Why Geography Matters

Why does Geography matter?


For starters, you don’t want to look stupid. 

But it’s more than that. I can see it now – a group of employees standing around the snack machine at work, discussing the latest and greatest details on the unrest in the Ukraine. The words Crimea, Ukraine, Russia all thrown around, jumbled together in shallow conversation.

Indulge me for a minute while I explain this journey.

Classically speaking, geography is important, and learning locations on a map is the grammar of this subject. But our first year in Classical Conversations, a classical, Christ-centered homeschool community/curriculum, I didn’t really “get” the whole geography thing. In fact, we memorized, as much as possible, the lists of items and pretty much never looked at a map. It probably didn’t help that I was pregnant and on bedrest with placenta previa the majority of the second half of the year.

I missed the boat that year.
And that’s ok.
I really missed it the next year too.

Reading The Core, by Leigh Bortins was an eye-opening experience for me in regards to Geography. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t see it before. In The Core, Leigh asks this question, “How can you discuss why Italy changed sides in World War II if you don’t know where Italy is located” (and what countries surround it)? How can I intelligently discuss the Allies and the Axis Powers without geographical knowledge of the area? I decided to quickly change my ways. And I did.

geography in context

Three things the study of geography has done for me.

1. I developed a natural desire to learn about geography of a story. Hearing about the war, I immediately wanted to look up the area on a map. I had memorized the Black Sea, Ukraine and Russia, but I wanted to know more. After learning a plane had disappeared from the sky, I could no longer just turn my head. I looked up the departure city, the planned destination and the potential location(s) for the plane’s disappearance. My curiosity began driving me to learn more, to be informed.

“Knowing Geography gives structure to real stories.”
-Leigh Bortins

2. A familiarity with geography helped me understand what I was hearing/reading. Novels and even news stories are notorious for having settings. Obviously, the story took place somewhere. You gain a new perspective when you understand how a location plays into the context of the story. Imagine picking up the book Number the Stars and understanding where Denmark is located or The Hiding Place and understanding the location of Holland.  But let’s take this a step further.

3. Learning geography taught me to ask questions and dive deeper. Let’s look back at Crimea. Who owned Crimea first? Last? When and how did Ukraine obtain Crimea?  Why is Crimea important to Russia?  Where were the Olympics in Ukraine in relation to Crimea? Where is Kiev (where my friend’s parents were missionaries at the time)? This is exactly what happened to me. Having the location already set in my brain, I was not only able to look deeper, but I WANTED to look deeper.

When reading The Hiding Place, I wanted to ask where is Holland in relation to Poland and Germany? Where were other camps located?

Crimea's place in the Black Sea is a very strategic setting.

Crimea’s place in the Black Sea is a very strategic setting.

Now, imagine the deep, rich conversation around the snack machine. Realizing the valuable benefits of knowing geography, I continue to desire to learn more.

What is the best way to learn to draw maps and memorize locations?

In The Core, Leigh Bortins gives a great plan for learning to draw the world, which is an ideal place to start.

Here are some steps for beginning with your family:
1. Obtain a good atlas. Ideally, your maps should include the lines of latitude and longitude, the continents, and the oceans.
2. Give everyone paper and pencil.
3. Draw and label the Great Circles: Arctic Circle, Tropic of Cancer, Equator, Tropic of Capricorn, and Antarctic Circle (younger children should use initials).
4. Draw seven “blobs” for the continents.
5. Label the four oceans: Indian, Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific.
6. Repeat the project every week until it is easy.

Once you are ready to dig into a specific continent, you will find resources for learning to draw geography from youtube to books, but an atlas really is all you need. Watch for a post on our geography resources and drawing plans for the upcoming school year.

But for now, get drawing! The world is your classroom, literally!



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