Large sphere on a stage with the features of earth projected on to it. There is a man at a podium to the left of the sphere speaking to a crowd.

Images of global weather patterns are projected onto the Science on a Sphere exhibit in the Ocean Science Center at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach in 2014. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)


Opinion: Why Geography Education is Essential

Geography education has been lacking in classrooms and is necessary in order to better our understanding of global affairs and cultural differences around the world.
<a href="" target="_self">Eitan Rochverger</a>

Eitan Rochverger

July 25, 2023

Did your teacher ever pull out a map or globe and teach you about the countries of the world? For many American students, the answer is no. As a result, fewer and fewer students have a general understanding of the world around them. 

To be exact,17 states required a geography course in middle school and 10 states required a geography course for students to graduate from high school.”

In 2010, the Common Core State Standards were introduced in schools across the United States, outlining the academic expectations K-12 students should aim to achieve across the subjects of mathematics and language arts.

While this model for education was intended to level the playing field and reduce the economic disparities in our educational system, studies have shown that the implementation of Common Core has not moved the needle in terms of student performance. Take Illinois’ school system for example. 

According to a 2019 NPR article,Only about one third of Illinois students are hitting the new high bar on state exams that gauge how well students are mastering the Common Core learning standards.”

Over 13 years later, the cracks within the Common Core model are even more evident. 

As the Brookings Institution’s Sam Loveless explains, “The standards wasted both time and money and diverted those resources away from more promising pursuits.” 

Although the intentions behind Common Core were pure, this one-size-fits-all model of education leaves out valuable learning objectives that are a disservice to students and leaves them unprepared for the real world outside of school.

With the rise of technology over the past decade, it is imperative that our education system provides students with opportunities to develop practical skills that can assist them in navigating social and professional spheres. Most importantly, it is crucial that they gain a sense of global awareness. One way to ensure students are molded into global citizens is to implement mandatory geography studies. 

Since 1969, the National Assessment of Educational Process (NAEP) has provided detailed reports on academic performance in the United States. Their 2018 report revealed only 25% of American students in the eighth grade performed at or above NAEP proficiency in geography. 

In a Massachusetts’ Daily Collegian analysis of the dataset, it was said that “while 26% of students could identify the locations of London, Mumbai and Los Angeles on a blank map, just 8% could explain a positive and negative impact of urbanization.” 

So, why has geography education gone extinct? Well, there are several reasons including school funding, which is heavily dependent on standardized test scores. To secure funding, schools prioritize curriculums that cover subjects like math and reading, leaving no room for lessons focused on topics like geography or global studies. 

While school funding is a necessary element in developing a global mindset among students, we also need to push for greater diversity training as it will equip educators with the proper toolkit for teaching students about global cultures in a respectful manner. 

As Sarah Schwartz explained in an EducationWeek article, “Teachers—and their implicit biases—can directly impact the opportunities afforded to students of color.”

With the proper training, educators can help students approach global affairs with an open mind and greater cultural sensitivity. If we force educators to teach subjects like geography and history without such training, we are putting society’s most vulnerable members at risk of learning about cultures from a skewed perspective. 

Ultimately, geography deserves a place in our nation’s classrooms. Not only will it help mold students into more proactive citizens, but it has the propensity to positively affect their interpersonal skills in the workplace. By studying geography, students can recognize how we can all contribute our unique differences and strengths in order to create a more equitable future.