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CBD’s Exclusive Interview with Brenda Runkle

CBD: You have been a geography teacher, as well as a curriculum developer. When did you first become interested in geography and why? What led you to write geography textbooks?

BR: When I was a little girl, we spent our summers in Colorado. Now those of you who know your geography can understand why people in Oklahoma flee to the cool mountains of Colorado! Oklahoma gets very hot and humid during the summer. We are on the Great Plains in the lee of the Rockies with warm, humid southerly winds coming up from the Gulf of Mexico.
As my family and I drove along, my father would ask us why towns were where they were, why specific crops were being grown. Did they have to be irrigated? Were the trees indigenous to the area? Was the land being put to good use or ruined? Why did we have the Dust Bowl? We learned to look and observe. I guess I just never stopped being curious about the relationship between man and the land.

One of the reasons I decided to write geography textbooks is it never made any sense to me to try to teach history without understanding what the land had to offer. Just think about the people living in the midst of the Sahara or the Tibetan Plateau. How they meet their needs and earn a living is determined by the lay of the land.
In today’s industrialized societies we change our environments to suit our needs but that has not always been the case. Once you know your physical geography then you can see how men, goods and ideas have always followed the same paths throughout history. We require water, food and shelter in our travels. An army chooses the path of least resistance where these needs can be met.
So you look at a map, determine where the water and food and easiest movement are and you have the routes followed throughout history. I always tell my students to ask, “What do you have that I want and how am I going to get it?” That pretty much sums up history as far as I am concerned!

I was in the classroom over 15 years and never found a textbook I could use. They all had too much stuff in them. Yet when you had finished the book, you hadn’t learned much of anything! The big publishers try to be all things to all people. That just doesn’t work.

  • You need to focus, master the basics, then expand.
  • Core knowledge is the basis for all understanding.
  • Don’t muddy the water. Don’t give so much information you don’t know what to do with it.
  • Make learning relevant!
  • Master the basics first!

    CBD: In the United States, geographical literacy has declined over the past several years. As a result, many Americans have only a rudimentary knowledge of the physical world in which we live. What do you think is the cause of this decline? Why is the study of geography important?

    BR: I think the decline in education began over 40 years ago when we digressed from teaching core subjects and began to water down the curriculum. I remember when I began teaching in the early 1960s my high school students finished the year with today’s equivalent of a college degree. We spent the class period on task, had homework, term papers, critical debates which required a great deal of preparation and thought. There was a hunger for knowledge which is lacking today whether from too much TV, not learning to read, broken homes, etc. Material goods can be taken away at the blink of an eye but an education lasts a lifetime and can never be taken away.

    One part of me believes that the growth of big government has given rise to the dumbing down of our children. If Johnny can't read and think for himself then Johnny believes everything you say. We become a nation of sheep, not leaders. But those of us in the homeschool market are watching the growth of a new generation of leaders who think for themselves, base their decisions on good, solid morality and Christian beliefs. We are truly the wave of the future!

    The ignorance about Afghanistan is a glaring example of how poorly equipped we are to understand what is going on in our world. We have no idea where the natural resources are, who controls them, how they are extracted or shipped to industrial centers. We don’t even know who our competitors are and what we have to compete against! Now the government is screaming about our ignorance and demanding immediate changes. Well, it won’t correct itself overnight just as it did not happen overnight. We need to adopt a course and stay on it until we reach the desired conclusion. Again, I stress the need to return to the basics and get a good strong foundation of core knowledge before trying to solve the problems of the world!

    CBD: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Geography has been endorsed by both Mary Pride and Cathy Duffy, and includes engaging hands-on activities to facilitate learning. Can you offer parents any additional tips to help them make geography exciting and fun for their children?

    BR: I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I was to gain the endorsements of both Mary Pride and Cathy Duffy. They are such wonderful, intelligent women! And to think I entered this market based solely on my prayer life! What a wonderful reward.

    Parents need to make learning fun. Get all the family involved. Don’t isolate learning to the classroom or just during class hours. Learn all the countries of the world at the dinner table with everyone getting into the act! I learned my countries that way. My two brothers and I had our maps and would try to outdo each other with how many countries we could memorize. Then Daddy would tell us something about each country, bringing in history, as well as economic and cultural geography. Now that is not really over your head. Think about it. What can you tell your children about Germany, Japan, England, France? Think about all the knowledge you have and put it into words that your children can understand. Surf the Internet together. Listen to the news, read articles, discuss what is happening. Get them thinking beyond the box or the neighborhood. There is a wonderful and fun book called Don’t Know Much About Geography written by Kenneth C. Davis. He has also written a book about history. You will laugh out loud as he explains who killed the Dead Sea! Now that is fun!
    Here is an interesting fact. The French line their gardens and sidewalks with black stones to absorb the winter sun and warm the ground early while warming them as they stroll along!

    CBD: Geography touches so many areas of our lives. Yet when students plan for careers, they don’t necessarily think that geographical knowledge could be of practical value. Aside from teaching, what other types of geography-related positions are open to graduates?

    BR: I think understanding geography holds the key to anticipating what jobs there will be in the future. Coal is no longer the primary source of heat and energy so you don’t want to be a coal miner. Fossil fuels are finite so we need to develop alternate fuels. We need to develop new methods of construction, crops that can grow in brackish water, on dry lands or in unfavorable climates. What about jobs in forestry, land management, aquatic farming, tourism or recreation. How do you decide where a ski resort will go? How do you know what trees and crops to plant where? You can’t practice international law or go into any business that has worldwide operations without knowledge of geography. We are an aging population. Where are we going to live? Who will take care of us? How will our needs be met?

    Geography holds the key to many of these answers. Geography is not just maps. It is the understanding of man’s relationship with the land and how we can use it to meet our needs! Over half of the world’s population still uses wood to build their shelters, cook and provide heat. What happens when they have stripped the land bare? Does the sovereign nation of Brazil have the right to destroy the largest rain forest in the world even though it affects climate clear around the planet? How do we understand these global problems? We study geography and in turn geography will help us choose a career!


     Books by Brenda Runkle

    Welcome to the World of Geography, Student Activity Book
    Welcome to the World of Geography, Student Activity Book
    Brenda Runkle


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