Goodbye, Old Map of the World: The Boston Public Schools Are Embracing the Gall–Peters Projection

The map of the world is changing for students in the Boston Public Schools.

The District may be the first in the nation to finally ditch the traditional Mercator projection — which understates the size of Africa and South America while overstating the size of Europe — in favor of the more accurate Gall-Peters Projection.

Here’s what the two look like side by side:

MapOfTheWorldOldNew

Natacha Scott, director of history and social studies at Boston public schools, said it was “interesting to watch the students saying ‘Wow’ and ‘No, really? Look at Africa, it’s bigger’”.

“Some of their reactions were quite funny,” she added, “but it was also amazingly interesting to see them questioning what they thought they knew.”

The result goes a long way to rewriting the historical and socio-political message of the Mercator map, which exaggerates the size of imperialist powers.

“This is the start of a three-year effort to decolonize the curriculum in our public schools,” said Colin Rose, assistant superintendent of opportunity and achievement gaps for Boston public schools.

Just as teaching evolution might blow the minds of kids who were indoctrinated into Creationism, this “new” map may take some getting used to — even for adults who never knew the Mercator map had its problems — but it’s better for students in the long run. They’ll end up with a more accurate picture of what the world really looks like.

The plan is to introduce the new map to one grade level apiece in elementary, middle, and high school (without ditching the old map entirely). Later, the Gall-Peters map will be phased into all classrooms.

It’s worth celebrating this tossing out of tradition. Just because geography has been taught one way for so long doesn’t mean we need to keep doing it, especially when it distorts our picture of what the world is really like. More power to the Boston Public Schools for making the switch and dealing with what will likely be a lot of backlash from people who don’t know any better.

Plus, you know you’re on the right track whenever you can work a West Wing scene into the classroom.

(Images via Wikipedia. Thanks to Gunnar for the link)

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