Geoliteracy: So What?

Trooping into my room on the first day of school, my 8th grade geography classes would look above the board and see a sign:
Geography is:

  1. What’s where?
  2. Why is it there?
  3. So what?

I would tell them that they didn’t need to know a lot of facts for my class; primarily they needed thinking skills. They would build up their background knowledge by exercising those skills endlessly. We quickly began exploring.
Their growing background knowledge and thinking skills would allow them to answer the first and second questions. But to answer the third question they needed to always be alert, not just “go through the day.” They needed to be attentive wherever they were, look for patterns and relationships at various scales, and pay attention to what they heard adults talking about, as well as what they saw/heard/read in the news. I told them it was OK to ask “So what?” in class, any time they wanted, and such diversions happened often.

Things are different between “here” and “there.” Geoliteracy helps people  understand the world and helps students see relationships.
Things are different between “here” and “there.” Geoliteracy helps people understand the world and helps students see relationships.
True literacy—about words, numbers, graphics, personal finance, social relationships, etc.—means more than simply reciting facts and rules committed to memory. It means being able to understand situations and relationships, and handle questions not previously encountered—and to do so with increasing sophistication.
For geographic literacy, or “geoliteracy,” this means far more than knowing the states and capitols in the US or the directions around a compass. Such facts are handy, for sure, but insufficient by themselves.
So what does geoliteracy mean?

Geoliteracy helps people to navigate through life and to cope with overlapping and often competing information and values, at scales from micro to cosmic.  It means being able to describe for new situations “what’s where,” postulate “why it’s there,” and being interested enough to wonder and skilled enough to resolve “so what.” Geoliteracy fosters skills in managing disparate information about complex problems. And this is exactly what employers are seeking today—workers accustomed to thinking critically, learning insatiably, collaborating naturally, and using technology to analyze and integrate more efficiently and powerfully. Geoliteracy opens doors to a better future for individuals, communities, and the planet.

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