Geography: Love and Lies

September 19, 2008 | Blog

I’ve had a love for geography ever since I was toddler. One of my earliest memories is of my paternal grandfather’s haggard world map. To help me learn the location of nations and to have some fun, my grandfather wrote onto tiny strips of paper the names of the major countries of the world. Starting around age 3 or 4, I was able accurately to locate nations such as the U.S., U.S.S.R., China, Japan and Australia on this non-political world map, pleasing him to no end.

My grandfather was born on a farm in IrelandCounty Cavan to be specific — and came “across the pond” as a teenager. Ten years ago, I had the pleasure of tracking down his sole surviving sibling, his youngest sister Teresa (who was a toddler when he left for America, never to return), who still lived in the same village where the family grew up. To date, that was my sole trip to the magical country of Ireland and I will never forget it.

Sarah Palin has been to Ireland, too. Or so she says. Or so her spokesperson says. This “visit” constituted a refueling stop at Shannon Airport in County Claire. This “visit” was offered by the campaign to defend her foreign policy experience. What compelling evidence. Wow.

But wait … there’s more.

Geography whiz and First Lady wannabe Cindy McCain undoubtedly shoots for that blue triangle from the get-go during games of Trivial Pursuit. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, McCain defends Palin’s foreign policy experience by noting that “Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia.” Take that, Joe Biden! (who must undoubtedly be an expert on Bermuda given Delaware’s comparative proximity to that island).

Let me stipulate two things:

(1) A visit to an airport DOESN’T constitute a visit to a city or a country. I’ve been to the Detroit airport countless times (even slept on its floor once), but I’ve never actually visited the city of Detroit or the surrounding area in Michigan. Even with innocuous time-wasters such as TripAdvisor’s Cities I’ve Visited on Facebook, I don’t audaciously claim to have been to Detroit, to Cincinnati or Memphis–or other cities I’ve connected through. To base your qualifications to be vice-president on such a claim is downright pathetic. Frankly, it calls into question the judgment of the individual who invited you onto the Republican ticket and who wishes to be commander-in-chief.

(2) Proximity DOESN’T equal expertise. A math teacher who teaches in a classroom next to an English teacher isn’t better equipped to teach English. A stock broker who lives next door to a mechanic doesn’t necessarily know how to fix your carburetor. Living in the Madison, Wisconsin area doesn’t make me qualified to lead walking tours of Rockford, Illinois.

What does this all have to do with education? Well, it seems to me that the McCain-Palin campaign doesn’t think much of the intelligence of the American electorate by peddling this paltry defense of Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience and nonexistent world view. On an intellectual level, I’ve got to believe that even Republican partisans can see through this flighty logic. If I’m wrong, then we’re in some real trouble — and not just from the potential results of this election.

I guess the moral of this blog post is that geographic literacy by itself isn’t sufficient. Truth matters, too. Right, Cindy?

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BONUS: For those of you who haven’t discovered PalinDrome yet, just like those MasterCard ads, it’s priceless.

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