It's easy to point out that public schools don't teach much geography. Explaining why is more complex. Here are four reasons why our Education Establishment scorns geography:
1) THEY ARE ANTI-KNOWLEDGE: For more than a century, there was a prejudice among our top educators against foundational knowledge (that is, basic facts everyone should know). John Dewey in 1897 preached: "We violate the child's nature and render difficult the best ethical results by introducing the child too abruptly to a number of special studies, of reading, writing, geography, etc....The true center of correlation on the school subjects is not science, not literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child's own social activity." Note that Dewey slams geography twice, just to be sure.
2) THEY ARE ANTI-HISTORY: Our so-called educators also scorned history. In 1929 two of the biggest (Thorndike and Gates) echoed Dewey when they decreed: "Subjects such as arithmetic, language and history include content that is intrinsically of little value."
Of little value? When people know history, they can make decisions and deductions about where they came from, how other societies handled similar problems, and how we should respond to challenges now.
But our elite educators wanted uninformed, dependent children who would fit better into the new Socialist world that Progressive Educators hoped was coming. These ideologues wrapped history inside a containment-device called Social Studies, suppressing as much of it as possible, and making the rest shallow.
Geography and history go hand in hand. Diminishing one hurts the other. You can't study history if you don't first learn the names of oceans, rivers, states, mountains, etc.
3) THEY ARE ANTI-READING: Starting in 1932, American public schools taught reading with a bogus method variously called Look-say, Sight Words, Whole Word, etc. This gimmick required that children memorize the English language one word-shape at a time. A long, slow process.
Look at Dolch lists for fourth grade and you find easy words like "bug," "sea," and "pen." What you don't find is a single proper name or place name. The pretext for the phony Dolch lists was that these were the most common words, and in learning these words, the child was advancing rapidly toward literacy. But when does a child learn to read words like Nevada, Texas, Chicago, Hawaii, or Kansas, not to mention Benjamin Franklin?
Geographical names, anywhere in a child's life, would provide a warning bell that this child did not actually know how to read. How could the schools silence that warning? Geography must die.
4) THEY ARE ANTI-PRECISION: The most striking thing about geography is its intellectual purity. A city is in a certain location, it has a particular name, and there are many specifics one can learn about that city.
In geography, there is no ambiguity, no vagueness, no fuzziness, no aspect where one could say, well, you should guess. In short, geography is everything that Progressive Educators hate. Consider that the capital of France is Paris. There is no way Constructivism can construct this. No way Self-Esteem can pretend you know it when you don't. No way that Cooperative Education will make it easier for children to know this fact. No way to think "critically" about this fact. It's just a fact. It is.
(Properly, a student starts by learning many little nuggets of information. At some point, the student can discuss these facts, compare them, relate them, and prioritize them. That's what critical thinking is. This phrase is meaningless, however, unless the student first learns many little nuggets.)
THE GLORY OF GEOGRAPHY
Geography is a foundation not just for history but for the study of geology, anthropology, archaeology, world trade, finance, government, environmental science, military history, surveying, early mathematics, and much else. Any school that skimps on geography is a phony.
Francis Parker is a famous educator who died in 1902. I want to close with a quote from his book "How To Teach Geography" (1885). Probably you never heard a teacher rhapsodize about ANYTHING the way Parker can carry on about a topic that many think is dull and dry:
"Geography explains and illuminates history...To know and love the whole world is to become subjectively an integral factor in all human life; the resulting emotion arouses the only true patriotism, the patriotism that makes the world and all its children one's own land and nation. Geography is one essential means of bringing the individual soul an appreciation of the universal and eternal."
We need more geography; more precision; more foundational knowledge; and more passion for learning. We need a lot less of the foolishness that undermines these four.
(For related analysis, see "43: American Basic Curriculum" and "45: The Crusade Against Knowledge" on Improve-Education.org