Why does Boston not teach Geography?

I recently found out that they don’t teach Geography in schools in Boston, Mass. in the USA. Can this be true?

Last September a group of kids went to Boston, Mass. in the US for a two week exchange visit. They came from Switzerland. You may not know this, but the Swiss admire America the concept so much their constitution is based on the American one. Many Swiss visit the US every year and love the experience.

So it came as some surprise to this group of kids when they arrived to discover that America the reality was not what they expected.

First of all, they were asked “Do you have trees in Switzerland?” Wow. Now that’s a hard one. Trees. Never heard of those in Europe, have we?

Another question they were asked was “Is Switzerland in the Arctic?” Err, no, that’s Sweden. Switzerland is about 3 hours drive from the Mediterranean, if you drive through its neighbour Italy.

But most amazing of all was finding out that none of the kids they met had any Geography lessons in school. Because Boston schools don’t think it’s important enough. Which of course explained a lot. The question is – why? Why do schools in Boston not teach Geography?

Being charitable you could say that the lack of a good understanding of the rest of the world is less than constructive for drafting foreign policy. Alternatively you could say the lack of geographical knowledge impoverishes Americans, weakens their foreign policy, and puts their security at risk. Conspiracy theorists would say it is so that the masses can be more easily controlled: if they don’t know what works better overseas, they will be less likely to question what happens at home.

If you are American and are reading this, I hope you will check up on why Boston (and maybe your education district too) does not teach Geography, and post back here with some ideas. It just doesn’t seem logical to me.


31 comments on “Why does Boston not teach Geography?

  1. I live in Texas and we have a 6th grade and a 9th grade geography class. We study US and world geography. I bet that Boston and MA don’t have any geography questions on their state exams at the end of the year.


  2. Thanks for the post about Texas, Cassie. What happens in the 7th and 8th grades down your way? Is Geography forgotten for these two years?

  3. 7th is Texas history and Texas geography. 8th is the first half of US history with some geography, mostly of where the 13 colonies were, but not the whole country.

  4. Interesting. When do you learn about world history and world geography? Are these treated as the foundations of US history and geography, or do these subjects not cover America’s earlier background so much?

  5. 9th is world geog, 10th is world history, 11th is the 2nd half of US history, and 11th is government 1 semester and economics the other.


    This tells everything we learn in social studies the whole 12 years. http://www.austinschools.org/matrix/SocStudweb.htm

  6. Hi

    Your posts about the education was interesting to me as I have a friend who moved from the UK to Boston, and they have a child who will be schooled there. It does seem that the system differs a lot from the UK.

    But then it also surprised me that the press in the US there seems to provide little space for European news.

    Great blog by the way.


    the Brit

  7. Thanks for your kind words, britandgrit, I will be keeping an eye on your blog too, it sounds interesting.

    The lack of more geography lessons in schools will make America an even more homogenous society, not what the founding fathers intended at all, I’ll bet, as they stood for individualism above the power of the State.

    Thank goodness for BBC World. You can even get it via satellite in the US. See http://www.bbcworld.com for more details.

  8. Sometimes there is news about Europe, but mostly England and only stuff that’s also important in the US. Almost never news that’s important just to the Europeans.


  9. To be fair, the normal UK TV channels give very little foreign coverage either, although from what my American friends tell me it’s still a lot more than Americans see of Europe. I sometimes watch the US ABC Nightly News and find the format strange. But I think exposing ourselves to new ideas is always a good thing.

    Even CNN in Europe gives a different spin on things, although the tendency to have reporters SAY what someone else said, rather than hearing the actual words, does mean more and more viewers hear what the TV companies want us to hear. And of course, the US broadcasters have their advertisers and sponsors to think about, which the BBC does not.

  10. Just found this entry – apparently more US teachers use websites such as the BBC’s http://www.bbc.co.uk than they do local papers. See here:

  11. We were on holiday in California at the time of the 2001 general election and we couldn’t find any reference to it on TV or newspapers – the first clue we got to the result was a small AP paragraph at the bottom of an inside page in a Saturday paper saying that William Hague had resigned as leader of the Conservatives. It didn’t even say why!

    Good blog, by the way.

  12. Thanks for posting, Neil, and for your compliment. I’m glad you like the blog!

    When you compare how much coverage of the US elections we get in the UK it’s amazing how little interest the US press show in anything beyond their borders. Like this of course US politicians can more easily control the public, and special interest groups can more easily control the politicians.

    “In the Kingdom of the Blind, the one eyed man is King.”

  13. Good post. When I was in middle school, I distinctly remember having an entire class devoted to geography, both of the US and of the world, but then again, that was merely for part of one year over 12 years ago. These days, my younger brother and sister learn very little geography as far as I know.

