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MAP ALERT--scale of miles required

Background: In the early 1980’s I noticed that magazines and even books were publishing maps without a scale of miles. How weird, I thought. Weird and unexpected. I wanted to protest but I didn't want to have to write another letter each time. So I designed a sheet that had this headline: "MAP" ALERT

The subhead went like this: "A map without a scale of miles is not a map at all-—it is abstract art." Dr. Joseph Lynn Deitrick


In truth, Dr. Deitrick is a grandfather I never knew. I'm sure he would agree with the sentiment....I sent this sheet to dozens of editors and such. The rest of the copy went like this:

"THERE ARE BUT TWO REASONS why a publication could omit the scale of miles from a so-called 'map'—laziness or arrogance. . . Which was your reason?

LAZINESS: The people in charge are too slip-shod or too indifferent to bother figuring out how far it is from one place to another.

ARROGANCE: This is more interesting. Could the people in charge assume that all their readers already know? ('Everyone we know went to Harvard, didn't they, Charles? Of course they know the distance from Singapore to Peking. Let's not tell them again.') This would be the arrogance of the supercilious educated. . . .Then there is the arrogance, growing all the time, of the anti-elitists. Their assumption would be that nobody cares to know (or, sinister variation) nobody should care to know.

No matter how you analyze it, a 'map' without a scale of miles shows sloppiness or arrogance. What you should show is how many miles equal one inch.

One of the great pleasures provided by maps is to compare areas shown to areas known. You simply cannot do this without a scale of miles. You cannot say, 'Oh yeah, if Boston were there, New York would be here! That's a four hour train ride. But an army on foot. . . ' In short, you cannot learn very much from a map unless you can make comparisons to terrain you already know from personal experience.

A proper map is a fine example of that most basic educational principle: the best way to teach ANYTHING is to use the known as a bridge to the unknown. Word-Wise Educational Services is dedicated to promoting an understanding of this concept. In the matter of maps, what makes the 'bridging' possible is, of course, the scale of miles. No map should leave your office without one."

Article 12>>>Well, "MAP" ALERT! was mildly cute and mildly successful. Some rather shocked editors wrote back to apologize. If you see a map without a scale of miles, send your own "MAP" ALERT!


FOR STUDENTS TO REAP THE MANY BENEFITS OF MAPS, MAPS NEED TO BE OMNIPRESENT: Recent surveys showed that Americans 18-24 don’t, in huge numbers, know where California is, or Louisiana, or Iraq, or much of anything. About one-third are totally illiterate, geographically speaking; half are nearly as bad. The problem is that our educators (I mean the top people who shape the system) can find many theoretical reasons for teaching less…but few compelling reasons for teaching more. As you could predict, they scorn maps.

Here is how to teach geography: every classroom has a map of the world and a map of the USA (or whatever country you live in); at least once a day every teacher, from K to 12, points to one of those maps to help explain the news, to discuss people and places mentioned in textbooks, novels, TV, etc., etc. Any pretext for pointing to those maps is a good pretext. Results: maximum gain, little pain.

Want to dumb down a country? Easy. Do not point to maps. Do not have them in the schools. Never mention maps. Instead, encourage students to think of the world as vast, vague, mushy and unknowable.

Maps are effortlessly ergonomic--please see "26: How to Teach History, Etc."

DECEMBER/2006--SHOCKING DEVELOPMENT: I was at a friend's house and we needed to look up "stertorous." The first thing that bothered me was that the stress or accent mark was so microscopic that I couldn't be sure if it was even there. So I'm looking at other words to see how they did the accent, and I realized this dictionary had lots of "maps." Almost 200 "maps" but not one scale of miles. What is this imposter, I thought. Title: The Oxford American College Dictionary, from Putnam's, 2002. How could these people sit around a table and approve such a thunderous dereliction of duty? All the maps are about the same size (column width). But the objects depicted range from Bulgaria to Fiji to Peru. An older educated person has some chance of figuring out approximate sizes, but not that much. I know Bulgaria is fairly substantial but how big is Fiji? Students will just be lost. It would be so easy to include a scale of miles. If you know the editors, tell them to do better in the next edition. Funny, I thought "Oxford" stood for something higher and finer.
MORE SHOCKING: TIME magazine for Nov. 15, 2010, has map of Zimbabwe with inset of Africa. No scale of miles. Nice abstract art. My impression is that liberals think they needn't bother with precision. Fuzziness is a higher authority. That sort of thinking is truly epidemic within the Education Establishment. If we could reverse the decline in the media, then maybe we could persuade the elite educators to come home. Precision is what is. Fuzzy is what's not. TIME?? Do an article on this.



© Bruce Deitrick Price 2011




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