Does geography work for or against you when getting an education?

Now that I have four academic degrees and am currently not a student for the first time in my life, I have been critically accessing the education I received and its quality. Before going too far, let me say that I greatly enjoyed my decades as a student and had many wonderful experiences. I learned a ton and became a doctor! This short post is not so much about specific classes, professors, and/or institutions but is about the systemic processes that are almost beyond recognition. 

In sum, I now see how geography negatively affected the quality of education I received compared to some (many?) other places in the United States.

In particular, the general conservatism of the area where I was born vastly limited how much I could learn. And that makes me kind of mad, and it makes me feel somewhat betrayed. Institutions of higher education must rise above the hopes and fears of a given time and place…if learning is to truly occur. 

I think about different classes I had and the assignments, lectures, readings and sometimes have wondered why so-and-so was not included given its extreme importance to the topic, and I now see that it was invariably omitted because it would have been “too radical” and “too liberal” for many or most of the students, students who really and truly do not know anything personally and specially about anything, per se, except what their parents or church have said. Assignments almost across-the-board were not designed to truly challenge students but to help people move along with little challenge. Special events, groups, and opportunities were also clearly limited to appease the socially constructed world views belonging to a variety of different parties. Even the discussions and readings for my graduate classes were held back such that nothing too liberal or too radical (or too conservative) was ever on the table.

I have had to educate myself for years, sometimes through trial and error, to help remediate what was skipped or omitted because of what amounts largely to geography alone (geopolitics more specifically). Some of it is for sure related to my personal overwhelming desire to learn and push boundaries. And this is an on-going process.

In the New England states, for example, people simply learn more. They are generally past having conversations as to whether or not science and critical theory are worth learning….they know they are important. Students in Texas all-too-often can’t think about evolution or really Ancient History or anything else to do with science because their church says science is fake and “just a theory.”

And I know that this is not so much an issue of academic freedom but of knowing one’s audience. There are specific lessons (especially related to gender and revolutionary thinkers, for example) that I give or don’t give according to the audience in that class – you don’t want to alienate them from thinking or learning and you don’t want them to reject something out right because their church says…, and you don’t want to not cover something important because it will make them uncomfortable. It’s tricky. I understand both sides of it. 

Again, politics, though, should not dedicate education. The quality of education students receive should not be limited according to geography….according to the fears and politics of their parents and the surrounding culture. Experts need to be trusted and respected. Today’s religions need to adapt or the nation will be in more and more trouble. 

This geography-dictates-destiny reality begins in the public K-12 system. Children in Texas receive a vastly different formal education than children in other states or nations. The State Board of Education, a small group constituted of proud non-experts, votes on whether or not slavery and global warming are true! This (mis)education shapes how children and then adults (can) see and don’t see the world.

The control geography has over destiny might become more apparent when thinking about the formal education not available in some African nations. In this way, of course, Texas would be better. But then, we must ask, is it better (or worse?) to be misinformed than not informed at all?

Who we are and who we can be is shaped simply by where we are born. And that’s sad. And completely not necessary given the wealth and knowledge and resources available. 

Vastly increased funding for public education (K-12 and higher education) is needed. Free college for all would allow institutions of higher education to probe further into everything possible.

How did geography shape your education?

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda