Guest Blogger Chris Shearer examines the state of federal support for Geography education.
Photo by Theodor Horydczak, courtesy Library
may be wondering to yourself, “If the world is becoming flat, or post-American, or potentially close to collapse,
how is it that Geography–THE subject in school that
addresses these issues so well–is given such short shrift?” Okay, maybe you
weren’t wondering this but I, as a card-carrying geography education advocate,
was wondering it for you.
here’s one possible answer: federal policy.
has actually been on Congress’ radar since President George H.W. Bush (you
remember him, the father not the son) gathered the nation’s governors at a
now-famous 1989 Education
Summit in Charlottesville, VA, and they ginned up the concept of standards-based education in core
The guy who
wrote up the Summit’s recommendations in a memo
to President Bush was a then little-known governor of Arkansas named Bill Clinton. When he
subsequently became El Presidente himself, he brought the idea that Geography
is a key academic area with him to the White House, and got it named as a core
subject in the Improving
America’s Schools Act. Then, George W. Bush took the reins and,
working with Congress, kept Geography as one of nine core subjects in No Child Left
So far so
good, right? Sort of. Here’s the problem: While Geography is indeed a required
subject and, while it is periodically assessed by the National Assessment of
Educational Progress (better known as The Nation’s Report Card), it is the ONLY subject that does not receive
dedicated federal funding.
does this mean? Well, it means that fiscal year 2008 Congressional budgets in
education look something like this:
Math & Science Partnerships $
Teaching American History $ 118 million
Foreign Language Assistance Programs $ 26 million
right. Zero dollars for the subject that deals–in this time of war, climate
change, cultural loss, and competitive international markets–with studying the
earth; understanding its places, regions, and physical systems; human impacts
on the environment, and vice versa; the study of culture and conflict; and the
use of new technologies, such as GIS, to analyze and solve problems.
non? But there is hope. Congressional leaders have proposed a bill called Teaching
Geography Is Fundamental, which would provide an initial $15 million
annually for teacher training and research in Geography education. The bill is
currently being considered for inclusion in the next version of No Child Left
Maybe this is
news to you? Maybe you want to find out more? Maybe you want your kids to get
some Geographic learnin’? Maybe you want your students to be ready to succeed
in the future? Maybe you want your Member of Congress to support the bill? I’m
Chris Shearer is Director of Grantmaking at the National Geographic Education
Foundation and Director of the My
Wonderful World Campaign.
Note: Today, the National Geographic Education Foundation presents the second annual Geography Legislator of the Year Awards to four members of Congress. Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Representatives Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Tim Walz (D-MN) have been selected for their demonstrated commitment to promoting improved geographic literacy among American students. Notably, Senator Kennedy has championed TGIF in the Senate as chairman of the Education Committee, and Senator Alexander helped establish National Geographic’s grassroots system of state-based geographic education alliances. Representative Walz, a former high school geography teacher, has worked with Blunt, another former teacher, and others in the House to build support for educational legislation.