Caught between the excitement of being on TV and the embarrassment that they clearly don’t have a clue what to answer, the respondents’ anxiety is palpable. Some, not wanting to lose face, have a gallant but ultimately calamitous stab: “Denmarkian” and “Mount Rushmore.”
I’d like to think there were many interviewees that weren’t included in the cut because their plausible answers wouldn’t have made for fun viewing, but I can’t say that with any conviction. In truth, I believe geographical illiteracy is a much wider problem than it ought to be, and not just in Leno’s country. There is something surely intrinsically important about knowing simple things like where people come from, where places are and something of what these places are like, not to mention how this knowledge can be practically applied in everyday life and work situations. This is what Geography teaches, and a whole lot more.
Every day that you open a newspaper or, more likely, an online news site, there are headline stories that require a sense of geographical understanding. Today’s most pressing issues are geographical ones to a large degree, including: population growth; rapid urbanisation; the growing global middle class; the economic rise of China and India; rising inequality; trade wars; political unrest and separatist movements; the changing technologies which are redefining space and distance; mass immigration; mass tourism (think Phuket); and globalisation itself.
Then of course there’s the complex web of environmental issues centred around human-induced climate change, including: extreme weather; soil erosion; loss of biodiversity; conflicts over water, food and energy; and the deadly proliferation of wastes such as plastics (think Phuket again). These issues need tackling urgently and no other school subject gets to tackle them, or at least address them, in a holistic way like Geography does. But more importantly Geography has the potential to inspire students to really care about these issues and nurture values of global citizenship.
We hope that, with exposure to Geography, many students will end up tackling global problems head-on in their careers. Those that don’t will nonetheless conduct their lives in a responsible way so as to promote a collective stewardship of the planet. Moreover, in this age of crowdsourcing, their values may yet spread influence.
But what about those that don’t feel inspired in their lessons, nor learn the values that Geography can give? Well, at the very least, they have an opportunity to gain some understanding of places and thereby avoid looking foolish when the next Jay Leno visits their mall and asks if they want to be on TV.
– Philip Tucker
Philip Tucker is the Head of Humanities at British International School, Phuket – BISP. For more information, visit them at www.bisphuket.ac.th or call +66 (0) 76 335 555