Substitute teaching the other day, I had a moment with a couple 7th graders looking at a political globe of the earth. I went over to share with them how I'd recently learned there's a stripe of desert from Africa all the way to the mongolian Steppes in Asia.
We turned the globe to Africa to find the left side of the stripe. Student 1, on my left, said he didn't know how to find things on a globe. He pointed to Niger and asked how you pronounce that. "Nigh-jer," I told him. "Oh," he said. "But where's Africa?" He asked.
I gestured at the continent with my hand while the other student chimed in, "It's right there! That's Africa."
Pause. Student 1 studied what was before him.
"But where's Africa?" He asked again.
"Africa is a continent, not a country," I explained further. "It has many countries, and over 300 languages are spoken there."
"Oooooh." Was his response.
"What's the largest desert in the world?" I asked. Student 2 had it. "The Sahara!"
"Where is it?" He pointed to Niger.
World geography is clearly lacking. It's throughout. Rosie recently came home from a second grade segment of learning to make and paint clay beads, "Like they do in Africa, because they are very poor there and all they have is mud."
(I made sure to share her takeaway with her teacher later. She was clearly embarrassed.)
I reminded her Africa is a continent, not a country, and that they have a wide range of rich and poor people there, like we do here.
Stereotypes are so easily formed.
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