Guest Blogger Chris Shearer examines the state of federal support for Geography education.
Photo by Theodor Horydczak, courtesy Library of Congress.
You may be wondering to yourself, “If the world is becoming flat, or post-American, or potentially close to collapse, how is it that Geography—THE subject in school that addresses these issues so well—is given such short shrift?” Okay, maybe you weren’t wondering this but I, as a card-carrying geography education advocate, was wondering it for you.
Well, here’s one possible answer: federal policy.
Geography has actually been on Congress’ radar since President George H.W. Bush (you remember him, the father not the son) gathered the nation’s governors at a now-famous 1989 Education Summit in Charlottesville, VA, and they ginned up the concept of standards-based education in core subjects.
The guy who
wrote up the
So far so good, right? Sort of. Here’s the problem: While Geography is indeed a required subject and, while it is periodically assessed by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (better known as The Nation’s Report Card), it is the ONLY subject that does not receive dedicated federal funding.
What does this mean? Well, it means that fiscal year 2008 Congressional budgets in education look something like this:
Math & Science Partnerships $ 179 million
Teaching American History $ 118 million
Foreign Language Assistance Programs $ 26 million
Geography $ 0
That’s right. Zero dollars for the subject that deals—in this time of war, climate change, cultural loss, and competitive international markets—with studying the earth; understanding its places, regions, and physical systems; human impacts on the environment, and vice versa; the study of culture and conflict; and the use of new technologies, such as GIS, to analyze and solve problems.
Scary, non? But there is hope. Congressional leaders have proposed a bill called Teaching Geography Is Fundamental, which would provide an initial $15 million annually for teacher training and research in Geography education. The bill is currently being considered for inclusion in the next version of No Child Left Behind.
Maybe this is news to you? Maybe you want to find out more? Maybe you want your kids to get some Geographic learnin’? Maybe you want your students to be ready to succeed in the future? Maybe you want your Member of Congress to support the bill? I’m just asking.
Chris Shearer is Director of Grantmaking at the National Geographic Education Foundation and Director of the My Wonderful World Campaign.
Note: Today, the National Geographic Education Foundation presents the second annual Geography Legislator of the Year Awards to four members of Congress. Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Representatives Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Tim Walz (D-MN) have been selected for their demonstrated commitment to promoting improved geographic literacy among American students. Notably, Senator Kennedy has championed TGIF in the Senate as chairman of the Education Committee, and Senator Alexander helped establish National Geographic's grassroots system of state-based geographic education alliances. Representative Walz, a former high school geography teacher, has worked with Blunt, another former teacher, and others in the House to build support for educational legislation.