Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Placemaps



Every night, I serve dinner atop maps of the world.




We don't have any formal way of studying them, but the kids enjoy looking while we eat, and asking the names of different countries. Sometimes we might challenge them to put a carrot on Russia, or to tap Mexico with their spoon. If there is any interesting global news that day, Jack or I will tell about it and give a context for its location.

I found our set at Walmart, but have also seen a few options online, and very highly recommend them if you have young kids, and/or if you are the product of public education in the United States.

I say this will all due respect to public education in the United States. I am the proud product of it, and my children will be as well.  Jack's father and grandfather both served distinguished terms as superintendents of public school districts, and I even claim bestie status with Lee Fleming, who is rumored to be the next Secretary of Education.

But. It simply baffles me that Americans can earn a high school diploma without even the most basic proficiency in global geography.  According to a National Geographic survey I read, nine in ten Americans aged 18-24 could not find Afghanistan on a map of Asia. Sixty five percent couldn't find France. Half could not locate NEW YORK on a map of the United States. Twenty percent couldn't even find the Pacific Ocean.

Hold on! It gets worse!

The same survey was given to 18-24 year olds in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and Great Britain, and we were outscored by EVERY OTHER COUNTRY except Mexico, which did only slightly worse. Ouch.

When I graduated high school I was aware of my own geographic illiteracy, so I convinced my friend Whitney to register for Geography 101 with me at BYU. Imagine our horror when we discovered that the course was actually about land formations and weather systems and junk like that. (Whitney, if you're reading this, I hope you have forgiven me). We suffered miserably through the quarter, then as soon as it was finished I punished myself for the mistake by declaring a minor in Political Science.

Five years ago, while watching the Miss Teen USA pageant, I actually found myself rooting for Miss South Carolina who, when asked why 1/5 of Americans couldn't locate the United States on a world map, said:

(You remember her answer, right? Click HERE to relive the moment)


She said, "I personally believe that US Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don't have maps." And then she started speaking in tongues.

Did she sound like she had been inhaling swimsuit adhesive? Sure. But did she have a point? Yes!! Schools are not solely to blame. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all had maps in our homes, and wouldn't it be even better if we served dinner on top of them? I personally believe that it's about more than teaching my kids to point to a country and recite the name of it. It's about instilling in them a framework for relating to the world beyond their home.

It's also about forming precious family memories. Like the time I served chile rellenos, and  Leah pointed somewhere in South America and said, "Mom, what country is that?"

And I said, "That's Brazil, sweetheart."



And then Jack said, "Kate. That's Argentina."

Ah well. Those chile rellenos were gooooood.

19 comments:

Mike said...

Bravo! A true educator of kids.

When I was 9 years old I could find any state of the U.S. on a map and also recite the capital city of each state.

For such a multi-cultural system as we have in the public schools (I taught in public schls for over 30 yrs) I find it ironic that kids are not able to identify the origins of each culture on a world map.

I could go on and on.... But again, BRAVO!

Susan said...

Katie, AMAZING! Your kids are on their way to competing in a geography bee with cousin Robinson. I'm no geography expert, but I do know that there are 7 too many states between Utah and Virginia! And if I had a "placemap" I could name every single one of them.

Heather said...

It's a sad place we live in! My son's 5th grade teacher makes it his goal to educate his students in all things geography, as it is NOT EVEN PART OF THE CURRICULUM!!! I was shocked to learn this. (Not sure why I didn't know this when my 7th-grader went through 5th grade, but that's another story entirely!) Proud to say my boy sleeps with a map hanging on the wall next to his bed!

Mary Karlee Mullen said...

I personally believe the maps are a great idea. I'll be searching online as Walmart is shunning Santa Barbara, or perhaps the shunning is the other way around. But hey! Did you hear we got a Chick-Fil-A? Hick spelling and everything!

Garrett said...

I love maps. It looks like your placemaps were using the mercator version. Have you though about using the gall peters projection? lol

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8zBC2dvERM

Cathy Leavitt said...

Katie, what a great idea. I know Paula has always done allot with maps with her kids. I remember one year that Brent wanted a globe for his birthday. We first thought it a little strange; however I think my kids at least grew up knowing where most of the countries were...that and Animaniacs... Paula was forced to take a lower level history class in high school because of a scheduling conflict, and she later told me that everything they talked about that semester, she already knew because of Animaniacs Histeria. Do you remember the countries song they did? I loved watching that with my kids. Anyway, great post Katie. Definitely something to ponder.

Jane said...

I absolutely love this. I am ashamed to say we have eaten on our maps on time since you gave me them. Now we will be eating on top of the world every day!

Jane said...

I absolutely love this. I am ashamed to say we have eaten on our maps on time since you gave me them. Now we will be eating on top of the world every day!

Becca said...

GREAT idea! I will be buying some right away!

Lexy and Jared said...

I LOVE placemaps, chile rellenos, and passionate critiques of public education in the United States. You da bomb.

Kristin said...

The look on Mario Lopez's face!! I remember watching that very interview when it happened (which was a weird occurrence because I haven't watched Miss Teen USA before or since), and laughing hysterically as she started "speaking in tongues" as you so appropriately called it. South Africa, what?!?

Placemaps are so perfect. And now that you've got me thinking about it, the only reason I know geography is because of the 'Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego' computer game I played obsessively as a kid. Totally crazy as it is one of THE most interesting subjects to learn about.

Steve said...

Is it really a bad thing that so many people couldn't find France?

Jeannie said...

Great idea! We also have maps, but just two: one U.S. and one world, so the kids have to fight over them. Or take the solar system placemat that still considers Pluto a planet, or a hamburger shaped one. Those last two might give them an education similar to Miss South Carolina's. I only recently unpacked them all so we have a ways to go before we catch up with your chilie relleno knowledge base.

Julie Knowlton said...

I love this. I couldn't agree more. Actually, I can't think of a time when I haven't agreed with you. We brought some maps with us to Virginia and I had not yet put them up. Then I read this and now they are hanging pretty in the boys' room. Thank you.

And now I would like the recipe for those chile rellenos.

Jodi said...

Great post! I love maps and have already started my own collection. There is a lot of ridiculousness going on in schools these days...and I personally think it's way too easy to graduate high school. I mean, when I look back, I worked really hard to do well in high school, but then there were kids who did diddly squat and still got the same piece of paper that I got.

Emily said...

Chile rellenos...MMMmmmm.

Flem said...

Okay this is proof of our "bestie status": before I scrolled down the page, I was already ready to do a google search for Miss SC in order to post a link to her little speech in my comment and THERE IT WAS in the heart of your post.

I love this post, I love her speech, and I am going out to buy some of those world maps today.

Actually, I am going to buy them online because I can't stand wal-mart. And I just happen to have an amazon tab open...

Marilyn said...

I'm getting maps for the whole Coombs family! Katie, you are the best!!!

Jenny B said...

Katie, this is a wonderful idea. And thank you for the positive thoughts on public education (Most women I've talked to lately have NO hopes for it).

Also, can I PLEASE see more of your house? It looks amazing.

Humpty Dumpty

My dad passed away 16 years ago, but I still consider Father's Day an occasion to celebrate. I plan a favorite dinner and pick out ...