Friday, May 6, 2011

Geography in American High Schools

A colleague just told me that geography is not an obligatory course in American high schools and hasn't been for two generations. I've been telling her how students find it next to impossible to name the countries that the US shares a border with, and she didn't seem at all surprised because, apparently, nobody ever teaches them these things. Surely, that can't be right? I'm not very familiar with how the American secondary education system works, so can anybody clarify this for me? Can you get a high school diploma in the US without having to pass geography?


Northern Gaijin 北外人 said...

Nothing new. Mark Twain said that war was God's way of teaching Americans geography.

David Gendron said...

There are TWO mandatory (1 general et 1 for Québec) courses of geography in Québec's high schools.

Yeah, I'm against state and mandatory schools, but...

Clarissa said...

Well, yes, but that's Quebec. It's a different world from the US. I wish many of the things that exist in Quebec were somehow transported to the US.

Anonymous said...

No, geography is not a class in US high schools (9th-12th grades)- geography makes incidental appearances as part of history classes, but you are never expected to identify countries on maps or anything. My last pure geography class, with "geography" in the title, was in middle school, 7th grade I think. Even that class was "Geography and World History", so a 50/50 split on the topic, but there was significant time spent on us knowing the locations of countries, cities, rivers, etc.

To be quite honest, this makes sense to me. I think a person should know all the most important geography *before* they get to high school, so in high school they can focus on learning the hows and whys of history/society/art/etc.

However, given the anecdotes I hear about the general populous, it makes me think this method probably doesn't work as well as it ought to...

el said...

It isn't obligatory in Israeli high schools either, which imo is great since I always hated maps. In Israel there are 12 grades - in the middle school (grades 7-9) the subject is studied (maps, world population changes from what I remember). If somebody doesn't know basic facts afterwards, it's their problem and others' freedom of choice at high school shouldn't be compromised because of that.

In high school (grades 10-12) one chooses which subjects to study extensively: in my school it was 2 big choices: sciences - biology, chemistry, physics (most took 2 out of 3) and not sciences - literature, history, geography, etc. Needless to say, the best students chose sciences - if you don't study history extensively, it won't make acception to uni more difficult by requiring you to take and pay for additional introduction courses in physics, if you decide to study engineering f.e.

If we aren't in Soviet model of education of everybody studying the same subjects at the same level (which has huge drawbacks), I don't see what's the problem at all. Why is geography more important than physics, which is studied at very low level in middle school? Why force students, with close to zero ability and desire study chemistry? This way people can actually choose subjects they're good enough at to get a high school diploma.

If you had Disagree instead of Stupid option, I would've pressed it.

Clarissa said...

el: my students cannot find South America on the map. On what planet can that be normal? How can a person who thinks that Africa is a country in Latin America deserve a high school diploma?

Letting graduate people who don't have the most basic knowledge about the world they live in is scary.

Can you tell me which courses are obligatory for everybody?

el said...

To be sure I googled:

Secondary education prepares students for the Israeli matriculation exams (bagrut). These are exams covering various academic disciplines, which are studied in units (yehidot limud) of one to five on an ascending scale of difficulty. Students with a passing mark on the mandatory matriculation subjects (Hebrew language, English language, mathematics, scripture, history, state studies and literature), who have been tested on at least 21 units, and passed at least one 5-unit exam, receive a full matriculation certificate. In 2006/7, 74.4% of Israeli 12th graders took the bagrut exams while only 46.3% were eligible for a matriculation certificate. In the Arab and Druze sectors, the figures were 35.6% and 43.7% respectively


To get bagrut you have to make:
3 points of math and English. For uni it's better to have at least 4 points in each.

At my scripture lessons we studied passages from the Old Testament. Also studied "critical approach" (?) - that the books were written by different people in different ages. Thankfully at my secular school there was no religious propaganda. From what I heard it isn't what is now in Russia, where they study religious practices and history. We just studied parts of the book.

Pagan Topologist said...

I had geography classes in grades 4, 5, 6, and 7, I think, and maybe earler as well. But there was none after grade 7, even as an elective. I was in seventh grade in 1956-57. I don't know how it is now.

Clarissa said...

Scripture is mandatory but not geography?

Oy vey.

Pagan Topologist said...

Scripture? As in sacred writings? It was never mandatory. There was a Bible class in my high school. We were told that it was "the Bible as literature."
I never took it. But we did have mandatory prayer each morning; the Supreme Court decision which rightly outlawed this was not until after I graduated from high school.

el said...

How can a person who thinks that Africa is a country in Latin America deserve a high school diploma?

They supposedly passed geography in middle school. I don't think making the subject obligatory is a solution, for the reasons I explained. If they forgot it, they would forget it after high school too, especially if they don't go to uni immediately. Not everybody has a good memory and imo in the long run (years after graduation) being forced to study X subject in high school wouldn't help anyway. I bet that without choosing physics at high school, they wouldn't know what acceleration is either. Let's make physics obligatory too?

If the problem isn't ignorance itself, but that they arrive to your classes... Well, I am surprised they graduated with good enough marks to be accepted to uni, but I don't begrudge them a high school diploma. Nowadays it's a must, not a special benefit.

liese4 said...

Depends on the state. In CO geography is an elective worth .5 credits. As a homeschooler the state says you need Colorado history and geography as credits. I did a social studies club with K-1 graders this year because I thought it would be fun. These little kids now know all the continents, oceans, directions....basic geography as well as having learned the social aspect (history, cultures, community, jobs, etc.)

So while the school districts in each state decide whether or not to teach geography, most homeschoolers will teach geography as part of their curriculum at some point in the K-12 cycle.

BTW, my son finished his college English class with a 95 and one essay left to be graded. We also found out he has enough credits to graduate, but seeing as he's 16, I might make him take a few more courses next semester before we graduate him. He can just finish up his senior year by taking classes at the college.

el said...

Scripture is mandatory but not geography?

Well, you constantly study about countries, which share borders with Israel at history lessons (all the wars we had with them) and watching news on TV.

Re Scripture, you should take into account how and why Israel was founded. Look:

I disagree it's "Oy vey" since if it's a Jewish state, then studying the only book Jewish people all over the world shared for 2000 years makes sense. It's not only religion (without which there would be no Jews left today due to assimilation), it's Jewish history too. In every country people study their history at length. For Jews the Bible plays especially big part.

Clarissa said...

Isn't there a separation between religion and state in Israel, at least nominally? I thought it was supposed to be a secular country.

Clarissa said...

' It's not only religion (without which there would be no Jews left today due to assimilation),"

-Being Jewish is an ethnic origin. It has nothing to do with what one believes in. My father converted to Christianity and got baptized. That didn't make him any less of a Jew. We haven't practiced Judaism for over a 100 years in my family. that didn't make anybody any less Jewish.

Catrala said...

I never had geography in school (80s-90s in the US) except for social studies classes (they were never called history, always social studies). I remember in middle school we learned how to read maps, but I didn't learn geography in school - I learned it having a globe at home and listening to the news and looking things up on my own initiative. My younger siblings, to my knowledge, never had formal geography beyond the "how to read a map" lesson, either.

el said...

Read here:

Especially parts about "Secular-religious status quo" and "Marriage and divorce". The latter made me unwanting to marry at all. If you're both Jews, no matter where you marry, you have to divorce in the rabbinate with laws like:
For a divorce to be effective, Jewish law requires that a man grant his wife a get of his own free will. Without a get or a heter aguna (permission by a halachic authority based on a decision that her husband is presumed dead) no new marriage will be recognized....

Furthermore, according to halakha, any children born by an agunah are considered mamzerim (bastards).

I don't care about what some religious people think, but the idea of not being able to have children (being mamzer, unlike born without father by unmarried woman, isn't advisable) in case of agunah is so horrible. I even thought about marrying anybody anywhere only after having all kids, but... do you think I am paranoid? How would a man react to any explanation of my true feelings? I guess he would be hurt I don't trust him, but I don't feel like giving somebody such power over me at all. It has been a painful topic for me for a long time, since teenage years, when I became aware of the laws. It even makes me afraid to date since I don't want to lie and any man would feel insulted by "lack of trust".

Returning to the topic, in general, don't you feel curiosity to know more about Israel? I heard about a great book - "A Tale of Love and Darkness" by Amos Oz, which has a Russian translation - Амос Оз "Повесть о любви и тьме". Here more info:

Catrala said...

And with regards to requirements:

in the state I lived in when I graduated from high school, we were required to have 4 years of English, 3 years of social studies (which included an obligatory civics class), 2 years of math, 2 years of science, 1.5 years of physical education (my high school required 2.5).

Being me, I took the years of English, 4 years foreign language, 4 years math (and they sent me to local college my senior year for that), 4 years history, 4 years science. Many of my peers wimped out on the math, science, and foreign language, which makes me a bit sad.

(A funny: my word verification is gravid. I knew pregnant students in middle school, but not in high school...)

Clarissa said...

Wow, that sounds very extreme. What I didn't see in the article was what were the practical consequences of being assigned this mamzer status?

This is just shocking. How do young men of your generation feel about it?

Clarissa said...

"My younger siblings, to my knowledge, never had formal geography beyond the "how to read a map" lesson, either."

