I Dare Say -- Hist’ry and g’ography (4-7-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (April 7, 1943)


Hist’ry and g’ography

By Florence Fisher Parry

Look at the map showing the Russian gains in a winter of war, with hundreds of thousands killed and millions wounded. It is NOT a big area. Its widest point is only from Stalingrad to Rostov. Then look at the WHOLE area of Germany’s conquests.

Maps are good reminders. Let us devote more time to them.

Just how ignorant we are of the basic “subjects” that are supposed to comprise education, has recently been exposed by the survey of 7,000 students in 36 U.S. colleges and universities. The poll discloses alarming ignorance of U.S. history; and if history, certainly its allied subject geography! The two are one.

The SYSTEM employed in our schools has consistently ignored the importance of history and geography as a BASIC foundation of all education. And I would unhesitatingly attach serious blame to this omission for our present plight in this war.

For never mind what effort has been made, what measures employed, in our public schools and colleges, the dismal fact remains that these two subjects, history and geography, are the least popular, and rated the least important by the students themselves. Show me a boy or girl in the grade schools (the only place these subjects are conspicuously taught) who declares history or geography to be his favorite study and I will show you the exception to the rule.

They are not required subjects in 82% of our colleges. Presumably, the college freshman has had all the history (and geography) he “needs,” dished out to him in spinach doses in the lower grades.

Hoe often has your young boy or girl said, in speaking of some mark on his report card, “Oh, that’s just geography,” or “That’s just history.” It doesn’t count, to him.

What improvement?

I know that the very manner in which we were taught geography in my generation provided a perfect conditioning for our isolation complex later. We started with Punxsutawney, then Jefferson County, then Pennsylvania, then the United States, then North America, etc., etc.

From the start, we grew to believe that WE were the center of the universe. The rest of the world was the mere fringe of our existence.

And so, it was with our study of history. We began with the discovery of America and ended with the last President in the White House. After we had been given this same rehash year after year (until it became such an old chestnut we never wanted to hear U.S. history mentioned again!), we began on ancient history, which took us just as far away from the present as possible.

Since then, the teaching of history and geography has been vastly improved; but to this day they have been kept minor studies, comparatively unimportant.

Our abysmal ignorance and indifference to the existence of other worlds than our own, of other peoples and other ways of life, are now imposing a cataclysmic penalty.

Bred-in-the-bone isolationists – that’s what we were made by our early conditioning in our own public schools.

Oh, now our own sons are being given marvelous lessons in history and geography, in the South Seas, in North Africa, in the Aleutians, and over the unhappy map of Europe! It is a costly lesson; over a million of them will lose their lives learning it, before this war is over.

They know now how wide is the Pacific, how high the Himalayas, how hot the jungle, how dry the desert.

And what geographies they will demand for their children, once they come home to refashion the world! And the new history books they will place – by concerted demand – in the hands of their youngsters!

Out the window the flat maps, and 1066 and all that!

Spelling bees

And another thing they’ll see to. Along with the new, live, human history books, along with the new beautiful three-dimensional WORLD globes from which geography will be taught – there will be a revival of two long-lost studies: WRITING AND SPELLING. These new rulers of the world, the returned soldiers, will have discovered that one of the most important things in the world is – A LETTER, A LETTER, legibly written, spelled correctly, and full of news! And they’ll know that the only way to insure that added measure of human happiness found only in a letter is to LEARN HOW TO WRITE IT, early and often!

The good old fundamentals will return to the blackboard: SPELLING; WRITING; HISTORY; GEOGRAPHY.

Let the educators find a way to squeeze in the other subject for study; but these four will have – I opine – a rebirth in popularity!


Unfortunately, history and geography continues to be poorly presented to students of all ages.


And in all countries.


I’ve seen this quote attributed to several people, most frequently Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce: “War is God’s way of teaching us geography.”