March 7, 2016 - 6:35pm -- swingbug

My son came home from school several weeks ago brandishing a permission slip to join an after-school geography club, which I thought was pretty cool. (I'm a geographer by trade myself.) He thought it was pretty cool too, so I signed the form.

The first day he came home from geography club, I asked him what he'd learned that day, and he said something like, "We learned the capitals of the states."

"Huh. Okay." I'll admit I was a little puzzled, but I do remember being forced to do that myself at about his age.

Day after day, this continued. "We memorized the major rivers of the world. We learned the names of the countries in Europe." The homework packets that came home from geography club were voluminous and on the same theme.

It was killing me.

I would like to take this time say to the world at large that geography is a bad-ass science with real-world applications and out here in the land of the real, it's got absolutely nothing to do with memorizing stuff that any normal person could look up on Wikipedia in less than a minute.

Now it turns out that this geography club was assembled to prep kids who were interested in participating in the district's geography bee, and so the parroting of place names was valuable to those who planned to participate. Got it. And yet...

These poor kids are going to hate geography. Without ever really having met it.

I would like to point out that I liked the teacher very much and do not mean to bag on his curriculum. He had a short period of time to prepare the kids for something very specific and I think he did an admirable job, even more so since he was almost certainly volunteering his time for this little adventure. This is just me, a non-educator, griping about how things would be different if I were king of the forest. And instead of just griping, I decided to see if I could be of some use. So I sent the teacher a note explaining what I did for a living and that I'd be happy to come talk to the kids if he thought it would be useful and appropriate. The teacher was very gracious, and invited me to their final class later that week.

I slammed a quick presentation together demonstrating how we use geographic information systems in archaeology, which is what I do 9-5. I wasn't as prepared as I would have liked to have been, but the material is pretty awesome and speaks for itself. I talked to the kids for about 20 minutes, showed them some pretty pictures, and walked them through a short exercise in predictive modeling, while they munched on their end-of-class celebratory pizza. They asked good smart questions. And heckled me for not knowing the ancient names for countries in what is now Russia. I love kids.

I thought it went alright, and my nine-year-old son said I was "epic." He says that when I defrost frozen raviolis for dinner though. He's very supportive.

The geography bee came and went. My kiddo made it to round 4 of 7 before getting knocked out. I was very proud of him, but mostly for being willing to stand up in front of a room of peers and parents and take a pop quiz. That takes guts. Props to all the kids for that. We left the bee before the end, but a buddy from my hockey team had a daughter that was still in the running when we took off. Last night at the rink, I asked him how she did, and he told me that she made it to the final round. Which is awesome. And that she wasn't even planning on going to bee at first, but she changed her mind the day before. It seems some lady came in and talked to her geography club and she decided she give it a try after all.

Made. My. Day.

Related Topics: 


Submitted by Katy on

Yay! We're dealing with something similar here where we got to pay £5 for someone to tell a bunch of 5 year olds that 'bananas were the healthiest fruit' and that they should drink smoothies.

I'm torn between storming in and ranting about it to school and just quietly undermining things at home, but your solution is both elegant and genuinely helpful.

Submitted by swingbug on

Heh. I remember my husband having a similar reaction during our labor and delivery classes when they showed us that old school food pyramid from the 80s as a model for the diet of the modern pregnant woman.