Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Nature of Geographic Literacy

The ERIC Digest The Nature of Geographic Literacy is by Alan Backler and Joseph Stoltman. It is from 1986. Despite the age of the article, it is still an interesting read. Students do not understand geography and this directly hinders their ability to understand history.

College students I teach often are clueless as to where American states are located. They are unaware of what countries are in Africa or Asia. No, neither Laos or Guyana is in Africa...

History teachers at all levels need to address geography before they launch into history or the students may not understand the lesson being taught.

From the site:

Much attention has been given recently to the "geographic illiteracy" of Americans. This attention has unfortunately reinforced the common view that geographic literacy consists only in knowing where things are. Where on a world map is Vietnam? Through which countries does the Nile River flow? Where is Atlanta located?

Knowing where things are is only the first step in attaining geographic literacy. Ultimately, geography is concerned with understanding why things are located where they are. To answer this type of question requires the use of a wide range of geographic themes, concepts, and skills. Birdsall (1986) says: "We must also be comfortable enough with the underlying concepts and principles of geography that our understanding of places and people will be enhanced, not limited."

This digest explores the nature of geographic literacy. It discusses 1) fundamental themes of geography, 2) basic geographic skills, and 3) likely outcomes of education for geography literacy.

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