My geography class

7 August 2007
9:17 AM

I think I could teach a geography class based solely on shocking people. I’d call my series Geo 203: It’s Not Where You Think It Is. I last took geography my freshman year of high school and I haven’t looked back since. I remember my teacher Mr. Markosian took pains to emphasize that geography isn’t just capitals and rivers, but the effects that physical features have on the development of history and culture. Those complex relationships were lost on us. Maybe should have focused on some more basic questions. Cue the slides.

Lesson 1: Where is South America?

Physical map of the U.S.

This is a map of the United States of America, plus a little of Canada at the north and Mexico to the south. If that’s not clear to you, give up now. The U.S. is part of North America. Naturally, South America is to the south. Here is the same map, but with some lines of longitude. Which of these lines run through South America?

Lesson 2: Where is the equator?

You know the equator. It’s the imaginary line that marks the middle of the world, north-south-wise. It’s the part of the world that receives the most direct sunlight. It’s encircles 24,901 miles. But where is it? Here are two maps, one of South America and the other of Africa. Identify the equator on each map.

If the result surprises you, look at a map and note the relative positions of South America and Africa. I was shocked myself when I realized the positions because it means that, at my current location in Santiago, I am farther south than all of Africa.

Lesson 3: Is what Ambrose Bierce said true?

What Ambrose Bierce said is this: “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” We’ve been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan for over four years. What percentage of Americans could identify these two countries on an unlabled world map? Here’s a map for you to try. Click if you need a larger version.

I have to admit that I wasn’t able to locate either country myself when I first tried; I had to look up the answer. If you were able to do it, congrats—you did better than I did. I don’t have any numbers to back me up, but I’m pretty sure that most Americans would have some difficulty finding Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps a more accurate aphorism would be to say that war is God’s way of making Americans aware of other countries’ existence.

Study up for the test. Focus on the location of South America, the equator, Iraq, and Afghanistan. There will be no curve.