Should Geography be the new American History?

January 26, 2008

I was a history major, with an emphasis on US History and a minor in American Art History. I tried to add a second major in studio art, but what I claimed to be abstract or expressive, my art teachers found underdeveloped, sloppy and perhaps even shallow! It was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to make it far as a studio artist.

History has been my calling, and U.S. History has been my favorite. I love understanding what caused certain things to happen, how they might have happened differently and the impact of historical events on the future. Two theses and many seminars and papers all helped me refine important skills. I have always loved reading about American History, and the History Channel is more important than ESPN to this guy.

But these days I sometimes wonder if American History is as important as some other things. Today one can’t graduate from most U.S. High Schools without a year if not more of U.S. History. But the last couple of years has allowed me to become a student again and evaluate my own priorities. I support the argument that we should all understand the values and the motives behind the establishment of our incredible country and the sacrifices of many to develop and protect the principles of democracy. But are there a lot of other concepts and ideas that are just as if not more important for the graduating senior to understand? Our graduating students are becoming citizens in a global community, not an American community. In my perfect curriculum, human geography and global issues would be at least as important as US History.

And at Gould we are focusing on this in our curriculum. I thought that I would include some of the questions that my ninth grade class has faced this term. Many of these are questions that I would not have done well on a couple of years ago!

  1. Based on population, what country is the world’s largest democracy?
  2. What is the more familiar name for the Republic of China?
  3. What country is the worlds largest democracy that is also predominately Muslim?
  4. What are the populations of the world’s four largest countries?
  5. What percentage of the world’s population lives in Asia (in big, round numbers!)?
  6. Do you think that the country formerly named Burma should be referred to Myanmar or Burma? Why?
  7. If you had to choose to live in a country with either 1) a high GNP and low per capita income or 2) a low GNP and high per capita income, which would you choose?
  8. Plot the following countries on the following axis by the type and nature of their current government. If there is meaningful change going on, indicate the direction of that change. (PRC, US, Japan, South Kore, India, Indonesia)

Totalitarian —————————————————————————- Democratic

For answers, check in with a ninth grader in Dot 4 Human Geography! Next term, after the students return from China, we move on to contemplate the challenges in the Middle East, developing an understanding of Islam and why clashes between pluralist and Muslim societies are so commonplace. Stay tuned!

Have a great week.
John

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