Justine Kendall is a contractor at for National Geographic
Education and has enjoyed every minute of getting ready for the best Geography
Awareness Week ever!
Yesterday we went to see a short discussion from H2O for
Life and an exhibit called ‘Bathroom Pass’, a visit that turned out to be
thought provoking in more ways than one.
H2O for Life is an organization that helps pair schools in the United
States with one in the “developing world” that does not have the resources to
meet their health and hygiene needs (i.e. clean water to drink, hand washing
stations, or working toilets). These schools then work to fundraise and educate others about the
importance of clean water and hygiene.
There were several speakers at the meeting, and although they each only
spoke for about five minutes or less, their passion for their field reminded me
just how important this week we’re about to finish out really is. In the frenzy leading up to it many of
us might have gotten caught up in the details – how many maps have been shipped
out, whether there was a typo in the press release, does that crossword even
HAVE the right number of boxes to fill out the answers?? But in the end we all need to realize
that Geography Awareness Week, regardless of whether or not UPS actually
shipped the boxes to the right address, or even the right state, is about
educating people of all ages and areas about the importance of learning about
the world around us.
Often times, it seems that many people like to think that
they are unconnected from their land.
In this digital age, when someone in Paris can instantly video chat with
a person in Kabul, and even when prestigious thinkers proclaim that technology
has made it so “the world is flat”; we think ourselves so far above our Earth,
that we are no longer “tied down” by place or location. This however, is simply not true. Just
as we ever have been, both groups and individuals are influenced by place. The way humans behave, the way we
interact with our surroundings, all depends on our built and natural
environment. As educational philosopher John Dewey said, “the ultimate
significance of lake, river, mountain, and plain is not physical or social; it
is the part which it plays in modifying and directing human relationships.” The
loyalties to the various places that provide the context for our lives are
crucial aspects of the human experience, and too often we ignore them, or are
not taught to look deeper into the interactions between ourselves and our
places that take place every day.
Geography, as I tell family and friends who ask, is the
study of interactions, or relationships between people and place. It is the most interdisciplinary of
fields and collaborative by nature, two characteristics that make it a field
inherently equipped to bring different solutions from all directions in order
to solve some of our planets biggest problems. During the current times of blatant disregard by a few for
the many, it has never been more important for geographers to publicize the
fact that humans, and more specifically those in wealthier situations, are
merely links in a giant web of all life on Earth. We are all connected to each other, and to our world. Freshwater, our theme for this year,
forms an excellent parallel for teaching geography. Freshwater is vital for life, pervasive in nature, the
connector of all life to each other and to the Earth. One cannot study any type of geography without also studying
freshwater, and the systems and relationships that are influenced by it. The availability of freshwater is a
crisis of global proportions, tying together issues of gender inequality, race inequality,
environmental justice, climate change, globalization, geo-politics,
religion-based conflicts, poverty – you name it, freshwater is a factor, and
someone who calls themselves a geographer studies it.
As a new member of the National Geographic Geography
Awareness Week team, I would just like to add a personal thank you to every person out there who taught, tweeted, status updated, emailed, or
even just mentioned geography to someone else this week. This week is not just about
restoring respect for the word and the discipline, but about spreading the idea
that there are significant issues that need to be, and more importantly CAN BE
solved. Going to that H2O for Life
meeting reminded me that teaching geography is not just nice because it would
be cool if kids in America could locate New York on a map more than 50% of the
time, it is imperative because without being able to understand global systems,
or think from a geographic perspective, we will all be lost. Thank you for reading this blog and to
everyone who celebrated this week and remember that geography, just like
freshwater, connects everything on this very small world to one another and
that geography, just like freshwater, needs to be shared.