My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Don’t Know Much About Geography

This week I was asked to read over a paper reviewing the short stories of Anton Chekhov’s from 1883-1910 and came upon a vague statement as to its size of Russia leading to the social isolation of it’s people. Taken a bit back by the line, I asked the people around me what they knew of Russia between the years of 1800-1900. The only thing I received from anyone was blank looks and hunched shoulders.

That got me wondering what the public school system teaches children about the other countries, especially ones with which we’ve had such an intimate relationship over the last 100 or so years. Likewise, what do we teach our children right now about China, Mexico, or even Iraq? Do they learn history, geography, and culture - or is it just left up to the soundbites on the news to fill in the vast gaps of unlearned knowledge?

The ever sardonic Ambrose Bierce once said that “War is God's way of teaching Americans geography”, but I fail to see it doing even that. How many people do you know who could come within 100 miles of locating Baghdad in Iraq? What percentage of people could even find Afghanistan on a map? Bosnia and Herzegovina? Panama? Grenada? How many of those locations do you think that the average American could find on a map? How many could you find?

My point is that, how could we possibly be expected to understand another people, their history, culture, beliefs, religions or lack of, foods, and trade if we can’t even locate where they are on the planet? And for that matter, how could we expect them to know about us and our history? We’ve only been a country for 232 years - about the same time as the Mongol Empire, half the time that Roman Empire, one twentieth the amount of time that Egypt has been a country.

We must take it upon ourselves to learn our shared human history and the cultures that have evolved before and with our own. If we are successful, maybe the schoolchildren of the next country to dominate the globe will be able to locate us on a map. Or maybe they will know enough about history in general so they won’t have to make the same mistakes.

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