You remember the old saying, sometimes applied to modest little states such as Indiana: You can't get there from here. Well, that's a bit out of date these days, when too many people don't even know where “here” and “there” are.
A study in the Journal of Geography reports that despite increased support for K-12 geography education over a 15-year period, geography knowledge among Indiana college freshmen has not improved. A test measuring ability in map skills, place name location, physical geography and human geography was administered in 1987 and again in 2002 to college freshmen in Indiana. Test scores were 2 percent lower in 2002 than in 1987.
The results reflect a national trend verified by similar findings by the National Geographic Society, according to an Indiana University news release. But there is special reason for Indiana educators to be upset. “We were dismayed to see this decline, which is much more significant than it appears. With the efforts we put into K-12 geography education statewide through the Geography Educators Network of Indiana during the 15-year period, we anticipated an increase in geography literacy, not a decline,” said study author F.L. (Rick) Bein, professor of geography in the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
One main reason for the decline cited in the study is undoubtedly true. Educational standards are so focused on math and science that geography and the other social sciences are neglected. And the few resources allocated to social studies are consumed by the history programs.
But technology is a culprit, too. As calculators have made students less math smart, and spell checkers have kept them away from the dictionary, new digital wonders are erasing the need to know geography.
GPS devices, for example, quickly take people from one point to another without them having to notice anything in between. Once upon a time, travelers had to know exotic concepts such as “east” and “west” and “turn right where Joe Smith's barn used to be.” They even had to look at maps, where representations of actual places could be seen in relation to one another.
And Internet shopping, for all its wonder, is erasing our very notion of boundaries. The world may not be getting smaller, but its lines are being erased.
“Here” and “there” still matter. How do we know where we're going if we don't know where we are? That's a good question to ask on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. That's the longest “there” we ever reached, and “here” has never been the same.