Tuesday, March 21, 2023

AAG Denver 2023 -- EarthView

My first airline travel since 2020 will be to Denver, Colorado for the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers, where I will give a brief presentation entitled EarthView: Regional Outreach in Geographic Education. I mention it in this space as a convenient way to share my slides and abstract. 

Abstract (a summary of what I planned to hope to say)

As it was taught in mid-twentieth century schools in the United States, geography was so pedantic in its approach and so narrow in its worldview that it was considered progressive to get rid of it. The social studies curricula that emerged as a result have lacked spatial perspectives, and geographic illiteracy has become rampant. Introductory university courses in geography now often include remediation for geographic learning that was once part of K-12 education.

This paper describes educational outreach programs through which geography faculty at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts have worked directly with thousands of students and dozens of teachers each year since 2008. The work has given the faculty members and participating undergraduate assistants deep insights into the diverse communities of our region, while helping middle-school students and their teachers better understand their connections to the wider world.

Sustained outreach of this kind requires significant effort, but brings significant rewards to a department, a university, and the surrounding region. The visits to schools often attract positive attention from parents, media and political leaders. This work leads to conversations about a modern geography that no longer promotes rote memorization and a colonial worldview, but rather serves as a positive force for equity, inclusion, diversity, and justice.

L'esprits d'escalier 

After this presentation -- in which I thought I conveyed both the need for and value of our outreach programs with some panache --  I found myself in the position of the philosopher Diderot, who coined this term, meaning "wit of the staircase." I originally learned it as "angel of the staircase," which I still prefer.

As with Diderot in the original story, I was caught off-guard by a question that I have heard before but do not consider central to the spirit of the presentation itself, and like Diderot, right after the session I thought of a better answer. To be honest, Diderot thought of one perfect answer (hence his use of "wit" rather than "spirit"), whereas I thought of one and then another and another as I brooded over this a bit.

The question was a bit surprising because it came from a fellow professor with decades of teaching experience who has used many of the same resources I described, in many of the same ways. He said, however, that the National Geographic's use of "entertaining and educational" for such giant-map programs was not supported by evidence, and he asked whether I had set up pre- and post-program surveys to document the educational benefit in terms of student learning on specific learning standards.

My reply was to sputter a bit and eventually to mention a few ways in which we had done some of this kind of "assessment," but not to make clear why this is exactly the wrong question. So here are a few stairway replies:

1. Like the questioner, I am a tenured full professor of geography. That is all the validation my lessons need. This does not mean everything I teach is equally successful, but it does mean that I have been thoroughly vetted by my peers and I am able to discern what is working and what is not. We need to have more faith in the educational process. In fact, such standards are themselves only valid to the extent that qualified scholars have developed them. 

2. Teachers -- excellent teachers -- keep requesting this program. As recently as the day before my presentation, they were explaining exactly why it was effective and what kinds of lessons their students were drawing from it.

3. As I mentioned in the program, the program has led several students who participated in their K12 career to choose our geography department for their undergraduate careers. Clearly they learned something substantial, and in many cases our program was deepening the impact of what they were learning form our excellent colleagues in middle schools. The entertainment value of our 20-minute programs could not possibly have been exciting enough to drive their choices of university and major -- something more substantial was happening.

4. I do the EarthView program on top of a 4-4 teaching load and many other responsibilities. Any "spare" time I have is for looking forward, not backward. As I mentioned, our support team does do some very general surveying, but nothing tied to the standards.

5. The NCLB-era notions of educational value are demonstrably flawed, but the accountability movement is not yet being held accountable, as I have discussed at length in a number of accountability posts on my main blog. I do not see any need to invest in false measures of effectiveness.

6. As I mentioned in the presentation, our program is mentioned on PAGE 1 of the national standards. The people who published the standards -- from AAG, NCGE, and NatGeo -- asked us for that photograph as part of the introduction of the 17 national standards in geography.

7. And finally (I promise): the people who insist on reducing the art of education to the ticking of boxes on lists do not care about geography standards. That is exactly the problem we face: it is illegal to become a high-school geography teacher in Massachusetts and many other states. Showing that we are good at it is pointless, unless we make the case in other ways. 

And we are doing just that in Project EarthView and its related endeavors! We encourage my colleagues in geography to be bold and to find creative ways to show that we have something important to offer in teaching and learning about climate change, global connections, and much more!


A little treat for those who are still reading: photos from the applied geography (human and physical) I explored while in the Denver area for the meeting. I took the unusual (for me) step of annotating a full set of images (but not too many) in my AAG Denver 2023 folder on Flickr. Enjoy! 

Orixás, Orishas, y Más

On March 21, 2023, I am offering a special session of my Latin American geography class as part of BSU's celebration of Carnival Week in the Latin American and Carribean Studies program I helped to establish -- and that continues to thrive under esteemed new leaders.

