The True Definition of Geography

This class happened to be the first formal geography class I have ever taken. I was homeschooled until my junior year of High School, so I have not had the opportunity to learn geography in a K-12 public school setting. However, even with that setback, I still had some preconceived notions that this class would focus heavily on memorization of the political world as we know it. This is mainly because for my homeschooling in the geographical realm, I learned the layout and capitals of all the states in the US. I even had a huge USA puzzle with all 50 states and separate capitals to place on the states. It was called a “United States geography” puzzle. I also memorized the “Wakko’s America” song by The Animaniacs (in this song, Wakko sings all of the states and capitals of the US and rhymes them together somehow). I also memorized various countries on our family globe, but never learned about the people there, or why those countries were there in the first place.

When I finally went to High School, I got a real sense of what a public school Geography class is like. Because I had no formal schooling before my junior year, I did not take any classes that were strictly devoted to Geography in High School. However, the class that focused on Geography the most was my United States History class of my junior year. In this class our teacher made us memorize every state and capitol of that state to prepare for a test in which she gave us a blank USA map with numbers on each state and we had to name the states with their capitals. So guess what I did? I memorized the “Wakko’s America” song once again, and aced the test. We also had to memorize certain countries and cities where WWII took place, including most of Europe, and parts of South America. The funny thing is, two years later, I can’t even remember where Virginia is, let alone the capital. I think this goes to show that, while memorization of states and capitals is great and important in some aspects, it doesn’t need to be studied with that much emphasis in public schools. However, that is an entirely different paper to write, so I will move on to my college experience.

Now that I am in college, I realize that memorizing the US states and capitals has not helped me at all in my college career. I have even taken HIST 112 (United States History) with no need of knowing where Illinois is in relation to Alabama.

So how is this class different from what I thought it was? When I signed up for the course, I thought, “Well, this is the only class that fits my schedule, and although I don’t think memorizing stuff will help me with my college career, I may as well take it anyway.” But then I looked at the description. It stated, “A survey of Earth environments, basic concepts and techniques used in geography, and the utilization of natural resources”. Hmm… That’s not what I though geography was about. It actually sounded pretty captivating, and I got pretty excited about taking the course. I knew that with this description, and with it being an honors course, we probably get to have more discussion than memorizing terminology for exams.

Now that I have taken the class, I realize that there is definitely a lot more to geography than I once thought. It makes sense, though. The roots of geography are “geo” and “graphy”, or “Earth Study”, and this goes far beyond memorizing countries. So what is geography, now that I have taken this class? Our class has sailed to a brand new world, a world the inhabitants thereof call “Earth”, and it is our mission to learn more about this planet, how it works, and how it is governed. Through this class we have studied various map projections, latitude and longitude, geology, hydrology, climatology, demographics, population, culture, politics, economics, natural resources, and environmental impacts, just to name a few. With my group’s assigned region, Oceania, we have studied all of these aspects in relation to Oceania. I also really liked the creative aspects of the class, such as when we were assigned to create our own latitude/longitude system, as well as draw our own political lines within our region. After taking this class, I would say that Geography is defined as the study of Earth, including its land, water, people, structure, and how this all works together.

This class ended up being really interesting, and as an intro-level class I really think that it really helped me to get a firm foundation on all of the above topics. If I am to take a class in the future that has anything to do with people, the environment, or politics, I feel like I have a head start because I have taken a “real” geography class.