Educators on Global Learning: Barbara Chow
Tell us why geography is an important piece of international education.
Geography education helps us understand the essential connections in the world. It can be taught easily and integrated into reading and math -- core academic subjects that everyone is focused on right now. And there are many, many ways we have done that in the past.
If you're going to read, you can read about the world. We would encourage people to do that. It does not need to be an added burden to an already very busy day. We see it as an essential way of understanding how the world works and how it is connected together. A sense of place and your own place and your relationship to others is a key part of your twenty-first-century learning experience.
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What work does the National Geographic Society do in international education?
Our basic role and goal is to promote the geographic literacy of young Americans. We did a poll back in 1988 and repeated it, and we found that young Americans don't know a lot about the world, unfortunately. We looked at the United States and eight other countries, and the United States -- I think -- in 1988, scored last among eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds, and in 2002 scored second to last. The top-scoring countries were mostly northern European countries, and the bottom country was Mexico, but the United States was second to last in that later poll.
It basically showed that young Americans just don't know a lot about where other countries are located, and they surprisingly don't know a lot about the United States. I think one-tenth of young Americans could not find the United States on a blank world map. They're pretty good about some of the big states -- they could find California and Texas; I'm not so sure about New York; and they could not really find states like Missouri and others.
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Tell us more about how you engage in teacher development.
We're engaging university and college professors in the work of teaching teachers the basic content of geography, which they can transmit to their students. We have geographic alliances now, collaborations between universities and K-12 teachers around the country. We have one in virtually every state right now, and they've been operating pretty successfully now for the last fifteen years. We have good evidence, I think, on test scores that the kids whose teachers have gone through this training have performed better on national test scores.
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Give us an example of an exemplary international education program you've funded.
We have a very small teacher grant program that provides up to $5,000 for individual teachers to work in classrooms. We have a project in Annapolis, [Maryland], not too far from here, where the kids decided to really delve into the Islamic culture. They obtained original instruments and learned the music and dance, they did interpretive dance around the subject, and they really delved in; they built a classroom full of pictures and their own work. Their art teachers worked with them to do some brass pieces around it, and I think they got a completely different perspective than one might have if they had just read the paper and learned about what was happening through the news.