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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions - Education

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. COCHRAN. Mr. President, today I am introducing the Teaching Geography is Fundamental Act. I am pleased to be joined by my friend from Maryland, Ms. MIKULSKI. The purpose of this bill is to improve geographic literacy among K-12 students in the United States by supporting professional development programs administered by institutions of higher education for K-12 teachers. The bill also assists states in measuring the impact of geography education.

Ensuring geographic literacy prepares students to be good citizens of both our nation and the world. John Fahey, Chairman and CEO of the National Geographic Society, once stated that, ``Geographic illiteracy impacts our economic well-being, our relationships with other nations and the environment, and isolates us from the world.'' When students understand their own environment, they can better understand the differences in other places and the people who live in them. Knowledge of the diverse cultures, environments, and distances between states and countries helps our students to understand national and international policies, economies, societies and political structures on a global scale.

To expect that Americans will be able to work successfully with other people around the world, we need to be able to communicate and understand each other. It is a fact that we have a global marketplace, and we need to be preparing our younger generation for competition in the international economy. A strong base of geographic knowledge improves these opportunities.

In a report prepared for leading Internet company, Google, the study estimated that geography service industries generate up to $270 billion every year. Geographic knowledge is increasingly needed for U.S. businesses in electronic mapping, satellite imagery, and location-based navigation to understand such factors as physical distance, time zones, language differences and cultural diversity among project teams.

Additionally, geospatial technology is an emerging career field available to people with an extensive background in geography education. Professionals in geospatial technology are employed in federal government agencies, the private sector and the non-profit sector and focus on areas such as agriculture, archeology, ecology, land appraisal and urban planning and development. It is important to improve and expand geography education so that students in the United States can attain the necessary expertise to fill and retain the estimated 70,000 new skilled jobs that are becoming available each year in the geospatial technology industry.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell once said, ``To solve most of the major problems facing our country today--from wiping out terrorism, to minimizing global environmental problems, to eliminating the scourge of AIDS--will require every young person to learn more about other regions, cultures, and languages.'' We need to do more to ensure that the teachers responsible for the education of our students, from kindergarten through high school graduation, are trained and prepared to teach the critical skills necessary to solve these problems.

Over the last 15 years, the National Geographic Society has awarded more than $100 million in grants to educators, universities, geography alliances, and others for the purposes of advancing and improving the teaching of geography. Their models are successful, and research shows that students who have benefited from this teaching outperform other students. State geography alliances exist in 26 States and the District of Columbia, endowed by grants from the Society. But, their efforts alone are not enough.

In my home State of Mississippi, teachers and university professors are making progress to increase geography education in schools through additional professional training. Based at the University of Mississippi, hundreds of geography teachers are members of the Mississippi Geography Alliance. The Mississippi Geography Alliance conducts regular workshops for graduate and undergraduate students who are preparing to be certified to teach elementary through high school-level geography in our State. These workshops have provided opportunities for model teaching sessions and discussion of best practices in the classroom.

The bill I am introducing establishes a Federal commitment to enhance the education of our teachers, focuses on geography education research, and develops reliable, advanced technology based classroom materials. I hope the Senate will consider the seriousness of the need to invest in geography, and I invite other Senators to cosponsor the Teaching Geography is Fundamental Act.

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