-Now many things are becoming very clear. I honestly had no idea that it was possible not to have obligatory geography in a country like this one. In order to be a world superpower, doesn't it make sense to know what that world looks like?

el said...

The the practical consequences of being assigned this mamzer status?

Like many other types of social category, in Judaism the mamzer status is hereditary - a child of a mamzer (whether mother or father) is also a mamzer... a mamzer and his or her descendants are not allowed to marry an ordinary (non-mamzer) Jewish spouse... a child of a mamzer (whether mother or father) is also a mamzer.

Plus, the social stigma. Imagine your child or grandchild telling the future spouse and his/her relatives "We can't marry in rabbinate since I am a mamzer". How do you think it'll sound? Many people observe religion somewhat. For many it'll be important. That's why I wouldn't make a child with somebody with such status myself, as long as I intend to live here.

But I wanted to ask you, do you think I am paranoid? If I date somebody and honestly tell my feelings, will most men run away?

How do young men of your generation feel about it?

Most men and women don't seem to think about as much as I do, I guess. Some don't know the laws. Most marry in rabbinate if they can.

el said...

In order to be a world superpower, doesn't it make sense to know what that world looks like?

Only if you honestly want an educated and politically active population, equal society, not cogs in the (military/other) machine. People who matter know everything they need to know. At least, according to them. The less you know, the easier to manipulate. Much harder to brainwash (or keep in organized religion) well-educated people.

Clarissa said...

I don't know if you are paranoid but I, for one, would absolutely never marry anybody under this kind of conditions. It sin't about men running away (if they do, they are just idiots and who needs somebody like that anyways?) It's just the humiliation that I wouldn't stand.

Do I understand correctly that a mamzer can still marry whomever they want, just not in the rabbinate?

'hat's why I wouldn't make a child with somebody with such status myself, as long as I intend to live here."

-What if he is the love of your life and you can't imagine existence without him? Would something so silly really stop you?

Clarissa said...

" The less you know, the easier to manipulate. Much harder to brainwash (or keep in organized religion) well-educated people"

-Obviously, you'll get no argument from me on that. :-)

A said...

I teach students who want to teach high school social studies, and we certainly require them to take geography classes (and their methods classes include stuff on teaching geography). But they're expected to integrate it into the broader curriculum, which is mostly history with some government/civics. Which means that even assuming they all do actually teach geography in with the history, their future students could fail the geography units and still pass the classes.

liese4 said...

Also, geography is covered in just about every grade as a part of history, there just isn't a class that solely teaches geo. until high school and then it's like civics, a .5 credit class.

el said...

It's easy to say it's "something silly" when you don't live here and your children wouldn't know their second class status and wouldn't see society enforce it and potential partners leave them because of it. For myself I would tell everybody go to hell and beyond, but doing that to one's children, grandchildren, grand-grandchildren and so forth isn't for me. Which parent wants their children to be 2nd class?

Being aware of reality and influenced in behavior by what society enforces isn't silly. If you go against it by marrying a mamzer or an Arab, good chance you'll suffer. And before people cry "Racism", I want to remind we're at war still and there are huge amounts of hatred, especially from Arab side. And I don't tell the latter since I am Jewish.

If he were the Love of My Life, I would explain my feelings and reasons and, if it were truly fairy-tale, huge amounts of trust and love, offer to give birth to several kids as a single mother at first, without mentioning anybody as their father and only then start living together. That to prevent any stupid or vengeful from knowing who the father is.

Btw, if your husband goes to army and is missing or a captive for decades with zero chance of returning, you're Agunah too. I don't see how spending my life alone would help anybody in such situation.

Ron Arad is an Israeli Air Force weapon systems officer (WSO) who is officially classified as missing in action since October 1986, but widely presumed dead... No word of Arad has been heard in years, save a letter that was delivered to his wife in 2004 written in the late 80′s.

el said...

How do young men of your generation feel about it?

If you're interested, I opened a topic about it at forum for uni students to do some research. So far 1 reaction from a woman [from Hebrew]:

What, are you insane??? Why would you think about such things?? It's a sure recipe for divorce, and mainly for headache. Try to think about happy things instead. And by the way, who cares?? You're completely weird. Sending you happier thoughts.

My first thought: Is this really a woman? I am afraid.

2nd thought: Remembering the great Russian and Hebrew saying: "No brain - no worries"

3rd: "mainly for headache" part is funny, isn't it?

4th: Obv, sending happy thoughts didn't help since I am more depressed and frightened than ever.

5th: OK, considering 3rd point, 4th was partly successful.

If you wish, I'll inform you of the continuation, if more people comment. Imo, it's not only relevant to this specific situation in Israel, but a good psychological study how people perceive and deal with unpleasant reality.

el said...