    To be completely honest with you, the attitude toward other countries not bordering ours is largely one of complete indifference unless we have some financial and/or political ties or, of course, we’re occupying them. It seems to me that the proximity of European countries to other European countries, and even to Africa and the Middle East, makes a big difference in how much you innately know about those places. It’s a similar effect to what we have here in the US, where most of us know a lot about the states close to us, and the farther you go the less you know (unless you’ve been/lived there).

    To not know basic things like whether they have trees in Europe is absurd, even at the grade school level.

  14. wow that was some blog there pardner, do they teach geography in swissland? can you name all 49 states?

  15. Thanks for your interesting reply. I think you’ll find the United States comprises fifty States.

  16. Someone on my blog said that we are up to 51 states, with the new one being Iraq. UGH!!!!

  17. lol! For years in the UK we have joked that Britain is the 51st State… we feel Washington dictates what we must do, we just don’t get taxed or have the right to vote.

  18. No no no, Cassie, you have it all wrong. Iraq is our colony, which we are occupying. Say it with me: col-o-ny. Soon we’ll add Iran, Turkmenistan, and North Korea, because, you know, we feel like it.

    Agreed. Ugh.

  19. are you sure there are fifty states in the U.S?

  20. A very good example of why the US should teach more people Geography can be found here.

  21. why shouldn’t we forget hawaii? isn’t that near australia?

  22. Thank you for your persistence, it’s interesting discovering how much you know about the world. While you are giving away parts of your own country, why not get rid of Texas and Florida too – after all, they’re “near” to Mexico aren’t they?

  23. fifthdecade Mar 30th, 2007 at 11:07 pm

    Thank you for your persistence, it’s interesting discovering how much you know about the world. While you are giving away parts of your own country, why not get rid of Texas and Florida too – after all, they’re “near” to Mexico aren’t they?

    Because I LIVE in Texas!

  24. Hi Cassie, my comment was addressed to big_ut who seems to care little about the geographical integrity of of the US. I suppose I could equally have picked New Mexico and Arizona, but Texas and Florida seemed more “noticeable” somehow.

    Having said that, with most of Florida being so low above sea level, global warming (whether caused by man or not – that’s another argument) over the next fifty to a hundred years much of Florida will be inundated with water (much like New Orleans) and may end up an extension of the Keys.

    As for Texas, isn’t the Lone Star State the only one in the US to have once been an independent and fully fledged Republic? Although the Independence lasted just 12 years, it might still survive outside of the Union, just like California could, too.

  25. [quote fifthdecade]Thank you for your persistence, it’s interesting discovering how much you know about the world. While you are giving away parts of your own country, why not get rid of Texas and Florida too – after all, they’re “near” to Mexico aren’t they?[/quote]
    no thankyou for your persistance, who the hell gives a damn whether we get rid of texas and florida?? you sound like a limey punk i work with.
    i know enough about the geography and history of our proud nation to take any test you like!!

  26. Err, except how many States the US has: you already failed that one.

  27. there are 50 goddamn U.S. states how many times do i have to say it?

  28. I’m so glad you stopped by again with the correct number of states. In your first post you only thought there were 49, so clearly this blog has helped you out.

  29. I am a Spanish teacher in Vermont who has always loved geography. I remember having to learn all of the the US countries and capitals, and all of the European ones too. I play the geography zone challenge frequently and know where most countries in the world are. I however feel discouraged that kids seem to lack a good concept of geography today. I teach all of the Spanish speaking countries and capitals, a unit of the Spanish names of all countries, geography games, country reports, trivia etc. I emphasize it a lot and can not believe that even with all of this I still get questions such as where in Spain is Mexico. I know that many teachers in the school are working on geography, but many kids still seem clueless. Sometimes they even get an A on the quiz and then forget it the next week. I am wondering if it conceptual, or if they find it irrelevant in the culture.

  30. Thanks for your interesting post Sara. I learned a lot about the world through collecting stamps when I was a nipper. These days, if it isn’t a computer game kids aren’t interested it seems. You might find the Geography game on this website helps motivate your students a little to learn more about the world. It’s quite good fun – I got to Level 11 on my first go with a score of over 460,000. I’m on Level 12 now (the top level).

    I also learn a lot about the world through BBC News which always has maps of parts of the world the stories are about, and the news coverage is quite good there – a lot better than the minimalised soundbites channels such as CNN or ABC use. Another factor that may prevent good knowledge acquisition is Multiple Choice tests: when all you need do is tick a box, it’s easy to score well without really knowing stuff in enough depth to explain it to someone else without the text in front of you.

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