Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Freetown and Beacon Hill

Credit: Ashley Costa
Many readers will know that over the past three years, our EarthView team has had the privilege of setting up our 20-foot inflatable globe in dozens of school gyms and providing brief but memorable educational experiences to nearly 30,000 individuals -- mostly middle schoolers. 

As much as we enjoy working directly with students and their teachers, we know that we can teach and energize only a tiny percentage of the young people in the Commonwealth who need -- and for the most part are denied -- a sound geographic education. For this reason, we sometimes use EarthView in unusual ways to generate interest in promoting the teaching of geography. 

Particularly effective, as it turns out, have been our visits to the State House in Boston. Thanks to our friend Senator Brewer of Barre, we have set up EarthView two times for legislators, staff members, and visitors (the beautiful building itself is a major tourist attraction, so we have met people from all over the world there). Some legislators have been very surprised to learn that geography is taught only at the 4th and 7th grade levels (U.S. and world, respectively) and that it is no longer possible for high school teachers to obtain certification in the subject. We have spent more than a decade arguing the obvious on both counts, and are very glad that several members of the legislature are now willing to champion the cause.

Senator Brewer, in fact, introduced a geography education bill, with Representatives Gobi, Alicea, and Smola as co-sponsors. We are very pleased to have the support of this bipartisan group, and especially of Rep. Smola, who is the only geographer in the General Court (as our legislature is formally known). Having earned a degree in geography and regional planning from our sister institution in Westfield, he is well aware of the value of a sound geographic education.

Earlier this week, as we climbed Beacon Hill -- just a couple of geographers without a giant globe -- we noticed a knot of people, excitedly awaiting the arrival of someone. One man was wrapped in a flag, and though this should have been a clue, this vexillologically challenged pair inquired of the crowd and quickly learned that they were awaiting the arrival of Ernest Bai Koroma, the president of Sierra Leone. As reported in Cocorioko, President Koroma, though graciously received by Governor Deval Patrick, was in Boston primarily to speak with members of the local Sierra Leonean community. He and his delegation -- along with First Lady Sia Nyama Koroma -- made similar visits to West Virginia, New Jersey, and Georgia.

We got only a glimpse of the visiting president, but while waiting in a longer-than-usual security line, we had the great privilege of meeting a few other Sierra Leoneans, and especially of talking with a man named Josiah, who is a community leader and educator who has been in Boston for over three decades. He also has a restaurant in Dorchester that is on my short list for a visit!
Dr. Domingo with a member of the Sierra Leonean community
whose clothing represented her country's flag.
Josiah confirmed what we already knew, which is that a high school student in Freetown is likely to learn more  geography than his peers in Boston! As we continue to push for more geography education, we make the point that we are behind not only other rich nations, but just about every country in the world, in our commitment to geography education. Our new friend Josiah is one of many who inspire us to continue pushing to make Massachusetts stand out as a leader in geography education.

Regarding the EarthView program at the top of this article, we have now reached 85,000 people (all in groups of 20 or so individuals), mostly in Massachusetts but in other states as well, and in Nicaragua and Brazil. Our legislative efforts have been thwarted, though repeated visits to Beacon Hill have garnered more supporters -- our most recent bill had 18 sponsors but was still killed in committee by education bureaucrats who do not want to consider more geography education.

And I have still not made it to that Sierra Leone restaurant....

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