Maps & Education
Posted by Joseph Moore on January 29, 2013
In a moment of insanity, purchased this:
It’s huge, on a spring roller in a galvanized metal frame. After reading Tarn’s biography of Alexander the Great, I really wanted a map of Alexander’s empire, as I’m not familiar with the geography of that area in any detail. So, cruising around the net, looking for a nice big map, something to hang on the wall, for not too much. But found this on eBay, a classic set of classroom maps of the ancient (and not so ancient) world – and my wife didn’t even try to talk me out of it. It’s way cool. Now I need to build a rack for it – will report back.
Many companies nowadays supply large classroom maps. Cram and Nystrom had been around for over a hundred years – mine is a Nystrom set (they’re still in business); Cram, which used to make hecka cool canvas maps, went out of business recently. With digital technology, the old school approach requiring cartographers, draftsmen and fancy printing equipment seems to be over. Judging from the websites, these modern companies seem pretty low budget – not surprising, as it would likely take a minimal investment in a wide format printer, some digital files and a website to get into the business.
If the apocalyptic reports on geographical and historical ignorance are to be believed (and my experience suggests they should), almost nobody nowadays knows much of anything about those subjects. So, who is keeping these companies in business? If the school, are these maps ever dragged out and taught to?
There’s a little bit of curious history here. In One Room Schools of the Middle West, a book I’ve refered to before here, Dr. Fuller mentions in passing that one of the strategies used by the educators behind the ‘scientific’ graded classroom schools in their efforts to supplant the one-room rural schools was to brag on the equipment: consolidated schools had the latest maps and globes! One-room schools tended not to have the latest and greatest. So, I wonder how much of the classroom map industry sprang from supplying the latest and greatest to the new centrally controlled schools and on one-room schools trying to keep up, and how much from a real push to teach this stuff?
I wonder this because actually learning what the maps have to teach doesn’t seem to be part of the drill, at least not for the last 40-50 years. Do people older than me – say, in their 60s – know all this stuff from their time in grade school and high school going over lessons using those maps? My personal experience – I started school in 1963, and, over the next 13 years I don’t recall ever even seeing anything other than current American and world maps in a classroom, and lessons were not based on them. Any geography I got was from the Maps in the huge Webster’s we had when I was a kid.
And history is even worse. If the teachers had ever pulled down a big map of, say, the Roman Empire and taught from it, I’d remember – I have always loved that kind of stuff.
One theory I’ve long entertained, which I admit is based on little hard evidence, is that once professional educators achieved their express goal of putting the one-room schools out of business (circa 1945), and the last significant generation of people educated in one-room schools had started to died off (by the 1960s and 70s), much of the motivation behind teaching anything at all in school was removed. When a bunch of hicks educated by amateurs consistently outperformed the scientifically educated products of the consolidated schools – even according to tests concocted by the professional educators – the classroom schools had to try to keep up. This was the case from the late 19th century up until the Great Depression. Once the locally controlled and independent one room schools were eliminated, and those educated in them dwindled, not so much. The schools could then concentrate on *their* goal: producing a dumbed-down and easily managed population.
What part could knowing some history or geography (or math or science) play in achieving that goal? Whatever the cause, the result is clear: hardly anyone knows any of that stuff, and, if they do, they didn’t learn it in a traditional public school.