Geography isn’t what it used to be. Nowadays, that subject is often buried—and therefore inadequately covered—in a social studies curriculum itself under siege because of the extended commitment in schools to reading and math.
But geographical knowledge also isn’t what it used to be. It’s become essential to understanding a brave new world of international economic and political developments, as well as preparing for a host of jobs that did not even exist 20 years ago. The release of revised national standards for geography later this year—the first revision since these standards were introduced in 1994—will emphasize the changing geographical landscape.
Over the past decade, meanwhile, business and educational leaders have retooled their approaches to deal with rapidly emerging economies and societies, from China and India to Mexico and Brazil. Even Facebook has realized the importance of knowing geography, having added a world map to users’ pages so they can include all the places they have visited in their lives.
In a 2004 report, the latest report available, the U.S. Department of Labor declared that geo-technology—the combination of geography with an ever-expanding array of new high-tech jobs—represents one of the labor megatrends for the 21st century. These changing realities are posing a problem—and an opportunity—for American schools and their students, who by most measures lag behind the rest of the world in geographical knowledge and skills.