Saturday, May 27, 2006

So True

I always used to wonder as I went through school, when was I going to have a geography class? I never had one. Fortunately for me, my dad was stationed around the world and my private world consisted of books about anywhere besides where I was (sort of like Yoda/s assessment of Luke). I have been reading since I was two and a half, it was my main activity until my mid-thirties, when I made the mistake of going back to school and the old eyes gave out at the same time. Then came the internet. Along the way, I read the papers and newsmagazines, but I'm still better at spelling than geography. During the seventies half of Africa changed its name, the eighties and nineties redesigned Europe and Asia, countries are still breaking apart. Here is a link to a fun and extremely interactive geography game.
War of the Worlds - New York Times: "Whereas students who ready themselves for the spelling bee typically begin with the bee's word list, geography bee contestants have no such handy resource. Instead, they must be more creative and resourceful, relying on a combination of atlases, almanacs and publications. They also usually become voracious newspaper readers; my son often began his mornings boning up on international news in the daily paper.

The geography bee's questions, too, require a different level of thinking. The spelling bee contestants rely on memorization or knowledge of etymology. The geography bee asks competitors to connect many more dots through a broad understanding of political, cultural and environmental factors.

Consider this question from last year's bee: 'Tropical storms and population growth have been contributing factors in a major housing shortage on the largest island in the Greater Antilles. Name this island.' (Cuba.) Or this one: 'The Yucat�n Peninsula is to Mexico as the Kola Peninsula is to what?' (Russia.)

True, spelling is a gateway to understanding language, but what possible value is there to knowing how to spell 'appoggiatura' (a musical embellishment) and 'pococurante' (an indifferent person), to name two of the more recent winning words? By contrast, knowing about Cuba or Russia means knowing about Communism, the political ideology that has informed much of America's foreign policy in the past half-century.

And yet the spelling bee continues to receive all the attention. Perhaps that's because spelling is a tantalizingly easy concept to grasp. You either spell a word right or you don't. The answers are all in the dictionary."
One of the reasons I like arithmetic (only one right answer) which is different from math. Calculus and I didn't really get along.

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