UNDERSTANDING THE GEOGRAPHY STANDARDS


Geography is about the earth we inhabit and what we do with it. Like all subjects, geography involves a distinctive approach to acquiring knowledge and understanding. That approach stresses the significance of where events (people, places, things) occur, how they got there and how they are related to other events elsewhere. When John Snow sought to understand an outbreak of cholera in 19th c. London, he looked at where the deaths occurred and discovered they clustered around a local water pump. Removing the pump handle ended the outbreak. After Delaware Route One was completed, debate arose about where the off-ramps had been constructed and whether others in the Townsend area should be added. Because off-ramps bring development, their location is critical to controlling or encouraging growth in southern New Castle County. Where matters. Society, businesspeople, parents and students all make location decisions constantly. Where should I shop for a car, what crop should I raise here, where should we draw a school's attendance boundary?

Geography examines the consequences of those decisions. It allows us to understand how human society has arranged itself over the earth's surface, how Amazon forests have been turned into cattle pastures, how superhighways make neighbors of once distant Los Angeles and Phoenix, why Central Americans risk their lives to grow coffee on the slopes of active volcanoes. An enduring theme of geographical understanding is the different ways human cultures have responded to, and changed, the physical environment.

Too often, geography is thought of as a listing of places and products, or at best, the study of how topographic features such as mountains have constrained human actions. The geography standards reject rote memorization and a restricted outlook. Instead, they call for students to use the geographic approach with its key issue of why events occur where they do to help us understand how we have organized our land and life across the earth's surface and what that organization means for our future. Knowledge and insight come from examining events in terms of where they occur. The forces composing the natural environment may constrain human behavior but, increasingly, human culture makes significant changes to the natural environment: distinctive places result from this interaction.

Goal statements for the Geography Standards:
  • Students will possess a knowledge of geography and an ability to apply a geographical perspective to life situations. All physical phenomena and human activities exist in space as well as time.
  • Students will study the relationships of people, places, and environments from the perspective of where they occur, why they are there, and what meaning those locations have for us.
  • Students with the knowledge and perspectives of geography will understand the environmental and human processes that shape the Earth's surface, and recognize the culturally distinctive ways people interact with the natural world to produce unique places.
  • Students with an appreciation of the nature of their world and their place in it will be better prepared citizens for a physical environment more threatened and a global economy more competitive and interconnected.