What is geography for? Basically, stand up well. In every sense. It helps us identify the place we see around us. Immediate (which is no small thing) but in all its metaphorical scope: our place in the world. Geography is a mother science that projects us in space as much as history in time. This dimension leads us to the development of our most basic skills: detecting points, lines and planes, distance and depth. But to return to metaphors, what surrounds us is landscape, society, the whole environment. When we appropriate the surrounding geography, we make it our family, our region, our community, our country, our continent, our planet. That is why the ancients said that this is the description of the earth (in the broadest sense), which allows us to know what is close to us, but sometimes far away and often inaccessible. As the Greek philosopher Strabo put it in the time of Christ, anticipating the idea that in a democracy every citizen is a potential ruler, geography is the chief tool of the ruler.
For these reasons, this knowledge was first passed down from generation to generation like a precious treasure, and then it began to be the concern of academics. Since ancient times it has been taught as a science because it was a valuable tool for sailors, cartographers, explorers and soldiers. Knowledge of territory was a fundamental value for conquerors… but also for those who did not wish to be conquered. Geologist Yves Lacoste went further and considered it a “weapon of war”. In the 19th century the French, concerned about the superiority of their German neighbors, created a school of geography led by the great Vidal de la Pleche to counter the influence of Humboldt, Ritter and Ratzel. “We learned geography – they said in the 20th century – and we began to win wars.” And, as Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Every man carries a marshal’s baton in his pocket” and every man deserves to have the tools he needs when he becomes a commander. One of the most important of them is geography.
Travel with the teacher
When Jorge Sepadaroff, a Uruguayan teacher who was part of Vidal’s school, taught his students about the landscapes of his land, he showed energy, wisdom, enthusiasm, but above all, love. I had the privilege of meeting him when he visited us in San Juan, jumping like a cub (already very old) among the rocks on our organized expedition through the Triassic Park of Isquicualasto. Describes plants and landscapes. I thought then and saw my Guo students inspired by hearing him say and exchanging ideas with him: “What a blessing for Uruguay! This man’s disciples, and his disciples’ disciples, are guaranteed geographical allocation to put in their pockets next to Marshall’s staff.”
A geography teacher is capable of traveling with his students. Take them with your imagination to distant lands, but better still, show them the riches and beauties of your region, your neighborhood, your city, your own country. As the saying goes, “You don’t like what you don’t know,” sometimes we don’t have enough perspective to see what’s so close. We always walk with the horizon on our backs; This is a patent image of what our senses perceive from where we stand. As we move obediently, the horizon follows us, heralding new landscapes and with them different social manifestations. As the Brazilian geographer Milton Santos put it, to teach the landscape is to make it our friend, to project ourselves sensitively into the mysteries of the interaction between society and nature.
It sums up why Geography is an essential science that should never disappear from the curriculum at all levels of education. There are subjects like Chemistry, Mathematics, History, Biology, Sociology etc. which are named after the science they teach. They are fundamental and the geography cannot be missed there. Others like economic realism, environmental protection, livestock production, social services and some other fanciful names are ad hoc and exist to cover curricular gaps in specialized fields which, if we look closely, cannot in essence reflect what already exists. Science (they are written with a capital letter).
It has a kind of willingness to establish complicated names as if it were “modernizing” education. In fact, this frenzy has the opposite effect: clichéd fields quickly fall out of fashion, meanwhile robust sciences are displaced.
It has a kind of willingness to establish complicated names as if it were “modernizing” education. In fact, this frenzy has the opposite effect: clichéd morals quickly go out of style.
A nation’s educational institutions cannot afford to be unprepared. If geography disappears, the basic formation of the citizenry is at stake. When this happens, there is no awareness of environmental resources and commitment to nature conservation is ignored. The potential of the economy is unknown, but, fundamentally, the rights and obligations that serve us all as an organized society. It is the complexity of these interactions that geography teachers teach their students to recognize and manage the future marshals of democracy.
Someone thought that there in Uruguay – my mother’s land – geography could be excluded from the training of their youth. I want to reflect on this topic in a very simple way, so that it can be better understood (and precisely): can we do without biology, history or mathematics?
On the contrary. The academic community needs to think seriously about tomorrow’s men and women who will be drivers in no more than 20 years. It is important for each of them to have once been a disciple of a great “teacher” of geography, who not only around the world, but through that context they learned to communicate and converse with their peers. The world is nature. Easterners deserve a strong and deep geography that gives their new leaders the background they urgently need.
Jorge Amancio Pickenhein is a doctor in geography, member of the National Academy of Geography (Argentina) and professor emeritus at the National University of San Juan.