Maps & Education

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.

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

7 thoughts on “Maps & Education”

  1. Oh man, I have got to get me one of those!

    I’m 61, and yes, I do remember my grade school and junior high teachers using maps like these and I was as enthralled as you say you would have been.

    But this was in Illinois, far from Chicago, and we might have been a bit behind the trends already underway on the coasts.

    Does it come with one of those long wooden sticks with black tip that teacher always used as a pointer while discussing the route Alexander took through the Persian empire?

  2. Long enough to rap the knuckles of the kids without undignified bending and reaching.

    I don’t count. I went to school in the 1950s, graduated HS in 65. Map drill was a familiar exercise. We’d be given blank outline maps and we’d have to locate political and geographic features.

    Oh, and it weren’t no public school.

    1. Looks like I should go with 48″, then.

      I went to Catholic grade school & high school – the grade school had already taken on the mood nearly ubiquitous today: of being exactly like the public schools, only kinder and gentler. Not intellectually challenging. The high school was schizophrenic – it wanted to be a college prep AND a football power AND accommodate the wild range of cultures in SoCal. Your son of a Mexican farmer and Vietnamese refuge kids were tossed in with the usual salad bowl of Americans who liked the nice weather. Very odd – and, with Christian Brothers and Sisters of Mercy, only intermittently intellectual.

      And no maps, darn it all!

  3. @Mike Flynn,

    Exactly. I remember those blank outline map drills too.

    @Ishmael,

    I’ve been reading and enjoying your blog for a while now. This is just the first time I’ve been moved to comment.

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