Wednesday, May 03, 2006
The Geographer Shrugged
Ian Moapolis was the guy who went around asking American college and high school students if they could find foreign countries on the world map. Through the years, he grew less and less amazed that Americans don’t know their geography. In one class Ian Moapolis visited, Betty Miller asked her history teacher, “Mr. Simon, did the founding families of Plymouth or the suffering slaves of the tobacco fields know how to locate Afghanistan on a map?” Mr. Simon scratched his beard then answered, “Most likely they did not. Guess it’s part of our legacy.” Then Gregory, the valedictorian, reminded Betty that when the Natives first saw Western Europeans on their soil they mistook the white men for gods, and they were wiped out because of their ignorance. He argued, therefore, it’s good to know geography. Betty snapped that she didn’t see the practical use of pointing to this or that country on an abstract map, “Unless, of course, you’ve got interest vested in boosting the tourism industry. If not, we should all just back off because my mom says pointing is rude.” Ian Moapolis was folding up his map and getting all its creases mismatched; for some reason he never could fold it neatly together once he’d unfolded it; Betty asked him how it is that knowing geography is the same thing as being well informed. Betty claims she knows that everywhere you go there are good people and bad people and people who own ipods and laptops and people who don’t and people who drive sports utility vehicles and people who don’t and people who eat and people who don’t. Will it change the desperate international situation if I, Betty Miller, know how to find Darfur on a map? Will knowing where Darfur is on the map help me nurture my poetic sensibilities and develop what John Keats called negative capability?” Ian Moapolis felt bowled over. He shrugged. That afternoon, due to faulty Map Quest directions to a school in the next district, Ian Moapolis drove his 1998 Impala into a brick wall and died instantly. He was a good soul.