Breaking Stereotypes: Constructing Geographic Literacy and Cultural Awareness through Technology

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Mount St Vincent University]On: 02 October 2014, At: 23:09Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Breaking Stereotypes: Constructing GeographicLiteracy and Cultural Awareness through TechnologyKenneth T. Carano a & Michael J. Berson aa The University of South FloridaPublished online: 07 Aug 2010.

    To cite this article: Kenneth T. Carano & Michael J. Berson (2007) Breaking Stereotypes: Constructing Geographic Literacy andCultural Awareness through Technology, The Social Studies, 98:2, 65-69, DOI: 10.3200/TSSS.98.2.65-70

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  • ABSTRACT. Youths in the UnitedStates are less geographically and cultur-ally literate than are youths in many otherindustrialized countries. In an time inwhich the world is becoming increasing-ly interconnected, it is pertinent thatAmerican youths study geography, eval-uate stereotypes, and understand howindividuals are perceived by others. Theauthors confront these issues and offersolutions. They explore roots of this illit-eracy and provide classroom examples ofstudent geographic and cultural miscon-ceptions before demonstrating how,through the combination of technologyand instruction from a global perspective,teachers can promote geographic literacyand cultural awareness. The authors con-clude by providing digital resources thatenable social studies instructors to teachgeography more effectively.

    Keywords: cultural awareness, geogra-phy, stereotypes, technology

    girl passes through the earlymorning jungle mist, walking

    through the village with a bucket onher head. Another villager washesclothes at the river while two menwearing brightly colored madras mate-rial wrapped around their waistsexchange pleasantries in an unfamiliarlanguage. This is a scene from theSouth American rain forest in the coun-try of Suriname. The scene is beingacted out by students in an elementaryschool in the United States who havebeen conducting an online exchangewith their fifth-grade counterparts onanother continent. Prior to their digitalcorrespondence, the students had beenunable to locate Suriname on a map.

    They have McDonalds in Africa! astudent in another classroom calls outenthusiastically as he watches a stream-ing video. Suddenly, ninth-grade worldgeography does not seem as detachedfrom his reality.

    Having heard about the plight ofsome villagers in the Central Americancountry of Guatemala, a student dictatesa letter online to the Peace Corps volun-teer with whom her school-sponsoredclub has been communicating.

    There are two commonalities in thesescenarios. First, all three classroomsincorporated digital technology withinsocial studies instruction. Second, stu-dents were enthusiastically developing agreater understanding of another culture.

    As people become more intercon-nected, students need to gain familiaritywith the world around them. Unfortu-nately, many people in the United Stateshave demonstrated a lack of awarenessof people and places outside the imme-diate physical locale of their daily lives.In a recent study by the National Geo-graphicRoper Public Affairs GlobalGeographic Literacy Survey (Rop-erASW 2006), the geography skillswere poor in U.S. citizens aged eighteento twenty-four years. For example,despite the extensive media coverage ofthe overthrow of the Taliban inAfghanistan after 9/11 and the UnitedStatess presence in Iraq for the pastthree years, nearly 90 percent of youngAmericans were unable to locateAfghanistan on a map, and 63 percentwere unable to find Iraq. Results fromthe previous administration of the sur-vey in 2002 demonstrated that U.S. citi-zens were less knowledgeable aboutgeography than comparable same-agepeers from other industrialized nations.The findings reported that citizens in

    Breaking Stereotypes: ConstructingGeographic Literacy and CulturalAwareness through TechnologyKENNETH T. CARANOMICHAEL J. BERSON

    KENNETH T. CARANO is a doctoral stu-dent in social science education at the Uni-versity of South Florida. His research inter-ests include global perspectives in teachereducation programs and preparing studentsto be effective citizens in a world that isbecoming increasingly interconnected.MICHAEL J. BERSON is a professor ofsocial science education at the University ofSouth Florida. Dr. Berson conductsresearch on global child advocacy and tech-nology in social studies education.

    THE SOCIAL STUDIES MARCH/APRIL 2007 65

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  • five other countries (France, Canada,Japan, Mexico, and Sweden) were morecompetent at locating the United Stateson a map than were their Americancounterparts (RoperASW 2002).

    In addition to a lack of knowledge ofphysical geography, student awarenessof other cultures also appears to be defi-cient. Researchers have found that stu-dents individualize the characteristics ofpeople in their in-group and perceivetheir behavior as normal, but they viewout-groups in terms of generalized traitsand other stereotypical characteristics(Merryfield and Wilson 2005, 50). In arecent survey completed by the NationalAssessment of Educational Progress(NAEP; 2005), Americas only ongoingrepresentative sample survey of studentachievement in core subject areas, only25 percent of all high-school twelfthgraders scored at or above the proficientachievement level in geography.

    Why is the geographic literacy, bothphysical and cultural, of young U.S. cit-izens so poor as compared with the liter-acy of their counterparts? In this article,we attempt to answer that question byexamining the roots of geographic andcultural illiteracy and to demonstrate therepercussions of this illiteracy by citingexamples from social studies classes. Wealso provide practical solutions for rais-ing geographic literacy and culturalawareness among students through theuse of technology and digital resourcesthat enable social studies teachers toteach geography more effectively.

    Analyzing the Underlying Causes ofGeographic Illiteracy

    The disappointing geography resultsmay be partly a consequence of theUnited States being the only majordeveloped nation in which a student canpass through the K12 public schoolsystem without being required to take ageography course (Carr 2004). Sincethe early twentieth century, geographyhas lost support within the social studiescurricula in U.S. public schools. By the1960s, many states no longer requiredgeography as a separate course or stand-alone course (Alibrandi and Palmer-Moloney 2001; Schoenfeldt 2001).

