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The Burlingame B

The Student News Site of Burlingame High School

The Burlingame B

The Student News Site of Burlingame High School

The Burlingame B

Make geography a standalone class

When+I+gave+a+geography+test+with+eight+questions+to+a+class+of+25+Burlingame+students%2C+the+average+score+was+3.8+out+of+8+%E2%80%94+concerningly+low.+
Graphic by Joelle Huysmans
When I gave a geography test with eight questions to a class of 25 Burlingame students, the average score was 3.8 out of 8 — concerningly low.
Introduction

Naming 50 states and their capitals, locating the world’s tallest mountain, and identifying countries on a blank map — all skills we typically associate with adequate knowledge of geography. While the study of geography does encompass these middle school recollections, they frequently come to define the field, which, I believe, leaves other critical elements largely disregarded. 

In reality, geography entails far more than memorization. According to National Geographic, it is “the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.” In simple terms, geography cultivates an understanding of Earth and its natural and human complexities. Rather than merely concentrating on the location of places, geography delves into how places originate, evolve over time, and impact their inhabitants. 

Nonetheless, the importance of geography is repeatedly overlooked in our high school education. We witness its neglect right here, at Burlingame, where the option to enroll in a standalone geography class is not available to students. Instead, it is incorporated into the social studies curriculum, which strikes me as a questionable decision because geography is more closely related to scientific studies, such as biology or chemistry, while history — a fundamental component of social studies — is typically associated with literature. Among the California Department of Education’s State Minimum High School Graduation requirements, the study of the United States and global geography awkwardly falls under the three obligatory social studies courses.

The sad truth is that California is not alone in its disdain for geographical education. In 2017, The Gilbert M. Grosvenor Center reported that only 17 states mandate some geography study throughout high school, with only six requiring standalone geography classes, whereas the rest opt to combine geography with other subjects.

Austria or Australia? It helps to know the difference

While I acknowledge that social studies and geography classes may merge for budgetary concerns, it certainly benefits a student’s education to view them as distinct fields — and for good reason.

For one, consider the conflict that sparked on Oct. 7 involving Israel and Palestine. To accurately understand the situation, it is essential to be familiar with the geographical landscape of the two countries. The Gaza Strip is the 140-square-mile Palestinian territory that, for centuries, has been circulating between Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian control. Without historical and geographical context, teens will scroll through their news feeds — catching glimpses of the events — and be incapable of fully grasping the complete context of current global conflicts.

Moreover, knowing basic geography expresses respect for foreign nations, their cultures and their people. Assume you were speaking with an Australian and mistook their country of origin for Austria. Now, suppose you were that person. How would you feel? In this instance, your geographic faux pas undoubtedly communicates that you don’t care enough about their culture to conduct the most basic research about their country.

An inevitable and disappointing outcome

Given that geography receives such little priority in American education, it is hardly surprising that the stereotype of American ignorance of geography has been around for decades. I’m certain most have heard the stereotype through the media, which tends to seek out bumbling, uneducated Americans to poke fun at.. Regretfully, the stereotype may hold true. Nearly three-quarters of the United States eighth-graders tested below proficient in geography, according to the 2018 National Assessment of Educational Progress

Curious to determine whether this trend would hold true at our school, I invited a Burlingame class to take a geography quiz. The eight-question quiz asked students a variety of questions, from identifying the location of Norway to naming the capital of Thailand. The results only strengthened my position, considering that the class answered an average of 3.8 out of 8 questions correctly. Only one student answered every question correctly, whereas 16 students claimed that Mount Everest is situated in either the Andes or the Rocky Mountains. Let me be clear: These students’ lack of geographic proficiency is hardly their fault, given that they have never had the chance to adequately study geography in a classroom.

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About the Contributor
Joelle Huysmans, Diversity Coordinator
Joelle Huysmans is a sophomore at Burlingame High School and Diversity Coordinator for The Burlingame B as a second-year journalism student. Outside of school, she enjoys playing tennis, running in track and field, spending time with friends, playing board games with her family, and traveling across the world to discover foreign cultures. Her profound passion for reading and writing has led her to this class and she is excited to see where it will take her next.
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  • J

    Jan HuysmansDec 20, 2023 at 12:54 pm

    I like your extension of geography beyond a map of countries and their capitals. Most often the links are with science: geology, biology, chemistry, and physics. But there are more links: to culture, languages, nations, and politics. Good to point this out.

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  • A

    Andrea LacouDec 19, 2023 at 2:51 pm

    Wow!I love when you say that geography is a very important study especially to know and understand our neighbors.
    Love, Andree

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