Monday, April 11, 2011

Never Mind Lions and Tigers

You may be familiar with the practice of drawing dragons and other fierce creatures on maps to represent uncharted areas. The first known instance is a 13th century map with a dragon, asp, and basilisk in what we now call Southeast Africa. This practice slowly became more common, with all sorts of monsters. It really took off as a cartographic tool in the Victorian Era, for some reason, when people had stopped believing in dragons. Currently, “Here be dragons” prompts a long list of cultural references on Wikipedia. Where There Be Dragons is a successful study abroad program that focuses on developing nations. (Ironically, though, the phrase itself never actually appeared on any known maps.)
Geographically, I wonder if any unexplored and unmapped territories exist. If there are, they’re small and incredibly remote. With satellite imagery, not only have we tracked everywhere, but we can zoom in and visit virtually on Google Earth. GPS systems keep us from getting lost (at least most of the time, but I digress). A new app even helps you navigate the inside of large public areas, such as major airports.
All this provides a degree of comfort, of security. It’s nice to know where you are and to have a path laid out that will lead you where you want to go.
But as Seth Godin challenges in his most recent  manifesto, Poke the Box:
Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them (Kindle edition, loc 425)…
There is no guarantee, though. There are no maps. They’ve all been taken, and their value is not what it used to be, because your competitors have maps, too.
The opportunity lies in pursuing your curiosity instead. Curiosity is not allergic to failure. Curiosity drives us to the haunted house because the thrills lie in what we don’t expect, not in what’s safe. (location 482)

Godin is writing about the business world, but his words suggest some relevant questions for educators. Are we training kids to wait for maps they can follow? Or do we help them develop the courage and inquisitiveness to enter the haunted house? Do we allow them to explore in new directions and thus draw original maps? Pondering these questions and the metaphor of maps brings to mind a post by Shelly Blake-Plock at TeachPaperless on why teachers should be like travel agents.
                The world continues to shift in massive ways. Consider just the geo-political upheaval of the past few months. The maps need to be redrawn, at least metaphorically. As we do so, we may not indicate where there be dragons. But we better consider trying to chart the black swans.

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