As always with public presentations, I will be making my slides available immediately after the presentation. Everything that looks like a link IS a link, for further exploration!

Monday, December 12, 2022

Coffee Tasting with the Coffee Maven

I am very pleased to be sharing some coffee and some coffee talk for employees of my university, at the invitation of the Wellness Committee in our human resources department. I have put together some slides for those who attend and for those who are curious. This is a bit of a potpourri of coffee concepts.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

NESTVAL's Second Century

 Today I am at Salem State University for the 100th annual meeting of NESTVAL, the oldest geographical society in North America. My BSU colleague Dr. Bob Amey and I are offering a short presentation about the importance of outreach to K12 teachers and students, entitled Geographic Literacy in NESTVAL's Second Century

Many of the slides used in my part of the talk are selected from a longer presentation I gave with Dr. Vernon Domingo for the virtual NERC 2020 conference, EarthView: World Beyond Borders. I mention it here for those who might enjoy the additional maps and links.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Potato Novitiate

 Earlier in 2022, I thought I might earn another title, as Potato Maven. As the never-ending slew of 2020 setbacks continued, I became distracted from those ambitions. I also began to see just how vast the world of potato knowledge would be (this came as no surprise, actually), so I am considering myself -- at best -- a Potato Novitiate.

My identity as an educator, however, is more bridge than expert. So whatever I do know, I am happy to share. My first (and perhaps only) foray into the world of potato education is Potato Geographies, a presentation that is part of the One Book One Community programming around Stephen Puleo's beautiful and important narrative non-fiction, Voyage of Mercy

Potato Geographies contains all the slides from my October 26 presentation (2pm) at the Bridgewater Senior Center on Wally Kruger Way.

Friday, October 7, 2022

World Migratory Bird Day

Please see the post below, from our friends at Dean's Beans. It comes just a day after I spoke about the importance of coffee practices in the protection of migratory birds in my Geographies of Migration course for BSU Senior College. Please do not go birdwatching with a cup of commodity coffee in your hand. The good stuff does a lot of good!

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Geographies of Migration

This fall, I am leading a new course for BSU Senior College: Geographies of Migration. As promised to the participants, the slides I use for the course will be posted here, along with recordings of each session. 

We began on September 15 with Part 1: Geographic Principles.

We continued on September 22 with a story of migration in the place where my life as a geographer truly began in Part 2: Rondônia. I have added a couple of photos to these slides as a result of questions we had at the end of our session. They are after the slide in which I show three relevant book covers. I also want to call attention to one link within the presentation that I did not get to during the session: the story of the artist Anká, which is included in a newsletter I wrote for friends and family during my first visit to the region in 1996.

I have also added a map of the entire Amazon that puts the EFMM railroad in spatial context. It is like a proverbial needle in the haystack of that map -- taking up only a very small portion in the southwesternmost extremity of the map. 

The slides for Part 3: Cabo Verde provide far more than I could get to during our session of  September 29. Feel free to explore! As I have said, anything in these slides that looks like a link is a link, and though many of these are in Portuguese, many are not.

During our October 6 session, we explore non-human migration in Part 4: Migrations Avian, Mammalian, Insectile, and Arboreal. As I mentioned during the session, these slides include quite a few links to further information. I especially recommend the links related to monarch butterflies.

The October 13 session is entitled Part 5: U.S./Mexico Border and subtitled "where I'm coming from" because a lot of my thinking about migration was shaped by seven years spent in the borderlands.

BONUSES (that is, stories about migration I've noticed recently): 

The September 27 episode of the marvelous WBUR program On Point explores many aspects of migration related to climate change. I have included a link to the program and some of my own notes on my "main blog" as Buffalo and Other Climate Havens.

The Hulu series Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (see also the show's official page) is a course on migration, in the sense that almost every episode features a delicious culinary tradition brought to the United States by migrants from other lands to a specific community in the United States. The "almost" refers to the fact that two episodes focus on the foodways of indigenous communities. All of the episodes have three elements: conversations with community members from multiple generations, visits to one or two restaurants operated by members of that community, and Lakshmi learning to make on a representative dish. The host is herself a migrant, having moved to the United States at the age of four. This is a food show that might bring tears to your eyes.

When Bela Lugosi was filming Dracula in 1931, the set was in use 12 hours a day. A producer from Mexico convinced the studio to film a Spanish version of the same movie in overnight shifts, in what became a classic tale of immigrant pluck and determination. A film about that film is in production now; Mandalit Del Barco tells the tale of Spanish Dracula for Morning Edition.

It so happens that World Migratory Bird Day (and the importance to these birds of good coffee practices) was celebrated the day after we talked about the migrations of birds, insects, and trees.