The citizens of many of the world’s countries still don’t realize that ignorance of geography can affect their political stability, economic success, and environmental health. Sure, it’s important to know where things are located. But even more important is learning in what ways those places are affected by their environments and their population. That, too, is geography.
Our survival is dependent on our awareness of things like where the greatest amount of carbon dioxide is being produced and where the rain forests are being destroyed. It would help us to know why terrorists want to attack. To help tsunami survivors we need to know something about the places affected. Geography is fundamental to all these things.
It’s easy to see why people believe the myth that geography is only mapmaking, map reading, and knowing where everything is. For instance, TV game show contestants will be asked questions such as “what is the river that flows through Zambezi, Zambia?” In cases like this, the answer can be known by having studied a map. Knowledge of where places and events are located is important and useful. Knowing where something happened gives the event more significance.
Perhaps you’ve heard this story: A high school student in the United States applied to a domestic university. The admissions employee that reviewed and denied the application noted that the applicant needed to go through the foreign admissions office. The student was from New Mexico.
Geography is so much more than knowing where something is or happened. Do you know the capital of Bolivia? The answer is La Paz and Sucre — two different places. Here’s why: In 1899 Bolivia’s Conservative Party was overthrown by the Liberal Party during the Federal Revolution. Tin mining, which was in the area of La Paz, had become an important industry for the country, and tin entrepreneurs supported the Liberals. So, the Liberals wanted to move the capital from Sucre to La Paz. They only partially succeeded. The constitutional capital is now Sucre and the administrative capital is La Paz. Now that you know the “why,” you are much more likely to remember the “where.”
What is Geography?
A set of eighteen learning standards has been created for the science of geography which are called the National Geography Standards. These eighteen standards are separated into six essential elements:
1. The physical actions that create the patterns of earth’s surface
2. The features and spatial distribution of ecosystems on earth’s surface
Places and Regions
3. The material and human attributes of places
4. That people form regions to decode earth’s complexity
5. How culture and experience influence people’s understanding of places and regions
The World in Spatial Terms
6. How to use maps and other geographic tools and techniques to obtain, process, and describe information from a spatial viewpoint
7. How to use mental maps to organize data about people, places, and environments in a spatial context
8. How to study the spatial arrangement of people, places, and environments on earth’s surface
9. The features, dispersion, and migration of human populations on earth’s surface
10. The features, dispersion, and intricacy of earth’s cultural mosaics
11. The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on earth’s surface
12. The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement
13. How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of earth’s surface
The Uses of Geography
14. How to apply geography to interpret the past
15. How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future
Environment and Society
16. How human actions change the physical environment
17. How physical systems affect human systems
18. The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources