Friday, March 11, 2011

Yellow framed memories

Friday, March 11, 2011 at 10:38am
Back in the “old days” when I carried a WVU student ID, I used to love walking through the Mountainlair and stopping at the information desk to read the posting of all the university events of that day. There was always a variety of open lectures, forums, guest speakers, films, etc., on a wide range of topics. Of course, I always had too much of my own homework as I pursued my M.P.A./J.D. to attend all these other interesting activities (but every now and then, I did catch some special event). However, I made a mental note that Morgantown (or any major university town) would be an interesting retirement destination to take advantage of all these enrichment opportunities.

With Anna's job-related relocation to Morgantown in 2007, I've been commuting to her place most weekends. Sometimes, like this weekend, I've accumulated enough hours to take a Friday off and get a three day weekend. Arriving last night, I was able to indulge myself with a wonderful lecture on the WVU Evansdale campus. [In today's Internet world, you don't need to stop by the information desk at the Mountainlair to find out what's happening.] Gilbert Grosvenor, the chair of the National Geographic ( board of trustees, gave a talk about the importance of geography.

Many people think that geography is just about identifying places on a map, but that is just a minor aspect. Geography is so much bigger; it is about UNDERSTANDING OUR WORLD! I've written previously that my personal belief is that our purpose in life is to learn—that is what mankind is here for. I have an insatiable quest for knowledge (and wish many of the students I see had more of that trait). My inquisitive nature has served me well in life, and is a large part of why I enjoy travel so much. I want to see and experience different locations so that I have a “sense of place” to understand them better. [By the way, I'm very envious of my friends Connie and John (who started a new career with a nationwide delivery service), as they report on their incredible journeys across this great country (check out their CoJo Express Facebook page)].

In my younger days, before the Internet age, and before satellites allowed for a plethora of TV channels (instead of the three networks I grew up with), one of the major ways to get news and to see the world was through magazines. Our family subscribed to several over the years, including the essential TV Guide and generally a weekly newsmagazine (mostly Newsweek, but I also remember U.S. News and World Report). I don't remember my parents subscribing to Life, Look, or Post magazines (the major photojournals of the day), but I do remember getting National Geographic. The pictures in that magazine were so colorful and so vivid that I had to get special permission to cut any of them out to use with a school presentation. I loved those magazines with their signature yellow framed covers because they were my window on the entire world (and not because on rare occasions they showed some native women's bare breasts). National Geographic helped to give me a desire for travel and exploration, and an appreciation for all things.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I used to love to give my visiting friends a tour of Washington's lesser known tourist sites, such as the Library of Congress, the National Cathedral, and the National Geographic headquarters. The museum displays at National Geographic were every bit as good as the Smithsonian, but without requiring a full day to see and without the crowds. I don't think it is quite as impressive in recent years, because I've been a bit disappointed that they put an overwhelming emphasis on the National Geographic television channel, but it is still pretty good.

Back to last night's lecture by Gilbert Grosvenor—I really enjoyed it. He is a quintessential intellectual. He talked about America's biggest problem is our K-12 education system. [I realized this twenty years ago, which is why I ran for the Board of Education. My desire to change the status quo is why I didn't get re-elected in 2000, but that topic is too lengthy to cover here.] He reiterated what I always tried to convey to my AmGov and ConLaw students—that American style democracy cannot survive without an educated citizenry. He pointed out that politicians made decisions on issues like Afghanistan based on surveys of voters who know absolutely nothing about Afghanistan. The vast majority of Americans cannot locate Afghanistan on a map, much less understand the intricacies of the poppy trade or the tribal influences or the complex relationships with its bordering countries. Not understanding the world has led to many poor choices over the years.

Mr. Grosvenor also discussed how geography education was minimized in America. This hit close to home to me, because my Murphytown elementary classmates were among the first to NOT get separate geography and history textbooks, but instead received the newfangled “Social Studies” books. I always wished I could have had both history AND geography classes, rather than the amalgamated version. By the time I reached college, I still had an interest in geography, and took “Economic Geography” from Dr. Charles Leibel (?) at the University of Charleston as one of my elective classes.

There were many other interesting aspects to the lecture last night, but there is one that will stay with me (and hopefully make you think as well). He talked about the exponential growth of the world's population. It wasn't until about the year 1800 that the Earth's population finally reached 1 billion. It doubled to 2 billion in 1930. My birth contributed to our planet reaching 3 billion in 1960, just thirty years later. In my lifetime alone, we have grown to the current total of SEVEN BILLION humans alive on this planet. The implications of this population surge are diverse, but if handled well, does not need to be scary. However, most Americans are unfortunately more interested in following the rantings of Charlie Sheen than trying to understand world problems. That's not my idea of winning.

In closing, I want to pass along the two-word catch phrase that is featured prominently on the National Geographic channel's website. I think it is a good mantra. Live curious!

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