Geography is an academic discipline and school subject with defined perspectives, knowledge and skills. Geographic Education refers to those geography perspectives, concepts and skills that are found in stand-alone geography courses and those that are diffused throughout and across other subject areas. Geographic education also refers to teaching and learning of geography outside the formal classroom.
The recently updated Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, Second Edition document describes what every geographically informed person should know and be able to do. Citizens with a command of geographic tools and perspectives learn how to make important connections between the living and non-living world, between human cultures and natural resource use, and between human political organization of space and food security, to give just a few examples. Students who are learning about spatial patterns of human settlement in history, or the relationship between vegetation and climate zone in an environmental science class are engaging with geography concepts, perspectives and skills, often without even realizing it.
A geographic education is a necessary part of a complete education. This is becoming more apparent as geo-spatial technologies including remote sensing and mapping tools have become critical to our economic success and governance in areas such as natural resource management, international commerce, transportation, risk management and national defense and security. As a recent report commissioned by Google points out, the demand for a trained geo-spatial workforce is far outpacing our ability to educate future workers.
Geography is not a passive subject. It cannot be simply absorbed or memorized. A high-quality geographic education requires students to participate in doing geography. Whether it be reading maps, asking geographic questions, or displaying data, students learn to master unique skills that are not explicitly taught in other disciplines. One of the most important ways to learn geography is to venture beyond the classroom to conduct field work. Here students learn to read the landscapes of local (or faraway) environments and identify spatial patterns observable in everyday life.
Don’t let another day go by without introducing yourself, your children and/or your students to the power of geographic education.