partly due to the media publishing stories of geographic ignorance. Case in point: a high-school student's college application for a U.S. college was turned down and the student was told he needed to apply through the foreign student office. The student lived in New Mexico.

Another reason that the myth is perpetuated is TV game shows. A contestant might be asked a question such as "what is the capital of Thailand?" Usually the answer can be known by the person having studied a map. Knowledge of where places and events are located is useful and important. Knowing where something happened gives the event more significance.

So map knowledge is good but geography is much more. For instance, if asked "what is the capital of Bolivia," what would your answer be? Bolivia actually has two capitals - La Paz and Sucre. If you were to know why there are two capitals you would be more likely to remember what they are.

The eighteen standards (below) explain all that the term "geography" covers.


The Six Essential Elements of Geography

Geography educators have created a set of eighteen learning standards called Geography for Life. Each of these eighteen standards is organized into six essential elements.

The World in Spatial Terms

1. How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
2. How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context
3. How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on earth's surface

Places and Regions

4. The physical and human characteristics of places
5. That people create regions to interpret earth's complexity
6. How culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions

Physical Systems

7. The physical processes that shape the patterns of earth's surface
8. The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on earth's surface

Human Systems

9. The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on earth's surface
10. The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of earth's cultural mosaics
11. The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on earth's surface
12. The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement
13. How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of earth's surface

Environment and Society

14. How human actions modify the physical environment
15. How physical systems affect human systems
16. The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources

The Uses of Geography

17. How to apply geography to interpret the past
18. How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future

For more information, click on why geography.

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