    There are many explanations for thisoccurrence, but the reason teachersmost often cite for not taking advantageof opportunities to facilitate greaterunderstanding of other cultures is thestandards movement. This movementthat is taking hold in most states empha-sizes reading and mathematics and lim-its the time teachers can spend on othersubjects (Roberts 2004).

    As society is becoming more globallyinterconnected, youths are getting themajority of their global education fromthe media (C. L. Hahn 1998; Wartella2004). Often the information being dis-seminated by the media feeds into previ-ously held stereotypes (Cortes 2005).According to many teachers, this situa-tion forces them to spend time guidingstudents to unlearn the exaggeratedinformation U.S. children have embracedbecause of media stereotypes (Seikaly2001). Another hindrance is that theavailable textbooks may have inaccura-cies, such as representing a distortedview of a subject being investigated bythe students (Seikaly). Educators notonly need to teach students how to dispelstereotypes, but they also need to educatethem about where to access news in thefuture to expand their exposure to diverseperspectives and how to consider thesource of information when judging theveracity of the facts. For example, a 2004Pew Center poll showed that 21 percentof people aged eighteen to twenty-nineyears get their news from comedy pro-grams such as The Daily Show and Sat-urday Night Live, whereas less than aquarter of people in the same age groupread a daily newspaper to get their news(Altaras 2004).

    Carlos Cortes (2000) highlightedanother reason that students cross-cultural knowledge is deficient. Hecalled this explanation the societalcurriculum and divided it into the fol-lowing four sections:

    1. Immediate curriculum: consists offamily and peers

    2. Institutional curriculum: organiza-tions in which people participate

    3. Serendipitous curriculum: arbitrarypersonal experiences

    4. Media curriculum: the mass media

    Through interaction with these fourcomponents of the societal curriculum,Cortes argued that students developbeliefs that perpetuate or sustain inac-curate stereotypes of other cultures andlocations.

    These factors are difficult to discount,and even students who have studied intraditional world geography coursesoften receive continuing reinforcementof previous misguided stereotypes aboutother cultures (Holloway 2002). Stu-dents visiting the United States fromother cultures often express dismay attheir cultures portrayal in textbooks andabout the stereotypes Americans holdabout them (Merryfield and Wilson2005). Merryfield and Wilson reported,Teachers who take our study tours oftenreturn to reassess their instructionalmaterials as outdated or misleading ortheir curricular content as not very use-ful in helping students understand peo-ple in that culture (41).

    Voices of the Students: Stereotypesand Misconceptions in Geography

    The following classroom discussionin the first authors World Religionscourses exemplifies the misconceptionsstudents hold about world cultures andgeography. You cant drive from Brazilto Texas, the wide-eyed, eleventh-grade female student exclaimed enthusi-astically in response to another stu-dents claim of her uncles journey.

    What makes you say that? Mr.Carano asked.

    Its on the other side of the ocean,she responded. Mr. Carano had to walkover to the map to trace the route for thestudent before she realized, Oops.Wrong continent! I thought Brazil wasin Africa.

    In his book The Children Are Watch-ing: How the Media Teach about Diver-sity, Cortes (2000) described a fourth-grade teachers encounter with studentstereotypes of gypsies: Gypsies wereweird, moved around a lot, dressedstrangely, sang, danced, stole, weredirty, told fortunes, kidnapped children,and used crystal balls (2). In addition,high school social studies teachers havereported hearing the following stereo-

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  • types professed by students in theirclassrooms:

    Arent Arabs the same thing as Mus-lims?

    Most Alaskans live in igloos.Canada is a country of a bunch of

    rich, white people, who speak French.A ninth-grade student, when writing

    a short answer response about SouthAmerica during a final exam, describedthe continent in one broad stroke:South America is really hot. The peo-ple on the continent speak Spanish. Thatis why it is sometimes called LatinAmerica. It has the worlds largest jun-gle, the worlds second longest river, theAmazon River, and mountains on thewest coast. Most of the people are eitherreally poor, living in villages, or areselling drugs to people in other coun-tries, such as the United States.

    Technological Solutions toStereotypes and Misconceptions

    Results of National GeographicsGlobal Geographic Literacy Survey(RoperASW 2002) indicated that youngadults who had been on the Internetwithin the month prior to the surveyscored 65 percent higher than those whohad not. In addition, a national studyshowed the power of CD-ROMs and theInternet on student learning in geogra-phy (NAEP 2005). Since 2003, nearly100 percent of public schools have hadInternet access (National Center forEducation Statistics 2005); therefore,the first solution in counteracting thestereotypes perpetuated about geogra-phy in social studies involves the inte-gration of technology into the geogra-phy curricula.

    Online projects are effective in devel-oping students cross-cultural compe-tence in a society that is increasinglyglobalized (Merryfield 2003). The Inter-net enables youths to engage in a varietyof civic skills. For example, it allowsstudents to share ideas with youths fromdifferent backgrounds who may holdcontrasting opinions (Montgomery,Gottlieb-Robles, and Larson 2004).

    In the United States, 87 percent ofteenagers use the Internet (Fox andMadden 2006). By using the computer,

    students can gain access to expansiveknowledge links and broaden their expo-sure to diverse people and perspectives(Berson 1996, 486). In addition, in theNational Geographic Global GeographicLiteracy Survey (RoperASW 2006) ongeography, young Americans who usedthe Internet and at least two types ofnews media for current-events newsdemonstrated more knowledge of geo-graphic issues.

    Although the incorporation of tech-nology into the curricula appearspromising, it has the potential to be botha roadblock and facilitator in the devel-opment of global awareness and cross-cultural understanding. If educators arenot willing to embrace technologysadvances in a manner that meets theneeds of students, the former rather t...

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