I don't know if you are paranoid but I, for one, would absolutely never marry anybody under this kind of conditions. It sin't about men running away (if they do, they are just idiots and who needs somebody like that anyways?) It's just the humiliation that I wouldn't stand.

I just wanted to thank you for cheering me up, which "the sender of happy thoughts" couldn't do in a million years.

Do you think it's OK to talk about this after dating for a while? For me to start the conversation first? People advised me to keep silent and probably wait for marriage offer, to see somebody is serious.

Clarissa said...

Who's "the sender of happy thoughts"?

I strongly believe in complete honesty in relationships. Whenever I feel any concern or anxiety about anything, I verbalize it immediately. I don't think you can build anything good based on repressing your thoughts and concerns. Keeping silent about things that bother you is dangerous to your health.

I'm also always being told to keep silent and not be so brash, demanding and verbose. :-) However, all men have always told me that my honesty is one of my best qualities.

Remember that you deserve to have exactly whatever you want to have.

el said...

Who's "the sender of happy thoughts"?
My comment about trying to ask the questions at Israeli uni students' forum was lost. Can you check for it, please?

Clarissa said...

I'm sorry, it was placed into spam for some reason.

Try not to be depressed about it. I also had this tendency of envisioning horrors before they ever happened and suffering over that. Then, when the horrors never took place, I'd realize how much time and nerves I spent on something useless.

When you meet an actual guy you really like, then you can proceed to work out a strategy of dealing with issues on a step-by-step basis.

Do tell how the discussion goes, it's fascinating. And if you ever need advice on how to deal with guys, I'm always here and willing to share my wealth of experience. :-) :-)

Pen said...

I've never taken a geography course. However, the history classes (especially in the elementary, middle school, and accelerated high school programs) rely on an extensive knowledge of what ocean, continent, country, etc. goes where. The only exception is US History, economics, and participation in government, traditionally taken during the last two years (and even then, one of the accelerated programs still relies on geography throughout those years). In twelfth grade (in a college-level class), I am expected to be able to place the nations we speak of on a map.

That doesn't stop people from not paying attention during their first two (or three) years, or applying their selective memory to those years when suddenly in eleventh grade they don't have to know these things.

Though I have to say, most people that I've talked to (in my school, and generally in my class) remember Canada (we're on the border, so it's kind of hard to avoid knowing that) and Mexico (we tend to get a fair amount of migrant workers, and some fuss is always being raised about that). But ask them to name Canadian provinces, and and most will only answer with Toronto, Alaska, and sometimes Quebec (never mind that the first two are painfully incorrect). There are people who don't realize that Washington, D.C. is still a part of the United States (and so expect to have to change their currency), or that Panama does not cut through the middle of South America. While they can name Cuba, they cannot put it on the map--and don't even try asking about Haiti, or any Latin American country other than Brazil or Chile.

As for nations outside of the Americas: Russia, China, India, the United Kingdom (they only call it England, and then look puzzled when someone mentions Scotland or Wales), Ireland, and Japan are generally very well-recognized. Sometimes somebody remembers France, Spain, and Germany. Nobody I talk to outside of a few accelerated classes believes that the Middle East is still in Europe, though they believe that all of Russia is (how they can make that conclusion is beyond me). They know about Israel but could never place it on a map, and in freshman year some of my classmates didn't believe that Kashmir wasn't just a type of cloth, and that Palestine bordered India. Korea and Vietnam are just names to them, and they consistently mix up Kenya with South Africa. The level four and five language classes can generally recognize the northern African nations or Latin America, depending on what language they take (the upper levels are big on geography and culture).

All in all it's very sad. My history teacher said in the beginning of the year that we were letting virtual illiterates graduate (for many reasons, but the lack of knowledge of geography was one of them).

el said...

Clarissa, this post from Russian lj is about US school and seemed very interesting to me:
I also visited the post with the true story he links to in the 1st sentence, which is even more interesting. I read it and just WOW, it would explain a lot. What do you think?

Clarissa said...

Please, my friend, don't buy into this ultra-conservative propaganda which is now being picked up by the Russian patriots who love to convince themselves how everything is oh, so horrible in the US.

Clarissa said...

Sorry, the comment published before I finished it. These folks are marginal, ultra-religious, mega-conservative homeschoolers. They publish this junk to support their desire to withdraw their children from being part of society because they hate and mistrust said society.

The good news is that this will never become mainstream in the US.

Anonymous said...

I had a student from California who placed California in Cuba on a map. She said she didn't need to know that California was on the Pacific Ocean because she was a Communications major. She was a graduating senior.